COMING OUT OF THE TUNNEL: TOWARD A CLEAR VIEW OF OPERA IN OUR TIME

BY MICHAEL RECCHIUTI

The worldwide pandemic of 2020-2021 succeeded  in accomplishing what years of shrinking, progressively less sophisticated audiences, graft laden internal politics, destructive national policies, and sheer administrative incompetence could not; the total shutdown of operatic performance around the world.

There have been a plethora of filmed opera-like events produced for digital distribution of varying artistic and technical qualities, many of which had the whiff of desperation about them to demonstrate the ongoing activity of the producing entities, but they are not opera. I was fascinated to see how small the audiences actually were for these projects. These are videos conceived to be viewed on televisions, and, more often, on smartphones. This is not opera. Perhaps this tragic hiatus from live performance can be used as a moment of reflection, and critical clarity.

“These are videos conceived to be viewed on televisions, and, more often, on smartphones. This is not opera.”

As we apparently seem to begin to emerge from this nightmare of isolation, and we can recommence activity in the opera house, which requires several thousand people in one room, I would propose that we clarify some issues, and attempt to impose some critical criteria on what will be called “opera”.

Let us examine what constitute the fundamental components of an operatic performance. The art form is so wonderfully complex that I think it requires a critical look at each of its ingredients. Let us also agree that there are objective standards of basic technical proficiency that can be applied to many of the components parts that have nothing to do with “taste”, or “preference”.

Let us first address the matter of singing, by definition the primary focus of opera. Singers must be technically proficient. This sounds ridiculously reductionist, but it is not. Merely possessing diplomas, the imprimatur of prestigious young artist training programs, or arriving by whatever path onto the stage does not a priori bestow fundamental technical competence upon a singer put before the public. Singers must sing in tune. We do not promote pianists who miss fistfuls of notes, violinists who play out of tune, or ballet dancers unable to do leaps and turns. But we have increasingly seen the acceptance, rationalization, and apologizing for out of tune singing. Singers must be technically capable of singing all the notes in the role in which they present themselves to the public.

“Singers must be technically proficient. This sounds ridiculously reductionist, but it is not.”

Voices, while variable in the strength of their various registers, must at least possess a mastery of their instrument from top to bottom. A chest voice register may not have the power of the top of the range, but it must be audible. The top portion of a singer’s voice must be easily accessible from whatever precedes it, and should be exciting, and beautiful, and not cringe-worthy or alarming. The singer may not skip over the parts of a role that they can’t really sing. The singer must have the breath control to artistically make phrases without breaking down, and even breathing between syllables of words. The singer must have a mastery of the languages in which they sing in order to render the text comprehensible. They must be proficient not just in the basic mechanics of the language, but have progressed up to a sophisticated understanding of inherent rhythm and of idiomatic nuance. This includes the proper production of consonants, and, more importantly vowels. Each language has a particular color palette of vowels that must be respected. Singers must be technically able to sing coloratura, rapid scales and arpeggios accurately, and in tune. Historically even the largest voices could do this (listen to Chaliapin) as it is a fundamental skill.

In second place, we must move on to the conductor and his/her role. There is no Platonically Ideal performance of an opera, or, indeed, any piece of music. A performer brings his particular skill set and applies it to the textual matrix supplied by the composer. The assiduous and honest application of each individual artist to this process guarantees the wonderful variety of interpretations of a given work.

The role of the conductor is to possess total mastery of the basic materials of a piece (the notes, both of the singers and the instrumentalists, the words, the dramatic instructions, the performance style of the piece, the acoustic of the performance venue, the attributes and limitations of the performers), process all of them, and lead an assembled company to produce a carefully crafted, nuanced, intelligent and aesthetically pleasing whole.  The preparation for this job, as you can see, is daunting, and never-ending. He/She must be able to control the internal balances in the orchestra, and make them produce a precise, organized sound.

“The role of the conductor is to possess total mastery of the basic materials of a piece…”

Regarding the relationship with the singers, he/she must possess a thorough understanding of the technique of singing, fluency in the languages involved, and the possibilities and limitations of the human voice. He/She must have a firm conception of the music which he communicates to the singers during the rehearsal process, and understand how to maximize their capabilities to fulfill his vision. It is a collaborative effort. Optimum tempi must be established and maintained. Acoustical balance between the singer and the orchestra must be established and imposed. At the most basic level, if the singer on stage is not coordinated with the orchestra, you cannot hear the singer, or cannot understand the words, the conductor is not doing their job.

Now we discuss the stage director. We must understand that the existence of this job is a relatively recent development in opera. As late as the beginning of the 20th century there was no such animal. The conductor staged the works, as he was often the composer, and knew exactly what he intended. He was the individual in the theater with total mastery of the score. There was a stage manager, who was responsible for organizing the scenery, props, etc., and indicating entrance and exit points for the singers. I would direct you to Harvey Sach’s excellent book “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience” for a detailed description of his work as director of La Scala.

A combination of factors led to the establishment of Stage Director as an actual discreet job. Firstly, the twentieth century saw a development in legitimate theater of more and more naturalistic acting styles, and more stylized entire productions. Then, there was the increase in the volume of opera performances internationally, which inevitably led to a lot of routine, and just bad productions in the traditional style. In the attempt to make something “new” and “attractive”, directors began to create productions based on concepts, and viewing the works through particular social prisms, thereby narrowing their interpretive possibilities instead of broadening them. Many productions became simply visually confusing.

I would propose the following: if you do not understand what you are watching onstage, it is not your fault. The director has failed the work. If singers appear to be doing nonsensical things, they probably are, and the director has not helped the singers to interpret the work. If they are physically placed in parts of the stage where you cannot hear them, that is a simply incorrect, and technically inept. I am reminded of a passage from a letter from Arnold Schoenberg to Vasilij Kandinsky wherein he writes, “I would like that on the stage nothing impede the comprehension of the public, of the listener, because if the public does not understand what it is seeing it distracts from the music.”

“I would propose the following: if you do not understand what you are watching onstage, it is not your fault. The director has failed the work.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, opera requires an actively engaged public of informed listeners. Serious members of the opera going public must cease reading reviews immediately. I do not believe, based upon my reading, that there is currently a single critic, either “professional” or dilettante (and I use the word in the literal and not pejorative sense) who has had the cultural preparation, and is free of some kind of agenda qualified to help form someone else’s opinion. With apologies for the substitution of a single word to the late George Steiner, “It is not criticism that makes music live.” If you go to the opera merely to let soporific waves of sound wash over you (an enjoyable reason, but a severely limited one), that is fine, but you are not prepared to form an educated opinion about the performance. The more you can bring in terms of cultural preparation to experiencing a performance, the richer and deeper your evening will be, and you will have that much more to think about and to which to react. Quite simply, a better public will produce better opera.

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Spring Dance Festival Stage and International Competition in Rome, Italy

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International Summer Intensive Dance Classes in Italy and NYC

Here is the greatest opportunity to experience America in Italy!

Four weeks of lessons with teachers from New York to help you grow your technique, your artistry, your person. Rely on the artistic direction of Antonio Fini, talent scout for Martha Graham Dance SchoolLimón Dance FoundationStaten Island Ballet and many others.
Summer School participants won scholarships and work today in the Big Apple!

Fini Dance Change your Destiny!

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Music and Mentoring House is reopened!! A letter from the founder, Laurel Flanigan

June 16, 2021

Dear Friends and Extended Family of Music and Mentoring House,

It’s hard to imagine that for the past 10 years I have had a house full of wonderful humans, weekends full of all of you, and now, have spent the past 10 months without all that crazy wonderfulness. 

The challenge of coaching amazing young twenty-somethings to remain engaged and creative these many months has been wonderfully challenging and incredibly heartbreaking but they have to figure this out. Designing a life that can remain creative and thrive in times of crises has been the positive focus of our coaching sessions. As of today, I will have completed more than 1,000 hours of online life coaching, at no cost, to former residents of Music and Mentoring House and students of our programs. The privilege of being an integral part of their process, of being relied on day after day has been humbling to say the least. You’ll be so proud of them when we next gather!!

So at this mid date in June 2021, I am reaching out to see if you would please donate to Music and Mentoring House and help me keep these amazing humans creative and performing in front of you and the world? It’s a beautiful thing you’ve helped me do all these years. A beautiful thing I’m deeply committed to and personally invested in for the long term. Mentored affordable housing for artists. 

Artists and musicians of all disciplines deserve a safe creative home in the arts capital of the country, New York City.

Music and Mentoring House. We are that place.

And so it is with some serious enthusiasm (Oh gioia!!! ) that I can tell you……

  • Our first resident student in more than 11 months arrived yesterday from Colombia, South America. She will be in residence for three weeks taking voice lessons from me and preparing for a program she will attend in the first weeks of July in Miami, Florida. Her family reached out to me as her situation in Colombia grew dangerous and her University was forced to close. I am very happy to have her here again studying, thriving and getting vaccinated! And we have many applications for fall residencies. We’re back!!
  • This year, Music and Mentoring House and I were nominated for The David Prize. It was a wonderful surprise that came at a very difficult time for me in the pandemic and I almost didn’t accept the nomination. Accepting the nomination and entering the application process helped me come to a richer and deeper understanding of what it is that I love about coaching, teaching, and living with wonderful young humans. We actually made it through the first several rounds which, I am told, is not easy. I don’t know who recommended us but I am forever grateful they did. Here is an excerpt from the application:

 I believe that the smallest musical gesture honestly placed makes the biggest impact and I get to live it every day in a permanent organization I created called Music and Mentoring House, in Harlem, my community for the past 18 years. Through Master Classes, breakfasts, dinners and community performances I combine education and performing in a way that allows the power of the human voice to tell our personal stories and effect change. What interests me and what ignites my imagination is the invitation “in” . The invitation to the breakfast table or friends and neighbors coming to support students in a creative performance environment. We can’t keep singing without access to performance opportunities on a weekly and monthly basis and we have built a strong weekly audience to support the invitation to come on “in”. Our neighbors and donors show up!

  • We are about to launch our annual summer program The Audition Boot Camp!! Yes we are!!! 

I want to jump in feet first making sure everyone is ready to sing sing sing, come fall. So… at some moment in the not too distant future we will start performances of Aria Madness. I am looking for an outdoor space that keeps us all healthy and Covid free, so wish me luck and stay tuned. 

Of course, none of this is possible without your presence in our lives, ongoing kindness and financial support. I know that you know this but it can’t be expressed enough. It really can’t. You see the impact your presence has on their performances and their enthusiasm. You’ve lived it along with me in the living room, at the kitchen table and family dinners in the garden. It’s a magical relationship you’ve helped me create and kept moving forward. So….

We are still fiscally sponsored by The American Opera Project. Right now, donations can be made by visiting their donor site:

http://www.aopopera.org/donate.html and writing Music and Mentoring House on the line that reads: I would like my gift to go to the following AOP project

You can also send a check payable to: The American Opera Project. Just write Music and Mentoring House on the memo line at the bottom of your check. Checks can be mailed to:

The American Opera Project 138 S Oxford St # 3B, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Thank you for reading my long letters and continuing to support us. 

See you in August with some Aria Madness!!!

Sincerely, Lauren–
Lauren Flanigan, Director/Founder

The American Opera Project is now our Fiscal Sponsor. You can donate to Music and Mentoring House by clicking on this link: http://www.aopopera.org/donate.html
 – All donation amounts are greatly appreciated and a very important contribution to our efforts. American Opera Projects is an IRS recognized 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.

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MIRO MAGLOIRE’S NEW CHAMBER BALLET – LIVE ON STAGE



MAY 28th and JUNE 4th at the MARK MORRIS DANCE CENTER

Friday May 28 at 7:30 PM Friday June 4 at 7:30 PM James and Martha Duffy Performance Space at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

Tickets: $35 Reservations are required. https://www.eventbrite.com
Dancers: Anabel Alpert, Megan Foley, Amber Neff, Rachele Perla, Alison Tatsuoka, Madeleine Williams

Musicians: Melody Fader, piano,  Doori Na, violin

Miro Magloire’s New Chamber Ballet returns to the stage for two live Friday presentations, May 28th and June 4th, at the Mark Morris Dance Center, 3 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.  The program will see the World Premiere of Magloire’s “Sea”  and a new solo for company member Madeleine Williams.

The new 55-minute “Sea” is, according to choreographer Magloire, simply “a celebratory work coming from the joy of being able to perform again person, for a live audience.”  Music is a commissioned score by Richard Carrick, in his third collaboration with Magloire.
Magloire has also created a short solo for departing dancer Madeleine Williams, who is expecting her second child.  In her own words, Madeleine is “stepping away from dance to enjoy motherhood.”  

COVID Protocols: the James and Martha Duffy Performance Space is large and well-ventilated, and the audience, which will be kept at a maximum of 46, will be seated in a proper socially distanced manner, with at least six feet between chairs (with members of the same household allowed to sit together).  Tickets must be purchased in advance, as there will be no box office and walk-ups will not be accommodated.  Visitors will fill out a pre-show health screening and, upon arrival at the Dance Center, will have their temperature checked.  Visitors are also required to wear masks at all times while inside the building.

Richard Carrick, composer, conductor, pianist, is a Guggenheim Fellow who writes music of spatial depth and robust stasis, described by The New York Times as “charming, with exoticism and sheer infectiousness.”  His music has been presented at international festivals, released on three critically acclaimed CD’s, and published by PSNY.  Carrick is Chair of Composition at Berklee, co-founder of Either/Or, and winner of the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventuresome Programming.  He has presented master classes and lectures throughout Europe, Israel, Japan, Rwanda, and South Korea.    Born in Paris of French-Algerian and British descent, Carrick received his BA from Columbia University, PhD from the University of California/San Diego with Brian Ferneyhough, and pursued further studies at IRCAM and the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague.    www.richardcarrick.com  

New Chamber Ballet welcomes Alison Tatsuoka, who received her training at the International Ballet theater Academy in Malvern, Pa.  She has danced with Ballet Arizona and Oklahoma City Ballet’s second companies, and Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Columbia Repertory Ballet in NYC.  She has appeared in works by Balanchine, Robbins, Tudor, and Ib Andersen, among others.  Alison is currently a junior at Columbia U studying English and Mathematics.
Richard Carrick’s score for “Sea” was commissioned by the Charles and Joan Gross Family Foundation.
www.newchamberballet.com

photo by Eduardo Patino

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Cast for 15 Dancers of the Met, live on W. 75th St., this Sunday

HIS SUNDAY, MAY 16th – TWO PERFORMANCES, 4 pm & 5:30 pm

MET DANCERS APPEARING THIS SUNDAY:
Natalia Alonso, Melissa Anderson, Antuan Byers, Jacqueline Calle, Michelle Joy, Julia Jurgilewicz, Ayaka Kamei, Megan Krauszer, Sarah Kay Marchetti, Maria Phegan, Minga Prather, Ryan Redmond, Melissa Sadler, Cara Seymour, Spencer Weidie


CHOREOGRAPHERS, MUSICIANS FROM THE METROPOLITAN OPERA
CHOREOGRAPHERS: BELINDA McGUIRE, JACOBY PRUITT, DANIELLE RUSSO, MICHELLE VARGO
MUSICIANS: ANNE MARIE NONNEMACHER, soprano; MARY HAMMANN, viola; DAVID HEISS, cello; LAURA McGINNIS, violin; SARAH VONSATTEL, violin

Dancers of the Met is an independent collective of current and former dancers who have performed with
the Metropolitan Opera, joined by furloughed members of the Met Orchestra and Met Chorus Artists.
www.DancersoftheMet.com
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Florida Grand Opera Winter Performances

Florida Grand Opera Winter
 Season: Jan 22 – Mar 27

Florida Grand Opera (FGO) announced its upcoming Season of Specials and Shorts. It is a season designed to provide live performance experiences while adhering to CDC requirements for social distancing with the ultimate goal of keeping both the audience and the company members healthy and safe. “Even in this time of COVID and other calamities, our need for music and art is ever-present. We have consulted with the experts, and after a successful Fall season of concerts, we are pleased to be presenting a Collection of Specials and Shorts. We are excited to be performing in different theaters and venues throughout Miami Dade and Broward counties. Intimate yet socially distanced spaces that are perfect for a unique storytelling experience,” said General Director and CEO, Susan T. Danis.  

Operas   

Performances: Sat, Jan 30 at 8 pm and Sun, Jan 31 at 3 pm

The season opens with Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers. The opera portrays a family and their struggle to connect. It is a poignant American opera with soaring melodies and heartbreaking musical moments. This intimate, 90-minute chamber opera takes place over three decades during the AIDS crisis. Each section of the opera looks back on the events during a specific December between a mother and her two adult children. As family secrets are revealed, resentment grows, and relationships are tested. This modern masterpiece has been in the Top Ten most performed North American works since 1991. 

Tickets: $65 each. Purchase all three operas and save 20%. 
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETSCLICK HERE FOR TICKETS


Performances: Sat, Feb 13 at 8pm and Sun, Feb 14 at 3 pm

New York Stories is composed by Daron Hagen, with a libretto by Hagen and Barbara Grecki. It presents three intimate vignettes based on real experiences living in the big apple. The opera is musically conversational, with the first skit being fiery and romantic, following a woman in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and an Italian immigrant who arrives to do maintenance work, but ends up sharing a romantic moment. The second is the story of an Upper East Side woman who gets a surprise visit from her brother. The third depicts a warm, domestic self-portrait of a composer and his spouse, who are new parents, and their attempt to put their infant son to sleep.  

Tickets: $65 each. Purchase all three operas and save 20%. 
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS


Performances: Sat, Mar 20 at 8 pm and Sun, Mar 21 at 3 pm

The opera portion of the season wraps up with a double bill. Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti paints an intimate picture of the troubled marriage of a young suburban couple, Sam and Dinah, and their longing for love and the ability to communicate. As we follow their journey, Dinah sings one of the most famous mezzosoprano arias, “What a movie!” depicting the movie Trouble in Tahiti she saw. Emerging into a dreamlike sequence in which she immediately feels embarrassed for even conjuring the fantasy, we understand the yearning to escape within all of us. 

Signor Deluso is an comic-buffo one-act opera by composer and librettist Thomas Pasatieri. The opera contains love melodies, musical patter, with confrontations and harmonies of resolution. It is loosely based on Molière’s 1660 comedy The Imaginary Cuckold. This piece resonates with vivacious, over-the-top comedic characters, familial expectations, and exuberant lovers, all leaping to wrong conclusions. 

Tickets: $65 each. Purchase all three operas and save 20%. 

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VENERABLE BRONX BUSINESS SENDS 600 HAMS FOR CHRISTMAS DINNERS TO UNEMPLOYED MUSICIANS

By Michael Recchiuti

JANUARY 8, 2021 NEW YORK

Eddie Teitel loves Broadway shows. Since the pandemic shut the theaters he has missed his trips downtown, leaving the shop in the Bronx early, throwing on a jacket and tie, driving into town for dinner and a show. He loves the magic that is the theater.  He got a call in December from an officer of the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 describing the desperate financial condition in which so many of the musicians found themselves with the theaters suddenly closed nine months earlier, and their livelihoods literally entirely eliminated in one day.

The union was organizing an Emergency Task Force to provide as many of the most distressed members of the local as possible with a Christmas dinner. Would he be able to help with this initiative? Of course he could; he welcomed the opportunity. Teitel Brothers, the venerable grocer in the Belmont section of the Bronx has been in business since 1915. Eddie is the third generation to work behind the counter in Bronx’s Little Italy. He understands continuity, the ebb and flow of history. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. Certainly, his family, immigrant Jews a century earlier, had clocked plenty of time in both conditions, and every degree in between. He is, as they say, a “people person”. To work in a family food business you become one, even if you weren’t when you started (which is sometime early in childhood- I know from personal experience). You have relationships with your colleagues, your suppliers, and most importantly, your customers. You know their names. You know their families. You know what they like to eat. You learn about people. You learn to have empathy.

Thinking about the hundreds of musicians with their livelihoods stripped from them, Eddie stepped up. He could send down 600 hams for the holiday food drive. The union officer jumped at the offer. Eddie had one of their company trucks loaded up, and sent a couple of his men to deliver the hams to the staging area where the food bags were being assembled. He laughed as he told me that when his guys showed up, they saw the union men in navy jackets with “ETF” (Emergency Task Force) emblazoned on the backs. They thought they were immigration agents, and wouldn’t get out of the truck!

They cleared that up, and unloaded a ton of premium hams to make their way to the tables in the homes of the distressed musicians and their families, who could think, on this one day, somebody understood, felt their pain, and was willing and able to reach out to them a helping hand.

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STABAT MATER di Luigi Boccherini

STABAT MATER di Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)

Boccherini è un personaggio di spicco nella storia della musica che precede l’avvento della prima Scuola viennese; il suo contributo allo sviluppo della forma del quartetto e del quintetto è stato determinante e la sua importanza viene riconosciuta da studiosi sia italiani che stranieri. La sua musica s’impone per la freschezza e la varietà melodica e per la finezza e l’eleganza delle idee, in un’armoniosa scorrevolezza discorsiva. Boccherini ha scritto due versioni dello Stabat Mater: una prima nel 1781 per soprano e archi (quella contenuta nel CD) e una seconda nel 1800 per soprano, contralto, tenore ed archi, entrata nel repertorio e realizzata, secondo una nota dell’autore riportata sulla copia manoscritta del Conservatorio di Parigi, «per evitar la monotonia di una sola voce e la troppa fatica a quest’unica voce cantante». Ciò nonostante, viene scritta una pagina di schietto e puro sentimento religioso che nell’AMEN finale tocca uno dei momenti più esaltanti della sua personalità creatrice. L’esecuzione magistrale dell’Orchestra sinfonica di Sanremo, diretta dal m° Giancarlo De Lorenzo, e la convincente interpretazione orante del soprano Gabriella Costa, fanno di questa incisione un riferimento sicuro della discografia delle opere di Boccherini.
STABAT MATER Luigi Boccherini
Mottetto in FA minore per soprano e Orchestra d’Archi (prima versione 1781)
ORCHESTRA SINFONICA DI SANREMO
VIOLINI PRIMI: Marco Bigarelli (spalla), Cristina Silvestro, Paolo Copello, Manuela Lucchi
VIOLINI SECONDI:Luca Marzolla, Vincenzo Citta, Monica Galluzzi
VIOLE: Luca Pirondini, Wynneford Potter, Fara Bersano
VIOLONCELLI: Mariano Dapor, Paolo Chiappa, Carlo Crisanti
CONTRABBASSO: Michele Bonfante
Direttore: Giancarlo De Lorenzo
Soprano: Gabriella Costa
 
Disponibile nei migliori negozi, sulle più importanti piattaforme digitali e sul sito www.digressionemusic.it
Worldwide distribution: MILANO DISCHI srl – NAXOS – BELIEVE
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Il barbiere di Siviglia and Il viaggio a Reims in streaming with Rossini Opera Festival

On 25, 27 and 29 November in free streaming, it will be possible to see the revival of Il barbiere di Siviglia by Pier Luigi Pizzi with Michele Spotti conducting. In the cast Juan Francisco Gatell, Carlo Lepore, Aya Wakizono, Iurii Samoilov, Michele Pertusi, Elena Zilio and William Corrò.

Watch the teaser

On 26 and 28 November in free streaming, it will be possible to see the revival of Il Viaggio A Reims, a one-act playful drama by Luigi Balochi.
Critical edition by Fondazione Rossini, in collaboration with Casa Ricordi,
edited by Janet Johnson

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