Sunday, June 18, 2017

Remembering Cardiff's 1989 epic "Battle of the Baritones"

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Cardiff in 1989
As we wrap up the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, we're recalling the most famous show down of all, which was the 1989 "Battle of the Baritones" between Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel.

The Siberian barihunk went on to win the competition and, of course, both men have gone on to sensational international careers. Hvorostovsky sangs two pieces from Verdi, Rodrigo's aria "O Carlo, ascolta" from Don Carlo and "Eri tu che macchiavi" from Un ballo in maschera, "Ja vas lyublyu" from Tchikovsky's Queen of Spades.

The late, great soprano Elizabeth Soderström, who was one of the judges in 1989, famously marked a series of exclamation marks on her scorecard as she listened to Hvorostovsky sing. The performance wasn't as easy as it looked, as Hvorostovsky has just listened to Bryn Terfel over the speakers and, for the first time, realized that he could lose the competition. When he went out on stage, he was determined to give it 110%, but almost fainted when he took, not one, but two long phrases in Rodrigo's aria on a single breath. The gambit obviously paid off and the singer is still known 28 years later for his ability to float long Verdian phrases on a single breath.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky's 1989 performance at Cardiff:


The win also came with a bid of levity, as an excited Hvorostovsky grabbed the crystal trophy from the Lord Mayor before she could hand it to him. He also won more than the trophy and prize money, as Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave him a huge apartment in the middle of Moscow as a prize for his win.

He later moved from Moscow to London after his family felt threatened by the Russian mafia.

The "Battle of the Baritones" has never been repeated, although many believed that this year's competition might have been the year, with its rich crop of top notch low voices. However, in 2013, there was a "Battle of the Mezzos" when Jamie Barton squared off against Daniela Mack, Barton grabbing the crystal trophy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Atilla and Mefistofele to get San Francisco airings; Some Sam Ramey history

Samuel Ramey and Ildar Abdrazakov
Lovers of low voices in the San Francisco Bay Are area in for a real treat this summer, as their local PBS station KQED has announced that both Verdi's Attila and Boito's Mefestofle will be aired.

Attila will feature a veritable feast of Verdi low voices, led by the legendary Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role, Quinn Kelsey as Ezio and Samuel Ramey as Pope Leo I. The 1846 masterpiece about the legendary warrior who is tormented by internal doubts will air on Thursday, August 3 on KQED Channel 9.
Verdi’s 1846 masterpiece about a legendary warrior who is tormented by internal doubts, will air on Thursday, August 3 on KQED 9 - See more at: https://sfopera.com/about-us/press-room/press-releases/KQED-Attila-Mefi/#sthash.LC1AnggY.dpuf

Boito’s Mefistofele will feature barihunk Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role accompanied by Ramón Vargas and Patricia Racette. The retelling of the Faust legend will be telecast on Thursday, August 24th. Adventurous opera goes can also see Abdrazakov as Attilla, as he will be singing the role in April at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Barihunk afficionados will recall that Samuel Ramey attained barihunk status before the word was even coined, when he sang Mefistofele at the San Francisco Opera in 1989 in a cast that included Daniel Harper as Wagner, Gabriela Benacková as Margherita and Dennis O'Neill as Faust. He secured his barihunk status as Attila in 1991 with the company, in a cast that included Elizabeth Connell as Odabella, Vladimir Chernov as Ezio, Philip Skinner as Pope Leo I and Craig Estep as Uldino.

Barihunk Zachary Gordin in Festival Opera double-bill

Zachary Gordin sporting his Barihunk tee shirt at the gym
Barihunk calendar model Zachary Gordin is replacing fellow barihunk Hadleigh Adams in the Festival Opera's double-bill on Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins.

Gordin will sing Nedda's lover Silvio, whose affair with Canio's wife leads to the play-within-a-play's tragic turn. He'll be joined by Hope Briggs as Nedda, Alex Boyer as the jealous husband Canio and Laura Bohn as Anna, who will be led by Michael Morgan in the pit.

The Seven Deadly Sins is a satirical ballet chanté in seven scenes. Setting out on a journey across America to aid her poverty-stricken family, Anna I - manifested as two facets of one personality, one who sings and one who dances - finds herself on a seven-year, seven-city quest where she ultimately encounters each of the seven deadly sins. Anna I will be sung by Laura Bohn, who will be joined by Gordin, Kirk Eichelberger, Jonathan Smucker and Robert Norman, with Bryan Nies conducting.

With a libretto by Bertold Brecht, The Seven Deadly Sins was an artistic triumph at its premiere in Paris, but was not performed in the United States until twenty-five years later in 1958, with Lotte Lenye singing the role of Anna I.

There will be two performances of the double-bill on Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, just a short train ride from both San Francisco and Oakland. Tickets are available online.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Barihunks founder interviewed on German blog


Zachary Gordin on the cover of Queer.de
The founder of Barihunks was interviewed by Kevin Clarke for the gay German blog Queer.de. You can read the entire interview in German HERE or read the English translation below.

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You started the blog Barihunks 10 years ago, in 2007. It’s dedicated to hunky baritones representing a sexy, sportive and youthful vision and version of opera. What inspired you to create your blog, where did the initial spark come from? (And how long did it take from the initial spark to the actual website?)
The inspiration for Barihunks started as a conversation between a friend in New York and me in San Francisco. By coincidence, we had both just seen Dmitry Hvorostovsky and Mariusz Kwiecien in different performances. Director Francesca Zambello had recently coined the term “barihunk” in reference to Nathan Gunn performing shirtless in The Pearl Fishers. We joked around that it would be fun to create a tribute blog, believing that perhaps a handful of people would look at it. Within a few weeks we noticed a huge surge in traffic and realized that we had tapped into something with the opera crowd.
Was there anything like Barihunks around before? Or was this a complete novelty in the world of classical music/opera?
I don’t know of anything like Barihunks before it appeared on the scene.
I was personally put off by a number of bitchy opera blogs and felt like opera needed a more positive and fun portrayal of the artform. In fact we’ve posted the following under our Mission Statement: “Keep opera positive! No bitchiness allowed! This industry is tough enough.”
There have been a number of copycat sites, like “Sexy Sopranos,” but none have really taken off. There is something so unique about a gorgeous man with a low voice singing the most beautiful music ever written that just can’t be copied.
Many people don’t realize that we also use the site to raise money to support young artists and new compositions for baritones and basses through our sale of the Barihunks calendar and our tee shirts. Our goal is to truly be a positive force in opera.
There’s a famous saying, “It’s not over till the fat lady sings.” Most people do not associate opera and opera performances with well-build singers. Yet you present a never-ending army of them: where do they all come from suddenly? Did something in opera change around 2007? Has sex appeal become important in a business so exclusively focused on “voice” alone for so many years? Is there a historic precedent from sexy singers – back in the 17th or 18th century? Are you rediscovering something that was an original appeal of the art form opera?
This is a complicated question and I will answer it in the affirmative and the negative.
Yes, something did change, which is the omnipresence of TV and movies that made appearance more important. I had a singer say to me once, “Being on your site has given me the edge. If ten of us are going in for an audition for Don Giovanni and we all sing pretty much at the same level, but I may look better shirtless or in a closeup that is being broadcast on TV or on a movie screen, then I’ll probably get the role.” We talk about singers taking care of BOTH their voices and their bodies, as directors are demanding more physicality on stage and broadcasts are making appearance more important, whether one likes it, or not.
No, sexy singers are not new and that goes back to the earliest days of opera. The castrati singing in the 18th century European courts were often gorgeous and made up as beautifully as any woman. More recently, there have been barihunks around who we can still watch on old TV broadcast and videos on YouTube. We’ve featured many of them as “Historical Hunks,” including Gérard Souzay, Justino Diaz, Theodor Upmann, Paul Robeson (who famously posed nude!), Ettore Bastianini, Mario Sereni and the German Roland Hermann. I still think for both voice and looks, Ettore Bastianini is one of the sexiest singers to ever grace the stage. 
Duncan Rock
Why baritones and not tenors or basses? What is it about baritones that makes them physically hunkier than others? (Do they have to make up for the sex appeal tenors have in climactic high notes with pumped up torsos? Is the baritone sound in itself hunkier than other sounds….. are there any historic baritones you would describe as hunks, vocally or physically? And what about the basses, not sexy at all?)
If you look at our Mission Statement on the site, it reads “To promote the baritone to bass voice range, especially emerging talent.” We LOVE basses and feature them all the time. As for tenors, or hunkentenors as they’ve been dubbed, I’ll leave that to someone else. We do sneak a few onto our site and even into our calendar. Tenor Glenn Seven Allen is one of our sexiest photos in this year’s calendar. There was a Hunkentenor site that briefly appeared and went dark pretty quickly.
I do believe that the baritone has a special appeal. The great composer Ricky Ian Gordon said that the baritone is the voice of the “All-American man.” Both he and Jake Heggie compose many, if not all, of their lead roles for baritones. The tenor as the lead may be an artifact of the past. Baritones and basses are no longer always the villain and are becoming more sympathetic characters.
As for basses, I would argue that some of the sexiest singers on our site are basses, including the German Malte Roesner, who is the seventh most viewed singer on our site of all time and a regular in our calendars.
How do you select the barihunks you feature? How do you get the photos? (How many photos or messages a day do you receive? How strong is the increase in numbers since 2007 and 2017? From any region in particular?)
I receive photos and “barihunk tips” on a daily basis, for which I am grateful. When I first started the site, I had to hustle for content, but now it shows up in the in-box. Content comes from a variety of sources. Some are not surprising, like from singers, colleagues, boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses, opera marketing departments and agents.
However, my favorites come from mothers! Not a month has gone by without a submission from a mother and it usually comes with a note that says something like, “I know I’m biased, but I think my son is beautiful and definitely a barihunk.” I have one mother who gives me monthly updates on her son’s career. I simply adore her for it.  What’s more beautiful than a mother’s love and pride for her son?
As for regions, I’d say 80% of my content comes from the United States, Germany, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Sadly, for someone who loves Latino men, the most underrepresented area is Central and South America.
You are a gay man living together with another man. How much has your sexuality influenced your fascination for hunky baritones? Do you think a heterosexual male opera lover would have ever thought of creating such a blog? (Are there any heterosexual equivalents with gorgeous sopranos or mezzos, or is that not necessary because it’s how the current mainstream opera business works anyway, Miss Netrebko showing her décolleté and selling a million more CDs/concert tickets?)
This is a fascinating question, because intuitively I would say that my sexuality totally influenced me to create the site. However, I’ve learned so much from the straight barihunks on the site about self-esteem and fitness. A number of singers, including Keith Miller and Kasey Yeargain, have created fitness sites and businesses which are an outshoot of what we’ve created. Therefore, I would say that a straight man could have created the site, but I would argue that Barihunks probably had to happen first.
I find mezzos to be the female equivalent of barihunks. There are a ton of sexy mezzos out there on the world’s opera stages. We’ve had Joyce DiDonato on our site in an “Honorary Barihunk” tee shirt. There is a young mezzo named Laura Krumm who is both sexy and has the most seductive voice I’ve heard in years. 
Jan Rekeszus (Bild: Dennis König Photographie)
Is it an act of gay liberation to be able to openly admit and discuss ones fascination for attractive singers today, without feeling ashamed about it? (And how do the singers react to being thus admired?)
I wouldn’t call it an act of gay liberation. Directors have made the fascination with attractive and even naked singers a pretty ordinary occurrence (especially in Germany!). Most singers love being admired. After all, anyone who walks out onto a stage is seeking approval and admiration.
I was surprised by a conversation with a barihunk on my recent visit to Germany, who said to me, “I don’t mind being admired for being shirtless on stage, but I am uncomfortable with posing for a calendar.“ He said being admired as beefcake made him feel like a woman who is sexualized simply for being attractive and not for her other traits.
Traditionally, “opera queens” as Wayne Koestenbaum describes them or Terrence McNally portrays them worship sopranos. Are you the next step in the opera queen evolution?
I started as the quintessential “Diva worshipper,” which comes out of that old stereotype of gay men idolizing strong, passionate, over-the-top female femme fatales. I find it a bit passé today. What I love about the barihunk phenomenon is that it appeals equally to men and women, as well as straight or gay.
Considering the homoeroticism of many barihunk photos: are the visitors of your blog only gay men? (Do you ever have to deal with homophobia? Do you discuss sexual orientation with your barihunks? Is it an issue for baritones today whether they are admired by gay men or heterosexual women? Are there regional or age differences?)
From what we can tell from analytics and sales of our merchandise, we’re almost 50-50 male to female. As I mentioned earlier, many of our male readers are straight men obsessed with fitness and exercise. We’ve done some Bari-Chunk to Bari-Hunk features which have generated ten times our usual traffic. Most of the email about those posts comes from straight guys thanking us for inspiring them to get in shape and to improve their self-esteem.
As for homophobia, we’ve experienced virtually none in ten years of posts. We did have one singer ask us to remove a post because it violated his religious beliefs.
We’ve had a series of “Barihunk Lunches” where we gather a group of low voices and discuss a variety of topic over a meal. I’m so impressed with how easily straight and gay men in this business get along, tease each other and even toss around sexual innuendos. I believe there has been a true generational shift around sexual orientation. Fortunately, the opera world is miles ahead of everyone else.
What do you think attracts heterosexual women to barihunks? And is the opera industry fully responding to the needs these women have? Any suggestions for improving the image of opera, in general?
I love that Barihunks has allowed women to not only talk about, but brag about, their attraction to men. Some of the most provocative comments and emails that I receive are from women – and they know what they like! It is interesting to me that gay men and straight women tend to be attracted to completely different men. For instance, Nathan Gunn and Thomas Hampson seem to be total magnets for women, but don’t’ generate the same level of intensity from men.
If you look at an average opera audience, the majority is made up of gay men and women. We both clearly love beautiful men with gorgeous, resonant low voices. More of that would go a long way! I’m proud that a positive image of healthy, virile men has become the new stereotype for opera, rather than the antiquated idea of an oversized Wagnerian soprano with horns and a spear. 
Justin Hopkins
 Where do your followers come from, mostly?
The United States, Germany, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, with a huge increase coming from Russia and Eastern Europe.
You mentioned that one of your most successful posts was on a red headed singer. Why are red heads such an item?
I follow my analytics closely, as they dictate who I post (or don’t post). Certain types seem to have particularly passionate followers and red-heads fall into that category, as do hairy men, hairless men, Asian singers and men in tuxedos. 
Puerto Rican Xavier Edgardo
Talking of red heads: how much desire for diversity do you see among your followers? Are there any Asian, Arab, black or any other people of color barihunks?
We are very cognizant about diversity and truly try to put as much of it on display as possible. We’ve featured numerous black and Asian singers on the site, but there aren’t many Arab baritones in the world today. If your readers know of some, send them our way at Barihunks@gmail.com.
Do your followers ever discuss vocal aspects, or do they focus only on exterior body elements?
You can’t have an opera blog and not discuss the voice. It’s still first and foremost about the voice.
After 10 years of barihunks: what has changed in the opera world, for you? Has barihunks influenced these changes? What do you wish should happen in the future, what happens in the US that Germany could learn from or vice versa?
The biggest change in opera has been its accessibility. I’m sitting in California as I respond to your questions from Germany while watching Semiramide on my laptop from France. The barihunks phenomenon cannot be separated from the fact that opera is showing up on people’s TV screens, laptops and in movie theatres. It has become as much a remote VISUAL MEDIA artform as a LIVE VOCAL artform.
Your focus on sexy singers is very pop culture orientated, it corresponds to what most teen magazines do with pop stars. Why are traditional opera magazines like Opernwelt completely ignoring the trend you sent and why are most opera magazines so unsexy and stuffy? (While opera companies lament the lack of interest from young audiences.)
I think part of the success of Barihunks is that we’re not stuffy, don’t take ourselves too seriously, yet still respect the artform and remain informative.
I’m fascinated by the marketing of opera in Europe, which often features an 80-year-old conductor, while in the U.S and Canada the focus in on the singers. Even US opera magazines like Opera News are doing Hollywood-style photoshoots with singers and featuring young, often attractive, rising stars of opera. I open some European music magazine and I feel like I should be blowing dust off of the pages. 
Marco Vassalli sings Clint Borzoni's "Stufen"
What’s the most inappropriate mail you ever received from a barihunk (or singer)?
Oh Lord! I had a British baritone (of some note) who delighted himself by sending me the most inappropriate dick pics. I never knew if he was serious, or not, but he claimed he did it because he was obsessed with getting on the site. We don’t ever post random nudity and only post it if it’s related to a performance.
I also receive “revenge photos,” which really upset me and which I DO NOT TOLERATE. I had a soprano send me a series of nude photos of her barihunk ex-boyfriend, begging me to post them. I finally threatened legal action against her with the help of an attorney, as this is both illegal and inappropriate.
Would it bother you if a barihunk did porn? Does porn stop you from having a serious opera career, as it did years ago in Hollywood? Has the opera business become more tolerant about sex videos, too? Has opera embraced porn as a topic in the same way Hollywood has? Or is this the next cross-over frontier?
Well, there has been Gordon Beeferman’s The Enchanted Organ: A Porn Opera featuring a character named Avery Dick that was done in New York and Pornographi, which was done in the Netherlands. I suspect that if there is an audience, it will get performed.
I know of a singer who seriously considered doing porn to supplement his income, but wisely decided against it. I suspect that it would adversely effect one’s career. I knew of an amateur video of a barihunk that made the rounds and it created some serious problems for his agent and almost cost him a major debut.
Will you ever publish a book about your time as “Mr. Barihunks”? And did you ever think you ever think your blog would become such an era defining thing?
I’m not sure that a book would be of much interest, but I have seriously explored shutting down the site and turning it into a foundation to support young artists and new compositions. 
Sam Ramey and Giorgio Zancanaro in the Attila duet:
(What’s your favorite baritone aria? Sung by whom, historically?)
I love two low voices together, so two duets stand out for me:
·       The Attila-Ezio duet “Tardo per gli anni" by Verdi with Sam Ramey as Attila!
·       The King Philip and Grand Inquisitor duet from Verdi’s Don Carlo with Ferruccio Furlanetto and Sam Ramey.
As for a solo aria, there are far too many to chose from, but I’m a sucker for Don Giovanni’s “Deh, vieni alla finestra” sung by Mariusz Kwiecien or Dmitry Hvorostovksy, Wotan's Farewell “Leb' wohl” and Hamlet’s drinking song “O vin, dissipe le tristesse” sung by Stépane Degout or Simon Keenlyside.
My personal contemporary favorite is Marco Vassalli singing Clint Borzoni’s song “Stufen,” with text by Hermann Hesse, which is viewable on YouTube.
 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Paull-Anthony Keightley named finalist at Australian Singing Competition

Paull-Anthony Keightley
Barihunk Paull-Anthony Keightley has been named one of five finalists at the 2017 IFAC Handa Australian Singing Competition. He'll be joined by Damian Arnold, Daniel Carison, Filipe Manu, and Shikara Ringdahl.

The finalists will compete for over $200,000 in prizes at the July 15th Finals Concert.

Paull-Anthony Keightley made his principal debut with West Australian Opera in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi while he was the 2016 Wesfarmers Young Artist. He recently appeared as Sciarrone in company’s production of Puccini's Tosca while continuing as a member of the Young Artist Programme.

Upcoming engagements include the baritone soloist in Faure’s Requiem with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, bass soloist in Bach’s Cantata BWV. 147 with the Perth Symphonic Chorus, Colline in Puccini's La bohème with Freeze Frame Opera and Zuniga in Bizet's Carmen with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Bryn Terfel replaces Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Tanglewood

 
Dmitri Hvorostovsky
The Tanglewood Festival press office sent out the following notice today:

"Bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel will replace baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Saturday, August 26, opera gala program at Tanglewood. Led by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, the program will feature Sir Bryn, soprano Kristine Opolais, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in an evening of opera and song. Further program details will be announced at a later date. Mr. Hvorostovsky withdrew from the concert in May for reasons of health."
Hvorostovsky was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the summer of 2015 and subsequently cancelled concerts in Kaliningrad, Minsk and Vienna, as well as performances in the Met's  production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, where he was replaced by fellow barihunks Peter Mattei and Mariusz Kwiecien. In April, he did make an appearance in Toronto with Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov.

His website lists two concerts at the Grafenegg Festival on June 22 and 23 titled "Hvorostovsky and Friends." 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hunky trio to reprise Three Way at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Wes Mason (photo: Jason Lee Denton)
Barihunks Wes Mason, Matt Treviño and hunkentenor Samuel Levine will reprise their performances of Robert Paterson's new opera Three Way with the American Opera Projects at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Performances will run from June 15-18 and readers can get a 10% discount on tickets by clicking HERE and entering the code 71023.

The opera explores Android lovers, dominatrix culture, and the final frontier: multiple partners. The piece  is a playful three-act performance that explores the future of love, sex, and need with a clever balance of humor and drama. Each aptly named act (The Companion, Safe Word, and Masquerade) introduces the audience to a collision of contemporary characters who meet at the intersection of power and desire to reveal the true longings of the human heart.

The work was originally premiered at the Nashville Opera with the same hunky trio.

You can still donate to their Kickstarter campaign to fund a recording of the opera.