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Magdalena Kožená (Mezzo-soprano, Soprano)
Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works
General Discussions - Part 1

Recordings

See: Magdalena Kožená – Short Biography

 

Favourite Soprano Singers

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 26, 2001):
< Santu De Silva wrote:
|< P.S. What nationality is Magdalena Kožená? I'm guessing Czech or Hungarian. >
Magdalena Kožená was born in 1973 in the Moravian capital Brno, which belongs to the Czech Republic.

 

Kožená News

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 30, 2001):
I am a new member and I write from Milan, Italy. In February it will be published a new Bach cantatas CD on the DHM label performed by the great M. Kožená accompanied by "La Petite Bande". Probably we'll have new versions of cantatas per soprano solo. "La Petite Bande" and M. Kožená toured France together in 1999 summer but there weren't solo cantatas on the bill, however let's hope well! I've heard live M. Kožená in Milan singing in "Juditha Triumphans", a Vivaldi oratorio: she's wonderful!

Thomas Gebhardt (Collegium Cantorum Köln) wrote (January 30, 2001):
(To Riccardo Nughes) Probably you are speaking of this one

J.S.BACH · Cantatas 9, 94, 187
Midori Suzuki (Soprano), Magdalena Kožená (Mezzo-soprano), Knut Schoch (Tenor), Jan Van der Crabben (Baritone) · La Petite Bande · Sigiswald Kuijken
DHM 05472 77528 2
(P) and (C) 2001 is stated on the sleeve (although I have received a review copy in December 2000 already)

It's the latest (and probably one of the best) example for the "One-Voice-Per-Part-Theory" style Bach Cantata recording. I have received a review copy and had already mentioned it in a posting about 2 weeks
ago: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/90

Go and hear it! It's marvellous!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (January 30, 2001):
(To Thomas Gebhardt) Thanks Thomas, I'm in this list since 5 days only so I wasn't able to read your message. Life is easy when you've got preview copies, isn't it? ;-)

I heard those 3 cantatas (choral cantatas after the Trinity) in Milan (17-11-1999) but in that occasion M. Kožená was replaced by Patricia Hardt....I remember a great performance by Jan Van der Crabben, he is a very interesting bass. The Petite Bande also played the triple concerto BWV 1044.

 

Kozena on UK TV

John Welch.wrote (April 23, 2001):
Hi Alan and All, The JEG concert of Cantatas BWV 113, BWV 179 and BWV 199 at St. Davids in Wales, was on Welsh TV last Sunday. Magdalena Kozena sang BWV 199 beautifully. I recorded it, and I wondered at the time if DG would release it for sale.

Galina Kolomietz wrote (April 24, 2001):
(To John Welch) It was released: Archiv 463 591-2

John Welch.wrote (April 26, 2001):
(To Galina Kolomietz) Thanks for the CD No. But what I really wondered was if DG were going to produce a Video of the performance.

Galina Kolomietz wrote (April 27, 2001):
(To John Welch) *** Hmm... I doubt that. They dropped the plan to issue CD's so I wouldn't think they'd start issuing videos, especially videos of the things that are already out on CD. But do let us know if you hear anything.

 

Does anyone have this recording?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (January 20, 2002):
http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000053ZJW

As you can see from my previous post, the review of the Cantata DVD, I am quite enamored with Kozena's singing in Bach. Amazon FR says this is out of print. Anyone have a copy?

Philip Peters wrote (January 21, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I do. I can hardly believe that it's really OOP already. It is a very good disc IMO.

Michael Butera (January 21, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn & Philip Peters] Wow! I can't believe it's OOP either! HMV Japan has it ( http://www.hmv.co.jp/Product/Detail.asp?sku=557518 ) but their shipping rates are ridiculously high (at least last time I checked, they were). Luckily, a friend in Japan purchased it and sent it to me for a much cheaper postage rate. It is an excellent disc, IMO, although it certainly has its detractors (what doesn't?). I found it
to be lovely.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (January 21, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I've been completely absent for two weeks - gorgeous skiing time with my son ...

Do you mean this Kuijken recordings of canatas with this sweet Czech voice in the major role? Yes, I have it. So...? ;-)

John Welch wrote (January 28, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I have a copy of this recording on Pal Video which I recorded from the TV when on holiday in Wales last year. I agree M. Kozena`s voice is beautiful and I would like to hear more of her.

You can get the DVD at www.cdselections.com click on DVD and "list everything" under "B". If you just put it in the search box, it comes back "unknown".

They also have listed there the cello concertos pld by Yo Yo Ma also on DVD, what do you all think of his playing?

 

Magdalena Kozena

Piotr Jaworski wrote (January 28, 2002):
Due to the massive interest in the rising star of Magdalena Kozena, I attach very interesting (and thought provoking!) review of one of my friends.

The contents are rather OT for the Bach Recordings List, but quite 'essential' for the EMR List. I hope that that posting as such, and the cross-posting in particular, will be excused.

Magdalena Kozena - Händel Italian Cantatas

Needless to say, that the 'reviewer' found last MK recording (Gluck, Mozart, Myslivecek) of similar qualities:
Amazon.com

 

Magdalena Kozena

John Welch wrote (June 17, 2002):
On the DGG web site under the heading `Artist Discussions` there is a very interesting question and answer discussion by Magdalena Kozena. I asked her if she had any more plans to record more Bach CD`s. She answered "Yes, there is a forthcoming project with Musica Antiqua Koln, It is called Bachiana III and there will be works by J.S.Bach as well as other members of the Bach family."

I love her voice and recently bought the CD "Love Songs" (DGG 463 472-2) with songs by Dvorak,Janacek and Martinu it also has a beautiful photo of her on the cover.

 

For the Kozena fans

Riccardo Nughes wrote (July 28, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] HI Kirk, this one is for you ;-)

The on-line edition of an italian newspaper has a photo gallery concerning the Don Giovanni in Salzburg. Magdalena Kozena was Zerlina and she is really fine in these photos (Mr.Hampson please hands off!).
http://www.corriere.it/av/galleria.html?dongiovanni&1

 

Magdalena Kožená + DG Recording Strategies
Packaging Magdalena Kožená

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 28, 2002):
Here is a ‚revealing’ commentary about Magdalena Kožená from the current Welt am Sonntag in an interview (Welt am Sonntag) that Axel Brüggemann conducted with Michael Lange, Director (CEO?) of Deutsche Grammophon:
B: Mr. Lang, you are at the head of the well-established Deutsche Grammophon recording company at a time of the greatest crisis that has ever been experienced in the realm of the classics. Wouldn’t you have preferred to have your position in the Karajan era?
Lang: It’s hard for me to even imagine this era anymore. That was when the maestro had an idea, drummed together some singers, set up a recording session in the studio and produced six to eight recordings each year. And the craziest thing about all this was that they all sold well! I really don’t know what has happened since then. All I know is that the golden era of classical music is passé. That is the challenge that I face.
B: Hasn’t this myth about the crisis in classical music been created by the financially ailing recording companies? The concert halls andthe opera houses have full audiences.
Lang: Superficially it seems like the ticket sales are doing well in this regard – particularly in Germany. But if you look again, you will see that this is only possible because of the huge sums of private and public monetary support that keep things afloat. The classical music market, nevertheless, still continues to shrink. At this point it constitutes only 3 % of our total sales.
B: Has Beethoven now finally become entirely antiquated?
Well, perhaps not Beethoven, but a large portion of the classical music listening audience has. The major recording companies missed out on the rejuvenation process that has taken place. However, much worse is the educational situation for which the government is responsible. If the government continues to treat music instruction grudgingly (not allocate sufficient sums of money for this), then the effect will be felt not only by the CD producers, but also those responsible for arranging concert performances or staging operas. Once the interest in this kind of music is lost, then no amount of outside financial support will be able to entice the young listeners to attend classical concerts and productions.
B: You have tried to attack this problem yourself by introducing a new DG series with the title, “Classical Beauties” with pretty women and fashion photography – do you really think that this is sexy?
Lang: Just call it cool, hip or sexy – in the final end, it is an attempt to advertise classical content using a new language. We can’t ignore the marketplace and simply allow classical music to die on a desert island with a happy collector. Besides that, the packaging doesn’t change any aspect of the musical quality.
B: This begins to sound a little like the politician, Edmund Stoiber, who went into the discos to attract young voters…
Lang: I think that we should remain believable [in our conversation] and not become ironic and make fun of the classical music situation.
B: Twelve years ago three tenors popularized classical music and made millions. Now, honestly, how many new regular customers did you gain as a result of that phenomenon?
Lang: Naturally, I know that 95% of those who bought the 3-Tenors recordings, did not then go to a record store to buy a complete “Turandot” in order to hear the new hit “Nessun dorma.” But there are 5% who did just that. For such a small market (classical music only) as the one we have, this is large, new addition to our (classical music) customer base.
B: This kind of street appeal/show window appeal for advertising classical music is one way. Are there any specific structural strategies that you are using to combat this crisis?
Lang: DG is no longer targeting an international audience. We now concentrate more on the local market areas. That’s why we produced “Classical Beauties” and also the “…meets” series, in which prominent celebrities introduce their favorite composers. Both series are very controversial and have been discussed a lot, and along with them the situation with classical music in general.
B: Is the difference between the marketing by French recording companies and yours really that great?
Lang: The French market is more conservative. Here we try to make the pedagogical contents more easily approachable, we try to integrate time-lines and biographical information about the composers in the accompanying booklets, and we try to establish reasonable prices. We are really trying to attract young, local (German-speaking market) customers who would like to begin a classical music collection that won’t cost too much.
B: You talk about the trend to localize your market, but isn’t just the opposite happening with the mergers of large recording firms: Warner purchased Erato, Nonesuch and Teldec and DG now belongs to Universal. Don’t these things immediately create a big headache for you?
Lang: At present, all of us are in a stage of regeneration, where [only] those projects that certain to bring profits are being pushed forward. All these firms are entering this entirely changed market with their own individual strategies.
B: EMI is cutting positions, Sony has prematurely terminated long-term contracts with artists that had promised to work exclusively for that firm. Now Sony has drifted unsuccessfully into the area of background music for love-making. How are you going to take a strong position in the midst of all of this?
Lang: DG is a relatively inflexible ocean liner. Now it is upon us to recognize the fact that the ocean has become smaller and that we need to restructure this ocean liner into a maneuverable luxury yacht.
B: Do the new artists now have to learn how to sail differently?
Lang: Definitely so since there no longer is a direct connection between an concert career and a recording career. These are two very different careers. Once an artist has become a recording artist, they have to agree with the rules of marketing that require them to be packaged properly…
B: …like your discovery of Magdalena Kožená, who is now making her debut in Salzburg?
Lang: She has a perfect voice, is young, and yes, is also photogenic. In addition, she is willing to go along with all the promotional aspects. The most important thing, however, is that she feels good about it - only when there is agreement between the marketing strategy and the personal plans of the artist, can there really be an success.
B: Wouldn’t a charismatic artist like Karajan be a much better life-saver in a classical music recording market where everyone is trying to do the same thing? Isn’t this what EMI is hoping to do with Simon Rattle?
Lang: That could be true, but Rattle had already achieved his career position long ago. I am more concerned about the continued promotion of young artists, with whom we agree upon a five-year plan, in order to harmonize the development of their repertoire with the records which we want to produce with them. In the pop-artist business it is a general rule, that a tour is undertaken right after the publication of a CD. We want to do it the same way. At the moment we are faced with the situation that classical music recordings are no longer offered in many E-markets and the specialized record stores are going under. We are in direct conflict with the Pop-market and I think it is ok to emulate their successful strategies.
B: In the final end there will often be the standard recording productions of well-known works. Smaller firms like “Harmonia Mundi” are successful even when they digress into less well-known repertoire. Don’t you have the courage to do this?
Lang: Small recording companies can calculate the profit lines very differently. If they sell 5,000 copies, that suits their goal, but we would not even be able to pay our rent with that.
B: Do you think that the new media like DVD will provide the same type of boom that was created when CDs were first introduced?
Lang: Perhaps this will be so for opera fans. These are people who demand the highest audio and visual quality. With a DVD you will be able to get the same feeling as in the opera house. The problem is: Production costs are extremely high and only with the cooperation between recording companies, opera houses, and TV stations will such a production be feasible. Nevertheless, the DVD-market is one of the few positive, hopeful aspects that exists in the classical music market.
B: The pop-music market is afraid of the internet and the pirating of original media. Are you also afraid of this?
Lang: I wish I could share this fear with the pop-music market. It is ironic that the general interest in classical music is not even large enough to attract such copy-pirates. Unfortunately.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 29, 2002):
Here is another ‘revealing’ portrait from Berlin Online in the following article by Jörg Königsdorf [I tried very hard to keep myself from intruding upon the original gist of this article, since I am not entirely happy with the results that I hear in her Bach arias, even though she has one of the best voices around right now for singing them. It now appears that she may not take the necessary time to devote herseriously to singing Bach since she has other goals. What a loss that would be!]:

Love, Faith, and Madness

At age 28 she is more successful than other opera divas. Magdalena Kožená, who is making her debut at the Salzburg Festival this weekend, is being packaged for marketing as the cool-blond type of woman. What she wants most of all is to be great in her artistry.

Arturo Toscanini, one of the greatest conductors of all times, formulated it this way: ”In order to be a great artist, you need 10 % talent and 90% discipline.” But what happens if someone has 100% talent and 100% strength of will power? In the case of Magdalena Kožená, nature seems to have undertaken to risk this combination as a trial balloon. This Czech mezzo-soprano not only has granted to her by birth one of the most beautiful voices of the present day, but she also has an unbending will power: “I always wanted to be better than the others,” she says. “That was the case already as a child when I still played piano. Even such stupid things as practicing scales, never phased me because I knew what better things they could lead to.” This sounds almost like what you might hear from athletes at a socialist sports training camp, but at the same time, it is a rather disarming statement of course, just as if Kožená, never in her whole life had considered that other people would much rather be lazy and find an easier road to success.

“Never again a role that I hate”

No small wonder, that Kožená, who is just barely 28 years old, has attained much more than all other opera singers in her age bracket. The international press is celebrating her rising star status in the opera world, she has an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, concertizes with the topmost classical music artists, and is making her debut as Zerlina in Mozart’s "Don Giovanni" which is under the direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Salzburg Festival. This singer is like a gift from heaven which will help the ailing classical music art out of its doldrums, because Kožená does not only have a voice and self-discipline, but also a striking appearance, and this is exactly what counts for even more in this age of media. Her recording company has already created an expensive, high-profile series of photos, where she is ‘draped’ [this probably implies just the opposite] accordingly as a top model, sometimes as a vamp with long, blond hair, at other times as a young girl who has a strong attachment to nature as she floats languidly in the Moldau river assuming a slithering position on a raft as the sun shines down upon her – just as if she were taking the classic pose of another famous Czech star model, Eva Herzegova.

Everything in her rapidly ascending career has been carefully planned and is unflagging – also in part because it is unthinkable that this ‘cool blond’ could ever lose her head amidst the suddenly expanding hype surrounding her personality. The most important engagements in her calendar book are checked off the same way she once checked off her piano practice sessions. Shrugging her shoulders, she says, “You simply have to appear in all the important opera houses from Vienna to New York, so that these things can be recorded in your biography, because that’s simply a business matter. But when I appear in these ancient opera productions, there is nothing in them that allows me to grow as an artist. Whatever you hear being played there, really has almost nothing to do with truly live music theater.” [To understand this statement, it helps to read in the Austrian Newspaper, Standard, Thomas Hampson’s statement about his relationship to the conductor, Harnoncourt, in the current Salzburg opera production: “Don Giovanni” is 'a work in progress' – which could imply a lack of rehearsal time and immense artistic freedom, but whose freedom? Hampson stated: “If Harnoncourt wants me to do a headstand at some point, then I do it. The slow parts are slower and the fast parts are faster. He is very flexible with his tempi. There are certain things that I don’t have to think about any more, etc. etc.]

She could stand it for only one year to be part of a regular opera ensemble. This happened in the early 90’s at the Viennese Volksoper. This was an experience that she would never like to repeat: “You literally become a slave and are forced to sing roles that you hate. All of this simply because you hope at some point, after five or six years, to get a chance to move up to bigger and better roles. I saw no possibility in this to get my career going upwards on a fast track.” Kožená left and decided to freelance and not allow anyone to dictate conditions to her anymore. She shifted gears immediately, the same way she did as a 14-year-old, who immediately changed from piano playing to singing when she injured her hand seriously one day before her admittance audition to music school. This is much like a gymnast who switches from the floor exercises to the parallel bars.

Here is where we begin to understand, that Kožená’s strong career goal is identical to her desire to be an artist, because her ambition has transformed itself into attaining artistic perfection. This seldom-heard-of combination of technical precision and expression obviously made an impression on important individuals at Deutsche Grammophone, when they heard her tape recording of Bach arias together with a Czech baroque group, a recording which DG had not requested of her. The publication of this recording in the long-established Archiv Series immediately focused attention on this extraordinary voice and the albums with Czech songs and 18th century opera arias, both of which have received many awards, have allowed her to ascend quickly to the rank of the “Happy Few” stars of classical music.

It is difficult to believe, that such a sensible (common sense) person can sing about such irrational things like love, faith, and madness, if it were not for the fact that you can hear in her voice a direct experience which can be moving, expressing anguish, being enthusiastic, or being angry.

In the corners of her soul

And this is exactly how she sounds in Prague’s splendid Royal Concert Hall, the Rudolfinum. There Kožená sings Händel, accompanied by the messiah of old music, Marc Minkowski and his musicians, Du Louvre, with whom she has regularly concertized since the beginning of her career. This is a very special evening: for the first time Kožená dares to sing two soprano arias from “Giulio Cesare.” With a magic intensity of tone and deep feeling she transforms Cleopatra’s wonderful lament aria, “Piangeró la sorte mia” into a pianissimo that is at the same time ethereal, but also directly related to the present. It is as if an intuitive understanding of the human situation, that had been hidden until now under the rock strata of a musician’s mundane experiences suddenly breaks forth all at once. At this moment you begin to understand that in addition to talent and discipline another small spark is necessary that will ignite and create a reaction: it is called genius.

Thomas Braatz wrote (July 29, 2002):
Here is a ‚revealing’ commentary about Magdalena Kožená from the current Welt am Sonntag in an interview (Welt am Sonntag) that Axel Brüggemann conducted with Michael Lange, Director (CEO?) of Deutsche Grammophon:

B: Mr. Lang, you are at the head of the well-established Deutsche Grammophon recording company at a time of the greatest crisis that has ever been experienced in the realm of the classics. Wouldn’t you have preferred to have your position in the Karajan era?

Lang: It’s hard for me to even imagine this era anymore. That was when the maestro had an idea, drummed together some singers, set up a recording session in the studio and produced six to eight recordings each year. And the craziest thing about all this was that they all sold well! I really don’t know what has happened since then. All I know is that the golden era of classical music is passé. That is the challenge that I face.

B: Hasn’t this myth about the crisis in classical music been created by the financially ailing recording companies? The concert halls and the opera hohave full audiences.

Lang: Superficially it seems like the ticket sales are doing well in this regard – particularly in Germany. But if you look again, you will see that this is only possible because of the huge sums of private and public monetary support that keep things afloat. The classical music market, nevertheless, still continues to shrink. At this point it constitutes only 3 % of our total sales.

B: Has Beethoven now finally become entirely antiquated?

Lang: Well, perhaps not Beethoven, but a large portion of the listening audience has. The major recording companies missed out on the rejuvenation process that has taken place. However, much worse is the educational situation for which the government is responsible. If the government continues to treat music instruction grudgingly (not allocate sufficient sums of money for this), then the effect will be felt not only by the CD producers, but also those responsible for arranging concert performances or staging operas. Once the interest in this kind of music is lost, then no amount of outside financial support will be able to entice the young listeners to attend classical concerts and productions.

B: You have tried to attack this problem yourself by introducing a new DG series with the title, “Classical Beauties” with pretty women and fashion photography – do you really think that this is sexy?

Lang: Just call it cool, hip or sexy – in the final end, it is an attempt to advertise classical content using a new language. We can’t ignore the marketplace and simply allow classical music to die on a desert island with a happy collector. Besides that, the packaging doesn’t change any aspect of the musical quality.

B: This begins to sound a little like the politician, Edmund Stoiber, who went into the discos to attract young voters…

Lang: I think that we should remain believable [in our conversation] and not become ironic and make fun of the classical music situation.

B: Twelve years ago three tenors popularized classical music and made millions. Now, honestly, how many new regular customers did you gain as a result of that phenomenon?

Lang: Naturally, I know that 95% of those who bought the 3-Tenors recordings, did not then go to a record store to buy a complete “Turandot” in order to hear the new hit “Nessun dorma.” But there are 5% who did just that. For such a small market (classical music only) as the one we have, this is large, new addition to our (classical music) customer base.

B: This kind of street appeal/show window appeal for advertising classical music is one way. Are there any specific structural strategies that you are using to combat this crisis?

Lang: DG is no longer targeting an international audience. We now concentrate more on the local market areas. That’s why we produced “Classical Beauties” and also the “…meets” series, in which prominent celebrities introduce their favorite composers. Both series are very controversial and have been discussed a lot, and along with them the situation with classical music in general.

B: Is the difference between the French recording companies’ marketing and yours really that great?

Lang: The French market is more conservative. Here we try to make the pedagogical contents more easily approachable, we try to integrate time-lines and biographical information about the composers in the accompanying booklets, and we try to establish reasonable prices. We are really trying to attract young, local (German-speaking market) customers who would like to begin a classical music collection that won’t cost too much.

B: You talk about the trend to localize your market, but isn’t just the opposite happening with the mergers of large recording firms: Warner purchased Erato, Nonesuch and Teldec and DG now belongs to Universal. Don’t these things immediately create a big headache for you?

Lang: At present, all of us are in a stage of regeneration, where [only] those projects that certain to bring profits are being pushed forward. All these firms are entering this entirely changed market with their own individual strategies.

B: EMI is cutting positions, Sony has prematurely terminated long-term contracts with artists that had promised to work exclusively for that firm. Now Sony has drifted unsuccessfully into the area of background music for love-making. How are you going to take a strong position in the midst of all of this?

Lang: DG is a relatively inflexible ocean liner. Now it is upon us to recognize the fact that the ocean has become smaller and that we need to restructure this ocean liner into a maneuverable luxury yacht.

B: Do the new artists now have to learn how to sail differently?

Lang: Definitely so since there no longer is a direct connection between an concert career and a recording career. These are two very different careers. Once an artist has become a recording artist, they have to agree with the rules of marketing that require them to be packaged properly…

B: …like your discovery of Magdalena Kožená, who is now making her debut in Salzburg?

Lang: She has a perfect voice, is young, and yes, is also photogenic. In addition, she is willing to go along with all the promotional aspects. The most important thing, however, is that she feels good about it - only when there is agreement between the marketing strategy and the personal plans of the artist, can there really be an success.

B: Wouldn’t a charismatic artist like Karajan be a much better life-saver in a classical music recording market where everyone is trying to do the same thing? Isn’t this what EMI is hoping to do with Simon Rattle?

Lang: That could be true, but Rattle had already achieved his career position long ago. I am more concerned about the continued promotion of young artists, with whom we agree upon a five-year plan, in order to harmonize the development of their repertoire with the records which we want to produce with them. In the pop-artist business it is a general rule, that a tour is undertaken right after the publication of a CD. We want to do it the same way. At the moment we are faced with the situation that classical music recordings are no longer offered in many E-Markets and the specialized record stores are going under. We are in direct conflict with the Pop market and I think it is ok to emulate their successful strategies.

B: In the final end there will often be the standard recording productions of well-known works. Smaller firms like “Harmonia Mundi” are successful even when they digress into less well-known repertoire. Don’t you have the courage to do this?

Lang: Small recording companies can calculate the profit lines very differently. If they sell 5,000 copies, that suits their goal, but we would not even be able to pay our rent with that.

B: Do you think that the new media like DVD will provide the same type of boom that was created when CDs were first introduced?

Lang: Perhaps this will be so for opera fans. These are people who demand the highest audio and visual quality. With a DVD you will be able to get the same feeling as in the opera house. The problem is: Production costs are extremely high and only with the cooperation between recording companies, opera houses, and TV stations will such a production be feasible. Nevertheless, the DVD-market is one of the few positive, hopeful aspects that exists in the classical music market.

B: The pop-music market is afraid of the internet and the pirating of original media. Are you also afraid of this?

Lang: I wish I could share this fear with the pop-music market. It is ironic that the general interest in classical music is not even large enough to attract such copy-pirates. Unfortunately.

Here is another ‘revealing’ portrait from Berlin Online in the following article by Jörg Königsdorf [I tried very hard to keep myself from intruding upon the original gist of this article]:

Love, Faith, and Madness

At age 28 she is more successful than other opera divas. Magdalena Kožená, who is making her debut at the Salzburg Festival this weekend, is being packaged for marketing as the cool blond type of woman. What she wants most of all ito be great in her artistry.

Arturo Toscanini, one of the greatest conductors of all times, formulated it this way: ”In order to be a great artist, you need 10 % talent and 90% discipline.” But what happens if someone has 100% talent and 100% strength of will power? In the case of Magdalena Kožená, nature seems to have undertaken to risk this combination as a trial balloon. This Czech mezzo-soprano not only has granted to her by birth one of the most beautiful voices of the present day, but she also has an unbending will power: “I always wanted to be better than the others,” she says. “That was the case already as a child when I still played piano. Even such stupid things as practicing scales, never phased me because I knew what better things they could lead to.” This sounds almost like what you might hear from athletes at a socialist sports training camp, but at the same time a rather disarming statement of course, just as if Kožená, never in her whole life had considered that other people would much rather be lazy and find an easier road to success.

“Never again a role that I hate”

No small wonder, that Kožená, who is just barely 28 years old, has attained much more than all other opera singers in her age bracket. The international press is celebrating her rising star status in the opera world, she has an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, concretizes with the topmost classical music artists, and is making her debut as Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni which is under the direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt at the Salzburg Festival. This singer is like a gift from heaven which will help the ailing classical music art out of its doldrums, because Kožená does not only have a voice and self-discipline, but also a striking appearance, and this is exactly what counts for even more in this age of media. Her recording company has already created an expensive, high-profile series of photos, where she is ‘draped’ [this probably implies just the opposite] accordingly as a top model, sometimes as a vamp with long, blond hair, at other times as a young girl who has a strong attachment to nature as she floats languidly in the Moldau river assuming a slithering position on a raft as the sun shines down upon her – just as if she were taking the classic pose of another famous Czech star model, Eva Herzegova.

Everything in her rapidly ascending career has been carefully planned and is unflagging – also in part because it is unthinkable that this ‘cool blond’ could ever lose her head amidst the suddenly expanding hype surrounding her personality. The most important engagements in her calendar book are checked off the same way she once checked off her piano practice sessions. Shrugging her shoulders, she says, “You simply have to appear in all the important opera houses from Vienna to New York, so that these things can be recorded in your biography, because that’s simply a business matter. But when I appear in these ancient opera productions, there is nothing in them that allows me to grow as an artist. Whatever you hear being played there, really has almost nothing to do with truly live music theater.” [To understand this statement, it helps to read in the Austrian Newspaper, Standard, Thomas Hampson’s statement about his relationship to the conductor, Harnoncourt, in the current Salzburg opera production: “Don Giovanni” is a work in progress – which could imply a lack of rehearsal time and immense artistic freedom, but whose freedom? Hampson stated: “If Harnoncourt wants me to do a headstand at some point, then I do it. The slow parts are slower and the fast parts are faster. He is very flexible with his tempi. There are certain things that I don’t have to think about any more, etc. etc.]

She could stand it for only one year to be part of a regular opera ensemble. This happened in the early 90’s at the Viennese Volksoper. This was an experience that she would never like to repeat: “You literally become a slave and are forced to sing roles that you hate. All of this simply because you hope at some point, after five or six years, to get a chance to move up to bigger and better roles. I saw no possibility in this to get my career going upwards on a fast track.” Kožená left and decided to freelance and not allow anyone to dictate conditions to her anymore. She shifted gears immediately, the same way she did as a 14-year-old, who immediately changed from piano playing to singing when she injured her hand seriously one day before her admittance audition to music school. This is much like a gymnast who switches from the floor exercises to the parallel bars.

Here is where we begin to understand, that Kožená’s strong career goal is identical to her desire to be an artist, because her ambition has transformed itself into attaining artistic perfection. This seldom-heard combination of technical precision and expression obviously made an impression on important individuals at Deutsche Grammophone, when they heard her tape recording of Bach arias together with a Czech baroque group, a recording which they had not requested of her. The publication of this recording in the long-established Archiv Series immediately focused attention on this extraordinary voice and the albums with Czech songs and 18th century opera arias, both of which have received many awards, have allowed her to ascend quickly to the rank of the “Happy Few” stars of classical music.

It is difficult to believe, that such a sensible (common sense) person can sing about such irrational things like love, faith, and madness, if it were not for the fact that you can hear in her voice a direct experience which can be moving, expressing anguish, being enthusiastic, or being angry.

In the corners of her soul

And this is exactly how she sounds in Prague’s splendid Royal Concert Hall, the Rudolfinum. There Kožená sings Händel, accompanied by the messiah of old music, Marc Minkowski and his musicians, Du Louvre, with whom she has regularly concertized since the beginning of her career. This is a very special evening: for the first time Kožená dares to sing two soprano arias from “Giulio Cesare.” With a magic intensity of tone and deep feeling she transforms Cleopatra’s wonderful lament aria, “Piangeró la sorte mia” into a pianissimo that is at the same time ethereal, but also directly related to the present. It is as if an intuitive understanding of the human situation, that had been hidden until now under the rock strata of a musician’s mundane experiences suddenly breaks forth all at once. At this moment you begin to understand that in addition to talent and discipline another small spark is necessary that will ignite and create a reaction: it is called genius.

 

Erotica

Bernard Nys wrote (July 30, 2002):
I've seen the pictures from the Salzburg production of Don Giovanni. It seems that the classical music world has to follow the trend in pop music clips : more and more erotic elements. And although I don't find her so pretty, the beauty of Magdalena Kozena seems to be an important element for her career. Perhaps it's a little bit like the succes of the "Rite of Spring" premiere : sex & scandal.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 30, 2002):
< Bernard Nys wrote: I've seen the pictures from the Salzburg production of Don Giovanni. It seems that the classical music world has to follow the trend in pop music clips : more and more erotic elements. >
That's not new - there have been many productions of operas (more often modern works) with nudity and eroticism.

François Haidon wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] Surely it had a lot to do with the music itself? And, hey, it's Don Giovanni after all!!!

And furthermore, we're not talking about "classical music" at large, we're talking about opera. It seems everybody in the world of opera wants to fight off the genre's stuffed-shirt bourgeois image. I think it's a good thing, even though one ay question the results. "Erotica" is only an aspect of the "problem", if one considers there is really one.

As to eroticism being anything new in classical music marketing, I recently came upon an old vinyl of Abbado's recording of Scriabin's Poème de l'esomewhere in the 1970's, and... My, my!! And why not? It's Le poème de l'extase, you know! And why not bringing up that aspect, which is also present, in Don Giovanni, or Ariadne auf Naxos, or Carmen or...

And remember (back(/h) on-topic!) that the SJP or anyway at least one his Passions was frowned upon by some members of their first (Lutherian!) audiences because it was too operatic (i.e. lascivious!) for the church!

Pete Blue wrote (July 30, 2002):
The Salzburg Don Giovanni staging seems to be a partial ripoff of the Peter Sellers=directed Don Giovanni I saw in the 1980's at a Mozart/DaPonte Festival at SUNY Purchase (State University of New York at Purchase, New York). The finale featured the chorus in frontal nudity (as I recall -- and it's the kind of thing one tends to recall! Memorable bazongas!). Sellers also staged a Cosi Fan Tutte set in a seaside cafe with Fiordiligi and Dorabella as "Alice"-type waitresses -- delightful -- and Nozze di Figaro set in a Manhattan high-rise. There may be commercial videos of these somewhere.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 30, 2002):
Pete Blue wrote:
< The Salzburg Don Giovanni staging seems to be a partial ripoff of the Peter Sellers=directed Don Giovanni I saw in the 1980's at a Mozart/DaPonte Festival at SUNY Purchase (State University of New York at Purchase, New York). >
Where can one see the pix of this Salzburg production?

Pete Blue wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] You neglected to read your own e-mail. See link on Message # 7076 (addressed to YOU!).

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] Ah, yes, now I remember. I clicked on the link, it obnoxiously changed the size of my browser window, then displayed just a blank page...

Piotr Jaworski wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Kirk McElhearn] The same happened to me...

but try this one otherwise:
http://ricerca.corriere.it/Primo_Piano/Spettacoli/2002/07_Luglio/27/salisburgo.shtml

However I still cant enlarge those pictures (I use Netsacpe 6.2.1) quite odd...

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Piotr Jaworski] I get thumbnails....

Can anyone send me the enlarged pix as an attachment? (Not to the list...)

Thomas Radleff wrote (July 30, 2002):
The costume and stage design in Martin Kusej´s Don Giovanni has a special austrian connex, and to anyone living in Austria the message is clear at first sight.

The five model´s asses on the curtain, with Harnoncourt directing in front of it, is an exact reproduction of the probably most famous advertisment poster of ***, the country´s biggest underwear & dessous factory, famous also for their marketing design which is visible here at every corner, and now even on the stage of the Salzburger Festspielhaus. (I won´t mention ***´s name here, unless they pay me 1/1000 of the sum of their Salzburg´s sponsoring !) These posters are in the minds of all Austrians and some Germans, and the images have caused (and still do) many different emotional reactions, from obsession and affection, to parody, chauvinistic applause and and feminist protest. (At the age of 12, my son pinned it on the wall - in HIS room.)

The costume design AND the cool expression of the women surrounding Hampson´s DonGiovanni fits exactly into the same esthetics. Though I only know these pictures and not the whole production, it seems to me quite normal that Don Giovanni is confronted with the personalized items of his long register ("mille-tre") of women he "had" and still is desiring to meet, and as a modern matter of fact these imaignations are deeply influenced by the world of commercial image production: ads, photos, films, pornography, covers, erotica on every ketchup bottle - all these pics that we are bombed with, and I dare to say that NO MAN´s fantasy is not somehow influenced by them in some sense. Here, in the case of the Salzburg staging, we can see another effect of this sort of erotic imperialism: the faces & figures are getting more and more unpersonal, interchangeable.

Finally, no stage production - theatre, opera, dance, performance - should be judged by the photographs, which only can give one (minor) aspect of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Nevertheless, it´d be very interesting how erotic codes have been shown, or been hidden, during the ages of changing fashions, freedom and restriction - in costumes? gesture? extemporés (at Shakespeare´s time or in the Commedia!), or in MUSIC? Why not...

Recommendation: take a look at some reviews of this Salzburg production. Together with Kusej´s directing, and Hampson´s well-known intelligent acting it seems to make an organic entity whose first intention is not provocation, but finding a contemporary solution, or rather clear images for a contemporary psychology.

Humble apologies for this far-off-topic, but in a man´s mind always current theme...
...with greetings from Vienna,

Juozas Rimas wrote (July 30, 2002):
< Can anyone send me the enlarged pix as an attachment? (Not to the list...) >
I uploaded a zip of 10 images (326KB) at
http://www.geocities.com/oboerimas/dongiovanni.zip

Robert Sherman wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] Also remember the very impressive three pulchritudinous norns (or
whatever they are)from Ingmar Bergman's film version of Magic Flute. (And they sung well too......)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] Thanks. I got the pix no, thanks to Riccardo and Juozas.

Charles Francis wrote (July 30, 2002):
[To Bernard Nys] Are there no standards anymore? First Nikolaus Harnoncourt is allowed to perform at the Salzburg Festival and now this!

 

Kozena’s singing in German

Matthew Westphal wrote (May 4, 2003):
I was a bit surprised to see such vehement criticism of Magdalena Kozena's singing in German. I certainly can't judge the accuracy of her pronunciation. (I don't remember hearing any obvious errors of the sort I heard slip through James Gilchrist's SJP Evangelist, but that's all I can say with any confidence.) But the way she expresses the text, especially in her SMP (BWV 244) solos for McCreesh, seems to me absolutely marvelous. Those of you who know German better than I: is her handling of the language really so terrible? If so, is it mostly an accent or, to your ears, does she really not seem to understand what she's singing?

Peter Bright wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] Certainly, the German classical music sites are littered with 5 star reviews from German listeners for her singing of Bach - so there are many Germans for whom her accent isn't a problem. And it hasn't stopped Reinhard Goebel with Musica Antiqua Koln seeking her out for recitals of works by the Bach family... I think Goebel has enough integrity not to seek her out just because of her crowd pulling potential.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Matthew Westphal] Well, I refer you to the DVD with BWV 199 (BBC Opus Arte) where she clearly shows that she has no idea what particular words mean, not to mention the whole cantata. She smiles when she says: "schrecken" ("terrify"), for example, she doesn't pronounce the initial "H" making, say, "Heil" sound like "eil" - a completely diffrent word in German; she smiles through most of the cantata and whispers words as if it was an erotic song. She is clearly more interested in 'making impression' than in singing the text, but if sometimes the mood of the piece happen to agree with her mood, the effect is fine. She just sings everything as she wishes, never mind that her gestures are not suitable. I can't at the moment give you specific examples from McCreesh's SMP (BWV 244) because I actually threw it away with the last collection of garbage. If you have Minkowski's Messiah, listen to your native English sung by her and see how 'marvelously' she expresses the text there. She clearly has no idea what this passage is about, but that of course is the conductor's fault. He is the one to control the coherence of thwhole performance. It's not an aria recital after all.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Peter Bright] I could give you plenty of examples of singers singing in foreign languages but conducted by native speakers who don't correct obvious mistakes. Singing in foreign languages properly is not a priority today, particularly if most singers have a really bad diction and for most vocal music fans - particularly the so called 'new audiences" - it doesn't matter whether their favorite singers sing properly or not. It is the sound they make that matters. The fact that Goebel is using her voice for a Bach recording is a reflection of Kozena's stardom and the fact that she is a DG artist. DG just hopes to sell more of her records with Bach because it is in this area that she seems to have most of her fans. Most of them really don't care whether her German is good or not. They listen to her voice and look at her pictures.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 4, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
< Well, I refer you to the DVD with BWV 199 (BBC Opus Arte) where she clearly shows that she has no idea what particular words mean, not to mention the whole cantata. She smiles when she says: "schrecken" ("terrify"), for example, she doesn't pronounce the initial "H" making, say, "Heil" sound like "eil" – a completely diffrent word in German; she smiles through most of the cantata and whispers words as if it was an erotic song. >
I don't think she's actually smiling - it looks more like a tic to me. That and the fact that she squints, which may be because she needs glasses and does not wear them when she sings? Just a guess...

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] How about contact lenses? Such a look-concerned person certainly uses them. But seriously, her grimaces are concious and studied. The mood of the whole piece as sung by her is so different from the mood of the cantata! This has nothing to do with squints etc. It is in the voice and in the minsunderstanding of the text. Do yourself ef a favour and play the DVD with the German subtitles (you'll need those to understand Kozena's German) and see the discrepancies between the text and her grimaces. The most comical moment comes in the explosion of "My heart is now a well of tears, my eyes are boiling springs. Ah God, who will ever content Thee?" which she sings as an outburst of joy. Another one is her coquettish smirk sent to God (?) when she pleads for mercy ((27'12''). I've never seen anything more comical in Bach singing and believe me, I watched this DVD as an objective viewer, with no preconceptions about MK. I believe that singing Bach is about simplicity, not about showing off - I am sure we all agree on that. Vibrato versus non-vibrato, boy versus female voice, OVPP versus choirs are secondary issues in performing Bach. The most important one is humbleness and simplicity of performance because this music was intended as part of church services. That's at least one thing we are sure about. In that BWV 199 MK doesn't seem to understand it. It is a show of "look how cute I am"....

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 4, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
< How about contact lenses? Such a look-concerned person certainly uses them. But seriously, her grimaces are concious and studied. The mood of the whole piece as sung by her is so different from the mood of the cantata! This has nothing to do with squints etc. >
Well, I can't wear contacts - I have astigmatisms. I'll have another look at the DVD when I get a chance.

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 4, 2003):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Well, I've just watched it again to see whether I am not carried away by wrong memories, but I found this performance equally absurd as i did the first time. She is smiling most of the time - she can be perfectly serious if she wants so this smile has nothing to do with the general expression of her face. She ends every phrase with a cute smile that it so strange to the whole mood of the cantata that I really can't help bursting into laughter. I am not talking about uncontrollable grimaces but a set of carefully planned facial expressions. If you look at her in the other cantatas on the same DVD you'll see that when she is not left to her own devices, when she has to sing with other people, she can be quite controlled and in the 'character' with the mood of the piece. That's why I think that in BWV 199 she is showing off because she is left uncontrolled (even Gardiner can't see her too well). She said in many of her intereviews that she likes singing music her way. Well, if that doesn't tell it all, then what does?

Santu De Silva wrote (May 13, 2003):
Izabela Zbikowska wrote:
< I could give you plenty of examples of singers singing in foreign languages but conducted by native speakers who don't correct obvious mistakes. >
Not having visited Europe, I have no first hand knowledge of this, but I understand many Czech, Polish, Hungarian and Serbian folk visit and are comfortable in Germany, and speak German as one of their "mother tongues", despite their unique accents. Their German is THEIR German, even if it does not coincide with the official (KOLN?) dialect.

Wouldn't a conductor find it hard to correct them? Like correcting the English pronunciation of a Scot (or an American, for that matter).

Gene Hanson wrote (May 13, 2003):
Santu De Silva wrote:
< Their German is THEIR German, even if it does not coincide with the official (KOLN?)dialect. Wouldn't a conductor find it hard to correct them? Like correcting the English pronunciation of a Scot (or an American, for that matter). >
You mean like Sean Connery playing something other than a British secret service agent?

Izabela Zbikowska wrote (May 13, 2003):
[To Santu De Silva] First of all - singing in a foreign language is different from speaking. Even when singing in their native tongue, singers often distort the accepted pronuciation. It has more to do with the singing technique (usually faulty if we apply high and probably old-fashioned standards) than anything else. I remember when we started this discussion, Thomas from Austria said that he finds Kozena's German pronuciation 'charming'. I also love when foreigners speak my native language (Polish) and - even if it happens relatively rarely - when they sing in it.

Mispronunciation is one thing (and can happen to anybody, even native speakers) and misunderstanding another. If you don't feel the language and don't care about the meaning of certain words or the structure of the language (although one have to say that the knowledge of foreign languages is becoming more and more impressive among young singers) you may easily misinterpret them, emphasize words that are not important and neglect those that give the sentence its meaning.

There is a lovely scene in the "In Rehearsal with John Eliot Gardiner" DVD (rehearsing BWV 63) when the marvellous Sara Mingardo mispronounces the word 'hassen' leaving out the initial 'H' - a natural thing to do for an Italian! (Kozena also forgets sometimes about the initial H but in her case i don't really know where it comes from because in Czech initial 'h' is not mute) - but Gardiner doesn't interrupt to correct her, he only smiles kind-heartedly. If you have the CD with this cantata recorded AFTER the rehearsal you can hear how beautifully Mingardo treats this initial 'h' there to give the word 'hassen' - 'hate' - the right colour! (recitative "O selger Tag"). Mingardo's German may strike some native speakers as strange yet her delivery of German texts is incredible. This woman obviously wants to tell us something and uses the text to communicate it. When you are ashamed of your pronunciation, you may be thinking too much about it and too little about what you are really singing about and this happens to so many singers today that I really see it as a serious problem.

 

Continue on Part 2

Magdalena Kožená: Short Biography | General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Bach Arias - by Štryncl & Musica Florea with Magdalena Kožená | Bachiana Volume 3 - Lamento - by Magdalena Kožená w/ Musica Antiqua Köln & Reinhard Goebel

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Last update: ýNovember 15, 2010 ý22:54:44