Listening Party Podcast Episode 9
Jul 03, 2020 1:00pm
Diverse Voices from the Performing Arts from For All to Hear
Podcast host Rebecca Hass offers space to an artist and an arts administrator to share their stories and experiences as people of colour in the opera world. Baritone Samuel Chan and Priti Gandhi, Chief Artistic Officer for Minnesota Opera, offer their personal insights, along with selections for a Spotify playlist
Baritone Samuel Chan, who will sing the role of Dancairo in Pacific Opera’s postponed production of Carmen, offers musical and personal insights into his experiences with diversity in opera.
For the majority of my life, opera has been an art form which has showcased the beauty of storytelling through the human voice. However, the future of opera relies on the representation of stories and voices of all Canadians, which for far too long have been hidden due to systemic misrepresentation in our culture. I wish growing up I had the chance to see more people of colour, Indigenous artists, and artists of all orientations on stage, because I’ve had to navigate what it means to be a young artist of colour in a very predominately white world.
Priti Gandhi joined Minnesota Opera in 2018 as Chief Artistic Officer. She previously served as artistic administrator of San Diego Opera where she advised the general director on casting and artistic budgeting and oversaw all artistic contracting and management. Chief among her accomplishments was serving as a member of the administrative team that helped to save San Diego Opera from near closure in 2014.
Gandhi has had a 20-year international opera career as a coloratura mezzo-soprano and then soprano, appearing with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Seattle Opera, San Diego Opera, Théâtre du Châtelet, the Royal Opera House, Prague Estates Theatre, New York City Opera, Philadelphia Orchestra, and San Francisco Opera.
A native of Mumbai, she is a graduate of University of California, San Diego, an alumna of young artist programs at Cleveland Opera and San Diego Opera, as well as an amateur painter and dedicated flamenco
Be sure to listen to the podcast and then explore the accompanying Spotify playlist.
Some highlights from this playlist:
Bach’s cantata ‘Ich habe genug’ BWV 82 is my favourite piece in the entire classical repertory. His musical connection to spirituality and humanity has made him my favourite composer of all time. This piece, sung on this recording by my favourite vocal artist, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson with the Orchestra of Emmanuel Music, captures the fragility and strength of humanity through the religious text from the Book of Job.
The Creation, Hob.XXI:2 is my favourite oratorio, and the way Haydn manages to capture the beginning of the world’s creation harmonically within the very first movement is absolute GENIUS!
When I was a young musician, Mitsuko Uchida was a huge inspiration for me. She is an artist of such sensitivity and technical brilliance, and her recordings caught me how important listening and reaction are in music creation. Her interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, is a quintessential example of how to play Mozart. Her artistry as well as her strength and technique is heavily showcased in the cadenza of the first movement and the entire 2nd movement.
This particular recording of the Count’s aria ‘Hai gia vinta la causa’ from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is one of the first I ever heard! I fell in love with Thomas Allen’s singing, as it is an extremely classy interpretation of the role (in my humble yet biased opinion). What I love most is how his voice captures the anger and resentment of the Count in this scene, while vocally, he maintains the elegance he is so renowned for all over the world.
‘Am Tage Aller Seelen’, D.343 is possibly my favourite Lied by Schubert. This masterpiece was arranged by Liszt as a virtuosic showcase of solo piano technical and artistic brilliance and exemplifies emotional sensitivity while allowing the artist a chance to explore the emotional depth of humanity through music. This recording is live from the Van Cliburn Competition, performed by Korean pianist Sunwoo Yekwon. His interpretation was such a perfect performance, that I rightly guessed he would win the entire competition from how he played the piano during this round!
I fell in love with vocal music through the piano. Though I decided not to pursue it professionally the way I chose to pursue singing, the piano will always be my first musical love. I selected this recording of the Lied ‘Das Wirsthaus’ from Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, because of the artistry of the performers showcased: Murray Perahia and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. These two musicians are both masters in their fields, the former one of the world’s great solo pianists, and the latter arguably the greatest Lieder singer in recorded history. I love how this recording showcases the artistic honesty required by both artists to successfully interpret Schubert’s art.
John Adams has been one of my musical heroes. Though he is a minimalist composer, I love how his music captures the emotional depths often explored by many romantic composers such as Mahler and Schumann. This aria, ‘Am I in your Light’ from Doctor Atomic, is one of my favourite love arias in opera, as we hear Kitty Oppenheimer, the wife of J. Robert Oppenheimer (one of the creators of the first Atomic Bomb), comfort her husband as he returns from a mentally and ethically taxing day at work.
Putting together the tracks of this podcast, I felt that I definitely had to showcase the artistry of Marion Anderson. Anderson was one of the most important singers of the 20th Century, and one of the first black classical singers of world renown. She is celebrated today for her dark, gorgeous contralto voice, as well as her advocacy for black artists in the mid-20th century. Anderson was denied a performance to a racially integrated audience at Washington DC’s ‘Constitution Hall’ in 1939. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, she instead performed to an integrated crowd of 75,000 and to a radio audience of millions worldwide. Her performance was one of the earliest examples of the importance of black representation in classical music.
I have to highlight this recording of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson singing ‘Calling You’ from the movie Bagdad Cafe. I believe this recording speaks for itself! Absolute perfection.
Björk is a pop artist who has always inspired me artistically. A fearless interpreter of human emotions. Through her records, I was first introduced to Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq during my first year of undergrad. Tagaq’s mastery of Inuit Throat Singing captivated my ear, and her exploration of her culture, her advocacy for her people, and her artistic voice within our contemporary pop music culture has kept me a huge fan ever since!
Vienna Teng and Utada Hikaru, two American artists who’ve been prominent fixtures in their respective musical worlds, are two of my big non-classical inspirations. The way singer-songwriter Vienna captures the Asian-American cultural existence with her text directly contrasts with the vocal powerhouse of Utada, one of the most successful Japanese pop singers of all time.
The last 4 selections are Asian pop songs in four different languages. Like many Asian-Canadian and Asian-American singers, I turned my pop music attentions to the Asian music market when I was a teenager, as I craved Asian representation in Canadian and American media. The genres of Cantopop, C-Pop, J-Pop, and K-Pop were secret prominent fixtures on my iPod. The last song on this playlist is by Singaporean singer Tanya Chua, who records in both English and Mandarin. This song is entitled Yi Shu, which roughly translates as ‘Last Will and Testament’, and exemplifies the finality of life, yet celebrates the hope of rebirth.
Beethoven Sonata in C Minor – Op. 13 (Pathetique) I’ve been playing piano since I was six – and though I am nowhere near the player I used to be, I do still attempt the 2nd movement of this piece. It’s one of my favorite pieces and never fails to break my heart.
Rossini – Il barbiere di Siviglia – Una voce poco fa I’ve probably sung this aria more than any other in my singing career – starting off as a coloratura mezzo, this got me through quite a few competitions! Though I ended up having a love hate relationship with it… I love it more now, with some subjective distance.
Rossini – La cenerentola – non piu mesta Same reasons as the ‘una voce poco fa. The character of Cinderella is close to my heart for so many reasons. I sang this role more than 80 times, in a combination of education tours and mainstage productions. It’s one of my favorite operas. Rossini wrote such a profound, gentle whimsy underneath this music, with so much heart.
Verdi – La forza del destino – pace pace (specifically Leontyne Price singing it!) This is my favorite aria in all of LIFE. I fantasize incessantly about having the vocal capacity to sing it! Though I do not….. but one can be a dramatic soprano in the heart.
Depeche Mode – Strangelove My first high-school band love. Depeche Mode was ahead of their time with their sound and their deep, disturbing lyrics. The angst ridden teenager in me needed their music and their words. This song was especially powerful to me.
New Order – Regret I can listen to this song over and over again. It makes me reflect on how not living with regret is probably one of the most important philosophies to live by, and I’ve tried to be as true to that as possible.
Taal Se Taal – sung by Alka Yagnik & Udit Narayan (from the Bollywood movie Taal) So of course, I have to throw a little Bollywood in here. I don’t watch as much anymore, but I do have some favorites. And the deep, dramatic romantic in me is so satisfied with the melodrama of Bollywood. Not to mention that it makes fantastic dance music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEqpxQ_tB5I
Maar Dala – from the Bollywood movie Devdas The dancer Madhuri Dixit dances the most heavenly, sexy scene in this song from Devdas. I cannot tear my eyes from her when she is doing this dance!!
Cavalleria Rusticana – the entire opera – by Pietro Mascagni If I had to pick something from this, it would be the Regina caeli Laetare with the mezzo and chorus…. This opera was the first full opera I ever bought on CD, and the kinesthetic reaction it gave me, I’ll never forget. To this day, this opera gives me goosebumps from start to finish. Such a beautiful example of how dramatic, magical, unearthly gorgeous, and bloody crazy an opera can be!!
And on Youtube…….
Janet Baker – Ch’io mi scordi di te – Mozart concert aria (alternate Idamante aria) This is a concert aria for the character of Idamante (pants role mezzo) in <Idomeneo – one of my favorite Mozart operas. I’ve always wanted to sing it and never have… another aria I fantasize about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhggk9RA3eg
Morgen – Strauss art song – sung by Arleen Auger Just one of the most moving pieces of music ever written. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDfVbF1UTGc
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