January 31, 2005

La Forza del destino at Opéra Royal de Wallonie

Manon Feubel — Donna Leonora di Vargas, Frank Porretta — Don Alvaro and Michael Ryssov — Padre Guardiano
Copyright: Opéra Royal de Wallonie

Feubel and Porretta in Forza

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow.

Frank Porretta (the 3rd) fits this description to a T. The actual sound is a little bit undistinct : a dark somewhat thick voice in the Vinay-mould but with more metal above the staff and ringing high notes. Mezza-voce and piano are not his best points. The fine Verdi-phrase too in the Bergonzi-way is not his and therefore what should be the high point of his role, the La vita-monologue, remains a little bland. But he sings tirelessly, has all the notes, doesn't sob and cuts a fine figure on the stage. And after having heard too much lyric tenors forcing their instruments on Verdi's heavier roles, it comes as a relief to hear a singer coping easily with the score and not being afraid to show his emotions through a few extra decibels in the Del Monaco-manner. His is not a big career and I fail to see why, as with the actual dearth of such voices he would be a commanding Otello, Manrico, Canio. I've heard his countryman, Carl Tanner, described as a kind of heroic tenor but I've now heard Tanner in several roles (Mefisto, Fanciulla, Luisa Miller) and neither in sound or volume is he half as exciting as Porretta.

Another big gun was delivered by young Mexican baritone Carlos Almaguer. He too has decibels to spare and he too is not the most refined of singers (but neither is the role as it clearly depicts an obsessed blood-hound who chases his victims for five years). The voice has the brown colour of the real great Italian heroic baritone and when he sings out he could match Porretta tit for tat. "Invano Alvaro" was the real challenge by two hot-blooded people and it made a tremendous impression. Moreover the whole "Ne gustare"scene was restored and not cut as happens too often as it makes the opera overlong (the truth is that most tenors and baritones don't have the stamina to tackle that difficult scene as well, coming so soon after their big arias and duet " Sollenne in quest'ora" and knowing that their immense last act still has to follow). Almaguer's voice reminds me a lot of the underestimated Aldo Protti in his best live performances and so does his short stocky figure. It came somewhat as a surprise that this heroic voice didn't take the higher options; indeed at high F and G the voice thins and loses focus. Still, a force of nature.

Canadian Manon Feubel has the same big sound, though with her, there is refinement as well. I heard her at Liège several years ago in a fine Carmen (with Uria-Monzon) where she struck me as the best singer. The voice is still fine but has definitely grown and can easily soar over the orchestra. But contrary to her male partners, she has some nice diminuendo's and knows how to sing an appealing messa di voce in several of her arias. She knows how to spin out long arching phrases in one breath in "Me pellegrino" and "Pace, pace" and she could easily be heard over the monks in the second act. With Feubel too one wonders why she is not better known (I know, I know: I have her one solo CD) as she combines power with excellent phrasing. And I fear it has something to do with her looks. She is not tall and rather large though as with many somewhat large women she has a very beautiful face. In Forza, largeness is no handicap as for most of the time she can (convincingly) act in robes, coats and frocks but I cannot imagine any serious Verdi-lover objecting to her as Aida or some of the other Leonores because she has a few pounds too many.

French high baritone Olivier Grand has a cutting baritone and was a most convincing Melitone, indeed the best I remember since Renato Capecchi in Verona so long ago. Only Padre Guardiano didn't raise to the heights this grateful role requires. The imposing tall White-Russian bass Michail Ryssow sang too woolly with a somewhat throaty and unfocused sound.

French conductor Alain Guingal is not really a household name though he has conducted in several of the best houses. I've heard him a few times in Liège and each time he strikes me as choosing correct tempi, breathing with his singers, not unduly hurrying his orchestra for extra-brilliance. And this time too, one didn't really notice the conductor as everything flowed so naturally along and maybe this is the highest praise for a good Verdi-conductor.

The production was originally conceived by French director Bernard Broca (deceased in December 2002) for Avignon and probably made a lot of people happy: no civil wars in Spain or guerrilla in present-day Columbia but colourful 17th century Spain and Italy as Verdi and Piave intended it all along. I have nothing against updating if there is a clear concept but with surtitling now available to the whole audience these traditional costumes and designs fit so much better with the libretto. I don't know if it was Broca's idea or that of Claire Servais who did the actual directing but I think if one chooses for a realistic production one should follow it to the end. During the inn scene where Carlos is looking for his sister, everybody kneeled at the arrival of the pilgrims except Leonore and it would have taken Carlos half a second to recognize the only standing figure. And at the end she simply marches away to the lights of her apotheoses.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 10:47 PM

Teatr Wielki Announces Festiwal Hoffmannowski Schedule

Festiwal Hoffmannowski -- Polsko-Niemiecki Festiwal Operowy

Teatr Wielki in Poznan, Poland, has announced the schedule for the Festiwal Hoffmannowski:

Saturday, 2 April, 19.00
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Cosi fan tutte, Premiere!!!
Teatr Wielki, Poznan

Sunday, 3 April, 19.00
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Cosi fan tutte
Teatr Wielki, Poznan

Monday, 4 April, 17.00
Polish-German vocal confrontation
Young Polish and German artists in Polish and German vocal repertoire

Wednesday, 6 April, 17.30
Richard Wagner, Parsifal
Teatr Wielki, Poznan

Thursday, 7 April, 19.00
Ludomir Rozycki, Pan Twardowski
Teatr Wielki, Poznan

Friday, 8 April, 19.00
Krzysztof Penderecki, Diab

Posted by Gary at 5:48 PM

January 30, 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera

As the editor discusses in the preface, this book concerns French opera from the 1820s and 1830s, and also its influence on works later in the century, as grand opera was adapted in other countries and inspired other composers to respond to the genre with their own works. This book is an exemplary volume which contains twenty chapters in which the contributors explore the development of grand opera, the elements essential to it, several representative works, and the influence exercised on composers like Wagner and others.

While parlance often renders grand opera as a term that could be applied to opera in general, an opera company, building, or institution, it is important to understand the origins of the musical style that had such a profound effect on the musical world. In the 1820s, as Paris became a center for opera which attracted musicians from various countries, the operas for the Parisian stage took on larger dimensions than had been previously explored in the genre. Grand opera involved librettos based on historical themes and, at times, took on elements of the French spectacle in their presentation. Likewise, the chorus became an integral part of the work, with the apposition of solo and choral textures used for dramatic effect. Ballet is also part of grand opera, and it was left to the ingenuity of the composers to find a way to include dance in the expanding artform.

Composers like Auber contributed some fine works to the stage, and the operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer established a new standard for opera composition. Several articles in this book discuss the works of these composers; in fact, Meyerbeer's major operas are the subject of two articles, one by Matthias Brzoska and another by John Roberts. Halévy was another influential figure, and his works are part of various discussions, not the least of which is the article devoted to his music by Diana R. Hallman.

Grand opera was not an end in itself, and its far-reaching impact is clearly presented in this volume. With Paris as an important center for opera, composers who wished to set their mark in the genre seem obliged to succeed there. Thus, Italian composers from Donizetti to Verdi either adapted their works for the French stage or composed works for it in the style of grand opera. Beyond the conventional wisdom that has operas for Paris requiring a ballet, works that were brought to France were sometimes reconceived in terms of grand opera, and thus result in different versions of works that were already successful elsewhere. By the same token, the transition that from the Rossini to Verdi involved an awareness of grand opera, as M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet points out in her contribution to this Companion.

Even Wagner was influenced by grand opera, since a success in Paris would guarantee a composer's future. His opera Rienzi was a grand opera in five acts that played a seminal part in his development as a composer. Thomas Grey provides some insightful perspectives on this work in his extensive article about Rienzi, and also shows how the style of grand opera emerged in other works by Wagner. Grey's comments about the ultimate blurring of elements from grand opera into Wagner's later operas might be read with other operas from later in the nineteenth century in mind:

Critics have often sought to separate the modern, philosophical Wagner, as composer and dramatist, from Wagner the stage-designer, still behold to antiquated notions of Romantic stage `realism.' Yet the ways in which he remained true to the ideals of grand opera were critical to his success in capturing the imagination of audiences in his own day, and probably now, as well. (p. 342)

It is possible to read this passage with other composers in mind, including the Verdi of Don Carlos and Un ballo in maschera (a photograph from a production of that operas is part of the cover of the present book), the early Puccini of Edgar and Le villi, as well as and the Richard Strauss of Guntram and Feuersnot - not without reference, too, to the influence of Wagner. Grand opera influenced the genre in other ways, as discussed in chapters devoted to Czech and Russian works and also opera in Italy during the latter part of the nineteenth century. As Sarah Hibberd states near the end of her chapter on grand opera in Britain and the Americas, "By the end of the nineteenth century . . . it is difficult to distinguish the influence of Meyerbeer from that of later composers. . . ." (p. 422). In a sense it is impossible to escape fully the ways in which grand opera reinvigorated the stylistic choices for composers to use in opera and the aesthetics through which audiences can perceive the grandeur and scope of this dynamic artform.

The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera is an important contribution to study of opera because of the focus with which it treats a genre that is sometimes passed over. In fact, the entire book is well organized, with the individual articles are uniformly consistent and worth reading on their own. In addition to the editor's introduction, which sets the tone for the book, this Companion contains a chronology, which is useful in itself for understanding at a glance the context of the works discussed. Likewise, the bibliography of selected secondary sources provides references to important studies that readers may wish to pursue on their own. This book is essential for those interested in nineteenth-century opera - as well as the culture of the period - and those interested in this music should not miss it.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera

product_title=The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera
product_by=David Charlton, editor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 518 pages 29 half-tones 20 tables 46 music examples
product_id=ISBN 0-521-64118-7 (hardcover); 0-521-64683-7 (paperback)

Posted by Gary at 8:45 PM

A Batallar Estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century

A batallar estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century
Al Ayre Espanol, dir. Eduardo López Banzo
Harmonia Mundi Spain HMI 987053

Interest in the music of "New Spain" (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain - indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas - has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present.

Spanish music of the seventeenth century has been characterized in history books as "conservative", and it is perhaps true that the works featured on this CD often reflect a sensibility that hearkens back to Renaissance harmony and counterpoint: absent are the virtuoso fireworks of the Italian tradition, nor do we encounter the subtly shifting ornamentation and rhythmic nuance of the French "not-Baroque". Because of this relatively counterpoint-oriented tendency in the repertory, the instrumental tracks are the least outstanding musically - though they are played sensitively, bringing out the details of the complexity of texture that seems to be a hallmark of Spanish instrumental works of this era.

The vocal tracks, however, are truly wonderful - musical phrases are often simple and short, which could lead to monotony, but in the hands of Al Ayre Espanol becomes an opportunity for the display of a wide variety of timbres and scorings. Typical of the Spanish basso continuo ensemble was heavy used of plucked and strummed instruments - especially guitars and harps - and this feature not only suits the excerpts remarkably well but also provides a new soundscape for those of us more used to harpsichord or even theorbo / chitarrone accompaniment. Especially in the villancico A batallar estrellas ("To battle, stars"), which gives the collection its title, the rhythmic drive of the rasgueado (strummed) guitars energizes the quick alternations of solos and chorus, resulting in a musical experience unlike any more "mainstream" Italian, French, or German work from the time. No wonder that this tradition became such a crucial part of the message of Catholicism in South America!

The ensemble approaches this repertory with energy and passion: it is clear that they particularly enjoy the characteristically Spanish genre of the villancico, and works in that genre are the absolute highlights of this recording, each singly worth the price of the entire collection. Some tracks are more tightly executed than others; the soloist countertenor, in particular, appears to strain and his vocal style is not especially refined - which works perfectly in the more "rough and tumble" pieces such as the villancicos, but a little less so in the more staid motet Maria Mater Dei. Soprano soloists are more uniformly excellent, and employ a wide range of techniques - including a well controlled vibrato and what seem to be pointedly "Andalusian" musical swoops - to remarkable effect. Balance between instrumentalists and vocalists is well calculated, and the recording itself seems to be technically solid, with no problematic audio issues. While not every track of this recording bears repeated listening, it is a crucial addition to the library of those who love the Baroque and want to expand their repertory of seventeenth-century soundscapes.

Andrew Dell'Antonio
The University of Texas at Austin

Posted by Gary at 8:31 PM

WAGNER: Die Feen

Richard Wagner: Die Feen.
Don Garrard, April Cantelo, Della Jones, Elizabeth Gale, John Mitchinson, Lorna Haywood, Tom McDonnell, Paul Hudson, Teresa Cahill, richard Greager, Jolyon Dodgson.
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra and BBC Northern Singers conducted by Edward Downes. BBC North, May 2, 1976.
Ponto PO-1027 [3CDs]

How narrow-minded can one be ? Very much so in the case of Richard Wagner who succeeded in not mentioning once the name of Verdi in all his writings. And is not his decision to banish his early youth works from the Bayreuth-barn rooted in that same mentality ? Of course during his lifetime he was the subject of many attacks and maybe he feared to be the victim of ridicule with critics dissecting every bar of Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi and looking for influences of other composers. Rienzi and Liebesverbot had been staged while he lived but Die Feen was only known by a few selections and he never took pains to have his first opera performed at a time when he could easily have done it. Die Feen was premiered 5 years after his death and then led a rather undistinguished life of a few performances. Still the amount of bigotry of his successors is even greater, considering that Siegfried Wagner himself was a composer of fairy tales and should not have respected his father's wish not to perform Die Feen. The grandchildren complied as well though one can understand their motives. As Wagner lost some of his hallowed reputation during the fifties and the sixties, the stock of Verdi rose very high indeed and maybe it was not in the Wagners' interest to show the more amateurish trials of granddaddy. Eva Wagner, Wolfgang's estranged daughter who should have succeeded him long ago, was the first to offer a business plan for a new New Bayreuth where Die Feen, Rienzi and even the operas of composers who influenced the maestro would have their place. And then music lovers could at last hear and see what the fuss is all about if there is something to be excited about.

Well, there is. The overture is a gem, all of its 11 minutes and almost worth the purchase of the set. Yes, it's easy to trace the influence of Mozart and especially Weber but 20-year Wagner had a voice of his own as well, different from that of his contemporaries. Wagner was twelve years younger than Lortzing who could easily have treated the same fairy subject but one immediately hears the far richer orchestration, the ease Wagner has in composing more complicated arias and ensembles. And one regrets somewhat that the mature Wagner gave his best tunes to the orchestra instead of sticking with the singers like the youthful composer still did in the old tradition.

In the meantime all we have are a few recordings of Die Feen, all four of them live-performances. The recording under review appeared as a 3 LP-set on MRF 146 in 1977 though without the bonus tracks which derive from an abbreviated concert-performance given in Vienna in 1983. Let me state from the outset that the better is the enemy of the good and that the appearance of bonus tracks on so many CDs is not always an asset. Often the bonus has some better things to offer than the complete work and that's a little bit the case here. Gundula Janowitz had been singing for 24 years when this performance was recorded and the gleaming silvery sound had dulled somewhat but still she has lots of voice, conviction and a free ringing top to offer. It is one of the very few records of tenor Josef Hopferwieser, a Viennese Volksopertenor who proves that a good rounded voice and incisiveness can go together without having to bark or to shout which would not be tolerated in a difficult genre as operetta (I heard him as Sou-Chong in that theatre). Therefore it's a bit of a pity that this version of Die Feen was not performed in its entirety and duly recorded. Mind you, that shouldn't restrain you from purchasing this very well sung BBC-version by somewhat all-purpose singers like tenor John Mitchinson, an astonishingly versatile tenor who compensated for the lack of beauty in the somewhat beefy voice by his musical understanding and his skill in singing everything between Händel and Strauss and singing in an acceptable pronunciation as well. Though April Cantelo in the title role of Ada is not in the same voice class as Janowitz, she nevertheless gives a sensitive and beautiful performance, easily dominating the many concertati. Lorna Haywood is a lovely Lora and Della Jones sings a rich Farzana.

In the end choosing a recording of Die Feen comes down to one's own priorities. On several sites you will note that this is the cheapest set with the added attraction of many fine bonus tracks. The singers are as good and personally I think somewhat better than tenor Sirkia and soprano Patchell on Dynamic's set. Edward Downes paces the music extremely well and has a better orchestra than the Cagliari Orchestra on Dynamic's. That set however has the advantage of a libretto instead of just a sleeve note.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 8:20 PM

Mozart Here, Mozart There, Mozart Everywhere

Musikfeuilleton: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart und kein Ende

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse 29.01.2005]

Variationen über die ewige Frage im Musikbusiness: Wer ist ein kompetenter Mozart-Interpret?

Mozart-Tage in Wien, Mozartwoche in Salzburg. Und das alles 2005, wo doch das Mozartjahr erst 2006 droht. Vor lauter Ankündigungen und Vorausschauen, was die Welt, was österreich im Besonderen im Jubiläumsjahr an Plänen ventiliert, droht Mozarts Musik zur Nebensache zu werden. Das ist ihr Glück. Denn so bleibt sie, während wohlbestallte Koordinatoren und Intendanten über Aktionen von hoch bezahlten Kasperln diskutieren, doch die Hauptsache.

Am Ende des Tages, pardon: des Mozartjahres wird ja doch wieder festzustellen sein, dass dieser Komponist, dass seine Musik einfach alles aushält. Vor allem: An "Figaro" und "Don Giovanni" wird sich keiner satt hören. Immerhin gilt das, wie sich zeigt, auch dann, wenn Interpreten sich als völlig ungeeignet erweisen und jeglicher Spieltradition, jeglichem bisher gültigen Geschmack zuwiderhandeln. Es gehört ganz offenkundig zu den Grundeigenschaften wirklich genialer Musik, auch die ärgsten Deformationen heil zu überstehen. Zauberflöte bleibt Zauberflöte. Ein Meisterwerk geht, sozusagen, über Dirigenten-Leichen.

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Posted by Gary at 4:01 AM

January 29, 2005

Barbiere in Madrid

Le "Barbier" déménage à Madrid

Par Eric DAHAN [Libération]
lundi 24 janvier 2005

envoyé spécial à Madrid

Le Barbier de Séville
Opéra bouffe en deux actes de Gioacchino Rossini, livret de Cesare Sterbini, d'après "le Barbier de Séville" de Beaumarchais, dir. Gianluigi Gelmetti, m.s. Emilio Sagi.
Jusqu'au 29 janvier au Teatro Real de Madrid. Tél. : 00 34 91 516 06 00 et www.teatro-real.com (diffusion sur Arte le 31 janvier à 20 h 45).

Rénové en 1997 avec un luxe inouïaut;, le Teatro Real de Madrid ne lésine pas non plus sur la qualité des productions. Du rare Osud de Janacek en 2003, marqué par la qualité de la mise en scène de Bob Wilson, de l'orchestre et de la distribution vocale, ne reste que des souvenirs et des photographies, faute de producteurs intéressés par la réalisation d'un DVD. Ce ne sera pas le cas de ce nouveau Barbier de Séville, dévoilé il y a quelques jours, diffusé par Arte dans une semaine, et bientot dans les bacs. En filmant trois représentations successives, l'ambition est d'offrir le meilleur Barbier en DVD du marché.

Click here for remainer of review.

Posted by Gary at 6:35 PM

January 28, 2005

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Posted by Gary at 6:17 PM

Encountering David Daniels

Countertenor Daniels hits high notes in life, opera

By T.J. Medrek [Boston Herald]
Friday, January 28, 2005

``I'm Tom Brady's best friend,'' joked David Daniels. ``I'm sure he'd love to read that!''
OK, the world's leading countertenor isn't really Brady's bud.
``But I did meet him,'' Daniels continued. ``It was when I sang (Handel's) `Messiah' in Ann Arbor.''
Brady was quarterback for the University of Michigan football team when Daniels, now 38, was a graduate student there.
``A lot of times the football players would come to concerts - they were always trying to enlighten them to the music world, arts and culture - and he came backstage and I got to shake his hand,'' Daniels recalled. ``If you asked him, he might remember me as this guy who sang like a woman.''

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Posted by Gary at 6:15 PM

Denyce Graves Goes to the Treasure Coast

Opera singer Denyce Graves comes to Stuart directly from the Bush inaugural

By Bill DeYoung
entertainment editor
January 28, 2005

With a voice as strong and clear as the winter wind through the cherry trees, Denyce Graves sang for all America last week at President Bush's inaugural ceremony.

Graves, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., is something of a musical emissary -- she's had the lead roles in opera houses all over the globe, and is considered one of the most dynamic mezzo-sopranos on the world stage.

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Posted by Gary at 6:06 PM

Passing the Baton to Levine

Levine to take up residence at Tanglewood this summer

By Richard Dyer, [Boston] Globe Staff | January 28, 2005

Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine will be in residence at Tanglewood this summer for almost a month of rehearsals and performances. He will lead five concerts and conduct one work at Tanglewood on Parade. This will mark Levine's first performance at Tanglewood since 1972, when he conducted a single concert.

The other big news is that for the first time, all nighttime concerts in the Koussevitzky Music Shed will be projected on large video screens to the audience on the lawn. For several years the screens have been popular additions to a handful of concerts.

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Posted by Gary at 5:54 PM

Don Giovanni in Baltimore

Hippodrome, opera good fit

By Tim Smith
[Baltimore] Sun Music Critic

January 28, 2005

The elegantly regilded Hippodrome Theatre could be mistaken for an old-world opera house. On Wednesday night, for three hours at least, that's exactly what it was.

Teatro Lirico D'Europa — administratively based in Hunt Valley — presented a fully staged production of Don Giovanni that offered sufficient entertainment value and demonstrated the theater's flexibility.

The entertainment usually booked at this renovated vaudeville and movie house is amplified, so it was fascinating to hear the natural acoustics there. And since there has been talk of the Baltimore Opera Company temporarily using the space at some point, if renovations are made at the Lyric, the performance provided a valuable test run.

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Posted by Gary at 5:45 PM

Homage to Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson, about 1945
by William H. Johnson (1901-1970)

Commentary: New Postage Stamp Reminds Us to Remember Marian Anderson

Date: Thursday, January 27, 2005
By: Wayne Dawkins, BlackAmericaWeb.com

Start buying pieces of fine art this week for 37 cents.

The Marian Anderson first-class postage stamp, the 28th in the Black Heritage series, debuted Thursday in Washington, D.C. Richard Sheaff designed the stamp, which is based on an Albert Slark oil painting. Sheaff previously designed nine stamps that include Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Roy Wilkins and Patricia Harris.

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Click here for image of postage stamp.

Posted by Gary at 5:33 PM

I'll Take Houston

Patrick Summers, opera music chief, smitten with city

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Patrick Summers, music director at the Houston Grand Opera, has settled into Houston on his own, slightly unconventional terms.

He's building a house a few minutes west of downtown and has acquired a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Julius.

He's smitten with the city's contemporary art scene: "There's a lot of really interesting painting going on in this city."

And he rides his bike to work.

"I try not to let (HGO general director) David Gockley see me climb on my bike at midnight, after a performance," quipped the 41-year-old Indiana native.

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Posted by Gary at 5:11 PM

Poppea at Palais Garnier

L'incoronazione di Poppea Paris Opera (Garnier)

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times]
Published: January 28 2005 02:00 | Last updated: January 28 2005 02:00

Parisians do not like camp. David McVicar's production of Monteverdi's last opera was jeered in October at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and now David Alden has met the same fate. This is unfair because his use of radical kitsch is altogether more sophisticated and his manipulation of the singers faultlessly choreographed. In any case, this classic staging dates from 1997, when it was first seen in Cardiff and Munich. McVicar's approach now looks like a pale copy of an industry template.

Click here for remainder of review.

Un Monteverdi shakespearien

[28 janvier 2005] [Le Figaro]

Les premières se suivent et ne se ressemblent pas à l'Opéra de Paris. Le surlendemain d'une pénible Flute enchantée, Gérard Mortier nous invitait à un grand moment de fascination théâtrale avec le Couronnement de Poppée de Monteverdi, dans une mise en scène de David Alden qui avait déjà triomphé à Munich. Dans les fascinants décors de Paul Steinberg (ce damier aux perspectives fuyantes !), Alden réalise une mise en scène formidablement musicale, ou chaque geste est en adéquation avec le rythme dramatique de Monteverdi. Dans une sorte de palace de luxe stylisé, les personnages habillés à la façon jet set du XXe siècle, existent avec une force d'attraction et de répulsion irrésistible. De chanteurs d'opéra, on a fait de grands acteurs, capables de jouer la comédie et la tragédie, le burlesque et la violence : un jeu physique et sensuel, c'est bien le moins pour le plus érotique des opéras du répertoire.

Ce Néron hagard, incapable de maîtriser ses pulsions, cette Poppée femme fatale qui le tient sous sa dépendance sexuelle et mène les autres par le bout du nez, ces femmes au bord de la crise de nerfs qui cassent leur talon, on ne les oubliera pas. Alden en fait des figures shakespeariennes, n'hésitant pas à outrer ce mélange des genres qui rend Monteverdi si audacieux. Mais Alden reste attentif au point d'équilibre entre grotesque et gravité, entre onirisme et réalisme. Le personnage de Sénèque retrouve ainsi le juste dosage entre véritable compassion et raillerie d'un philosophe alcoolique et sentencieux, dont les disciples serviles notent chaque phrase avec une frénésie ridicule. Bien des images nous resteront, non pour leur seule beauté plastique, mais pour leur expressivité : quand le décor s'évacue pour laisser Poppée s'endormir sur fond vert (magnifiques lumières de Pat Collins), quand Octavie fait ses adieux nus pieds en robe noire, quand l'horloge de Chronos vient surveiller les amants réunis, le temps suspend son vol.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 2:20 PM

January 27, 2005

MIDEM Classical Awards Announced



German music major Deutsche Grammophon (DG) picked up three prizes at the inaugural MIDEM Classical Awards in Cannes, January 24. Top prizes also went to Belgian counter-tenor and conductor René Jacobs and Welsh pianist Llyr Williams. The awards were presented for the first time at MIDEM, the World's Music Market (Cannes, France, January 23-27, 2005).

Heading Deutsche Grammophon's trio of wins was Bach's Cantatas 56, 158 and 82, featuring Thomas Quasthoff, accompanied by members of the RIAS chamber choir, the Berliner Barocksolisten orchestra and conducted by Rainer Kussmaul, which took 'Best Vocal' award.

DG had further success with Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos # 1 and 2, which won 'Best Orchestra Works.' Featuring Krystian Zimerman on piano, the concertos were conducted by Seiji Ozawa and accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The 'Best Chamber Music' award was tied for, as the international jury found itself unable to separate two German nominations. Independent ECM's Beethoven : Complete Music for Piano and Violoncello, starring pianist Andras Schiff and Miklos Perényi on violoncello, shared the award with DG's Prokofiev : Cinderella Suite and Ravel : Ma Mère l'Oye, featuring pianists Martha Argerich and Mikhail Pletnev.

The MIDEM Classical Awards provided another prize for ECM, as Heinz Holliger's Violin Concerto was voted 'Best Contemporary Music.' Holliger wrote and conducted the work, with Thomas Zehetmair playing violin, accompanied by the SWR Sinfonieorchester.

France's Harmonia Mundi label scored a double success with its release of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. Harmonia received prizes for 'Best Opera' and 'Recording of the Year.' The Harmonia recording was conducted by René Jacobs, who was also named 'Artist of the Year.'

Naïaut;ve, the French classical, jazz and pop label founded by former Virgin France CEO, Patrick Zelnik in 1998, was another double winner at the first MIDEM Classical Awards. 'Best Early Music/Baroque' was handed out to Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Vergine da Concerto, with Rinaldo Allessandrini conducting the Concerto Italiano and featuring the singers Invernizzi, Mingardo, di Donato and Spagnoli. 'Best Reissue/Archival/Historical' recording went to another Naïaut;ve offering, Berg's Wozzeck opera, starring Berry, Lorenz, Dickie, Klein, Dönch and Goltz, conducted by Karl Böhm and featuring the Orchestra and Chorus of the Vienna State Opera.

French success at the awards was further enhanced when Alpha Productions was voted 'Label of the Year.'

Independent Spanish label Alia Vox's recording of Hume's Musicall Humors, featuring Jordi Savall on Viola da Gamba, was named 'Best Solo Instrument.'

The MIDEM Classical Awards are designed to pay tribute to classical music in all its forms. The increasing importance of DVD as a medium to appreciate music, was highlighted with a pair of awards for 'Best DVD : Opera/Ballet' and 'Best DVD : Concert/Documentaries.' Luxemburg's TDK picked up the first award for Rameau's Platée opera, with Marc Minkowski conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble.

The concert/documentaries prize went to Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait, co-produced by Britain's Allegro Films and Opus Arte and directed by Christopher Nupen and Hans Petri.

Italian orchestral and opera conductor Claudio Abbado, who first conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in 1966 and whose career includes the musical directorships at La Scala, the Vienna State Opera and the European Union Youth Orchestra, was honoured at the MIDEM Classical Awards with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Completing the list of prize-winners, Welsh pianist Llyr Williams, who burst onto the international scene with his 2003 appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival, was named Outstanding Young Artist' - a prize awarded in partnership with the International Artist Managers' Association.

Source: http://www.midem.com/.

Posted by Gary at 10:30 PM

Singing Ives

Surveying The Intricacies Of Charles Ives' Music

January 27, 2005

By MATTHEW ERIKSON, [Hartford] Courant Staff Writer

In 2004, festivals and concerts commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Charles Ives, an insurance executive from Danbury and arguably America's greatest native-born composer. Tonight and Sunday at Wesleyan University's Crowell Recital Hall, the tribute will continue with the first of several recitals surveying Ives' 129 songs.

A pet project of composer and Wesleyan professor Neely Bruce, the concert series features several soloists, accompanied by Bruce at the piano. Different from past Ives recitals, the musicians will perform from a new scholarly edition containing a few songs never before published. The series has the potential of making Bruce the first pianist to perform the complete songs of Ives in concert.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 10:04 PM

Siegfried's Id

Journey to the centre of Siegfried's mind
Director François Girard's vision for the fourth part of Wagner's Ring cycle sees the hero's exploits as stages in a psychological progress, ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN writes

By ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN [The Globe and Mail]

UPDATED AT 4:49 PM EST Thursday, Jan 27, 2005

Richard Wagner loathed the first performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he scrabbled together at his own theatre in 1876. "Next year we'll do everything differently," was the mildest comment he had to offer, and the most convenient for directors eager to distinguish their Ring productions from all others.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 9:54 PM

The Tsar's Bride in Moscow

Director's Cut
A new staging of "The Tsar's Bride" takes liberties with the opera's music.

By Raymond Stults [The Moscow Times]
Published: January 28, 2005

Following its disastrous staging last April of Georges Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers," I had high hopes that Novaya Opera would get itself back on track by turning to a classic of Russian opera for its next production. But, at its debut last Sunday, the theater's new version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Tsar's Bride" proved, if not a disaster, at least a major disappointment, due mainly to the muddled stage direction of Yury Grymov and the theater's decision to discard as much as a third of the opera's music.

To its credit, Novaya Opera did, as usual, come up with singing and orchestral playing of a very high order. But the fine musical performance could scarcely compensate for the injustice done to Rimsky-Korsakov's score and Grymov's failure to tell the opera's story with either clarity or coherence.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 9:46 PM

Agony and Ecstasy in LA

Whoopee, Italian Style

by ALAN RICH [LA WEEKLY JAN. 28 - FEB. 3, 2005]

Nearly a century separates the two beguilements installed at the Music Center in recent weeks: Giuseppe Verdi's Aida of the 1870s and Luciano Berio's Laborintus II of 1965. Nobody would mistake the style or purpose of the one for the other; they are both shrewdly welded to the taste of their respective times. Something grander links them - an innately Italian sense of theater that unites all the arts of the region into a single onrush of word, music and movement. To the north, Richard Wagner made a great fuss as he dreamed up his "total artwork" concept with ream upon ream of explanatory philosophy. To the Italian spirit, that unity of the expressive arts was simply a form of breathing. Petrarch, Monteverdi, Tintoretto, Berio . . . just the names by themselves take on a theatrical dimension.

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Posted by Gary at 3:43 AM

January 26, 2005

Comparing Tebaldi and de los Angeles

Renata Tebaldi as ViolettaVictoria de los Angeles as Violetta

Divas preserved at their peak

[New Zealand Herald] 26.01.05
by Don Milne

According to popular legend, one great operatic soprano comes along every generation. The years directly following the end of World War II were singularly blessed with the emergence of no fewer than three great divas.

The tempestuous and too-short life of Maria Callas, regarded by many as the greatest, ended in 1977. But her two greatest rivals lived into old age, by strange fate - the force of destiny? - dying within less than a month of each other.

Pesaro-born Renata Tebaldi died at her home in San Marino last month, aged 82, while Barcelona-born Victoria de los Angeles, a year younger, died this month in Spain.

Tebaldi, who was a mainstay of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala and Covent Garden, never sang here.

But those who heard de los Angeles on a recital tour in the 1950s confirm what world audiences appreciated - she sang like the angels her name suggested.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 10:39 PM

Julia Jones Conducts at the Wiener Staatsoper

Women Onstage and in the Pit at a Venerable Opera House

By ANNE MIDGETTE [New York Times 01/25/2005]

VIENNA, Jan. 23 -It was just eight years ago that the Vienna Philharmonic, which doubles as the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, officially admitted the first woman to its august ranks. On Jan. 12, there were at least six in the pit for "Parsifal." On the 13th, there was one in the pit for "Don Giovanni." On Saturday, there was one at the head of the orchestra: Julia Jones, an English conductor who made her debut here in 2001, has conducted a number of times here since, and who led a robust "Così Fan Tutte" during the house's second annual "Vienna Mozart Days" (which ends with a final "Nozze di Figaro" on Jan. 29).

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:51 AM

Beverly Sills Resigns From Met Post


William C. Morris, president and chief executive officer of The Metropolitan Opera, announced today that Beverly Sills has resigned from her volunteer post as chairman of The Metropolitan Opera for family and personal reasons effective immediately.

Joseph Volpe, general manager of The Metropolitan Opera, said, "Beverly Sills has been a dear friend of mine and of The Metropolitan Opera, so I am deeply saddened by her decision. I understand however that the poor health of her husband, Peter Greenough, and her own recent fall, which resulted in a fractured knee, made this decision necessary. Her achievements at The Met have been considerable. Her relationships and her leadership in the 'Save the Met Broadcasts Campaign' have raised millions of dollars for the company and the broadcasts. She also played a major role in the search committee set up to find my successor. I know that the strength of her spirit and her unfailing sense of humor even when things get rough will help her through the present difficulties. She's earned the gratitude and respect of all of us, and I am sure I speak for everyone at The Met in wishing her the best."

Ms. Sills said, "When I accepted this volunteer post, I knew it was primarily to raise funds for The Met and in leaving the post today, I know that I have achieved what I set out to do-having raised millions which were designated not only for new productions but also to save the Saturday afternoon broadcasts for the foreseeable future. One other factor which gives me peace of mind in leaving is that my efforts to see a smooth transition a year-and-a-half from now in the position of general manager of The Met have been successful. After Joseph Volpe announced that he would step down from his post in the summer of 2006, a search committee was formed and I'm delighted to have played a key role in the choice of Peter Gelb. I know his choice is supported not only by Joe, but was especially helpful to James Levine, with whom Peter has had a long-time association. In other words, it's the right time now for me to leave and concentrate on my family."

Mr. Morris said, "Beverly Sills' contribution as chairman of the Metropolitan Opera has been enormous. She will be sorely missed. In a very short time she involved herself in a number of crucial projects with great success. At the head of the 'Save the Met Broadcasts Campaign,' she demonstrated her gifts for leadership and her winning combination of charm, humor, and determination. She raised millions of dollars on behalf of that campaign as well as for new productions. Her contribution in the search committee to find Joseph Volpe's successor was also noteworthy, and thanks to her efforts we can look forward to a smooth transition. On behalf of the executive committee and of the entire board of directors, I want to express our regret at her departure and our deepest gratitude for a job well done."


January 25, 2005

Source: http://www.metopera.org/sills.html.

Posted by Gary at 1:39 AM

January 25, 2005

Merkur Interviews Katharina Wagner

Für den Namen kann ich nichts

Inszeniert am Gärtnerplatz: Interview mit Katharina Wagner

Papa konnte doch nichts Besseres passieren: Katharina Wagner, Tochter des Bayreuther Festspielchefs Wolfgang Wagner und damit heftig für seine Nachfolge gehandelt, hat mit bislang zwei Opernprojekten ihre Klasse gezeigt. 2002 debütierte die heute 27-Jährige als Regisseurin mit Richard Wagners "Fliegendem Holländer" in Würzburg, 2004 folgte in Budapest der "Lohengrin". Nach zwei Werken ihres Urgrossvaters inszeniert sie, die Theaterwissenschaft studierte und unter anderem bei ihrem Vater und bei Harry Kupfer assistierte, fürs Gärtnerplatztheater Lortzings "Waffenschmied", Premiere ist am 20. Februar.

Click here for complete interview.

Click here for general information.

Posted by Gary at 11:04 PM

SCHUBERT: Alfonso und Estrella

Franz Schubert, Alfonso und Estrella
Eva Mei, soprano - Rainer Trost, tenor - Markus Werba, baritone - Alfred Muff, bass - Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Lirico di Cagliari - Gérard Korsten, conductor - Luca Ronconi, director
Dynamic CDS 451/1-2 [2CDs]

New artists are taking greater chances with repertory, looking for niches to call their own. Dawn Upshaw explores new music, Cecilia Bartoli eighteenth-century Italian song, and in this live recording up-and-coming artists Eva Mei and Rainer Trost take on the lead roles in Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella. Mei and Trost's sympathetic singing with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro lirico di Cagliari conducted by Gérard Korsten breathes life into this choppy opera, which Liszt famously condemned as a work of only historical interest.

Long a source of head scratching for music historians, Schubert operas remain relatively unloved and unheard. He composed three operas, six singspiele, incidental music to Rosamunde, and a three-act melodrama, Die Zauberharfe, some of which were never completed. The master of the song found little success in the aria. Arguably, Schubert was best suited for the miniature, songs and piano works, while he was not at the top of his game in opera and the symphony — a bit like Paul Simon and his Caveman. While their songs abound in nuance, their theatrical works lack drama.

Schubert composed Alfonso und Estrella during the autumn of 1821, with a libretto by Franz von Schober, his friend, jack-of-all-trades, and no Da Ponte. They toiled together happily during a getaway to St. Pölten, outside Vienna. On their return they could not find a theater to perform the three-act opera about young love overcoming warring factions. Famous singers, including Anna Milder-Hauptmann, gingerly avoided the project, while Michael Vogl openly knocked it.

Soprano Eva Mei is no stranger to Rossini, Schubert's popular contemporary. She has triumphed in La cambiale di matrimonio and Il barbiere di Siviglia. In addition, she has delighted audiences on stage in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Strauss's Four Last Songs. Trost is best known for his delectable Mozart, (Don Ottavio, Tito and Tamino), showing promise singing at the Met and Covent Garden.

Together their voices bring to light the most convincing numbers in Alfonso und Estrella. After a dullish overture, songs and recitatives, and intrusive choruses, we are treated to the lovely aria O wenn ich je dir wert gewesen, performed with subtle mastery by Mei. Mei pinches some of the high notes and relishes the low ones. Her capable coloratura is humbled by the fact that Schubert has given her few songs to sing that the chorus does not barge in on. Her musicality is highlighted in her ability to blend her voice with Trost's in the spirited duets that close out Act One. Mei and Trost are also perfectly compatible in the charming duet of Act Two, Lass dir als Erinn'rung zeichen. Trost is given little space to shine in this opera. In the short Wenn ich dich Holde sehe, he completes vocal gymnastics smoothly amid the Viennese trifles. He has a bright tenor voice and like Mei gives an intelligent performance. He also possesses fine vocal control and a gift for timbre.

The other roles are nicely interpreted, particularly Jochen Schmeckenbecher's majestic baritone as Mauregato. The choir sounds beautifully throughout and the orchestra remains steady in its challenging role as both accompanist and early German vehicle for the drama in this appealing recording.

Nora Beck
Lewis & Clark College

Posted by Gary at 9:01 PM

Kát’a Kabanová at Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Melanie Diener als Katja
Stephan Rügamer als Boris
© Monika Rittershaus

Trockenes Bad in der Wolga
Regisseur Michael Thalheimer gibt in Berlin sein Operndebüt mit Janácek

von Manuel Brug [Die Welt 24. Januar 2005]

Ihre Ruh' ist hin, ihr Herz ist schwer. Die junge Frau im gelben Sommerkleid duckt sich in ihrem Stuhl, drückt die Hände in den Schoss, blickt nach oben.

Diesmal ist es nicht Goethes Gretchen, das hier - um im jüngsten Grass-Jargon zu bleiben - "verthalheimert", sprich: auf ihr sprachliches und inhaltliches Gerüst skelettiert wurde. Es ist die Kaufmannsgattin Katja Kabanova, die ihre einzige Sehnsucht, die Liebe zum schwächlichen Boris, mit dem Leben bezahlt und in die Wolga geht. So steht es in Alexander Ostrowskis Theaterstück "Das Gewitter" von 1859 geschrieben. Welches Michael Thalheimer, der kühlkopfige Minimalist unter den tonangebenden Theaterregisseuren, sicherlich auf das Wesentliche zurechtzustutzen vermocht hätte. Ohne russische Folklorismen und Nebenhandlungen, nackt, statisch, als pure Versuchsanordnung.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 1:47 AM

Il Trovatore at Houston

Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in Il Trovatore
in Bilbao (February 2002)
Photo: Julian

Voices carry Il Trovatore in a crowd pleaser

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle [Jan. 24, 2005, 11:13AM]

The opening-night audience for Houston Grand Opera's revival of Il Trovatore had one thing on its mind: grabbing every chance to cheer the familiar tunes that propel Verdi's dramatically awkward piece.

As soon as soprano Sondra Radvanovsky finished Leonora's first big aria, the bravos let loose -- far more intensely than usual in the middle of a performance.

The ache to approve a style of music many people view as true "grand" opera continued right up to the curtain calls. Then, the crowd unleashed cascades of applause and yells.

That reaction should have made HGO general director David Gockley happy. His past productions of Il Trovatore have been plagued with troubles. While he did need to replace the mezzo-soprano for Azucena at the start of rehearsals, Friday's production at the Wortham Theater Center went on without hitch (save for a couple of off-stage clanks and sliding scenery that needed a shot of WD-40).

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 1:26 AM

January 24, 2005

LOEWENBERG: Annals of Opera, 1597-1940

It will also provide countless hours of browsing pleasure to people who are interested in a given opera and want to learn a little more about its performance history. Unfortunately, these comments do not necessarily apply to nineteenth century Italian opera in general and to the bel canto period in particular.

The basic premise of this book is to give the absolute and country premieres of the 4000 or so operas that the author thought important enough to include. This is followed by "full" performance histories of 17th and 18th century works, and first performances by country (or, rather, "cultural unit") of most nineteenth and twentieth century operas. The book was written at a time when the esteem for nineteenth century Italian opera was at its nadir, and, as a result, many significant Donizetti, Pacini and Mercadante works were omitted. These include Maria Stuarda, Pia de'Tolomei, Il Reggente, Le Due Illustre Rivali, and Caterina Cornaro. All but the last had significantly more impressive performance records in the nineteenth century than many of the German works included. Loewenberg himself admits in his preface that a more complete listing of the operas of Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi would have been tiresome and uninstructive. He cannot be blamed for his preference for classical and German opera, but the result is a seriously unbalanced book.

However, the biggest problem with Loewenberg is the very large incidence of errors, both of omission and of commission. This point may best be illustrated by examining in depth the listings of a typical opera. In line with the decision made to use the treatment given Dom Sebastien as one of the key parameters in judging the volumes listed in this bibliography, this work was selected. Loewenberg himself devotes half a column to Dom Sebastien, and divides his entries into five groups:

Performances in French Two (2) Cities
German Nine (9) Cities
Italian Eight (8)Cities
Czech Prague
20th Century revivals Three (3) Cities

Performances in French: Both entries are in Belgian cities. The French version is also known to have been given in a number of French provincial cities. The listing of these would have been optional according to Loewenberg's modus operandi, but desirable in order to get an accurate picture of the dissemination of the opera. A more significant omission is New Orleans (the U. S. premiere of the original French version), which obviously should have been included.

Performances in German: As can be expected, this is where Loewenberg is most accurate. His entries are all correct, and while there are no entries for Breslau and Munich, these are covered by the etc., and he already lists two cities in Germany. The one missing entry in German that I would have expected him to include is Ljubljana.

Performances in Italian: This is where Loewenberg is weakest, and is also most typical of what can be expected from his listings for other Italian operas of the period. He gives eight entries for the Italian version: Lisbon, Milan, Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Malta, New York City and Mexico. He omits at least eight country premieres. I am listing these by city: Havana, Alexandria, Corfu, Bucharest, St. Petersburg, Montevideo, Caracas, and Constantinople, the Madrid premiere, which should have been included since he lists two cities each for Belgium, Germany and Austria, and three entries in bi-cultural towns, which according to his preface, merited special attention. These are Nice, Trieste, and Rijeka (Fiume). Of the eight entries that he does give, three are wrong: Buenos Aires, Malta, and Rio de Janeiro. Thus, of the 20 entries that one would have expected (16 country premieres, one major country capital, and three bi-cultural cities) five are correct, three are in error, and twelve are omitted. Thus, there is an incidence of error for the Italian version of 75% and for the opera as a whole of close to 40%. While such a high incidence of error undoubtedly does not apply to all, or even many of the Italian operas included, even half that figure would be totally unacceptable. A cursory examination of other listings indicates that the actual figure for the ottocento is probably much closer to 15-25% errors of omission and commission. This is still enough to seriously diminish the value of this volume to musicologists interested in the period.

A second volume, which was originally intended to update the listings to 1980, has been promised for years. It is not known whether it will ever materialize, but that seems highly unlikely at this point.

Tom Kaufman

product_title=Alfred Loewenberg: Annals of Opera, 1597-1940, 3rd Edition
product_by=Totowa N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield; London: John Calder, 1978. First published 1943; revised 1955.

Posted by Gary at 9:44 PM

Schumann's Genoveva at Volksoper Wien

Kritik Volksoper: Widergängerin aus deutschem Tann

VON STEFAN MUSIL (Die Presse) 25.01.2005

Schumanns "Genoveva", einmal mehr auf Lebensfähigkeit geprüft.

Robert Schumann hat seine Spitzenposition in der Musikhistorie: herrliche Symphonien, wunderbare Kammermusik, grossartige Lieder. Doch er hat auch eine Oper hinterlassen: Genoveva. Eine Komposition auf ein eigenes, ungelenkes Libretto, das durch die Zeiten geistert und weder sanfte Ruhe noch dauerhafte Wiederbelebung erfahren kann.

Schumanns Wunsch nach einer Oper war offenbar gross, er verwarf zahlreiche Ideen, darunter die Nibelungen. Angeregt durch Genoveva-Dramen von Tieck und Hebbel, entschied er sich endlich fürs Schicksal der standhaften Gräfin, die vom bösen Golo bedrängt wird, ihn zurückweist und schimpft, worauf der Fiesling sie des Treuebruchs beschuldigt. Der aus dem Krieg heimkehrende Gatte, falsch informiert, überlässt sie der Todesstrafe. Nur in letzter Minute kann das Schrecklichste abgewendet werden.

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Posted by Gary at 8:31 PM

Resonanzen 2005: Alessandro Scarlatti's La Vergine dei Dolori

Alte Musik: Passion in Rom, Kantaten in Neapel

VON GERHARD KRAMER (Die Presse) 25.01.2005

Anspruchsvolles Entrée der "Resonanzen": Alessandro Scarlattis "La Vergine dei Dolori":

Neun Tage lang darf sich Wien jetzt wieder als Welthauptstadt der Alten Musik fühlen. Zum 13. Mal locken die "Resonanzen" ein begeisterungsfähiges Publikum mit einer wohlabgewogenen Mischung aus bewährten und für Wien neuen Künstlern ins Konzerthaus. Das Motto "Metropolen" hebt sich wohltuend von der zuweilen etwas aufgesetzt wirkenden Wahl vergangener Jahre ab: Sinnvoll ordnen sich die Abende zu einem Reigen europäischer Musikzentren zwischen Padua, London und Paris.

So schon "Rom", das stürmisch akklamierte Eröffnungskonzert im Grossen Saal: Keiner könnte die musikalische Pracht der Ewigen Stadt im Barock besser personifizieren als Alessandro Scarlatti mit seinen fast 40 Oratorien - die Gattung erlebte dank des jahrzehntelang aufrechterhaltenen päpstlichen Opern-Verbots eine Hochblüte. "La Vergine dei Dolori" (1717) ist ein Spätwerk; ablesbar an der bis ins Letzte verfeinerten Ausdrucksskala, der preziösen Führung der Singstimmen, der extravaganten Harmonik namentlich in den Rezitativen. Die Seelenqualen der Gottesmutter angesichts der Passion werden so in immer neuen Farben ausgemalt.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 8:10 PM

Monteverdi's Le Couronnement de Poppée at Lyon

Le triomphe de l'amour sincère

Lyon : Christian Merlin [Le Figaro]
[24 janvier 2005]

On revoit encore William Christie, l'été dernier, inquiet de la tournure qu'allait prendre son travail avec Peter Stein pour Le Couronnement de Poppée prévu à Lyon cet hiver : le metteur en scène allemand avait, en effet, très envie de se débarrasser des scènes comiques qui, selon lui, viennent comme un cheveu sur la soupe, alors que c'est justement ce mélange des tons qui fait la grandeur de la pièce ! Ce qui devait arriver arriva : on apprit bientot que Stein avait jeté l'éponge, remplacé par Bernard Sobel. Et c'est bien avec le fondateur du Théâtre de Gennevilliers que vient d'avoir lieu la première du chef-d'oeuvre de Monteverdi à l'Opéra de Lyon. Sobel apporte ainsi sa pierre à l'engouement actuel pour cet opéra fascinant, après McVicar, au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, et avant David Alden au Palais Garnier.

Après la lecture pléthorique et riche en clins d'oeil de McVicar, façon sitcom hollywoodien, Sobel mise sur l'humilité et la lisibilité. Dans le décor unique mais mouvant de Lucio Fanti, un enchevetrement de figures géométriques bleues tachées d'étoiles et formant une voute, les personnages évoluent dans des costumes accentuant le drapé des toges à l'antique. Pas de transposition ici, mais une allégorie plus intemporelle qu'actuelle. On est parfois à la limite du kitsch et de la naïaut;veté, comme ce sacre final par un angelot ailé, à la lueur de la lune.

Click here for remainder of article.

Poppée, immortelle courtisane, couronnée par William Christie

LE MONDE | 24.01.05 | 15h00

A Lyon, Bernard Sobel signe une mise en scène inventive de l'œuvre de Monteverdi.

Lyon de notre envoyée spéciale

Qu'avons-nous à couronner ainsi Poppée, la courtisane corrompue dont le crime se mesure à l'aune du pouvoir cynique incarné par Néron, à la mort de Sénèque le philosophe, à la destruction d'Octavie, impératrice répudiée ? De Paris à Séville, en passant par Hambourg, Francfort, Munich, Zurich, Lyon, Strasbourg, et Salamanque, que de Couronnement de Poppée ! Comme si l'idéologie sulfureuse du dernier chef-d'œuvre de Monteverdi (créé au Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo de Venise, vraisemblablement fin 1642) n'avait rien perdu de sa terrible actualité. Comme si le livret de Francesco Busenello, d'après Les Annales de Tacite (livre XIV), parlait d'un temps que nous reconnaissons.

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Posted by Gary at 7:42 PM

Le Figaro Interviews Marc Minkovski

Marc Minkovski : "La Flute appelle mille lectures"

A 20 ans, Marc Minkovski fondait les Musiciens du Louvre et, très vite, imprimait sa sensibilité gourmande sur le répertoire baroque, puis sur des Offenbach qui ont fait mouche à Lyon, Grenoble et Paris. On se souvient d'un grand Couronnement de Poppée à Aix-en-Provence, d'un admirable Pelléas et Mélisande, salle Favart, pour le centenaire de l'oeuvre en 2002. A l'Opéra de Paris, Gérard Mortier en fait aujourd'hui un pilier de ce qui ne ressemble pas à de la sagesse : le voici aux commandes musicales d'une nouvelle Flute enchantée venue du Festival de la Ruhr, et donnée en pâture au délirant groupe catalan La Fura del Baus. Le chef, lui, s'occupe surtout de Mozart.

Click here for the complete article.

Posted by Gary at 7:32 PM

Gluck's Alceste — A Crumbling Edifice in Boston

Leighton: Hercules fighting against Death for Alceste

An old opera gets new life in this production of 'Alceste'

By Richard Dyer, [Boston] Globe Staff | January 23, 2005

Last May, Opera Boston general director Carole Charnow saw a production of Andre Previn's operatic version of ''A Streetcar Named Desire'' in Washington, D.C. She knew immediately she had found the director she wanted for the collaborative production of Gluck's ''Alceste'' that Opera Boston and Boston Baroque will present this week.

Brad Dalton, a Harvard alum from the mid-'80s, has worked as an assistant director at the Metropolitan and San Francisco operas and is now making a name on his own. He set ''Streetcar'' not so much in a literal New Orleans as in the mind of the heroine, Blanche DuBois. It was the abstract but emotional quality of his staging that Charnow thought would be right for ''Alceste,'' one of the oldest operas that remains in the international repertoire. Intelligent, emotional, and wired, Dalton talks a mile a minute in an accent redolent of his native Texas, hands flying.

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Posted by Gary at 3:56 PM

Samson and Delilah at Opera Carolina

Rembrandt: The Blinding of Samson (1636)

The opera that almost wasn't

Steven Brown
The Charlotte Observer
Published: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Maybe Camille Saint-Saens should've chosen his friends more carefully. When he marshaled a singer to treat them to two arias from an opera he was working on - about the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah - they scoffed.

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Posted by Gary at 3:31 PM

Is Opera Relevant in Scotland?

Falstaff is a false dawn for our home-grown talent

KENNETH WALTON [The Scotsman Mon 24 Jan 2005]

WHILE Scotland's national opera company is in meltdown, how ironic is it that the opera school of our national music conservatoire is flying high? The two institutions may only be sited yards across the road from one another in Glasgow's Cowcaddens district, but the fortunes of Scottish Opera and the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) could hardly be more diametrically opposed.

The problem with Scottish Opera, as we know, and as the company's excellent new production of Tippett's The Knot Garden readily proves, is not artistic. Without going over old ground, the cultural mandarins at the Scottish Executive simply don't have the stomach for high art, the expertise that goes into making opera, or indeed the kudos a successful national company brings.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:15 PM

Missa Solemnis at Chicago

CSO, Rilling make a statement with Beethoven's `Missa Solemnis'

By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic

January 22, 2005

Two of Beethoven's most difficult yet most inspiring masterpieces, "Fidelio" and "Missa Solemnis," are making Chicago the epicenter of a grand Beethoven festival.

Each work is a heroic undertaking that tests the performers' mettle to the utmost. And yet, with soprano Karita Mattila leading Beethoven's only opera to triumph at Lyric Opera, and, the Chicago Symphony and Chorus delivering a strong and stirring performance of the "Missa Solemnis" this weekend at Orchestra Hall, one comes away exalted, grateful to have heard these pieces performed at the highest level.

Good fortune enabled the CSO to engage Helmuth Rilling on short notice to fill in for Daniel Barenboim while the music director took a week off to allow his injured back to heal.

The German conductor is best known as a Baroque choral specialist but, as he proved with the "Missa Solemnis," he is an authority on the big choral repertory of many periods. With the splendid vocal, choral and orchestral forces at his disposal, he distilled Beethoven's monumental paean to God's majesty into the basic human need for hope in the face of death. For his efforts Thursday night, the audience rewarded him with a prolonged ovation.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 2:42 AM

January 23, 2005

Kurt Schwertsik's Katzelmacher at Neue Oper Wien

Neue Oper Wien: Kunst als heisse Kartoffel

Kurt Schwertsiks "Katzelmacher" nach R. W. Fassbinder erstmals in Wien - zumindest andeutungsweise.

Der kabarettistisch freche Ton der Pariser Moderne der Dreissigerjah re ist es, der Kurt Schwertsik fes selt. Das bekannte er jüngst im Gespräch. Dieser Ton weist ihm offenkundig auch den Weg in Gefilde des Musiktheaters, die nichts mit den erdschweren, klangwuchernden Experimenten der deutschen und österreichischen Moderne der Nachkriegszeit zu tun haben, sondern sich am moralisierenden Unterhaltungstheater der Zwischenkriegszeit orientieren, das nicht nur von den Franzosen - in einer durchaus konsequent aus dem ursprünglichen, sozialkritischen Operetten-Esprit eines Jacques Offenbach - entwickelt wurde.

Man verstand diese Zeichen der Zeit auch in deutschsprachigen Landen, wenn es auch kein Zufall sein dürfte, dass etwa die in nämlichen Regionen beheimatete Ballett-Farce "Die sieben Todsünden" von Bert Brecht und Kurt Weill 1933 in Paris ihre Uraufführung erlebte. Die Wahl der "Neuen Oper Wien", Kurt Schwertsiks jüngstes Theater-Werk, "Katzelmacher" nach Rainer Werner Fassbinders gleichnamigem Stück, mit den "Todsünden" zu koppeln, schien auch deshalb einleuchtend, weil Schwertsik seit Jahren nicht mehr daran denkt, einem missverständlichen artistischen Fortschrittsdenken zu opfern. Seine Kompositionstechnik ist gegenüber der von Weill jedenfalls nicht im Sinne der Zeitachse als avanciert zu bezeichnen.

Click here for remainder of review.

Irritierende Meditationen über die Schlechtigkeit der Welt im Wiener Jugendstiltheater.

Wien - "Schreibe die Musik, die du hören möchtest": Das war der Rat, den der österreichische Komponist Kurt Schwertsik seinem Freund aus der Wiener Nachbarschaft gab. Ob sich dieser daran hielt, wissen wir nicht.

Schwertsik selbst jedoch ist in Katzelmacher, der 2003 im Auftrag der Wuppertaler Bühnen entstandenen Oper nach dem Skandalfilm und -theaterstück des früh verstorbenen Rainer Werner Fassbinder, nicht mehr der romantische Ironiker, der er mal war. Sondern er nimmt sich dieses minimalistischen, tristen Kammerspiels mit seinen kargen Dialogen absolut puritanisch, grell, die menschliche Verlogenheit aufdeckend an.

Click here for remainder of review

Cast information:
Helga — Annette Schönmüller
Gunda — Anna Clare Hauf
Elisabeth — Daniela Fally
Marie — Doris Langara
Ingrid — Tanja Watzinger
Paul — Thomas Rettensteiner
Jorgos — Dmitrij Solowjow
Bruno — Marco Di Sapia
Erich — Dieter Kschwendt-Michel
Franz — Manfred Equiluz

amadeus ensemble-wien

Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

Cantors & Capellmeisters at Queen Elizabeth Hall

New London Consort

Geoff Brown at Queen Elizabeth Hall

WHEN a programme contains music by Gregor Aichinger, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Daniel Bollius and Johann Christoph Pezel, to name only four (or is it ten?), an auditorium less than full might, unfortunately, be suspected. These are 17th-century German worthies known largely to scholars alone. But why can't audiences be more adventurous? In that century you're bound to get memorable tunes, catchy rhythms, enticing counterpoint: I don 't see what the problem is.

Besides, after years of happy concerts can't the New London Consort be trusted? Philip Pickett, their ringleader, has never unearthed a dud yet, certainly not in this Cantors & Capellmeisters programme dedicated to Bach's friends and precursors. Vocal cantatas sweet and gracious; a sinewy Buxtehude chaconne; concertos, suites: all dispatched by the most gifted and sure-footed singers and musicians. When Julia Gooding unleashes her rich, round soprano, or Adrian Chandler dances on his violin, or David Staff's trumpet tootles on high, no one should stay away.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 3:02 PM

January 22, 2005

A Disarming Pelléas et Mélisande

Debussy's Ill-Fated Love, Stripped of All but Its Power


You cannot blame this longtime lover of Debussy's "Pelléas et Mélisande" for being suspicious when L'Opéra Français de New York announced that it would present a staged production of the work in its "original version" for voices and piano. No orchestra? Wasn't this small company simply producing the opera on the cheap?

The L'Opéra Français production opened on Wednesday night at the French Institute Alliance Française on East 59th Street, and it was a revelation.

Here was Debussy's landmark opera presented in the institute's intimate Gould Hall in a simple yet gripping modern staging, performed by an appealing cast and the sensitive and tireless pianist Raphael Rochet. Imagine "Pelléas" as psychological theater, as engrossing chamber opera. Those who know the work well, or not at all, and those planning to attend the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Jonathan Miller's production, which opens Jan. 29, should not miss the final performance of L'Opéra Français's production tonight.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 11:53 PM

Così fan tutte at Wiener Staatsoper

Kritik: "Così fan tutte" in der Staatsoper
Mit "Così fan tutte" verbesserte sich der Mozart-Ton schlagartig.

Mag sein, manch einer findet die forsche Gangart, die Julia Jones bei Mozart einschlägt, ein wenig zu schnoddrig. Doch erweist sich: Die Dirigentin weiss in jeder Phase einer Aufführung, was sie will, behält die übersicht über die Dramaturgie und hält Orchester und Bühne immer fein zusammen - und das in raschem Lustspielton. Alles Eigenschaften, die heutzutage offenkundig auch in der Wiener Staatsoper rar geworden sind.

Zwischendurch finden die Musikanten, da rundum im komödiantischen Korsett alles fest sitzt, auch Gelegenheit, ein wenig Klangzauber und improvisatorischen Geist einzubringen - vor allem ätherische Bläserfarben, die sich etwa im himmlischen Terzett des zweiten Bilds (Flöte!) und in Solonummern wie der E-Dur-Arie der Fiordiligi (Klarinette, Horn!) ergeben. Da blüht dann neben dem makellos schönen Gesang der Soile Isokoski auch philharmonischer Klangsinn auf, wie er früher einmal selbstverständlich war. Wie er sich auch im Verein mit dem vor allem in der ersten Arie traumverloren schön singenden Ferrando von Michael Schade zwischen Vokal- und Instrumentallinien ergibt, wie er auf manch verschmitzte Pointe reagiert, die von Heimkehrerin Helen Donath, einer selbstironisch hintergründigen Despina, gesetzt wird.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 5:59 PM

Salzburg To Celebrate Wolfie's 250th

Salzburger Festspiele Pressebüro

Salzburg Festival to stage Mozart marathon in 2006

Last Updated Thu, 20 Jan 2005 16:23:28 EST
CBC Arts

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - Austria's venerable Salzburg Festival will stage all 22 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's operas and musical theatre works next year, the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Simply staging the composer's seven most-performed operas - including Le Nozze de Figaro and Idomeneo — "would have been too little for Salzburg," festival director Peter Ruzicka told reporters Thursday.

"The idea is to be able to examine the development of this unique genius and to contrast it with the music of the 21st century," he said of the Mozart marathon, which will mount the 22 works in about six weeks.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for general information on Salzburg Festival 2006.

Posted by Gary at 5:49 PM

January 21, 2005

Muti in Milano

Riccardo's way

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times]
Published: January 21 2005 18:15 | Last updated: January 21 2005 18:15

Here, indicates the maestro, is the "punto Callas". Riccardo Muti and I are standing onstage at La Scala, Milan, where so many great operas have been premiered and countless distinguished singers have sung. Facing the deserted auditorium, he points to an unmarked spot on the floor, right of centre, which Maria Callas established as her sovereign territory. It is the punto, or position, which best showed off a singer's voice in a theatre renowned for its acoustical quirks. "There was great competition for this point," smiles Muti. "In a quartet you would have a tower of singers."

Breaking the eerie stillness, the maestro claps his hands to show how much more flattering the acoustic has become since the great Milanese theatre reopened last month after a three-year renovation. Has La Scala ever resonated so crisply to the sound of one person's applause? Muti's point is that there is no longer any need for a "punto Callas".

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 10:53 PM

BERLIOZ: Les Troyens

Les Troyens by Hector Berlioz

Susan Graham, Gregory Kunde, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Renata Pokupic, Ludovic Tézier, Laurent Naouri, Nicholas Testé, Mark Padmore, Topi Lehtipuu, Stéphanie d'Oustrac.

Monteverdi Choir & Choeur du Théâtre du Châtelet, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor.

BBC Opus Arte, 3 DVD

For the last couple of decades, the "concept production" has been a controversial presence on opera stages, generally director-driven and decried by traditionalists as detracting from the essence of opera which they define as "voice, voice, voice." Here's a refreshing and overdue variant, a production concept that is conductor-driven, devoted to rethinking the sound and casting principle appropriate for French grand opera by starting at the top with the grandest of them all.

The point is often made that we now lack heroic voices for the great works. John Eliot Gardiner's casting argues, rather convincingly I think, that "heroic" is a concept relative to an opera's overall style and the period in which it was written. He casts in the French tradition that knows the difference between a German heldentenor whose strength lies in the middle and bottom of the voice, and a French heroic tenor, of whom is demanded a free and brilliant top and the ability to soar over ensembles with precisely focused tone. Many in this cast are associated with music of the Renaissance, Baroque and early nineteenth century. Their voices are clearer and lighter than we have become accustomed to in Les Troyens and Gardiner surrounds them with a chorus that can not only move and act with distinction, but whose voices in ensemble have the required buoyancy, flexibility and brilliance for Berlioz's demanding choral writing.

Yannis Kokkos (director, set and costume designer) provides an updated but otherwise traditionally narrative production. The costumes are a stylized take on early nineteenth century with excursions into contemporary fatigues for the invading Greeks and slacks for the widow-queen Didon. The monumental sets contrast Trojan encirclement and claustrophobia with Carthaginian rationality and light. Kokkos doesn't solve the entry of the horse into Troy (here a disembodied floating horse head a la Georgia O'Keefe) any more successfully than most of his colleagues. He does, however, move his crowds with exciting dramatic point and develops memorable characters with his singers.

Part one, "La Prise de Troie," is dominated by Anna Caterina Antonacci in one of two almost literally demented performances in this production. The Italian soprano's fearless vocal attack and strikingly tortured physicality illuminate Cassandre's personal tragedy as well as the fear with which her people regard her. Antonacci's is not a perfect voice, but it is a highly expressive voice, a theatrical voice that is strong in all registers with the text placed well forward on the tone in the French manner. In "Les Troyens a Carthage," Susan Graham builds Didon's character from the inner emptiness of grief through burgeoning love to a shattering climax of titanic rage, and suicidal depression when abandoned by énée. Graham's extended mad scene is stunningly sustained, voiced with daring to the point of a rasp on the tone for dramatic effect. She then rises to Didon's final prophetic utterances, capping her performance with pure gleaming tone. Throughout, her creamy mezzo and handsome figure are perfect for Didon, and she receives a huge ovation from the Parisian audience.

For énée, the hero who spans both parts of Les Troyens, Gardiner has Gregory Kunde in what is surely the most controversial piece of casting here. Kunde became noted for high-lying lyric tenor heroes in Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. Some recent New York performances (notably Rossini's Ermione at N.Y. City Opera) have revealed signs of wear and tear on his medium-weight tenor. For this Troyens, however, he sounds secure, the top encompassing énée's high lying lines with minimal strain. Exactly how well this voice carries over the orchestra in a mid-sized house like the Châtelet is hard to tell given the obviously mediated sound. I will say that while Kunde really nails énée's treacherous opening description of Laocoon's death, the final lines are mostly submerged in the orchestra. Kunde's best work, and a highlight of the performance in general, is the great "Nuit d'ivresse" love duet with Susan Graham.

The large supporting cast mostly justifies Gardiner's approach very well. Ludovic Tézier is handsome of voice and face as Chorèbe. Petite Stéphanie d'Oustrac is striking physically and wields an unexpectedly contraltoish sound as Ascagne. Tenors Marc Padmore (Iopas) and Topi Lehtipuu (Hylas) bring lovely voices to their lyrical solos, while Renata Pokupic's Anna blends exquisitely in duets with Graham, even if she doesn't make a particularly big impression in the rest of the role. Laurent Naouri comes in and out of focus vocally as Narbal.

Gardiner leads his period orchestra in a dynamic performance and supports his singers well. In the interest of total authenticity, he sought out a private collection of Saxhorns that were current in Parisian orchestras of the period, providing a mellow alternative to some of the more aggressive modern heavy brass. Although no mention is made on the case or in the print notes, the interview with Gardiner after the opera on disc 3 reveals the origin of the unfamiliar ending employed for this production. After Dido's death and the chorus's furious insults to the departing Trojans, Anna Caterina Antonacci, now as the mythical Clio but still a prophetess, enters to deliver a line in Latin that what was once Troy will now be Rome. This moment is a fragment of Berlioz's original ending as restored in a new critical edition by Hugh McDonald. Why Gardiner chose to introduce this potentially interesting material to the world in such truncated form is not explained, even by the conductor himself.

Whether or not you buy Gardiner's vision of an "authentic" modern Les Troyens with voices less dramatic than we have become used to, the performances of Antonacci, Graham, the chorus and orchestra more than justify the cost of this release.

William Fregosi

Posted by Gary at 6:33 PM

An Evening With Clara's Piano

Gathering around the family piano

For Paul Driver, one of the highlights of the RNCM's latest composer fest was a recital on the instrument made for Clara Schumann by her father

Among the often spurious partnerships beloved by musical history -- Bach and Handel, Bruckner and Mahler, Britten and Tippett -- that of Schumann and Brahms at least has the merit that the composers were not actually antithetical in style and manner. They were, if not a conscious partnership, a powerful joint force for the perpetuation of classical values in the 19th century, the elder -- Schumann -- the sponsor and active publicist of the other. Brahms was "discovered", encouraged, sustained and venerated by Schumann. He, in turn, devoted his whole bachelor life to the succour of the Schumann family, giving rock-like support to Clara Schumann as her husband's syphilitic madness took him over, and seeking to preserve Schumann's oeuvre at its most illustrious and least clouded-over, withholding publication of some later works.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:52 PM

It's Shag-A-Delic, Baby!

The Knot Garden

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Andrew Clements
Friday January 21, 2005
The Guardian

Perhaps the Tippett centenary has come too soon, and the seven years since the composer's death have been insufficient for his achievement to be digested and for the anniversary celebrations to take on any real significance. But no matter how much time had passed, I doubt that his third opera, The Knot Garden, will ever seem more than a period piece, wedded to the late 1960s when it was written.

With a libretto that contains lines such as "Honey, make love to me" and "Play it cool", there are moments during Scottish Opera's new production when it feels as if we are watching Austin Powers — The Opera rather than a significant stage work by one of Britain's most admired composers of the 20th century. What seemed to many of us a quarter of a century ago so touching and psychologically acute, so richly allusive (musically and textually), is now contrived and embarrassing — especially given its setting in a cosily bourgeois world in which all personal hang-ups and soured relationships can be put to rights with a spot of free love and the expensive help of a psychoanalyst.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 2:39 PM

John Eliot Gardiner Goes It Alone — Take Two

The maestro who's gambling on the glories of Bach

(Filed: 20/01/2005)

Conductor John Eliot Gardiner tells Geoffrey Norris why he had to set up his own record label

What is it that urges an eminent musician to spurn the mainstream record industry and set up on his own?

Some orchestras have been doing it for quite a while, bypassing the major companies and releasing competitively priced discs of live performances that regularly lead the market and at the same time help to promote the orchestras' image. Where the London Symphony Orchestra led the way in that field, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, who already has a formidable backlist of recordings to his credit, is now blazing a trail for the individual artist by launching his own label, Soli Deo Gloria, the first two albums of which have just gone on sale.

For Gardiner, the catalyst came five years ago, when Deutsche Grammophon pulled out of a project to record all the 198 sacred cantatas that he, together with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, were performing on his millennial Bach Pilgrimage.

The CDs were supposed to be, in every sense, a record of this historic tour, which began in the Bach heartland of Weimar and then criss-crossed Europe presenting the church cantatas on the feast days for which they were composed. In the event, DG issued only a handful of CDs from a potential 50 or more.

[Click here for remainder of article (free registration required).]

Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

So Much For Einstein's Theory

Czech-based musicologist claims to have found missing libretto to Mozart's Zaide

For many years Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's operatic work Zaide was regarded as a fragment. More than an hour of music was preserved but that was only the arias. Originally they were linked by spoken text, none of which survived. The German musicologist and conductor Andreas Kroeper, who now lives in the Czech Republic, says he has found the missing text and has proved it belonged to Zaide.

Mozart started to compose the two-act Singspiel, set in a Turkish harem — a popular setting at that time, some time around 1780 in Salzburg. The libretto, developing similar plots of the period, was written by the Salzburg court musician Johann Andreas Schachtner. But Mozart soon realised a serious piece like that would not go down well with the Viennese audience whose tastes had turned to comic operas.

Mozart abandoned the project, not finishing the overture and the final act. Zaide was not staged until 1866 in an adaptation. Further adaptations followed, often with a narrator filling the gaps between each musical number. The British Classical Opera Company recently decided to commission a contemporary poet to write new lyrics and to use other works by Mozart from the same period to complete the piece musically. In the Czech Republic, Zaide was adapted by the South Bohemian Theatre three years ago with actors outside the plot carrying the storyline from on sung piece to another.

In 1936 the Mozart expert Alfred Einstein found a libretto believed to have been the inspiration for Zaide. He compared it to the fragment, found the comparison unsatisfactory and abandoned this track. The Czech-based musicologist and conductor Andreas Kroeper says this was a mistake. He says that when examining the libretto thoroughly he found it had been used as a model for Zaide. He believes Mozart and Schachtner took liberties with the original version, left out some parts and changed the order of scenes.

Andreas Kroepner has now prepared a preview of the completed Zaide and hopes to stage it in Europe, the United States and Japan next year to mark the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.

Pavla Horakova

Source: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/62518.

Posted by Gary at 3:20 AM

Generallissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

Ryszard Horowitz

Don Giovanni, Grand Theatre, Leeds

Published: January 20 2005 02:00 | Last updated: January 20 2005 17:12

After some wild recent productions it comes as a surprise to find a Don Giovanni set in Spain, as Mozart intended. How many directors care to remember that Don Giovanni's tally of women there numbered 1,003, as Leporello's catalogue reminds us every time we see the opera? Having decided on a Spanish setting, Opera North's new production tries to make the most of it. Photos of bullfights are flashed across a screen to draw a glib parallel with Don Giovanni the predatory sexual toreador. The cast gird their loins for some rather dubious Spanish dances. And — most important — the time is updated to the Spanish Civil War, bringing the class antagonism of the opera into modern focus.

All these presumably looked promising ingredients, but Olivia Fuchs, the director, has made a right paella out of them. Whatever political message she was hoping to elicit is scuppered before the interval, when the aristocratic Don Giovanni is found entertaining the leftwing sympathisers to a black-tie ball. (Which side is he meant to be on?) Throw in a set that comprises three ladders against a blank wall and a laddish translation apparently hatched in Ilford c.1985 and all pretence at period Spanish colour is lost.

[Click here for remainder of review (subscription to Financial Times online required).]

Posted by Gary at 1:08 AM

January 20, 2005

BERG: Wozzeck

Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Wozzeck (1917-1921)

Walter Berry, bar (Wozzeck); Max Lorenz, ten (Tambourmajor); Murray Dickie, ten (Andres); Peter Klein, ten (Hauptmann); Karl Dönch, bass-bar (Doctor); Harald Pröglhof, bass-bar (Erster Handwerksbursch); Marjan Rus, bar (Zweiter Handwerksbursch); William Wernigk, ten (Der Narr); Christel Goltz, sop (Marie); Polly Batic, alto (Margret).

Orchestra and Chorus of the Vienna State Opera/Karl Böhm
rec. live, Vienna State Opera Festival, 25 November 1955.
Mono. DDD 2004
includes 176pp booklet and libretto

ANDANTE AN 3060 [35'44" + 60'04"]

Andante's new mastering of famous live performances aims to capture what those performances might have felt like. This gives these recordings an automatic cachet of authenticity and a kind of cult status. However, much depends on the quality of the particular performance. The skill is to choose quality performances that really are interesting in themselves, and to remaster them in ways that do them justice. The Andante series comes impressively packaged, with luxuriously bound booklets, beautifully presented. However, in this case the music does not quite match the promise. Worthy as this performance is, and worthy it is indeed, it is not an ideal first choice. Artistically it is good, but best appreciated by those who know Abbado, Boulez, Dohnanyi and even Böhm's later recording. While I'm one who listens for music, not for sound quality, in this case the sound quality is poor enough to distract - not enough to ruin listening, for it would take a lot to deter a genuine listener - but just enough to feel that you're listening through an artificial medium. This may have been recorded live, but it doesn't "feel" live, with the pops, crackles and occluded passages. Ultimately that defeats its own purpose.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 10:07 PM

Karita Mattila — A Stunning Leonore

'Fidelio' returns
Lyric, cast rise above flawed Beethoven opera

By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic

January 19 2005, 1:00 AM CST

"Fidelio" has been missing in action at Lyric Opera for nearly 24 years, much too long for a flawed masterpiece that once held sway on Wacker Drive whenever the great tenor Jon Vickers was available to sing the punishing role of Florestan.

Beethoven's only opera attempts to translate the high-flown democratic ideals he later developed in his Ninth Symphony into credible theatrical form. He didn't fully succeed despite his heroic labors. But dramatic awkwardness finally bows to the music itself: a great score driven by noble sentiment.

Much of that noble sentiment was recognizable in the radiant Finnish soprano Karita Mattila's thrilling portrayal of Leonore, the opera's courageous, larger-than-life heroine, at the Lyric's first performance of the season Tuesday night at the Civic Opera House.

But the Lyric also did itself proud with its casting of the other roles, all of them strongly filled.

Whatever inconsistencies of concept marred German stage director Jürgen Flimm's updated production from the Metropolitan Opera (taken over in his absence by his assistant, Gina Lapinski) were more than offset by the splendidly idiomatic conducting of Christoph von Dohnányi, returning in triumph to the theater that gave him his U.S. operatic debut 36 years ago.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Beethoven's 'Fidelio' seizes the heart

January 20, 2005

BY WYNNE DELACOMA Classical Music Critic

With all due respect to Beethoven -- creator of those landmark piano sonatas, gripping string quartets and iconic Ninth Symphony -- opera was not his forte. "Fidelio,'' his sole foray into the form, which opened Tuesday night at Lyric Opera of Chicago, has its clunky patches. In Act II, he is so eager to emphasize his points about the value of freedom and selfless love that he belabors them mercilessly.

But such weak spots were easy to overlook, given the powerful musical and theatrical forces at work in this production conducted by the estimable Christoph von Dohnanyi and starring Karita Mattila in the title role, Rene Pape as the jailer Rocco and Kim Begley as the imprisoned Florestan.

"Fidelio's'' story of a wife risking her life to free her unjustly imprisoned husband is universal, and designer Robert Israel has moved the action to the 20th century. The tale of the loving wife, Leonore, who disguises herself as a male prison guard, Fidelio, in an attempt to rescue her husband, Florestan, plays out in a grim concrete prison block. Its gray, forbidding shadow could be falling across God-forsaken stretches of west Texas, Bosnia or South Africa. Originally staged for the Metropolitan Opera by Jurgen Flimm in 2000 and staged for Lyric by Met assistant director Gina Lapinski, this is a world in which important politicians wear well-cut three-piece suits and prison guards sport short-sleeved khaki shirts and brandish billy clubs.

At the center of this barren arena, Mattila's Fidelio glowed like a judiciously hooded but red-hot flame. Previously this season, the Finnish soprano sang a moving Donna Anna in Lyric's "Don Giovanni," and her Leonore/Fidelio offered an even more nuanced blend of glorious singing and riveting acting. Mattila's voice is big and agile, with a bright center and velvety edge, capable of plumbing every facet of Leonore's treacherous emotional journey.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 9:15 PM

Live from New York — Death and Transfiguration

Facing Death, Armed Only With Sound, Not Drama


The level of Luciano Berio's music was still on the ascent when he died two years ago at 77. "Stanze" - five poems for solo voice, chorus and orchestra - were his last pieces, and they shine with poise and quiet confidence. We are reminded that the possibilities of instrumental combinations are far from exhausted. The Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach introduced New York to "Stanze" at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night, adding Act III from Wagner's "Parsifal" in concert form.

Paul Celan's "Tenebrae," the first poem, is accompanied by drifting, attenuated chords of extraordinary beauty. If Berio's music moves slowly, or sometimes not at all, there is activity within: textures swelling and contracting like lungs, woodwind colors swimming and undulating. So striking are the sounds that high drama is unnecessary.

Death and the approaching appointment with one's maker dominate these poems. If Celan is dark and supplicating, Giorgio Caproni's offering here is a sly and wistful metaphor of one man's descent from a crowded train. The music is colored by small flutters and shrieks; the chorus sings in almost conversational fragments and spurts.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 5:59 PM

Peace is at hand in San Diego

Opera-symphony pact a notable event

The two major groups haven't always cooperated

By Preston Turegano and Valerie Scher

January 20, 2005

A San Diego Opera-San Diego Symphony agreement reached this week to share musicians signifies a new level of achievement for two arts organizations that have fought second-tier status for years.

It also ushers in unprecedented cooperation for these major arts organizations, which didn't always work cooperatively or compatibly.

The relationship will link the symphony and opera as never before while boosting their artistic quality and enhancing the orchestra's hard-won financial stability — building on a $100 million gift it received in 2002 from philanthropists Joan and Irwin Jacobs.

"We are probably the only orchestra in America today that is expanding its commitment to musicians," symphony executive director Edward B. "Ward" Gill said yesterday. "It's a huge challenge. We must collaborate. We must coordinate schedules, make everything work."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 5:43 PM

Seeking Greatness at Lincoln Center

Lipsky, Pat / 2004

Lincoln Center hosting diverse 'Great Performers'

Thursday, January 20, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- The British are coming. So are the Russians, along with an Argentinean and the usual Austrians and Germans. Lincoln Center's 2005-06 "Great Performers" lineup was announced Tuesday, and the 40th season of the multimedia series once again draws a multicultural mix of classical performers.

The opening events of "Great Performers," Sept. 28-Oct. 2, bring the return of the virtuoso London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis in programs ranging from the Verdi Requiem to Sibelius and Vaughan Williams. That kicks off a season featuring visits from 10 international orchestras, plus 31 recitals and chamber concerts.

The "Great Performers" offerings also include a festival devoted to Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov and a new series of late-night, world-music concerts, as well as a 10-part film series on Richard Wagner and sundry educational events.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

[Click here for season details.]

Posted by Gary at 5:29 PM

Ghosts of Performances Past

Concert Memorializes the Ghost of the National Theatre in Washington DC

In the Helen Hayes Gallery, as part of Monday Night at the National Theatre, Opera Music Theater International (OMTI) under the direction of James K. McCully conducted a memorial concert in honor of actor John McCullough. John McCullough, a distinquished actor who performed Shakespearean and other roles at the National Theatre, and according to the Washington Post was reputedly shot and killed in the theatre by a fellow thespian. His remains are rumored to lie in earth beneath the stage of the National Theatre in Washington DC.

Washington DC (PRWEB) January 20, 2005 -- The National Theatre is a plethora of stars of the past, the present, and the future of the great American theatre. Almost every great stage performer over the past century has graced the stage of this historic theatre. The oldest cultural institution in the Nation's capital, the National Theatre is one of the oldest continuously operating theatres in America.

The National Theatre, managed by the Shubert Organization, has presented numerous North American and World premieres of professional Broadway Class-A Legitimate Productions throughout its history. The National Theatre over looks the International Trade Center and Freedom Plaza on "The Avenue of the Presidents". Since its inception, the National Theatre has been crowned "The Theatre of the Presidents" having performed for every American President and First Lady.

"The First Lady of the American Theatre" and legendary actress Helen Hayes saw her first stage performance from the balcony of the National Theatre. Miss Hayes returned many times since that time to perform on the stage of the National Theatre throughout her career. The Nation's official portrait of Helen Hayes is on permanent loan from the National Portrait Gallery, and is prominently display at the National Theatre in the Helen Hayes Gallery.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 5:15 PM

Renée Takes Seattle

Fleming gives it all she's got, and that's a lot

Thursday, January 20, 2005


Renée Fleming came and conquered the full house Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall.

Now 45, the soprano is in her prime, not only with that voluptuous voice but her musical acuity and dramatic instincts.

When singers become as famous as Fleming, connoisseurs find something to criticize, often justified: a mannered style or lackluster ambition in terms of repertory, for instance. When the voice is as gorgeous and gleaming as Fleming's, there is always the danger the singer will be content to deliver a pretty sound and little else.

That argument has been made against Fleming, but there was little in her recital, presented by the Seattle Symphony, to support it, in spite of the occasional technical smudge. I have been listening to Fleming live for 15 years, and I cannot remember a more persuasive evening of her art.

With Fleming, one begins with the voice itself: a sound like cream that travels effortlessly up and down the scale. There is radiance in the voice as well as purity, strength and openness. Its warmth is balanced with roundness. It blossoms when you want it to and can crawl into a silvery pianissimo when desired. She possesses a line that seemingly can travel forever without interruption. She can be exquisite or ardent and, at Benaroya, she never confused the two. The voice summons the word lyrical and all that it implies, from sheer beauty of tone to seamless phrasing. She can float a note, or series of notes, to the degree the ear follows closely as the sound slips into nothingness.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

[Click here for additional information on Renée.]

Posted by Gary at 4:57 PM

Pelléas et Mélisande in New York

Savoring Debussy's 'Pelléas'

By Anthony Tommasini The New York Times
Wednesday, January 19, 2005

NEW YORK Sigmund Freud's seminal "Interpretation of Dreams" was published in 1900. But Claude Debussy had already poked around in the unconscious in his landmark opera "Pelléas et Mélisande," which he had essentially composed (though not orchestrated) by 1895.

Of course, Maurice Maeterlinck, whose play Debussy adapted into his opera, had been treading through Freudian terrain even earlier. Maeterlinck, a leading figure in the Symbolist movement, which arose in the 1880s, espoused veiled emotions, mystery and indirection over realism.

On the surface of a Maeterlinck play, the dialogue might seem everyday, the action inconsequential. But below, his works stirred up disturbing, confounding and sensual feelings. Debussy read the newly published script for "Pelléas et Mélisande" in 1892, saw a production in Paris the next year and immediately seized on it as a subject.

As he wrote at the time, the play had "far more humanity than those so-called 'real life' documents" and contained "an evocative language whose sensitivity can be extended into music and into the orchestra décor." There will be two opportunities to encounter the work here: On Wednesday and Friday, L'Opéra Français de New York will present a staged production of what it calls the "original version" of the opera, for voices and piano. On Jan. 29 the Metropolitan Opera revives Jonathan Miller's alluring 1995 production of the familiar final version.

The mysterious story, set in some vaguely medieval time and place, tells of a sullen middle-aged widower, Golaud, the son of the frail King Arkel of Allemonde. One day, while hunting aimlessly in the forest, Golaud comes upon a lovely, frightened and evasive young woman who cannot bear to say a word about her past life. Passively, she follows Golaud and later marries him, only to find her emotional armor threatened by Golaud's attractive and adoring young half-brother, Pelléas.

For all the perplexing richness of the play, Debussy's deceptively calm music taps the subliminal emotions of the characters more deeply than Maeterlinck's words. Though he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911, Maeterlinck is probably best known today for his role in the creation of Debussy's opera.

"Pelléas et Mélisande" is a radical work, a kind of anti-opera that has long divided audiences. Some listeners find it dramatically static and exasperating. Admittedly, the pacing is glacial; inconsequential events are stretched into entire scenes. Debussy's music, sensuous and radiant, can seem as murky and evasive as Mélisande, the most striking example of a compulsive liar in all of opera. Even Maeterlinck nodded off when Debussy played through the score for him at the piano, though, from all reports, Maeterlinck had little sensitivity for music.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 4:50 PM

Cincinnatus Idyll

Idol-izing the Opera

The audition of a lifetime: Would-be chorus members sing for spots before judges at Music Hall

By Lauren Bishop
Enquirer staff writer

There was no scowling Simon Cowell, no one singing while holding a scooter and no William Hung.

But Cincinnati's own classical version of "American Idol" auditions took place Friday and Saturday at Music Hall. Budding singers and classically trained performers sang with all the fervor of "Idol" winner Fantasia in an attempt to land a spot in one or more of Cincinnati Opera's four summer productions.

The 46 people who signed up to sing Friday and Saturday, the third set of auditions the opera held, were trying out for 20 remaining chorus positions. Those spots mostly were in "Margaret Garner," a new opera that has a 32-person African-American chorus.

The hopefuls read over sheet music, paced and, in some cases, prayed before singing in front of the "judges" - chorus master Henri Venanzi and artistic administrator Marcus Küchle.

Waiting to audition Saturday, 29-year-old Lewanda Spaulding of Springfield Township studied color photos of past performances hanging on a wall.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 4:44 PM

Carmen at Toronto

Carmen curse put to the test

COC's last staging in 1993 was disaster


Richard Bradshaw is finally ready to lift the curse and bring Carmen back to Toronto next fall as part of the Canadian Opera Company's final season at the Hummingbird Centre.

Georges Bizet's hot-blooded saga about the Spanish gypsy and jealous soldier is one of the greatest crowd-pleasers in the opera repertory, but at the COC a black cloud has been hanging over it for the past 12 years.

The reason: The COC's last production of Carmen, in 1993, was a disaster that helped mire the company in debt and led to the sacking of Bradshaw's predecessor, Brian Dickie.

This time, Bradshaw explained with a sly smile at a COC press conference yesterday, Carmen (opening Sept. 29) will be "firmly and recognizably set in Seville."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 4:20 PM

Philadelphia Opera Company's 2005-2006 Season

A premiere among the classics

'Margaret Garner' debuts during Opera Company's upcoming season


For the Daily News

The premiere of "Margaret Garner," plus a late Verdi masterpiece, and Figaro's twin adventures as told by Rossini and Mozart make up the Opera Company of Philadelphia's 2005-2006 season.

For the second year, the company will present four operas with six Academy of Music performances each.

"We hope that we will be able to return to five productions in the 2006-2007 season," said the company's general and artistic director Robert Driver as the '05-'06 season was announced yesterday.

The much-anticipated "Margaret Garner," with libretto by author Toni Morrison and music by Richard Danielpour, will receive its East Coast premiere in February after being performed by its other co-commissioners, Michigan Opera Theatre and Cincinnati Opera.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

The Sopranos

Two dazzling American divas headline Opera Company of Philadelphia's spring season.

by David Shengold

It finally happened: Record companies have gotten their image-obsessed claws into the opera world. And now more than ever, the opera "industry," if not necessarily the listening public, wants its sopranos to be ready to do a few (nonspeaking) minutes on Letterman. Some of these runway-model-type singers, like Opera Company of Philadelphia alumna Anna Netrebko, have genuine talent; several have crashed and burned almost as fast as television starlets. This situation has spun out of control. Opera should be about total theatrical conviction, not just silhouettes.

Never fear: Opera Company of Philadelphia boasts two exciting sopranos to anchor its spring shows: Angela Brown in Verdi's Aida and Christine Goerke in Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. These two world-class singers command plenty of glamour and charisma onstage but are keenly aware that they do not have the supertrim bodies of the carb-phobic album-cover babes that recording execs have been desperately pitching the opera world for the last 15 years. In November, Goerke described herself (unfairly, but with typical humor) to The New York Times as "built like a linebacker;" but she made a dizzyingly seductive figure as Handel's sorceress, Alcina, at New York City Opera. Similarly tall and queenly, and bringing dignity and passion to her roles, Angela Brown can cut up a room with her irreverence. (In the unlikely event Soul Plane gets made into an opera, she gets the Mo'Nique role.) By any adult reckoning, these are two of the hottest young sopranos in America, and that includes their voluptuous presences onstage. Opera singers are athletes, varying in weight class as do boxers; they have to be toned to do their job. Projecting one's voice over a large orchestra to a hall seating 2,800 -- completely unmiked, as listeners attuned to pop and rock are often surprised to learn -- involves a great deal of muscular development and training. Both Brown and Goerke move impressively and can access the Big Emotions that can make opera a uniquely moving art form.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 4:02 PM

The Russians Bomb at Kennedy Center

Kirov Opera: Hitting All the Wrong Notes

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page C04

What were they thinking?

The "Kirov Spectacular" — which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House — proved the sort of celestial vaudeville that should have . . . well, gone out with vaudeville.

It seemed a generous program — some three hours of selections from ballets and operas performed by the Kirov Ballet, Opera and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, under the direction of Valery Gergiev. But the pieces had little to do with one another (indeed, they could almost have been chosen by lottery) and the musical performances were too often shopworn and lackluster — a scanty reward for those who managed to find their way to the Kennedy Center through the cold, clotted streets of pre-inauguration Washington.

The evening began well, with the overture to Glinka's "Ruslan and Lyudmila" — peppy, Russianized Rossini, conducted by Gergiev with his trademark headlong vigor. Within the past couple of days, it was decided, somewhat mysteriously, to make this long program longer by incorporating the "Black Pas de Deux" from "Swan Lake" into the proceedings, and here the show began its own swan dive, for the orchestra sounded tired and blanched (despite a nice hint of Gypsy throb to some of the solo violin playing). This is hardly the best of Tchaikovsky to begin with, and it sounded especially rum in the rigid, clattering performance it received last night.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

January 19, 2005

Manon Lescaut at Seattle — Two Reviews

Monday, January 17, 2005

An early, problematic Puccini work gets mostly successful reading by Seattle Opera


Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," which Seattle Opera has produced only sporadically in its 40-year history, is a work that goes in fits and starts. Moments of genuine inspiration and compelling drama mark the composer as a man of genius, but in this early opera, his talent is not always consistent. The demands on the tenor are notoriously difficult.

So, with its eyes wide open, the company mounted the third production in its history to bring in the new year Saturday night at McCaw Hall. It succeeded more than many efforts without breaking the bank, using conventional but serviceable sets and costumes from Montreal Opera.

Rooted to its place in time, Puccini's "Manon" is a period piece that resists attempts to make it more contemporary or more visually alluring. Seattle Opera made no attempt dress up the piece to give it style or panache. It allowed those revelations of Puccini's talent to flower, and when they did, they were given generous impetus.

One can readily criticize the jumbled libretto, the product of many hands, and the varied writing for singers. However, where Puccini was at his surest was in the orchestra, typically full-bodied and rich in details. Wisely, Seattle Opera asked an old hand at Puccini to preside in the pit, and he delivered the goods from the overture to the denouement.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Leads deliver stunning debuts

By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times music critic

There's only one way to make a success of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut": with impassioned singing actors who can make the audience believe the world is well lost for love.

Seattle Opera has just such a show with two singers, Carol Vaness and Jay Hunter Morris, making their career debuts in the leading roles. As Manon, Vaness brought decades of international stage experience to bear on a wholehearted, utterly committed performance. Vaness gave everything she had, redefining the concept of throwing oneself into a role, and the results were stunning.

From her opening scene to her last gasp, Vaness peeled the years away to become three different women. First was the slightly gauche, enthusiastic young girl en route to the convent, a girl who discovers love at first sight with the dashing young Chevalier des Grieux (Morris). Next came the bored, spoiled young mistress of the elderly Geronte (Arthur Woodley), still longing for her true love but unwilling to give up her newly acquired jewelry.

Finally, Vaness became the desperate, broken woman in exile, the one who declares that her sins will be forgotten, but never her love. Achieving these transformations would be a credit to any actress, but, of course, there is more than acting to opera.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 2:11 PM

January 18, 2005

More Than 2,000 Say Goodbye to Victoria de los Ángeles

The coffin of Spanish Victoria de los Angeles, a distinctive soprano who sang most of the great lyric roles in most of the world's opera houses, is placed inside the cathedral Nostra Senora del Mar during her funeral in Barcelona, January 17, 2005. Victoria de los Angeles died in hospital on Saturday at the age of 81.
REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

La musica preside el adiós a Victoria de los ángeles

Más de 2.000 personas asistieron al funeral de la soprano en Santa Maria del Mar


Más de 2.000 personas abarrotaron ayer la basílica de Santa Maria del Mar para despedir a Victoria de los ángeles. Familiares, amigos, representantes del mundo de la lírica, la política y la cultura y admiradores de la soprano asistieron al emotivo funeral, en el que, como no podía ser de otra manera, la musica tuvo un papel principal.

Acompanado por las notas del Parsifal de Wagner, interpretado por el coro y la orquesta del Gran Teatre del Liceu, el féretro entró en la iglesia desbordada por la masiva afluencia de publico. En la primera fila, a la diestra del ataud, se situaron los familiares de la fallecida. A la izquierda del féretro se encontraban las autoridades políticas que, con su presencia, resaltaban la trascendencia de la finada.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 10:18 PM

Songs of Schumann, Vol. 9

The Songs of Robert Schumann, vol. 9.
Ann Murray, Felicity Lott, sopranos, Graham Johnson, piano. Hyperion CD J33109

The latest volume of Hyperion's comprehensive collection of the Songs of Robert Schumann is an impressive recording of Schumann's Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op. 79 (1849). The songs are settings with children in mind, and not necessarily music for children to perform; the texts are by a number of poets, such as Goethe, Hebbel, Schiller, Rückert, Uhland, and von Fallersleben. In selecting the texts for this collection of Lieder, Schumann touched upon a variety of subjects, including topics associated with children, like Christmas, and verse about animals ("Marienwürmchen" and "Die Schwalben"); other texts deal with seasons, like Spring ("Frühlingsbotschaft" and "Frühlingsgruss") and the fantastic, as occurs in "Vom Schlaraffenland."

In this CD the performers created what the pianist Graham Johnson describes as "a new performing version" of the work by interspersing the songs with various pieces from the composer's Klavieralbum für die Jugend, Op. 68 (1848). This mode of presentation is wholly in the spirit of Schumann's music and gives the sense of a Lieder-Abend. In fact, the performance is framed by other works that reinforce the spirit of the recording, with a vocal duet set to a text by Schumann's daughter, Marie, and concluding with the "Soldatenlied" (WoO 6) that ends with the direction (implied in its text) that should send children to bed.

Graham Johnson's extensive notes that accompany this recording are useful for understanding the performers' rationale in combining these two collections — the Liederalbum and the Klavieralbum — into a convincing whole. In explaining the planning that went into this performing edition, Johnson considers the exigencies of performing this music. While the music is overtly intended for children, the works do not entirely lend themselves to unskilled performers. Johnson concedes that youthful pianists could tackle the music in either the solo piano pieces or the accompaniments to the Lieder, but cautions the use of children's voices for Lieder that are better suited to experienced singers.

In fact, the two singers here demonstrate in their effective performance the nuance they can contribute. Both Ann Murray and Felicity Lott are highly regarded for their work with Lieder, and this new recording is further proof of their talent. When the women sing together, their voices blend easily and convincingly, as is evident in the "Mailied" (Op. 79, no. 10) and "Frühlingslied" (Op. 79, no. 19). Elsewhere, each singer renders the songs with equal assuredness and mastery, as found in Murray's effective approach to the two "Zigeunerliedchen" (Op. 79, nos. 7 and 8) and the "Käuzlein" (Op. 79, no. 11). Likewise, Lott makes the most of the music in "Mignon" (Op. 79, no. 29), which contains the famous text "Kennst du das Land." In this single Lied, Lott demonstrates her ability to shape such familiar music masterfully.

The pianist Graham Johnson not only accompanies these two women in the Lieder, but also executes the piano pieces deftly. He chose several fine pieces from the Op. 68 collection to use in this performance, so that they complement the songs and also contribute some thematic unity to the recording. In placing the "Lied Italienischer Marinari" (Op. 68, no. 36) after "Kennst du das Land" Johnson offers an apt postlude to the song just before the recording closes with both women singing the "Soldatendlied" that forms a fitting epilogue to the entire performance.

This recording is an excellent contribution to the modern performances of Lieder preserved on CD. Not only does this recording offer authoritative interpretations of the Op. 79 Lieder, but it should inspire performers to use their creativity to combine music by Schumann in the engaging fashion found here, which is fully in the spirit of nineteenth-century practice. The booklet published with the CD includes Johnson's discussion of this performing edition, along with a fine essay on the genre of music for children, which he places in the context of nineteenth-century culture. In addition, the complete texts and translations are accompanied by a commentary on each song and the several illustrations from the period, including facsimiles from various editions, round out the presentation of Lieder on this fine CD.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 4:34 PM

Fidelio at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

For his only opera, Beethoven won 'martyr's crown'

January 16, 2005

BY WYNNE DELACOMA Classical Music Critic

Among history's crowded pantheon of tormented genius-artists, Beethoven holds an honored spot.

Often he composed quickly and with little apparent struggle. But he was no Mozart, who typically composed with a facility and speed that some music scholars have described as "taking dictation from God." Beethoven filled sketchbooks with musical fragments, doggedly reworking and refining them like a miner scratching for diamonds in a black-walled shaft. With his wild hair, scowling gaze, deafness -- a particularly cruel infirmity for a musician -- and volcanic temper, he is the very model of a modern angst-ridden artist.

Few of his compositions gave him more angst than "Fidelio," which Lyric Opera of Chicago presents starting Tuesday in an updated production with Karita Mattila, Kim Begley, Rene Pape and conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. Put through three major revisions between 1804 and 1814 and performed with four different overtures, it is Beethoven's only opera and explores the lofty ideals of love and freedom that obsessed the composer throughout his life.

The opera's full title is "Fidelio, or Married Love," and it tells the tale of the courageous Leonore, who disguises herself as a man, Fidelio, and risks her own life to free her unjustly imprisoned husband from his underground dungeon. With stirring music including a powerful prisoners' chorus and an ecstatic love duet, it contains hints of two masterworks, the Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony, that would follow in the next decade.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:04 AM

Enescu's Oedipe at Cagliari

Oedipe a Cagliari

Recensione di Lanfranco Visconti

Il Teatro Lirico di Cagliari pur attraversando, come risaputo, un periodo difficile sotto il profilo strettamente finanziario da cui - con lo sforzo e l'impegno di tutte le maestranze e, soprattutto, di tutte le istituzioni pubbliche e private alle quali dovrebbero stare piu a cuore le sorti e il bene della cultura musicale regionale e nazionale -, ci auspichiamo riesca anche con sacrifici ad uscire, ha inaugurato la stagione lirica e di balletto 2005 con "Oedipe", tragedia lirica in 4 atti del rumeno George Enescu, su libretto di Edmond Fleg, in una nuova produzione dello stesso Teatro Lirico, in prima esecuzione assoluta in Italia e in versione originale francese.

I responsabili del Teatro hanno così voluto perseverare nel percorso iniziato con successo di pubblico e di critica nel 1998 con "le Fate" di Wagner, proseguito nel 1999 con "Dalibor" di Smetana, nel 2000 con "Gli stivaletti" di Cajkovskij, nel 2001 con "Elena egizia" di Strauss, nel 2002 con "Euryanthe" di Weber, nel 2003 con "Opricnik" di Cajkovskij e "Alfonso und Estrella" di Schubert, nel 2004.

Rappresentata per la prima volta all'Opéra di Paris il 13 Marzo 1936, l'opera trae ispirazione sia dagli antichi miti greci sia dall'Edipo re e dall'Edipo Colono di Sofocle ed è imperniata sul tragico ed inesorabile destino di Edipo, figlio del re dei tebani, Laio, e di sua moglie Giocasta, che secondo la profezia dell'oracolo uccise suo padre e sposo sua madre.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 1:23 AM

Mozart's Mass in C Minor Completed

Happy Ending for Unfinished Mozart


Mozart left comparatively few major (or potentially major) works unfinished, and while it may seem daunting - presumptious even - for another musician to complete these scores, the lure of making an incomplete work whole is clearly too great to resist.

Can the results ever be more than hyphenated Mozart? Probably not. A musicologist steeped in Mozart's musical moves may project what the composer might have done at any point in a work, based on what he did in similar scores, and the completion may sound thoroughly Mozartean. But Mozart often came up with solutions that are completely surprising. Part of what made him Mozart - in fact, part of what makes any great composer great - is unpredictability.

Robert D. Levin, a superb pianist and a skilled, conscientious musicologist, has completed or reconstructed several works by Mozart and other composers. His version of the Mozart Requiem is the most satisfying of the many completions of that score. One gets the sense, from both his essays and lectures, that his decisions in these projects are carefully weighed and also that he takes enormous joy in having reached conclusions that are both historically proper and musically enlivening.

His latest reconstruction, unveiled on Saturday evening at the valedictory concert of Carnegie Hall's weeklong Choral Workshop, is a completion of Mozart's Mass in C minor (K. 427), commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the occasion. It was given a robust, soulful performance by the Carnegie Hall Festival Chorus (that is, the participants in the choral workshop) and the Orchestra of St. Luke's, led by Helmuth Rilling, one of the world's most eloquent choral directors.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 1:05 AM

January 17, 2005

The Tsar's Bride at the Mariinsky

Here comes the bride

By Galina Stolyarova


Anna Netrebko stars as the passionate and poisoned Marfa in the Mariinsky Theater's new production of "The Tsar's Bride. The Mariinsky Theater's famous blue curtain rises and Grigory Gryaznoi, the mighty commander of Ivan the Terrible's feared bodyguards, the oprichniki, bemoans his unrequited love for young beauty Marfa Sobakina. Gryaznoi sits on a shabby bench in a place resembling one of the so-called Culture and Leisure parks that were a typical feature of the Soviet era.

A seashell-shaped summer theater with quiet alleys and a ferris-wheel in the background is the setting for a new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's 1899 opera "The Tsar's Bride," which premiered on Dec. 29 at the Mariinsky Theater.

Director Yury Alexandrov moves the characters into the post-war Russia of the late 1940s. Sixteenth-century Russian boyars throw their fur coats over casual mid-20th century clothes, and Ivan the Terrible's oprichniki look more like NKVD officers. Fear and uncertainty abounds the stage.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 10:21 PM

Les Pêcheurs de perles at Metz

Les Pecheurs de perles

Dans le cadre de la programmation de l'Orchestre national de Lorraine, nous avons le plaisir d'assister à une représentation de concert des Pecheurs de perles, ouvrage d'un charme indéniable quoique légèrement suranné d'un compositeur de vingt-cinq ans, encore tributaire de certaines influences (mais certainement pas de l'influence wagnérienne dénoncée par certains critiques à la création !), en bénéficiant de l'acoustique exemplaire de la grande salle de l'Arsenal. Le concert permet d'oublier l'indigence d'un livret dont les auteurs (Michel Carré et Eugène Cormon) avaient été les premiers à regretter les faiblesses, pour se concentrer sur les qualités de la partition. En effet, si Bizet apparaissait encore prisonnier des conventions de son époque et laissait peu deviner du génie dramatique qui s'exprime dans Carmen, ses Pecheurs de perles ne manquaient pas d'atouts, et Berlioz, critique aussi lucide qu'exigeant, prit d'ailleurs la plume pour défendre un ouvrage recelant selon lui "un nombre considérable de beaux morceaux expressifs pleins de feu et d'un riche coloris". A l'aune du chef-d'oeuvre à venir, cela peut sembler peu, c'est certain ; pour autant, la partition ne mérite probablement pas le dédain qui lui est ordinairement réservé par une certaine élite intellectuelle autoproclamée dont le sectarisme continue à faire beaucoup de tort à l'art lyrique. Les Pecheurs de perles ne sont certes pas visités par le génie, mais ils témoignent d'un métier très sur au regard de la jeunesse d'un compositeur déjà habile à trousser la mélodie et à colorer l'orchestre pour composer un orientalisme sans doute désuet mais tout à fait séduisant.

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Posted by Gary at 6:28 PM

Britten's Billy Budd in Munich

Stöckelschuhe und Seemannsgarn
Vor allem ein musikalisches Ereignis: "Billy Budd" im Nationaltheater
Edward Morgan Foster, einer der beiden Textlieferanten von Benjamin Britten, hätte womöglich protestiert. "Billy ist unser Erlöser", notierte er, "und doch ist er Billy, nicht Christus". Was der Regisseur, Kitsch-verliebter überdeutlichkeit nicht abgeneigt, irgendwie überlesen haben muss. Wir sehen also Billy an eine Golgatha-gleiche Leiter gefesselt, dann die "Kreuzabnahme" durch Captain Vere, als Eingangsbild aber, aus dem sich alles als Rückblende entwickelt: Billy als Pietà in den Armen dieses Mannes, der durch den schönen Matrosen sein emotionales und erotisches Erweckungserlebnis hatte - der "Messias" also gescheitert?

Gut ein halbes Jahrhundert hat es gedauert, bis "Billy Budd", Benjamin Brittens 1951 uraufgeführtes Meisterwerk, an der Bayerischen Staatsoper angekommen ist. Ein hochtheatrales Stück zwischen Seemannsgarn und Homoerotik, zwischen Kriegs- und Menschenrecht, zwischen verborgener (Zu-)Neigung und Pflichterfüllung. Ein Stück also, das "funktioniert" und berührt, wie der enthusiastische Premierenbeifall zeigte. Kein Buh, nicht einmal für Regisseur Peter Mussbach, dafür Bravi schon vor Beginn, als Kent Nagano, GMD ab 2006, den Graben enterte.

Und mag's im Orchester auch murren, weil man sich bei Naganos Berufung übergangen fühlte, weil auch das absurde Argument kursiert, der Neue habe doch kaum Opernerfahrung: Das Dirigat des künftigen Chefs weckt grosse Neugier. Nagano änderte die Sitzordnung, platzierte tiefe Streicher links und die Bläser direkt vor ihm, wodurch das eigentümliche Kolorit von Brittens Partitur noch verstärkt wurde. München muss also umhören. Denn Nagano ist ja kein Freund süffiger Unverbindlichkeit, sondern ein Schattierungs- und Strukturtüftler.

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Der junge Mann und das Meer

Kent Nagano dirigiert Brittens Seefahrer-Drama ,Billy Budd" und gibt sein Debüt an der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Von christine Lemke-Matwey

Als Winston Churchill für die britische Kriegsmarine zuständig wurde, soll er in einer Rede vor dem House of Commons geknurrt haben: ,Unsere Marine floriert seit Hunderten von Jahren auf Grund von drei Dingen: Rum, Peitsche und Sodomie." Daran ist mehrerlei bemerkenswert. Zum einen sagt es etwas über Politikersprache und deren Deutlichkeit, zum anderen ist das House of Commons keineswegs kollektiv in Ohnmacht gefallen. Und zum dritten benennt diese äusserung in ihrem Sarkasmus eine Stimmung, wie gewiss auch Nicht-Briten sie unweigerlich mit Romanen und Filmen wie ,Moby Dick" oder der ,Meuterei auf der Bounty" assoziieren: stolze Dreimaster in peitschender Gischt, Harpunen, die zuckendes Menschenfleisch durchbohren, rasselnde Säbel, klingelnde Ohrringe, Breitseiten aller Arten - und über allem das Bild einer trotzenden-strotzenden Männlichkeit, das das Salz der Weltmeere wohl bis in alle Ewigkeit auf unsere Netzhäute gebrannt hat.

Mit solcher Piratenseligkeit wollte die Bayerische Staatsoper naturgemäss nichts zu tun haben, als sie Kent Nagano und Peter Mussbach nun mit der Münchner Erstaufführung von Benjamin Brittens Seefahrer-Oper ,Billy Budd" betraute. Das ist richtig und bedauerlich zugleich. Richtig, weil Brittens Musik - und was wäre nach Opern wie ,Peter Grimes" (1945) oder ,The Rape of Lucretia" (1947) je anderes zu erwarten gewesen - in all ihrer Verträglichkeit für das zeitgenössische Ohr, ihrer ebenso überzeugten wie überzeugenden ästhetischen Homöopathie niemals bloss illustriert.

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Posted by Gary at 6:01 PM

Don Giovanni at Vienna

Staatsoper: Was weiss Wien noch von Mozart?


Edita Gruberova singt noch einmal die Donna Anna in einem etwas chaotischen "Don Giovanni".

Auf dem Programmzettel liest man: 136. Aufführung in dieser Inszenie rung. Tatsächlich: Wenn der Vor hang sich hebt, erblickt der Staatsopernbesucher die altvertrauten Kulissen der einst von Franco Zeffirelli betreuten "Don Giovanni"-Produktion. Sie ist über 30 Jahre alt und ersetzt aus unerfindlichen Gründen schon wieder die erst vor zwei Jahren aus dem Theater an der Wien ins grosse Haus übersiedelte, jüngere Inszenierung.

Damit sind die Anknüpfungen an die Wiener Mozart-Tradition auch schon wieder zu Ende. In Zeffirellis Kulissen hatten sich einst noch Restbestände von Sing- und Spielkultur ereignet, die den Zaungast angelegentlich darauf verwiesen, dass in dieser Stadt einmal Mozarts grosse Opern auf ganz besondere Weise gepflegt wurden, dass diese Tradition von Generation zu Generation vererbt und insbesondere im philharmonischen Orchester innig bewahrt wurde.

Tempi passati. Von einer Mozart-Spielkultur sind wir heute so weit entfernt wie von einem Sängerensemble, das diesen Namen verdiente. Denn ein Ensemble zeichnet sich jedenfalls dadurch aus, dass die einzelnen Vertreter miteinander in Spiel und Singweise harmonieren, aufeinander eingehen und miteinander ein Stück erzählen, sich und dem Publikum zur Freude.

Dergleichen ist in Wien seit Jahren nur noch in Ausnahmefällen zu erleben - zuletzt bei "Figaros Hochzeit" in der Volksoper, bei "Idomeneo" und natürlich bei den von Riccardo Muti betreuten Vorstellungen im Theater an der Wien. Im Grossen und Ganzen aber ist von einheitlichem Gestaltungswillen und -können keine Rede mehr. Man kämpft mehr ums überleben. Und zwar jeder für sich.

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Posted by Gary at 5:34 PM

Le Monde on Victoria de Los Angeles

Victoria de Los Angeles, une voix au naturel

LE MONDE | 17.01.05 | 15h11

La cantatrice espagnole est morte à Barcelone le samedi 15 janvier, à 81 ans. La soprano a laissé des enregistrements d'anthologie et a marqué son époque par un répertoire extremement étendu.

Elle s'en est allée rejoindre les anges, dont elle portait si bien le nom. Victoria de Los Angeles s'est éteinte samedi 15 janvier, à l'âge de 81 ans, à la clinique Teknon de Barcelone, ou elle avait été hospitalisée, à la suite de troubles cardio-pulmonaires, le 31 décembre 2004. Née le 1er novembre 1923 dans la capitale catalane, Victoria Gómez Cima (ou Garcia Lopez), dite Victoria de Los Angeles, avait grandi dans une Espagne meurtrie par les guerres. La fille du concierge de l'université, qui travaillait sa voix dans les salles de cours vides, avait conquis le monde de l'opéra dès 1947 en remportant le grand Concours international de Genève, qui lui valut de débuter l'année suivante à la BBC dans le role de Salud de La Vie brève de De Falla.

Immédiatement connue et reconnue pour son timbre lumineux et chaud, son pouvoir expressif instantané, son charisme scénique et son charme naïaut;f et frais, Victoria de Los Angeles faisait partie de ces artistes rares qui vivent leur art avec une humanité désarmante et possèdent ce don précieux d'incarner la musique. Chevelure très brune, sourire émouvant de madone et regard tragique, Victoria de Los Angeles, malgré sa silhouette menue, possédait une grande force de caractère. Josep Carminal, l'actuel directeur du Liceu de Barcelone, ou elle débuta en 1944, dans la Comtesse des Noces de Figaro, parle d'une artiste instinctive, mais au gout exquis. Victoria de Los Angeles reste un modèle de style et de phrasé, parfaitement intelligible dans quelque langue qu'elle chante.

Artiste complète, la soprano catalane pouvait tout interpréter, de la musique baroque à la chanson espagnole, du Lied allemand à la mélodie française, en passant par le grand répertoire lyrique italien, français et germanique. Sa discographie en témoigne : 80 enregistrements pour EMI, dont 21 opéras complets et 25 récitals solistes. . . .


Anthologies et divers

The Very Best of Victoria de Los Angeles. Avec Gerald Moore et Alicia de Larrocha (piano), Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos et Carlo Maria Giulini (direction). 2 CD EMI.

œuvres de Ravel, Duparc, Debussy, Ravel, Montsalvatge, Scarlatti, Berlioz, Dvorak, Purcell, Mozart, Granados, Rodrigo, Mompou, Toldra, Brahms, Falla, etc. Avec Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baryton), orchestres divers, Georges Pretre, Jean-Pierre Jacquillat (direction). 1 coffret de 4 CD EMI.

Les Archives du Festival de Prades, avec Clara Haskil, Mieczyslaw Horszowski (piano), Orchestre du Festival de Prades, Orchestre Philomusica de Londres, Pablo Casals (direction).


Faust, de Gounod. Avec Nicolai Gedda et Boris Christoff, Chœur et Orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris, André Cluytens (direction). 3 CD EMI.

Carmen, de Bizet. Avec Nicolai Gedda, Chœur et Orchestre de la Radio française, Thomas Beecham (direction). 2 CD EMI.

Manon, de Massenet. Chœur et Orchestre de l'Opéra-Comique, Pierre Monteux (direction). 3 CD Testament.

Simon Boccanegra, de Verdi. Orchestre et Chœurs de l'Opéra de Rome, Gabriele Santini (direction). 2 CD EMI.

Madame Butterfly, de Puccini. Orchestre et Chœurs de l'Opéra de Rome, Gianandrea Gavazzeni (direction). 3 CD EMI.

La Vida breve, de De Falla. Avec l'Orchestre d'Espagne, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (direction). 2 CD EMI.

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Posted by Gary at 5:25 PM

Death of Columbus at Pittsburgh

Opera Review: Opera or oratorio, 'Death of Columbus' premiere is a success

Monday, January 17, 2005
By Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

When is an opera not an opera? The world premiere of Leonardo Balada's "Death of Columbus" -- performed in concert form Friday evening in Carnegie Music Hall -- raises the question. It's not just the lack of scenery, costumes and staging for this occasion, but the nature of the work itself. There was a feeling that scenery, costumes and staging might not have made much difference.

The Carnegie Mellon composition professor wrote "Death of Columbus" in the early 1990s to follow his "Christopher Columbus," which had been premiered in Barcelona in 1989. Whereas the earlier work dealt with the activity of the voyage, ending with the arrival of Columbus in the New World, the sequel places Columbus on his deathbed, and proceeds in surrealistic flashbacks that are almost entirely contemplative.

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Posted by Gary at 5:11 PM

January 15, 2005

Parsifal at Wiener Staatsoper

Wagner Demystified, With a Human Face


VIENNA, Jan. 14 - Sir Simon Rattle, arguably the leading conductor in the world, had never conducted at the Vienna State Opera until Wednesday night, when he made his debut with a bang, and with Wagner's five-hour "Parsifal."

"Parsifal" is commonly labeled Wagner's Christian opera. At the very least it is a tale about redemption, and many conductors limn it in hovering clouds of mysticism.

But Sir Simon gave it a human face. His reading was anchored at every moment in what was happening on stage, aiming not for transcendence but for human emotions expressed in human terms. He drew lyrical passages of pure singing out of the score, as if even the orchestra were speaking with a human voice.

Another major factor in this humanity was the Amfortas of Thomas Quasthoff, who first did the role here when the production opened last April. Mr. Quasthoff, one of the most gifted singers alive, was born with physical deformities caused by the drug Thalidomide: around four feet tall, with hands growing almost directly out of his shoulders and no knee joints, he long avoided the opera stage in favor of concerts and recitals.

Sir Simon helped persuade him to take the plunge into opera, starting with the small role of Don Fernando in Beethoven's "Fidelio" at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2003. Amfortas is only his second opera role. He was brave to try it, and right to do so.

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Posted by Gary at 7:10 PM

Victoria de los Ángeles Has Died

Fallece a los 81 anos la soprano barcelonesa Victoria de los ángeles

La cantante estaba ingresada en la clínica Teknon desde el pasado 30 de diciembre, aquejada de una afección respiratoria


Barcelona. -- La decana de los cantantes líricos espanoles, Victoria dels ángeles, ha fallecido hoy a los 81 anos en la Clínica Teknon de Barcelona, donde se encontraba ingresada desde el 30 de diciembre como consecuencia de una afección respiratoria.

La familia de la soprano ha comunicado que la capilla ardiente se instalará manana en el Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, entre las 12.00 y las 19.00 horas. El funeral de la cantante, nacida en Barcelona el 1 de noviembre de 1923, tendrá lugar en la Basílica de Santa María del Mar, el lunes a las 11.00 horas.

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Spanish Soprano De Los Angeles Dies


Published: January 15, 2005

Filed at 8:25 a.m. ET

MADRID Spain (AP) -- Victoria de los Angeles, a Spanish soprano whose career spanned five decades, died Saturday at a clinic in Barcelona, a spokeswoman for the city's Liceo Theater said. She was 81.

De los Angeles was taken to Barcelona's Teknon Clinic on Dec. 31, 2004 suffering from bronchitis and slipped into a coma after being admitted, said Liceo spokeswoman Carmen Urgell. She died Saturday following heart trouble and breathing problems.

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Posted by Gary at 6:59 PM

January 14, 2005

SCRUTON: DEATH-DEVOTED HEART — Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde

Tristan and the toothless lion

Lucy Beckett
09 April 2004

Roger Scruton's new book is an engrossing attempt, intensely argued throughout, to persuade the reader that Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde is a religious work, not only in the vague sense that it elevates our feelings into an exalted condition that strikes the non-religious as "religious", but in the precise sense that it incarnates, as the Eucharist incarnates the doctrine of Christianity, a doctrine that would give our meaningless lives a sufficient meaning if we were to believe and follow it. Nearly half a century ago, Joseph Kerman, in Opera as Drama, called Tristan "a religious drama" and suggested an analogy between it and Bach cantatas dealing with religious conversion and conveying religious experience. Twenty years later, Michael Tanner, a resolutely acute writer on Wagner, described Tristan and Bach's St Matthew Passion as the two supreme examples of works "of which it is a prerequisite that one suspends disbelief . . . in the ethos which the work embodies and promulgates". At the same time he admitted that the love unto death of Tristan and Isolde is not "a kind of living that can be rationally valued". More recently and less cautiously, in his Wagner, he calls Tristan "the one work of Wagner's which seems to be making an unconditional demand on our capacity to embrace a new, redeeming doctrine".

Scruton's book is both a confirmation, a working out, of this "unconditional demand" and, in the rational case it makes for the work's "new, redeeming doctrine", a response to Tanner's earlier challenge.

The book is also a closely detailed study of the text and the score, and of how, together, they deliver one of the most gripping psychological and emotional dramas ever written. The long chapter on the music has some passages wonderfully evoking the actual sound of Tristan and its purposes. To say that "Wagner's 'chromatic' harmony . . . involves no renunciation of tonality and its logic but instead a refined exploration of its unpoliced regions", or to describe the Tristan chord as "ill at ease yet stationary, standing isolated in the music like an outsider at a gathering", is to shed much light in few words. The general and often the particular explanations of the use of leitmotif in the work could not be improved on. There are also stretches of harmonic analysis so minute and literal as to be incomprehensible (ie, inaudible) without both a score and a piano, and even with them of doubtful use to those who could not manage analysis, score and keyboard for themselves.

It is not, however, Scruton's intention to reveal only how this most inward of operas works in the theatre. An eccentric chapter connects it to Greek tragedy through the notion of the sacrificed scapegoat. (The sacrifice of Iphigenia is more significant as the original sin of the Oresteia, while Oedipus' unwitting murder of his father is not in any sense a sacrifice.

Othello may believe he is restoring purity to Desdemona by killing her, but the whole burden of the play is that he is wrong.) Scruton's overriding intention, however, is to persuade us that Tristan and Isolde is a representation of a kind of love - consuming erotic passion - which has a philosophically coherent justification as an ideal to be aspired to, and which, in accordance with the doctrine it incarnates, has to culminate in a double ritual death understood as a redeeming sacrifice. The book truly is as odd as it sounds and the case it makes as seductive and as perilous as many listeners have found a good performance of Tristan to be, before daylight clears the music of the night from their heads.

To unravel the strands of Scruton's argument, it helps to detach from each other, as he does not, the three periods across which it extends. The first is the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, the time of Gottfried von Strassburg, who died in about 1210, leaving his Tristan poem unfinished.

This was the period of practically universal Catholic orthodoxy in Latin Christendom, and also of more than 500 Cistercian abbeys founded in the previous hundred years, four of them within a few miles of Strasbourg. St Bernard, the inspiration of the Cistercian monastic revival, had used in his eighty-six sermons on the Song of Songs erotic love as the humanly understandable image of the spousal union between the soul and hrist which is the goal of mystical prayer.

In this context, Gottfried's church-like marble "cave of love", in which his Tristan and Isolde feast on love and beauty on a bed in the place of the altar, is a consciously transgressive fantasy intended, in Gottfried's words, "for the pleasure of the world and the delight of lofty spirits", of whom there are very few. It is thoroughly misleading to confuse, as Scruton does, this subversive vision - "There was a time", Gottfried adds, "when I too led such a life and I thought it quite sufficient" - with the ordinary medieval view, evident elsewhere in Gottfried's poem, of erotic passion as a temptation and an affliction, as if the sublimated love of Dante for Beatrice or the renounced love of Lancelot for Guinevere were the same as the consummated unrenounced love of Paolo and Francesca or of Tristan and Isolde. There is no love-death in Gottfried's unfinished poem. Wagner used the movingly simple last fragment of Gottfried's source, the Tristan of Thomas of Britain, where there is grief and pity in the deaths of the lovers but no suggestion whatever of "sacrifice", either of religion or of parody religion.

The second period is the 1850s, when Wagner wrote Tristan and Isolde, the only one of his mature works to emerge from a single creative impulse rather than from decades of gestation. With the revolutionary hopes of 1848 dashed and Christianity for most intellectuals in disregarded pieces, the elevation of the erotic to the one attainable meaning of life was not uncommon. La Traviata, Les Troyens (with its own cave of consummated, doomed love), Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina were all written within a few years of Tristan, cruel reality supervening on passion in each case. Scruton wants Kant's philosophically grounded valuation of persons as ends to underpin the absolute commitment to each other of Wagner's lovers.

Wagner had picked up some idea of Kant from Feuerbach and then from Schopenhauer, first read with delighted enthusiasm while he was planning Tristan and reread for the rest of his life. But the rational justification for erotic obsession sketched by Scruton is his own rather than Wagner's: nothing so grand as Kantian ontology is needed to explain the all-consuming passion of Wagner's characters.

That Schopenhauer regarded the erotic as the most acute manifestation of the struggle of individual existence, and therefore as that from which the good man must most urgently seek release through renunciation, was so evident to Wagner that, in his Tristan period, he even drafted a letter to the elderly philosopher explaining that he had got sex all wrong. Within a very few years Wagner came to agree with Schopenhauer's view; had he agreed with Scruton's, he would not have had Sachs nobly renouncing Eva, nor Parsifal acquiring through compassion the kind of knowledge that makes it possible for him to rescue Kundry into mortality by resisting the erotic temptation that she embodies. Further, although Schopenhauer thought death the much-to-be-desired end to the chaos of the individuated will, he was adamant in his opposition to suicide, and would have taken a dim view of Tristan's provoked and Isolde's self-induced death.

Scruton's third period is our time, which he castigates, with justice, for its cheapening of both art and sex, its reductive presentations of Wagner, its "demystification of desire" to the point where there prevails "an easygoing market in sexual commodities - a market that can be entered without shame and left without damage", and finally for its overwhelming, by "a culture of desecration", of the modernist "task", which he takes Tristan to have inaugurated, "of resacralizing a desacralized world". But the world is not sacred unless God made it, and the attempt to "resacralize" it in art can deliver only the religio intransitiva Erich Heller diagnosed in Rilke and Nietzsche: they do not "praise the praiseworthy. They praise. They do not believe the believable. They believe.

And it is their praising and believing itself that become praiseworthy and believable".

The period to which Scruton's argument really belongs, in fact, is not the twelfth or mid-nineteenth or the twenty-first century but the early years of the twentieth, when Rilke was writing and Nietzsche being read, and when D. H. Lawrence was explicitly replacing Christianity with a new religion of exalted sexuality. Birkin and Ursula in Women in Love are locked into precisely the "encounter between subjects" that Scruton finds in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, and are as far removed as they from the daylight tiresomeness of "marriage, household, budgets, children", which Scruton says of Wagner's characters, "would pollute this heroic love". Scruton insists that Tristan is on the side of "life", "in its fullest sense of achieved and outward-going individuality". He is therefore placing it in "the tradition of moral vitalism" for which Michael Tanner long ago claimed Wagner, the tradition of Nietzsche, Lawrence and Leavis, in which man in a meaningless universe creates his values, or the artist creates our values, rather than discovering what is good (as Sachs and Parsifal undeniably do).

Wagner, according to Scruton, teaches us "that man makes himself by sacralizing himself". Scruton is sure that there is no God; that, in particular, Christianity consists only of "baseless promises that offer redemption from a point outside our human world". Therefore, if we want "the sacred" we must find it in whatever makes us feel "holy", for example the sacrificial love-death of Tristan and Isolde. But if the death of Christ is not unique in its real carrying of real redemption, then it, with its re-enactment in the Eucharist, is no more than one of many sacrificial rituals now all meaningless. In this case, how can the Tristan love-death be said to be a redeeming sacrifice, or the re-enactment of one, by which we are "brought into the presence of the sacred"? Only by borrowing from Christianity and its "baseless promises" the force of terms such as "sacrament", "atonement", even "sanctity", which have no meaning unless they are anchored to a transcendent reality "outside the human world". Scruton is playing what George Steiner calls "the language games of the sacred"; Allan Bloom described those who dispense with God but insist on talking about "the sacred" as "like a man who keeps a toothless old circus lion around the house in order to experience the thrills of the jungle".

The literal meaning of the word "religious" is "firm binding" or "re-binding" of the human to the divine. To cut the word loose from divinity, and from truth, and to use it for any experience or represented experience that gives us the subjective feeling that we are "in the presence of the sacred" is either archly elitist, in the knowing manner of Gottfried - Scruton says of modernist art that its "mysteries are encrypted in a language that is not accessible to the profane" - or actually dangerous. In the new religion Scruton finds in Tristan, self-generated meaning, meaning that is "its own reward", is to be found in self-sacrifice: "By enfolding this sacrifice within the sacred aura of the erotic, Wagner offers the final proof that man can become holy to himself with no help from the gods". Some may find the meaning of everything in erotic love; those who do are here seriously recommended to die with the one they love: "love can be fulfilled in death, where death is chosen and . . . this fulfilment is a genuine redemption". At Mayerling, for example? Others, as Roger Scruton does not mention, have found a sense of the sacred, or self-sacrifice for a meaning that is its own reward, in laying down their lives for a crazy guru, or Hitler, or historical inevitability. The real theme of this book, in other words, is idolatry, or the worship of what is not God.

Wagner indulged from time to time in a variety of grandiose ideas, but that in Tristan he was giving the world a new religion was never one of them. "Wagner", Joseph Kerman said in the chapter on Tristan that started the religious hare, "was a big talker, but as an artist he was practical and opportunistic, a fact that his critics do not always keep firmly enough in mind". Wagner realized later that what he had created in Tristan was frightening stuff, but he embarked on it, as his letter to Liszt in 1854 makes clear, in a spirit of imaginative experiment, like Gottfried's, and not even half-serious self-dramatization. "As I have never in life felt the real bliss of love, I must erect a monument to the most beautiful of all my dreams, in which, from beginning to end, that love shall be thoroughly satiated . . . . With the 'black flag' which floats at the end of it I shall cover myself to die." In his next sentence he asks Liszt to send Rhinegold to the Dresden chorusmaster so that he can get its copying finished.

This review is reprinted with the kind permission of The Times Literary Supplement (TLS). TLS is a weekly publication that provides book reviews and literary analysis. More information on TLS may be obtained at its website at http://www.the-tls.co.uk/.

Image_description=Death-Devoted Heart

product_title=Death-Devoted Heart. Sex and the sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.
product_by=By Roger Scruton. 238pp. Oxford University Press.
price=17.99 (US $25)
product_id=ISBN 0 19 516691 4

Posted by Gary at 10:29 PM

MAGEE: THE TRISTAN CHORD — Wagner and Philosophy

Wotan's law and Tristan's love

Jerry Fodor
17 November 2000

WAGNER AND PHILOSOPHY. By Bryan Magee. 398pp. Penguin. #20. TLS Pounds 18. 0 7139 9480 0

[U.S. Edition: THE TRISTAN CHORD — Wagner and Philosophy. By Bryan Magee. 424 pp (paper). Henry Holt & Co. $17. 0-8050-7189-X]

Wagner, bloody Wagner; will we ever have done with the man? I don't suppose that we'll ever have done with his operas. For many of us, they are indispensable art; among the defining achievements of the Western tradition. "There is no music deeper . . . and no drama deeper either. (The Ring) is enough in itself to place Wagner alongside Shakespeare, Michelangelo and Mozart." If you don't think Wagner is that good, you won't like Wagner and Philosophy, Bryan Magee's new book about him. Whether or not he is that good, there is surely a problem that arises insistently about Wagner but not Michelangelo or Mozart or, least of all, about Shakespeare: that of getting the art clear of the artist. Shakespeare is notorious for disappearing from his plays, but Wagner is everywhere in his operas. You just can't think about them and not think about him; nor would he conceivably have wished you to.

Civilized people try their best to avoid the genetic fallacy; they think the work is one thing and the worker is another. But does this, after all, apply to Wagner and his operas, given the way that he inhabits them? It seems sufficiently apparent that Wagner was, in some respects, a disreputable man; how, then, could the operas that he wrote not be disreputable works of art? Thus Bernard Williams, in a recent number of the New York Review of Books: "If, at least for some of Wagner's works, a production which 'did them justice' would find them guilty, this will constitute the historical vengeance of the ethical on an artist who uniquely raised the stakes high enough for such a vengeance to be even possible." And Magee, in the present volume, clearly feels a pressure for exculpatory pleading; it is one of his recurrent themes that Wagner, though quite beastly enough by any reasonable standards, wasn't all that beastly by the standards then prevailing: " . . . though Wagner tended to talk like this, it did not sound at all the same in the context of his time as it sounds to us . . . . That was then. This is now."

Well, there may be a question whether Wagner wrote "guilty" operas; and whether, if he did, it is Wagner that the operas that he wrote are guilty of. And it may be that we must face such questions if we want to get clear in our response to his work. A lot of Wagner criticism has assumed that we must, and is thus extensively concerned with large issues about the relation between Art and Ethics. It is not self-evident that this has proved to be a useful way of getting closer to the operas.

Nor does the need to moralize in Wagner criticism follow directly from what everyone agrees: that the man is uniquely present in his work. What his being there means depends a lot on whether he brings his ideology along with him; in particular, on whether his politics are as ubiquitous in the operas as his presence is. And that depends, in turn, on what the operas are about, a matter in respect of which critical consensus is remarkably lacking. It is, for example, germane to the accusation that the politics of The Ring are intolerably vicious whether, in fact, The Ring is an opera about politics. (If we're prepared to live with the anti-Semitism of The Merchant of Venice, that's partly because it so obviously isn't a play about Jews. Perhaps it is a play about the antithesis of the word and the spirit - as, by the way, is quite a lot of the Ring; see below.) But it belongs to the peculiarity of Wagner's art that people who know his operas well, and who cherish them, can find it very hard to say what they are about.

Now, there really is a lot wrong with Magee's book; not least his ungrasp of the niceties of some of the philosophical views that he expounds. ("No epistemological object can, as the same entity, be an independently existing object. That is the greatest single gift that Kant's philosophy has to offer . . . . " Piffle. We sometimes think about the very same independently existing things that we sometimes sit upon, viz, chairs. Kant was entirely alert to such truisms.) Also, Magee's prose often has the academic quality - earnest, unctuous, tutorial and just that bit condescending - that comes with years of telling to people things they don't particularly wish to know. But it is a great virtue that Magee does have on offer a general account of what the Wagner operas are about. I don't think he gets all of it, or even most of it, but he does get some of it, and thereby provides a good place to start from.

Magee begins with a sketch, plausible enough I think, of Wagner's ideological trajectory: "He is a classic example of someone who, when young, is a passionately committed and active left-wing revolutionary, but then becomes disillusioned with politics and turns away from it altogether in middle age." There is, according to Magee, a corresponding transition in Wagner's philosophical affiliations: he starts as an anarcho-socialist in the tradition of Feuerbach and ends as a metaphysical pessimist much under the influence of Schopenhauer.

If that is at all accurate, then the clear conclusion ought to be that Wagner's politics had little or no expression in his operas. For, as Magee rightly observes, the Schopenhauerian themes of renunciation and redemption predominate from the earliest of the mature works (Der Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser and Lohengrin.) And it is definitely not redemption from economics that the heroes of these operas are seeking; it's redemption from sin. That is not, one would have thought, a notably Feuerbachian thing for a hero to be trying to find. There is, to be sure, one Wagner opera that can plausibly be said to be "political"; and that is Die Meistersinger, which is deeply involved with the relation of individuals to their society and, in particular, with the relation of artists to social traditions and institutions. But Meistersinger preaches a politics of reconciliation. Its sympathies are all with Sachs, who could hardly be said to typify the artist as revolutionary.

It is not, of course, without precedent for even a deeply personal artist to leave his politics at home when he goes off to work; Philip Larkin is a recent, notorious example. It would thus be open to Magee to read the Wagner operas as simply not about politics. Except, however, for the view he takes of The Ring, and notably of Das Rheingold. "Wagner's attitudes to politics were of decisive significance here. In the libretto of The Ring they are probably the most important single ingredient as far as ideas are concerned . . . ." But, of course, the conclusion of The Ring is not the reformation of society but the end of the world. (Pace Magee, there is no indication that "(after) Valhalla itself goes up in flames, the world embarks on a new beginning . . . ". Nothing could be less in the valedictory spirit of The Ring's finale.) So either Magee misreads Wagner's intentions, or Wagner must have changed his mind, quite radically, somewhere between Rheingold and Gotterdammerung.

Unsurprisingly, Magee presses for the latter option, but it isn't very plausible. For one thing, the libretto (though not the music) of Gotterdammerung, was written before the libretto of Rheingold; indeed, before anything else in The Ring. And, for another, the whole of The Ring postdates Hollander, Tannhauser and Lohengrin, the spirit of which was, as I remarked, thoroughly Schopenhauerian and apolitical. Magee is aware of this. He attempts to straighten out the anachronisms by distinguishing between what the young Wagner consciously believed (the Feuerbach stuff) and what his unconscious prompted him to put in the operas (the Schopenhauer stuff, except in Rheingold, where, presumably, Wagner's unconscious was temporarily off duty). "It was (in) The Flying Dutchman that he let his intuitions take over the reins . . . . It represented a kind of abandonment to his own unconscious (although) that amazing instrument his conscious mind still had an enormous amount of work to do . . . ."

Though Wagner too produces gobs of it, I do find that sort of depth-psychobabble most unedifying. Magee's story about what the operas are about - and, particularly, about what The Ring is about - clearly needs substantial rethinking, if only in light of their chronology. I doubt, in fact, that Rheingold is an opera about politics. And I doubt that The Ring is a muddle (at least, it isn't the muddle that Magee has in mind). This is a long story, but here is a rough approximation.

The Ring has two main concerns. The first of these closely recalls Aeschylus' Agamemnon trilogy, The Oresteia: it is the accomplishment of civilization, considered as the replacement of the rule of power by the rule of law. That is Wotan's great achievement; he governs by the treaties carved on his spear and is thus committed to the sanctity of contracts. (These include, as Fricka acidly reminds him, the marriage contract.) As in the Aeschylus plays, the alternative to contract is coercion; thus the world of "Dark" Alberich, Wotan's antithesis.

But unlike The Oresteia, The Ring is a deeply pessimistic work. It is, indeed, hard not to see the one as consciously a commentary on the other. The Oresteia starts with the vindictive murder of a hero and ends with a courtroom wrangle; it celebrates the replacement of blood feud by the institutions of legal redress. The Ring goes the other way round; it starts with a wrangle over a contract (Wotan's with the Giants) and ends with the vindictive murder of a hero (Siegfried's by Hagen's catspaw Gunther). In between, we see the decay of the civilization that Wotan has constructed. It is a moral collapse in which Wotan has himself been deeply complicit ("I touched Alberich's ring / Greedily I held his gold / The curse from which I fled has not left me"), and to which he has himself become resigned ("Now I will only the end").

That is one of The Ring's main themes. The other is familiar from Wagner's early operas and will recur in most of the ones that follow: the motif of redemption through love. This second preoccupation could hardly be less in the spirit of (what Wagner calls) Greek optimism, and it is the dialectic between the two that mainly informs The Ring. Sooner or later, the rule of law subverts itself and becomes arid. Sooner or later, the choice is not between coercion and contract but between the word and the spirit. That Wotan is bound by the contracts he has made is the core of his dilemma; because he is, he must betray first Freia, then Siegmund, and then Brunnhilde. Only a free man can choose the spirit over the word; in The Ring, only Siegfried can. The crucial moment on which the whole Cycle turns is therefore Siegfried's breaking of Wotan's spear; which is to say, his breaking of the Tablet of the Law.

The Ring is a remarkably ambitious fusion of Classical Greek with Judeo-Christian preoccupations; on the one hand, the antithesis of civilization and barbarism, on the other the antithesis of love and contract. The general idea is that even contractual obligations - even civilization - must be transcended if the needs of the spirit are finally to be satisfied (and, presumably, if the conditions for a free art are finally to obtain). That's not anything like a worked-out philosophy, to be sure. Nor is it, by the way, one that I at all approve of. I'm of Wotan's party; it's quite all right for the contractors not to love me, if only they'll get the house built so I can move in. Still, this part of the ideology of The Ring seems adequately coherent as far as it goes; and certainly it is not suggestive of a call to revolution, from the Right or from the Left.

I wouldn't, however, wish to deny for a moment that The Ring is full of loose ends and unresolved conflicts. For one thing, the more or less Christian stuff about redemption through love doesn't really sit well with the more or less Schopenhauerian stuff about renunciation and the end of striving. Wagner doesn't get this worked out until Tristan, where love has become a metaphor for death. What Tristan wants from Iseult in Act Three isn't love; it is release from anxiety. What he wants is her permission to die.

And, second, Wagner has trouble keeping his eros out of his agape. Siegfried breaks the Tablet of the Law, and thereby achieves Brunnhilde's love. But the love that he achieves isn't redemptive. In fact, the squalid world of Gotterdammerung isn't much different from Dark Alberich's realm: conspiracy, deceit, betrayal, vendetta, coercion. This structure cannot be sustained; the state of nature returns with Brunnhilde's suicide, as though the whole experiment of articulate consciousness had failed. The orchestra sings its final lament for Siegfried, which is also its lament for the world. The Cycle therefore ends where Rheingold started; there's a ring indeed. I wonder if even Wagner fully grasped the ironies. Magee, anyhow, doesn't seem to.

This review is reprinted with the kind permission of The Times Literary Supplement (TLS). TLS is a weekly publication that provides book reviews and literary analysis. More information on TLS may be obtained at its website at http://www.the-tls.co.uk/.

image_description=The Tristan Chord

product_title=The Tristan Chord — Wagner and Philosophy
product_by=By Bryan Magee

Posted by Gary at 9:54 PM

Mozart's Portrait — Doubts Emerge

Zweifel: Mozart-Porträt nicht authentisch?


In Berlin tauchte ein angeblich authentisches Mozart-Porträt auf. Erste Eindrücke zu dieser Sensation.

Nur wer mit den Eigentümlichkeiten Wiens und seiner Bewohner, ihren Empfindlichkeiten und Ab grenzungen, vor allem im Umgang mit den einverleibten Idolen, einigermassen vertraut ist, kann ermessen, welch empfindlichen Nerv die Nachricht treffen musste, die am Dreikönigstag aus Berlin, ausgerechnet Berlin, verbreitet wurde, dass in der Berliner Gemäldegalerie ein bisher unbekanntes Mozart-Porträt aufgetaucht sei. Zwar wurde zugleich eine elektronische Kopie dieses Bildnisses mitgeliefert, auch der Name des Malers, Johann Georg Edlinger, genannt und mitgeteilt, es sei 1790 bei Mozarts letztem Aufenthalt in München entstanden, alles Nähere jedoch soll erst bei einem Vortrag am 27. Januar 2005 durch den Oberkustos der Berliner Gemäldegalerie, Rainer Michaelis, bekannt gegeben werden. Also just an Mozarts 249. Geburtstag.

Wenn man weiss, dass seit etwa einem Jahr bereits die Vorbereitungen zur Feier von Mozarts 250. Geburtstag im Gange sind, die das, was 1991 zum 200. Todestag weltweit veranstaltet wurde an Kongressen, Ausstellungen, Festveranstaltungen, Fernsehfilmen etc., weit in den Schatten stellen werden, dann muss man den Berlinern ein gehöriges Mass an Chuzpe bescheinigen, wie sie diesen Medien-Hype losgelassen haben. Alle aufgeregten Recherchen aus Wiener Redaktionen halfen nichts: Das neue Mozart-Porträt und die Umstände seiner Findung werden erst am 27. Januar "enthüllt".

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Posted by Gary at 2:34 PM

Opera in the UK

An uncertain year for opera

Robert Thicknesse

I HOPE you made the most of last year's opera highlights because 2005 looks pretty dull by comparison. The resignation of Scottish Opera's music director, Sir Richard Armstrong, has added to the company's woes. With only three productions in the foreseeable future, the main risk is that the audience forgets the company exists.

The vanishing audience is a spectre that haunts other companies: ENO must be wondering what became of an audience that was more like a loyal football crowd.

Various conductors are rumoured to have turned down the job of music director -- which becomes vacant when Paul Daniel retires in May -- while Sean Doran and John Berry are in charge. But there is plenty to look forward to, and the company did some brilliant work last year.

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Posted by Gary at 2:19 PM

Opera in Paris

Wagner prometteur, Mozart décoiffé, Britten agrandi

Christian Merlin
[13 janvier 2005]

Le premier temps fort de cette deuxième partie de saison lyrique sera La Flute enchantée bientot proposée par l'Opéra Bastille : on a déjà vu dans une halle d'usine de Bochum ce spectacle étonnant conçu par les Catalans de la Fura del Baus, à l'époque ou Gérard Mortier dirigeait le Festival de la Ruhr. Comment les matelas gonflables et la science-fiction philosophique imaginés par ces plasticiens virtuoses passeront-ils à Paris, et comment Marc Minkowski, qui avait très bien dirigé l'oeuvre en Allemagne, sera-t-il reçu par l'Orchestre de l'Opéra ? On le saura à partir du 24 janvier. Deux jours après, on suivra aussi, à Garnier, le second Couronnement de Poppée de la saison, après celui de McVicar aux Champs-Elysées : le metteur en scène, David Alden, est aussi anglais, et la divine Antonacci ne sera plus Néron mais Poppée.

L'événement du printemps sera le nouveau Tristan et Isolde de Wagner, confié au tandem Salonen-Sellars et à une distribution de reve (Waltraud Meier, Ben Heppner), avec l'appoint du vidéaste Bill Viola : espérons que le snobisme ne parasitera pas un projet artistique riche de promesses. En attendant, on suivra quelques reprises pour la personnalité des chefs : le brillantissime Vladimir Jurowski sera aux commandes du monumental Guerre et Paix de Prokofiev, l'une des grandes réussites de l'ère Gall, et si l'on attend peu d'améliorations de la mise en scène d'Otello par Andrei Serban, les débuts de Valery Gergiev dans la fosse de la Bastille devraient lui donner un sacré coup de fouet.

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Posted by Gary at 3:34 AM

January 13, 2005

WAGNER: Die Walküre

Richard Wagner: Die Walküre

Waltraud Meier, soprano (Sieglinde), Peter Seiffert, tenor (Siegmund), Kurt Rydl, bass (Hunding), John Tomlinson, bass (Wotan), Gabriele Schnaut, soprano (Brünnhilde), Mihoko Fujimara, mezzo-soprano (Fricka).
Bavarian State Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, Conductor.
Farao Classsics B108 040. (4CDs) (DDD) TT: 3:45:43

This release documents performances of Richard Wagner's Die Walküre at the Munich National Theater in July of 2002. The cast includes several contemporary singers well known for their Wagnerian performances, as well as a famous conductor who has enjoyed a long and successful career, both in the concert hall and opera house.

Die Walküre is an opera that has been particularly well served on records, with several outstanding versions derived both from the studio and live performances. Unfortunately, this new Walküre does not stand up well to that formidable competition.

The largest flaw in this enterprise rests with the inability of many of the singers to fulfill Wagner's admittedly challenging vocal demands. All of the principal singers in this Walküre possess timbres that are basically appropriate for their roles. But most of them also encounter severe difficulties when their voices are under pressure.

The worst offender in this regard is John Tomlinson's Wotan. From his first entrance, it's clear that the role taxes the bass to his vocal limits, and perhaps beyond. A fine actor, he certainly understands the role, and attempts to portray it with considerable conviction. But just about anytime Tomlinson is called upon to sing with force in the upper portion of his voice, it threatens to go out of control. Not surprisingly, this flaw becomes more pronounced over the course of this long and demanding opera. As a result, Wotan's Farewell becomes less a glorious conclusion to a great opera, and more of a failed endurance contest.

In light of Tomlinson's Wotan, it's interesting to return to Hans Hotter's assumption of the role in the legendary London Ring Cycle under Solti. In the twilight of his great career, Hotter was roundly criticized at the time by some for the precarious condition of his voice. And yet, Hotter was far more vocally secure than is Tomlinson in this Munich Walküre. And neither Tomlinson nor just about anyone else for that matter, can begin to match the insight and humanity Hotter brings to this magnificent role.

Likewise, soprano Gabriele Schnaut reveals a pronounced beat in her voice, particularly when the voice is under pressure. She does offer some lovely, committed singing in the Act II dialogue with Siegmund. But any illusion of Brünnhilde as a youthful warrior vanishes whenever Schnaut is called upon to offer heroic singing. Again, the recorded competition, with the likes of such varied and thrilling artists as Flagstad, Traubel, Mödl, Varnay, and Nilsson, is just too strong for this performance to pass muster.

Mezzo Mihoko Fujimara as Fricka is one of the more vocally secure artists in this performance. Still the voice is relatively lightweight, and Fujimara does little, either with the text or vocal coloration, to suggest the power of Fricka's personality and the strength of her argument against Wotan.

By comparison, Siegmund and Sieglinde fare better. Peter Seiffert has had great success in some of the more lyric Wagnerian tenor roles, such as Lohengrin and Walther. I don't think Seiffert's voice is quite so well equipped for Siegmund, however. It lacks the baritonal foundation and heroic ring that the best Siegmunds (Lauritz Melchior above all others) bring to the part. Still, Seiffert sings with great conviction and expression, and overall makes a positive impression. His contribution in the Act II scene with Schnaut's Brünnhilde is likewise impressive.

Perhaps the best performance comes from Waltraud Meier as Sieglinde. As usual, Meier throws herself completely into the role, both vocally and dramatically. There are some precarious moments, but for the most part she sings with admirable security. And Meier does a masterful job in Act I of portraying the transformation of Sieglinde from repressed wife to passionate lover. Likewise, her contributions in Acts II and III are most compelling. If there is one reason to acquire this set, it is probably for Meier's Sieglinde.

Kurt Rydl's Hunding is typical of this performance--a basic vocal quality that is dark and imposing, but marred by a wobble in the upper part of the voice. That flaw, coupled with a lack of dramatic bite, make this Hunding not nearly the menacing figure he should be.

The orchestral contribution under Zubin Mehta's direction begins admirably, with a brisk storm sequence capped by thundering timpani. Throughout, the Munich National Theater Orchestra plays with tonal warmth and lovely blending of strings, brass, and winds typical of fine European ensembles. But overall, the performance lacks tension and forward momentum. This is due in great part to the absence of crisp articulation. But it is also the result of Mehta's apparent unwillingness to ratchet up the tempos for such climactic moments as the conclusion to Act I. Everything is played beautifully, but little is played with compelling point or drive. Over time, the results can be numbing.

The recorded sound is quite fine, with excellent balance between the vocalists and orchestra. Some stage noise is apparent, as is the audience response at the conclusion of each act. They seemed to enjoy the performance much more than did I.

Given all of the superb recordings of Die Walküre currently available, I can't see much call for this new recording, save, perhaps, Meier's Sieglinde. For those seeking an introduction to this opera, either of the London recordings (Nilsson, Brouwenstijn, Gorr, Vickers, London, Ward, Leinsdorf, conducting; Nilsson, Crespin, Ludwig, King, Hotter, Frick, Solti, conducting) are good places to start. And of course, the legendary Act I recorded in Vienna in 1935 with Melchior and Lehmann, conducted by Bruno Walter is a must. If possible, seek out Stephen Worth's magical remastering for VIP Records of this classic recording at www.vintageip.com/records.

Kenneth H. Meltzer

Posted by Gary at 1:52 AM


Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Julia Varady, Luciano Pavarotti, Stefania Toczyska, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Matti Salminen, Harald Stamm, Ruthild Engert, Volker Horn.
Orchester und Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond.
Recorded live at Berlin, March 22, 1982
Ponto - 1028 (2 CDs)

Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don't take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them.

The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau, she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments.

There is a website by a devoted fan of Dieskau who followed her hero all over the globe. She tells the story of a rather aloof man, pretending to live in the artistic clouds, whose wife has to do all the dirty deeds (protesting a hotel room, wiping away the fans etc) to enable him to attain his artistic goals: somewhat like the story of Kleinchen and Lauritz Melchior, though I suspect the German baritone is far less naïaut;ve than the Danish heldentenor.

Of course this wheeling and dealing doesn't endear Varady to a lot of people. A few years ago she was to give two concerts in Antwerp and Ghent. Though everything went fine on rehearsal day, she became ill on the day of the first concert and cancelled the second one as well. She left and gave the management the cryptic message that "they needn't look any further for a substitute at short notice if ever they had problems with a soprano".

The enraged management, which had found no traces of illness, asked some discreet questions at her hotel and learned that she had received more and more frantic phone calls from a German speaking gentleman. So it dawned upon the concert organizer that Mr. Dieskau was in need of assistance and didn't want to be without his wife. Thus the alliance Dieskau-Varady has probably not helped her in her stage and recording career. Probably there had to be something for Dieter as well, like there always had to be something for Nicolai whenever one wanted to engage Freni.

Though, in his own admission, he was fully unsuited to anything less exalted than Schubert, he sang a ridiculously bad Peter Homonay on the Der Zigeunerbaron recording with his wife. And in this Aida, too, he succeeds in making a travesty of Amonasro. He hectors and shouts, though this has probably more to do with his age and shortness of breath than with bad style. Still, no provincial Italian baritone would dream of taking such liberties with note values. His high baritone had by 1982 lost all colour in the lower register and he sounds like another lover of Aida. Only now and then is there a fine phrase reminding us that he once was a good Verdian.

But, it's Varady who is the raison d'etre of this recording and she surely deserves it. Once more, was it Dieskau's fault or had most record producers hampered ears in the seventies and eighties? So many Verdi recordings are handicapped by less inspiring singing of Caballé or Millo and are downright worthless when Ricciarelli or Plowright sing roles far too heavy or too difficult for their instruments or technique. And all the while there was this formidable soprano who had to do with one Santuzza on a major label (Decca with Pavarotti) and nothing of Puccini and Verdi. First of all, there is the fine rounded and exciting sound of her voice; not an instrument of torrential power but nevertheless able to come through in all concertati. But she is a subtle artist as well. When the score asks for a piano or a mezza-voce she is almost as fine as the young Leontyne Price. Moreover the top is free and that soprano-terror, the high C in O patria mia, is no problem for her. In this live recording I was struck by the fact that the voice had a little bit more vibrato than on her official recordings. Nevertheless this is a set worth investing in just for this magnificent Aida.

But there is more. When I first heard Polish mezzo-soprano, Stefania Toczyska, I was sure she would have a world career. Well, she had a good career but a household word among collectors she has not become and listening to her magnificent singing I fail to see where it went wrong. The voice is magnificent: a cross between the bright shattering sound of Fiorenza Cossotto and the more sensual one of Agnes Baltsa. The top rings free. She succeeds in making us understand that Amneris loves deeply and has a right to be understood and sympathized with. She goes fearlessly into the Temple Scene and makes it one of the high points of this set.

And then there is the great man himself. He starts somewhat tentatively. The Celeste Aida is well sung though he takes the high B forte and if there was a tenor in his generation who could sing a messa di voce, it was Pavarotti. And that remains the problem for the rest of the evening. He is in fine ringing voice; indeed he sounds fresher and more involved than in his official Decca recording which was produced three years later and in this business three years can make a big difference. But he seldom goes down to a mezza-voce and misses opportunities where lesser voiced tenors as Bergonzi always scored: no hint of soft sung regret in La, tra le foreste vergine where Varady is at her most Milanov-like. He never sounds overtaxed by the role though he has not the guns of Corelli or even Domingo. Agreed, he was a lirico unlike Gigli who took Radames on when he was in his late forties as well, Pavarotti always had a hint of steel in the voice. Only in the last act does he use the fine pianissimo he has at his disposal. Still, Pavarotti fans will be glad with the recording for the sheer healthy amount of voice and the perfect (as always) enunciation.

Harald Stamm is a good king and Marti Salminen markedly improves through the evening: wobbly at first, steady in the Judgment scene. Daniel Barenboim has a nice grasp, though he sometimes mixes up quick tempi with excitement. The sound of the recording is very fine though it markedly favours the voices. I wonder at the source of this sound as it is so wonderfully clear. Was this meant to be a recording? I have the impression that the applause is not genuine and was mixed in afterwards. Anyway, apart from three formidable soloists, the recording has the advantage of 2 CDs instead of the usual three.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 1:39 AM

January 12, 2005

SFO Announces 2005-2006 Season

The main entrance of the War Memorial Opera House.
Photo by Terrence McCarthy

SAN FRANCISCO — General Director Pamela Rosenberg announced details of San Francisco Opera's 83rd Season during a press meeting at the Opera House on Wednesday, January 12. With nine productions, the new season will be presented September 10, 2005-July 2, 2006 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

"I'm very proud of the season we've put together," commented Rosenberg. "I believe the diversity of themes and production styles offered illustrate my belief that opera is and should be about more than just words and music. Opera should connect to real events in the lives of real people, provoking thought and emotion as well as comfort and consolation for the soul. All of that is reflected in the works we have selected for presentation next season."

The season opens September 10th with Rossini's The Italian Girl in Algiers starring mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina. This production, which is new to San Francisco Opera, will be led by the Company's Music Director and Principal Conductor Donald Runnicles. The opening festivities include the annual opening night gala, Opera Ball 2005, presented by the San Francisco Opera Guild, benefiting education outreach programs, BRAVO! CLUB's Opening Night Celebration and the annual Opera in the Park concert on Sunday.

The Company's 83rd Season also marks the highly anticipated world premiere of Doctor Atomic (opening October 1); a new work commissioned by San Francisco Opera, and created by composer John Adams and director/librettist Peter Sellars. Other highlights include an all-new production of Verdi's La Forza del Destino created by San Francisco Opera and featuring soprano Andrea Gruber and tenor Sergej Larin, as well as Company premieres of Handel's Rodelinda with soprano Catherine Naglestad and Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans starring mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick.

Highlights of the 2005-06 Season


For the season opener, mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina stars as the heroine of Rossini's sparkling comedy, alternating with Vivica Genaux (1997 ARIA Award winner) making her San Francisco Opera debut in the last four performances. This 1930's-style production from the Santa Fe Opera will be directed by Christopher Alexander and led by the Company's Music Director and Principal Conductor Donald Runnicles, alternating with Robert Wood for the last four performances.


This San Francisco Opera premiere features soprano Catherine Naglestad, who debuted in 2002 with a virtuoso portrayal of Handel's Alcina. Also returning are renowned countertenor David Daniels and mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson, who debuted as Sister Helen in San Francisco Opera's 2000 world premiere production of Dead Man Walking. Originally premiered in 2003, this co-production with the Bavarian State Opera evokes American film noir.


This new work commissioned by San Francisco Opera reunites composer John Adams and director/librettist Peter Sellars (collaborators on Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and El Nino). Based on true events, the opera follows the development of the first atomic bomb. Debuting baritone Gerald Finley (2000 Olivier Award winner) and mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (who debuted in 1998's L'Incoronazione di Poppea) will take the stage as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his wife Kitty Oppenheimer. Performances will be conducted by Donald Runnicles.

In recognition of the importance of Doctor Atomic's world premiere and to acknowledge the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, San Francisco Opera will host and co-produce a number of special events highlighting the history and ethical issues surrounding the Manhattan Project. Partnering with the Opera on these projects and programs thus far are, the Exploratorium, UC Berkeley, Humanities West, the American Physical Society and the World Year of Physics, with more to be announced.

NORMA - Bellini

Bay Area native soprano Catherine Naglestad returns to star in one of the most daunting pieces in the operatic repertory, featuring the vocal tour de force "Casta diva." This production, originally presented by the Canadian Opera Company, will be conducted by Oleg Caetani (who debuted in 2003's The Magic Flute) and Sara Jobin (who debuted in last year's Tosca) and staged by debuting director James Robinson.


Not seen at San Francisco Opera in over a decade, this Verdi classic returns in a sleek, all-new production directed by Ron Daniels and featuring sets by debuting designer Roland Aeschlimann and costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer. Debuting maestro Nicola Luisotti leads soprano Andrea Gruber (praised by The Financial Times for her "marvelous freedom and generosity of tone") as Leonora and tenor Sergej Larin as Don Alvaro.

FIDELIO - Beethoven

Wagnerian soprano Christine Brewer, whose voice was hailed by The Guardian (U.K.) as "quite simply, one of the greatest in the world," makes her San Francisco Opera mainstage role debut (she appeared in the Company's 50th Birthday Concert for Donald Runnicles last fall) as Leonore in Beethoven's only opera. Joining her will be Finnish bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo (debuted last fall in the title role of The Flying Dutchman) as Don Pizzaro. This San Francisco Opera production will be led by Donald Runnicles and directed by Michael Hampe.


This Puccini favorite returns with soprano Patricia Racette in the title role and also features mezzo-soprano Zhen Cao returning as Suzuki along with tenor Franco Farina as Pinkerton and baritone Philip Joll as Sharpless, both making Company debuts. Directed by Ron Daniels and designed by Michael Yeargan, the popular San Francisco Opera production will be conducted by Donald Runnicles.


The San Francisco Opera premiere of Tchaikovsky's epic work will showcase the artistry of mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick in her role debut as Joan of Arc along with baritone Rodney Gilfry, who starred in the Company's 2004 premiere of Doktor Faust. Led by Oleg Caetani, this opulent production from Teatro Regio Torino will be directed by Christopher Alexander and features sets and costumes by debuting designer Luisa Spinatelli.


A dream cast highlights Mozart's most popular comedy, starring San Francisco Opera favorite Ruth Ann Swenson as the Countess (alternating with former Adler Fellow and 2002 Metropolitan Opera National Auditions winner Twyla Robinson). Former Adler Fellow John Relyea (1993 Richard Tucker Award winner) and debuting baritone Christopher Feigum share the title role of Figaro, and sopranos Camilla Tilling and Cora Burggraaf debut as Susanna. Returning as Cherubino is mezzo-soprano Claudia Mahnke (Dorabella in 2004-05's Così fan tutte). Roy Goodman conducts this San Francisco Opera production directed by John Copley.

Go to the SFO's website for additional information regarding scheduling, tickets and other matters.

Posted by Gary at 10:14 PM

David Gockley Now in the Running at SFO

SAN FRANCISCO Opera director search adds Houston veteran
Once not in running, David Gockley now a leading candidate

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Tuesday, January 11, 2005

David Gockley, the visionary longtime general director of the Houston Grand Opera, has emerged recently as a leading candidate to take over the reins of the San Francisco Opera.

Gockley, 61, was not considered a candidate through the fall as a 14- member search committee chaired by board member George Hume looked for a replacement for Pamela Rosenberg, who will step down when her five-year contract as general director expires in 2006.

But Gockley said that since Christmas the committee had approached him again and that he had decided to "take a different view of the matter."

"At this point, we're both doing what you'd call due diligence," he said. "I'm trying to figure out and learn as much as I can about the company so I know what I'd be getting into as far as the financial circumstances, the union circumstances, the staff circumstances."

Hume refused to comment on the specifics of the search. "We have a number of candidates we're looking at, and we're hoping to make an announcement by the end of January," he said.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 1:12 AM

January 11, 2005

Le Monde Reviews Lamento

Magdalena Kozena, une pure splendeur

LE MONDE | 10.01.05 | 14h36

Cela arrive rarement, le souffle coupé dès les premières notes. Une minute entière à retenir sa respiration dans une apnée d'émotion totale pour recevoir la première phrase du Lamento pour contralto, de Johann Christoph Bach, d'après les Lamentations de Jérémie, son ascension douloureuse, ornée de sanglots, puis les deux accords d'une longue plainte instrumentale, avant l'entrée, magique, de la voix de Magdalena Kozena. "Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hätte." "Ah, si ma tete était remplie d'eau, si mes yeux étaient une source de larmes." L'insouciance a été jusqu'alors votre lot ? Vous, toi, nous tous, pécheurs, allons connaître ce que pèse le lourd fardeau de nos iniquités - et la récompense de cette connaissance : 7 minutes 22 d'une pure splendeur musicale.

Après, seulement après, on pourra s'étonner qu'Archiv Producktion ait transformé le troisième disque du projet discographique entrepris par Reihnardt Goebel et son Musica Antiqua Köln autour de la famille de Bach en récital Magdalena Kozena. Qu'à Bachiana 1 et Bachiana 2 ait succédé ce Lamento, qui substitue sur la pochette le beau visage de la mezzo tchèque au groupe de musiciens allemands. Rappelons que les débuts de la cantatrice chez Deutsche Grammophon en 1999, dans un programme d'arias de Bach justement, avaient suscité un vif enthousiasme. Mais revenons au disque.

C'est bien autour de la famille de Bach que le disque s'articule. De Johann Christoph, organiste et musicien à la cour d'Eisenach (1642-1703), en passant par Francesco Bartolomeo Conti, dont Bach avait recopié la cantate "Languet anima mea" en 1716, puis les Bach père et fils.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 3:17 PM

Cosí fan tutte at Arizona Opera

Ariz. Opera's 'Cosí' a sweetheart of a production

Kenneth LaFave

The Arizona Republic
Jan. 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Cosí fan tutte's story is simple, its music transparent and its theme heartfelt and genuine: It's "reality opera" in a far deeper sense of "real" than any bare-facts TV show.

Mozart's 1790 opera about the maturation of romantic love requires a no-fuss production that gets at the heart of the story, and a cast that sings well without getting in the way of the characters. It needs exactly what Arizona Opera has given it in the Cosí that opened over the weekend at Orpheum Theatre.

The jury has been out on Joel Revzen's stewardship of our state's only professional opera company since he was named artistic director (and, later, general director) in 2003, but if the current season's earlier offerings didn't clinch the opera-loving public's approval, this lithe, sweet-but-never-saccharine, robustly cast and nimbly performed production of Mozart's subtlest opera certainly should. Revzen makes his conducting debut with the company, leading an orchestra that been cleaned up and strengthened, especially in the strings. Director Ron Daniels' staging pleases the eye with varied tableau and the mind with insights into characters.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

[Click here for scheduling and cast information.]

Posted by Gary at 2:55 PM

Going It Alone

Top conductor goes it alone after record label pulls plug

Donations from wealthy backers help pay for recordings of Bach cantatas

Charlotte Higgins, arts correspondent
Monday January 10, 2005


The conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner — for 20 years one of the most famous names contracted to the recording company Deutsche Grammophon — has launched his own CD label, after recovering from the blow of the abrupt severance of his contract with DG.

Sir John faced a crisis when the company pulled the plug just as he was planning the gargantuan project of touring with and recording live the complete Bach cantatas throughout the year 2000, which would have resulted in over 50 CDs.

"The project was a central plank of my recording contract with them," he said. "We were left stranded."

Sir John's move provides further proof of the massive contraction in output by the giant classical labels.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 1:25 PM

January 10, 2005

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

Tristan und Isolde

Richard Wagner, music and libretto
Ponto - PO1026
Soloists, Philadelphia Grand Opera Company
William Smith, conductor

Elsewhere on Opera Today readers can find a recent review of a live recording of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from the Ponto label, a company that has joined the ranks of Opera D'oro and Gala in offering, at budget price, live recordings of various provenance. At their best, as with that Nozze, these recordings offer in acceptable sound (sometimes better) performances of such quality they rival their more expensive competitors. At less than the best, however, even the budget price becomes exorbitant.

This Tristan und Isolde, recorded on January 25, 1967, unfortunately belongs to the latter category. Unless one has a strong personal reason for wanting a keepsake of this company or the artists involved, the recording is unlikely to please most listeners. The primary reason is the sound. While not unlistenable, the recording is clearly an "in-house" affair, and probably from an audience member, as some of the coughing is more up-front than the singing. Worse, during the climax, some audience members are whispering as Isolde enters the Leibestod. One would love for a Jon Vickers to have been present to yell out, "Stop your damn whispering!"

Of course, true opera fans will put up with poor sound for the sake of an exciting performance. While not an unmitigated disaster, this one does not qualify. Any Tristan und Isolde needs at least one of the two leads to be strong. Here we have the Tristan of Ernst Gruber, whose tenor has a most unpleasant timbre and who sounds more mature than his King Marke (Irwin Densen). Hanne-Lore Kuhse's Isolde lacks freshness as well, especially in Isolde's most impassioned outbursts. In some of the softer singing, however, her voice relaxes and some of the tragic glamour of the character appears.

The one cast member of some distinction may attract some interest. Ramon Vinay had left the tenor ranks by 1967, and here he is a most effective Kurwenal. The Brangäne of Blanche Thebom makes no deep impression, especially as she is all but inaudible in her warnings in act two.

Although the murky sound makes orchestral details hard to evaluate, William Smith's conducting as recorded captures some of the score's excitement. The score is, unsurprisingly, cut, with each of the last two acts barely making the 60-minute mark.

The booklet features a short history on opera companies in Philadelphia and some biographies of the singers by Andrew Palmer. Supposedly a studio recording of the opera with these two leads had been planned but was cancelled upon the death of the conductor Franz Konwitschny. Perhaps that studio effort would have revealed more of the favorable attributes of the two leads.

Despite some effective passages, overall this set has too many unsatisfactory qualities to be of general interest. If any listeners have more specific interests in these singers or this house, Ponto will have provided them with an affordable addition to their collections.

Chris Mullins

Posted by Gary at 12:22 AM

MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro

Le Nozze di Figaro

Wolfgang Mozart, music, and Lorenzo da Ponte, libretto
Ponto - PO125
Soloists, Orchestra and chorus of Deutsche oper Berlin
Karl Böhm, conductor

Bonus Tracks: Stabat Mater, music by Gioacchino Rossini
Soloists, Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester und Chor
Ferenc Fricsay, conductor

Recorded in Tokyo on October 23, 1963, this live recording of Nozze di Figaro boasts fine sound, a top cast, and the leadership of a conductor of great skill and experience. The label, Ponto, has joined the ranks of such other companies as Opera D'oro and Gala in making available broadcast and in-house recordings at affordable prices. Sometimes these releases are not even worth the modest price asked for; this one may well have more to offer than higher-priced studio sets.

After a slightly hesitant first few moments, the sound quality settles down and becomes admirably strong and well defined. There is relatively little stage noise, the voices have a natural presence without being too forwardly placed, and Böhm's orchestral control can be relished. His may be an old-fashioned reading, but it never lags or lacks for humor or beauty. The audience can be heard laughing from time to time at the stage antics; applause only interferes with the musical pleasures at the end of Non piu andrai, when unrestrained clapping covers a bit of Böhm's ironically happy martial send-off.

Tokyo delighted in a first-rank cast. Elisabeth Grümmer's Countess seems to be Ponto's focus; she is also the soprano soloist in the Rossini Stabat Mater, which comes as a bonus on disc three. In her early 50s at the time of the performance, she retains ample vocal beauty while offering a mature edge to her sadness as well. Her unfaithful spouse, the Count, is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who went on to record the role under Böhm for Deutsche Grammophon. In 1963 his voice is in its prime, and there is not much of the over-emphatic delivery sometimes found in his later work.

Walter Berry's Figaro under Böhm is also available on DVD in a recently released 1966 Salzburg festival performance. Berry and his Susanna, Erika Köth, have a warm vocal chemistry. Some may find Köth's Susanna a little too chirpy, but that very quality also suggests the type of cheerful, pretty Susanna that would very likely have attracted the Count.

Edith Mathis is a very feminine sounding Cherubino; as a matter of fact, she went on to sing Susanna under Böhm for the DG recording. Such a pretty voice may not work for every listener, but purely as singing, Mathis's Cherubino has much pleasure to offer.

This set can be recommended highly to all lovers of the opera, and it might even make converts of those who have found the studio sets lacking in the energy and joy often found in live performances.

As mentioned, disc three is filled out with a 1953 mono performance of Rossini's Stabat Mater, with Grümmer in fresher voice. The other soloists are capable but unremarkable. Walther Ludwig's rather heavy tenor makes for a rather lugubrious Cujus animan, and neither bass Helmuth Fehn or contralto Maria von Ilosvay do much to distinguish themselves.

Still, the Rossini is a "bonus," and the lively, joyous Figaro makes this Ponto release cherishable enough for any opera lover.

Chris Mullins

Posted by Gary at 12:22 AM

January 9, 2005

Kurtag's Kafka Fragments at Carnegie Hall

How to Make Franz Kafka Sing


Published: January 9, 2005

KAFKA and Kurtag. This natural coupling of writer and composer telegraphs with alliterative grace a century of modernism, a deeply felt spiritual condition and a grasping for genuine personal expression through violently impersonal times.

The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag was born in 1926, two years after Kafka's death, but their sensibilities are interwoven in one of Mr. Kurtag's most effective works, "Kafka Fragments," for soprano and violin. These settings of short excerpts from Kafka's diaries, letters and notebooks will be performed this week by the soprano Dawn Upshaw and the violinist Geoff Nuttall, in a new staging directed by Peter Sellars, as part of Ms. Upshaw's Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall.

Franz Kafka, the German-speaking Czech-Jewish writer, requires little introduction. But Mr. Kurtag, 78, a reclusive giant of contemporary European music, is not as well known in the United States.

His relatively small body of work contains music of flinty surfaces and fierce emotional compression. He is a master of the aphorism, the terse bundle of notes whose intense Webernian concision can mask vast landscapes of raw and disarmingly personal expression. Listening to his music is like peering at the ocean through a keyhole.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:25 PM

January 8, 2005

Tippett's The Knot Garden at Scottish Opera

The Knot Garden

Sir Michael Tippett
sung in English

The Knot Garden, with a libretto by the composer, has a typically enigmatic title. The elaborate Elizabethan Knot Garden often resembled a maze - and the reference to Shakespeare's time is underlined by numerous references to The Tempest. The enchantment and isolation, which are such powerful themes in Shakespeare's play, are put into a late twentieth-century context by Tippett. To this is added a web of psychological disturbance - where the maze of the garden becomes a metaphor for the labyrinth of human thoughts and relationships. The cast includes an analyst, Mangus, whose role as Master of Ceremonies in the final act is decisive.

The Knot Garden was brave and controversial at the time of its first performance in 1970. Two of the main characters - the bisexual black writer Mel and his white friend Dov, a musician - are probably the first openly gay couple to appear in an opera. It is their relationship, grown fragile, around which much of the plot revolves.

First performed in 1970, Tippett's third opera involves a psychological exploration of a group of contemporary characters, and frequently invokes parallels with The Tempest. One of Tippett's most eclectic scores, it shows the influence of jazz, and even of the pop music of the 1960s (an electric guitar is included in the orchestra) as well as one of Tippett's great loves, the songs of Franz Schubert.

Cast information:

Mangus — Peter Savidge
Thea — Jane Irwin
Flora — Rachel Nicholls
Faber — Andrew Shore
Dov — Hilton Marlton
Mel — Derrick Parker
Denise — Rachel Hynes

[Click here for scheduling and ticket information.]

Posted by Gary at 11:41 PM

Verlaine and Rimbaud in Boston

'Verlaine and Rimbaud' has the poetry but not the passion

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | January 8, 2005

Intermezzo: The New England Chamber Opera Series adventurously alternates standard 20th-century chamber operas with new works. The company opened its third season last night with its sixth world premiere, "Verlaine and Rimbaud" by David Paul Gibson.

In brief pre-performance remarks Gibson referred to his 15-year friendship with baritone John Whittlesey, founder and artistic director of the company, and thanked him for the opportunity to experience his own music in performance -- "now I can take it home and work some more on it." Let us hope he does, because the piece does need work, but it also has something going for it beyond the sensational subject matter, the erotic and artistic relationship between the established poet Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, the rebel genius 10 years his junior.

Eighteen brief, pivotal scenes adding up to about an hour chart the emotional temperature. The libretto, Gibson's own, alternates exposition with settings of poems by the pair in new English translations. The exposition is elementary and sometimes pretentious (Rimbaud's poetry, Verlaine's wife sings, is a pearl produced by "a cancerous oyster"). And there is way too much of it -- the text treats this complex symbiotic relationship in shorthand terms reminiscent of "The Owl and the Pussycat." The poems, and their settings, are effective and even eloquent, and Gibson skillfully moves among recitative, aria, and ensemble in a conservative musical style influenced by Britten and, appropriately, French composers. But the piece needs to be longer, to probe deeper. Too much of it advances at the same tempo and emotional pitch; it lacks variety and real passion. The accompaniment is scored for piano and violin; the violin is occasionally intrusive, like a gypsy bearing down on your table in a restaurant, something you probably wouldn't feel if the composer were to rescore for a slightly larger ensemble.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 10:59 PM

January 7, 2005

BOLCOM: Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Along with his other pieces for voice, Bolcom's operas reflect a keen, creative mind in love with the possibilities of the human voice as a means of communication. Why, then, has his largest work for voice taken so long to be recorded?

Although not by any means an opera, Bolcom's musical settings for William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience offer a tremendous amount of vocalism from soloists operatically trained and otherwise. Composed in a kaleidoscope of shifting styles, from modern techniques to Broadway to Country/Western, the work has now appeared on disc, courtesy of Naxos (and the cooperation of the composer's professional home, the University of Michigan Music School). Lasting around 140 minutes and spread over three discs, Bolcom's Blake settings inundate the listener with what the composer calls (in a booklet essay) a "synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements," and the result is fascinating, exciting, and perhaps ultimately, somewhat frustrating.

The fascination is prompted by Bolcom's extraordinary grasp of a cornucopia of musical genres. From the opening orchestral explosion, marked by strong dissonance, the work glides in and out of musical styles with commanding confidence. There are country fiddles in The Shepherd, soaring soprano lines over a complex orchestral background in Earth's Answer, and lovely, hymn-like choral pieces such as The Little Girl Found, while the concluding piece, A Divine Image, lays down a rock-flavored reggae beat. With only two of the 55 tracks being over 5 minutes, and many under 90 seconds, no listener impatient with any one particular compositional mode has long to wait before a different one appears.

The excitement is generated by the sheer energy and dedication of the huge performing forces gathered for this recording project. The singers range from professionally trained voices such as Christine Brewer to Nathan Lee Graham, an actor/singer who declaims The Chimney Sweeper and provides the Broadway-type rock voice for A Divine Image. Conductor Slatkin leads the University orchestra through some thorny, though always expressive, orchestral passages, and also guides the more "naïaut;ve" musical settings with enthusiasm and not a hint of condescension. Unfortunately, the recording does little favor to the electric guitar or rock drums, which have the cheesy feel of 1960s or '70s Broadway attempts to sound "hip."

And that's where the frustration starts to creep in, especially with repeated listening. For amid this wild burst of creativity, Blake's creation wanders in and out of focus. When the huge choral forces are singing out, or the soprano voices (which also include Marsha Brueggergosman, a new and exciting artist) soar high, Blake's words become almost incomprehensible. As a result, it is only in the simple settings that Blake's poetry can be fully heard, and this tends to overemphasize the "naïve" quality of the poet.

When the work ends with A Divine Image, all that is worthy and questionable about Bolcom's achievement becomes evident. First there is a transitional passage of contemporary orchestral texture, and then the off-kilter beat of a reggae song begins. It's a decent tune, but as the concluding piece, it offers no musical sense of resolution or restatement.

The question becomes then, how successfully has Bolcom achieved his goal of a "synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements." Ultimately, the differing styles are segregated in individual settings. Most of the denser orchestral passages come as transitional pieces. The simpler music tends to be self-contained. Perhaps Bolcom wants to heal the divisions between "serious" and "popular" music that have widened so dramatically over the last century or so. Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, with its blend of sometimes naïve form and language in expressions of deep, complex themes, provides ample opportunity for Bolcom to employ all the contrasts and contrary impulses of modern orchestral and folk music. Whether Bolcom has achieved his goal or only provided a mix of styles without bringing them all into a cohesive whole, each listener must decide.

But spending time with Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience is sure to provide listeners, no matter how they decide the above question, more than enough excitement and fascination to make up for any perceived frustration. Naxos deserves commendation for making this work available at last.

Chris Mullins

image_description=William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and of Experience

product_title=William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and of Experience
product_by=Soloists, choirs, University of Michigan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, University Musical Society, Leonard Slatkin (cond.)
product_id=Naxos 8.559216-18 [3CDs]

Posted by Gary at 10:29 PM

A Lost Portrait of Mozart Recovered?

Wonniges Wolferl
Lebenslust und Leiden: Ein Mozart-Bildnis in der Berliner Gemäldegalerie zeigt Mozart gut genährt

Johann Georg Edlinger porträtierte Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wahrscheinlich 1790, wenige Monate vor dessen Tod

Foto: dpa

Von Kai Luehrs-Kaiser

Musikgenie zwischen Verschwendungssucht und verhärmter Armut — doch aus Mozart-Porträts spricht auch Lebensfreude, Lust am Genuss und tödliche Krankheit. Höchste Zeit, über Amadeus-Legenden nachzudenken.

War Mozart dicklich und wohlgenährt? Ein neu aufgetauchtes Bildnis zeigt den Salzburger Meister in seiner späten Zeit, im Jahre 1790. Mozart war 34 Jahre alt und hatte noch gut ein Jahr zu leben. Die Sensation: Pausbäckig und jovial, den Jackenknopf mühsam über dem Bäuchlein geschlossen, bietet Mozart einen Anblick gesunder Lebensfreude und jovialer Genussfähigkeit.

Die Augen lachen, der Mund spitzt sich süffisant zu: Auf dem Bildnis von Johann Georg Edlinger (1741-1819) lacht uns ein Mozart an, der fast den Eindruck erweckt, er habe zu viele Mozart-Kugeln verzehrt. Ist dies der Beginn eines neuen Mozart-Bildes? Greift unsere Vorstellung vom zerrissenen Genie, das zwischen verschwenderischem Hallodri und tragischem Einzelkämpfer oszillierte, doch viel zu kurz? Vor allem aber: Ist denn dies wirklich Mozart?! Oder stellt das in der Berliner Gemäldegalerie beherbergte "Herrenbildnis" eher einen mitteldeutschen Duodez-Fürsten mit dem fatalen Hang zur Süssspeise dar?

Nein, die Forscher sind sich einmal einig: Dieses Mozart-Portrait ist authentisch. Der kurbayrische Hofmaler Johann Georg Edlinger kannte den Wirt des Gasthauses zum "Schwarzen Adler" in der Kauffinger Strasse zu München. Hier kehrte Mozart, der insgesamt siebenmal in München weilte, 1790 letztmalig ein. Dem Maler sass er voraussichtlich im unweit gelegenen Atelier in der Herzogspitalstrasse Modell. Ein Nachfahre des Malers, Wolfgang Seiller, entdeckte vor einigen Jahren in dem 1934 für 650 Reichsmark nach Berlin verkauften Gemälde das Modell seines Ahnen. Und sorgte bei seinem Besuch in Berlin für Staunen bei den Museumsleuten.

Mit Hilfe von Computertechnik und gründlicher Analyse rückten er und der Oberkustos der Berliner Sammlung, Reiner Michaelis, dem Bild näher. Und siehe: dieselbe Sattelnase, dasselbe etwas grössere linke Auge wie auf dem anonymen Mozart-Bildnis im Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale in Bologna. "Ein überraschend lebendiger Mozart" komme ihm da entgegen, jubelt auch Bernd Lindemann, Chef der Berliner Gemäldegalerie. Sogar für das vitale Aussehen des Komponisten gibt es weiteren Beleg: Eine in Leipzig aufbewahrte Silberstiftzeichnung der Malerin Dora Stock zeigt Mozart ebenso proper wie das Berliner Bild.

Mit Mozarts augenscheinlicher Gemütlichkeit freilich hat es, wie man inzwischen weiss, eine eher betrübliche Bewandtnis. Nach neuesten Forschungen starb Mozart 1791 nicht an der Syphilis oder infolge des Neids von Antonio Salieri. Mozart erlag einem Nierenbluten. Die vorangehende Quecksilberbehandlung sah man ihm schon Monate zuvor an. Sie liess ihn leicht aufgeschwemmt erscheinen. Mozarts vermeintliche Gesundheit ist daher Vorzeichen seines nahen Todes. Und erklärt damit auch die verhältnismässig kleine Zahl existierender Mozart-Bildnisse. Nicht mehr als zehn Mozart-Porträts existieren weltweit. Von Wunderkindesbeinen an war er ein Superstar. Einer grösseren Anzahl von Bildnissen aber entzog er sich einfach durch seinen frühen Tod.

Mit dem Berliner Bild lichten sich somit weiter die Legenden um das tragische Genie. Von Rätseln und vermeintlichen Beweisführungen umstellt, tritt uns erst jetzt hinter der Legende vom verarmten Genie der Mensch mit seinen Fehlern und Unzulänglichkeiten entgegen. Zum Beispiel, was seine Armut anbetrifft. Sie ist nicht, wie man lange Zeit glaubte, auf mangelnde Entlohnung zurückzuführen, sondern einfach darauf, dass Mozart das verdiente Geld mit vollen Händen unverzüglich wieder ausgab. Das zugrunde gerichtete, gar ermordete Genie: ein verbummelter Freigeist. Die Welt lechzt nach Mozart-Legenden. Zum bevorstehenden 250. Geburtstag muss sie sich jetzt ein Paar neue überlegen.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Mozart-Porträt: G'sund schaut er aus!

In der Berliner Gemäldegalerie ist ein neues Mozartbild aufgetaucht. Was kann es erzählen?

Wir hatten das Gefühl, dass Mozart durchaus etwas gesünder aussehen darf. Also haben wir das Mozart-Porträt überarbeitet, es ist frischer, farbiger . . ." - so schildert Ingeborg Gasser-Kriss, Marketing-Direktorin für Süsswaren bei der Firma Kraft Foods österreich, den letzten Design-Relaunch der Mirabell Mozartkugeln.

Gesund, jovial und lebensfroh wirkt der Komponist auch auf einem vor kurzem entdeckten, späten Porträt (siehe Bild 1): Blaue, lachende Augen, volle Oberlippen, eine grüne Jacke, die sich über dem Bäuchlein gerade noch schliessen lässt: So könnte Mozart rund ein Jahr vor seinem Tod ausgesehen haben. Rainer Michaelis, Oberkustos der Berliner Gemäldegalerie, ist sich ziemlich sicher, dass auf einem 1790 entstandenen Gemälde des bayrischen Hofmalers Johann Georg Edlinger der 34-jährige Komponist abgebildet ist. "Das Bild hängt seit 70 Jahren als Herrenbildnis bei uns in der Gemäldegalerie. Wolfgang Seiller, ein Nachfahre des Malers, der gleichzeitig Musikliebhaber ist, hat sich Mitte der 1990er-Jahre näher mit dem Bild befasst und eine ähnlichkeit des Porträtierten mit Mozart festgestellt", erzählt Michaelis. "Seiller, der von Beruf Informatiker ist, hat das Bild dann mittels Computer-Analyse mit einem späten Mozart-Bild aus dem Musikmuseum in Bologna verglichen. Und siehe da: Auf dem Edlinger-Bild ist dieselbe Sattelnase und dasselbe etwas grössere linke Auge zu sehen wie auf dem anonymen Mozartbildnis aus dem Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale." Das 1777 entstandene Gemälde aus Bologna gilt als einziges gesichertes Spät-Porträt des Komponisten.

Für das vitale Aussehen des Komponisten gibt es einen weiteren Beleg: Eine in Leipzig aufbewahrte Silberstiftzeichnung der Malerin Dora Stock zeigt Mozart ebenso wohlgenährt wie das Berliner Bild. Wissenschaftler sehen die Pausbacken allerdings nicht unbedingt als Zeichen für Gesundheit. Nach neuesten Forschungen starb Mozart 1791 nicht an der Syphilis, sondern an einer Nierenblutung. Die vorhergehende Quecksilberbehandlung habe man ihm schon Monate zuvor angesehen. Sie liess ihn leicht aufgeschwemmt erscheinen. Mozarts vermeintliche Gesundheit könnte daher Vorzeichen seines nahen Todes sein. Martin Hohenegger, Pharmakologe am AKH Wien, meint zu dieser Theorie: "Dass Quecksilber für die Pausbacken verantwortlich ist, glaube ich nicht. Aber Mozart wurde als Kind in der Kutsche durch ganz Europa geschleift und hatte oft Infekte. Da ist es sehr wahrscheinlich, dass im Alter die Nieren versagten. Wenn das passiert, ist zu viel Flüssigkeit im Körper, er wirkt aufgeschwemmt."

Auch die historischen Umstände bekräftigen die These, dass auf dem Gemälde Mozart zu sehen ist. Michaelis: "Johann Georg Edlinger kannte den Wirten des Gasthauses zum ,Schwarzen Adler' in der Kauffinger Strasse zu München. Hier kehrte Mozart, der insgesamt siebenmal in München weilte, 1790 letztmalig ein. Der Wirt, Herr Albert, war mehrfach von Edlinger porträtiert worden - und man weiss, dass er Musikliebhaber war."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Die Tageszeitung ("Taz") reports that the museum knew the portrait was that of Mozart since 1999. Click here for details.

Posted by Gary at 10:27 PM

Lyric of Chicago's New Season

Lyric plays it safe with season schedule

By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic

January 6, 2005

Now at the midpoint of its golden jubilee season, Lyric Opera of Chicago is faced with carrying its winning streak into the company's next half-century despite a still-uncertain economy.

The 51st Lyric season, announced Thursday, will begin Sept. 24 with Bizet's "Carmen," which can be seen as a cautious response to that economic uncertainty.

Although the Lyric is selling roughly 90 percent of its seats four months into the present season, general director William Mason would like to return ticket sales to the 100-percent-plus that the company routinely tallied during the 1990s.

His strategy is to build the 2005-06 season around the brand-name singers and standard operatic repertory he believes most Lyric subscribers and contributors want.

Four of the season's eight operas will be new productions, including Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," Verdi's "Rigoletto" and Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice."

The 2005-06 roster will be rich in singers well-known to Chicago opera-goers, including sopranos Karita Mattila and Isabel Bayrakdarian, mezzos Susan Graham and Vesselina Kasarova, tenors Neil Shicoff and Frank Lopardo and countertenor David Daniels.

There will be a sprinkling of noteworthy debuts, including Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, German soprano Anne Schwanewilms, English contralto Catherine Wyn-Rogers and the New Zealand-born Samoan bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu. About the only innovative wrinkle in next year's lineup is the company premiere of Sir Michael Tippett's "The Midsummer Marriage" (1955), which will arrive in a new production headed by two other British knights -- Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis and stage director Sir Peter Hall. Both are ardent champions of their late countryman's works.

For the first time since 1989, the Lyric schedule will contain no American opera, an omission Mason blames on scheduling difficulties. "We had had a few [American projects] we wanted to do next season but they fell through," he said. But the Lyric will continue to present American works in the immediate future, he added.

The 2007-08 season will bring the local premiere of John Adams' "Doctor Atomic," which the San Francisco Opera is due to unveil later this year. A fourth William Bolcom work will be mounted before the end of the decade. (His latest opera, "A Wedding," has five more performances to go at the Civic Opera House through Jan. 21.)

The 2005-06 schedule will consist of 83 performances, through March 26, 2006:

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:27 AM

January 6, 2005

Zeffirelli Has A Conniption

Zeffirelli lays into La Scala season

John Hooper in Rome
Thursday January 6, 2005
The Guardian

Franco Zeffirelli, one of the world's best-known opera directors, yesterday branded the inaugural season of the newly refurbished La Scala opera house a disgrace.

Zeffirelli accused the opera house of inviting second-rate conductors to perform. Writing to a journalist on the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, who had written approvingly of the programme, he said the situation "risks becoming utterly absurd and developing into a scandal of truly international proportions because La Scala belongs to the whole world".

But the theatre's artistic director, Mauro Meli, rejected the criticism and stressed that La Scala had embarked on a highly innovative season. "Of the 13 operas, five have never been done at La Scala in modern times," he said.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:46 PM

January 5, 2005

Turandot at the Met

Turandot, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer
Published: January 5 2005 02:00 | Last updated: January 5 2005 02:00

Turandot remains a prime tourist attraction at the Met, lock, stock and chinoiserie. Even after 17 years, gasping crowds muster ovations for the scenery in Franco Zeffirelli's kitsch orgy. Monday night some rubes actually popped flash cameras mid-opera. In any case, it was hard to take Puccini's rambling, rumbling and ultimately wondrous valediction very seriously.

Adding to the extramusical brouhaha was the would-be diva cast as the titular ice princess. In the current Opera News magazine Andrea Gruber boldly discusses past battles with drug addiction, not to mention an obesity problem solved with gastric-bypass surgery. The New York Times echoed the interview on the day of the performance. Under the circumstances, one hoped her interpretation of this fiercely demanding role would provide an artistic counterbalance to the sensationalism. Unfortunately she seldom rose above respectable competence. . . .

Most impressive among the secondary players was Krassimira Stoyanova, a sympathetic Liu who floated lovely pianissimo tones offset by occasionally strident fortes.

[Click here for remainder of review (subscription to Financial Times online required).]

Posted by Gary at 9:44 PM

A Dead-end at Abbey Road?

Twilight of the CD Gods? A Studio 'Tristan' May Be the Last Ever


LONDON, Jan. 4 - The EMI recording studios at Abbey Road in north London are always a surprise when you walk through the modest regency-villa facade and find yourself in a citadel of sound technology. It's like passing through some science-fiction barrier from one world into the next: a magical world that has embraced all categories of music making since the 1930's.

It was here that the 16-year-old Yehudi Menuhin recorded Elgar's Violin Concerto under the composer's baton. Here that the Beatles made their soundtrack to the 60's, turning the adjacent zebra crossing into one of London's tourist sights. And here that through the holiday period an army of orchestral players, singers, agents and sound technicians has been gathering in Studio One — the largest and most celebrated studio in the world, despite its resemblance to a school gymnasium - for what many in the business think will be another landmark of recording history, touched this time with sadness and nostalgia.

The mood can be judged from comments in the cafeteria: "Make the most of it," and "There won't be many more like this."

And what is "this"? It's a gargantuan, million-dollar recording of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," put together as a now-or-never enterprise for the tenor Plácido Domingo but also as a last, heroic stand from a classical CD industry so crushed by economic pressures that many consider it in terminal decline.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:25 PM

January 4, 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Rossini

Based on other such "companions" that I have seen (one published by Cambridge, the other two by another publishing house), I would expect a handy reference guide to the composer in question. Such a reference guide might include discussions of and/or information on:

  1. The operas
  2. The composer's life and times
  3. The singers who created the roles
  4. Other key interpreters — i.e. Conchita Supervia, Marilyn Horne and Chris Merritt in the case of Rossini
  5. A discography
  6. A discussion of the state of opera when the composer began his career, including composers who influenced him
  7. A discussion of the composer's key innovations and his style, including how that style changed over the years
  8. A discussion of the influence of the composer (or the period), i.e.which composers were strongly infuenced.
  9. A discussion, if appropriate, of the current state of the revival of the composer's operas
  10. A bibliography
  11. Any number of essays on various other aspects of the composer

Obviously, some of these aspects may be more feasible for one composer than for another. Thus, it would be more practical to discuss Bellini's ten operas1 in depth than Donizetti's sixty plus, with Rossini somewhere in between.

Again, it seems to me that such a Companion should serve as a handy reference work that opera lovers interested in a given composer or style might want to consult regularly. It is with that in mind that I will take a closer look at the "Rossini Companion", and how it meets my expectations.

  1. The Operas: Only four are discussed in depth (Tancredi, Semiramide, Il barbiere, and Guillaume Tell). The quality of these, especially Heather Hadlock's essay on Semiramide, makes one wish for more. If this volume were to serve my own needs in terms of a basic reference book on Rossini, I feel that comparable discussions would have been ideal for the more important works (Otello, Ermione, Armida, Mose, Zelmira, etc. and shorter discussions (a few paragraphs) for the lesser operas such as Adina and La gazzetta. It is a thin volume (only 264 pages), and by adding only about 150-200 or so pages, it would have been possible to accomplish this goal.
  2. The composer's life is adequately treated in the chapter by Richard Osborne.
  3. There are brief biographical notes on some of the creators of the many Rossini roles included in a section on Rossini singers in the chapter by Leonella Caprioli on singing Rossini. This is fine as far as it goes, but it is, admittedly, selective, and should have included all the creators of leading roles. To give one example, Geltrude Righetti-Giorgi, who created both Rosina and Cenerentola is missing, although the fact that she created both these roles is mentioned elsewhere.
  4. Some other key interpreters are included in the above list. On the other hand, Conchita Supervia, who played such a key role in the Rossini revival of the 1920 is not even mentioned in the index. Marilyn Horne, who sang 7 serio roles is included elsewhere in the chapter on the Rossini renaissance, but Chris Merritt, who sang ten serio roles, and did so magnificently, is not even mentioned.
  5. There is no discography, useful as that would have been, although it would eventually have been out of date.
  6. There is no discussion of the state of opera at the start of Rossini's career. Thus, Cimarosa is mentioned only in passing, while Mayr's Ginevra di Scozia, one of the most successful Italian operas between Cimarosa and Rossini, is completely ignored.
  7. An entire section, titled "Words and Music" is devoted to various aspects of Rossini's style. The chapters on compositional methods by Phillip Gosset and on dramaturgy by Marco Beghelli are to be particularly commended in that respect.
  8. Again, there is a little discussion of Rossini's influence, but no chapter devoted exclusively to it.
  9. There is a discussion of the revival of the composer's operas, which is, with one exception, quite good. The exception is the section on singers, to which slightly over two pages are devoted. This section goes into a fair amount of details on the prima donnas involved, especially Callas, Sutherland and Horne. It virtually ignores Caballe, simply saying that she is one of 11 sopranos who sang opposite Horne. Only one tenor (Salvatore Fisichella) is mentioned in passing. Rockwell Blake, Chris Merritt, Bruce Ford and William Matteuzzi, without whom much of the Rossini revival would have been impossible are completely ignored, as is the wonderful Sam Ramey. Finally, there is a statement to the effect that Rossini wrote many of his opere serie for two principal tenors, and that this has perhaps kept these operas from assuming a larger place in the repertory. He may or may not be right about that, but, should he not have at least mentioned all the performances and/or recordings of these works sung by Chris Merritt or Bruce Ford in combination with Rockwell Blake or William Matteuzzi?
  10. There is an excellent bibliography.
  11. Many of the individual chapters make great reading, and are highly interesting as far as they go.

To sum up, I consider this a nice book to have, as far as it goes, but would not view it as the definitive Rossini companion that this wonderful composer so richly deserves. It is just too lightweight to qualify.

1 If you count Bianca e Gernando and Bianca e Fernando as the same opera.

Tom Kaufman

image_description=The Cambridge Companion to Rossini

product_title=The Cambridge Companion to Rossini
product_by=Edited by Emanuele Senici. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 280 pages 10 half-tones 35 music examples
product_id=ISBN:0521001951 | ISBN13:9780521001953

Posted by Gary at 2:42 AM

VERDI: Il Trovatore

Il Trovatore

Giuseppe Verdi, music and Salvatore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare, libretto

Raina Kabaivanska (Leonora)
Fiorenza Cossotto (Azucena)
Plácido Domingo (Manrico)
Piero Cappuccilli (Conte di Luna)
José van Dam (Ferrando)
Maria Venuti (Inez)
Heinz Zednik (Ruiz)
Karl Caslavsky (Un vecchio zingaro)
Ewanld Aichberger (Un messo)

Vienna state opera chorus and orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

Enrico Caruso famously stipulated that all a satisfactory Trovatore needs is the world's four greatest singers. Of course, given the hot passions that run through opera fandom, at any given time determining just who those four greatest singers might be would probably never be an easy affair. Nevertheless, TDK's recent release on DVD of a 1978 Vienna production offers wonderful testimony to support Caruso's conjecture, which the additional provisos that one shouldn't slight the leadership of a great conductor who loves the work, and the smaller roles benefit from careful casting as well.

The booklet for this DVD set relates the history of the production, one not only conducted by Karajan but also designed and directed by him. A rather dark picture denies the viewer much chance to fully evaluate the physical production — painted backdrops of a type Verdi would have known well seem to dominate. Perhaps it is better this way. Trovatore's convoluted plot arguably works better in a setting that promotes atmosphere over specifics, and the dim, oppressive aura emanating from Karajan's very traditional production never interferes with the singers. Their rich and traditional costumes give the viewer much to admire, however.

And oh, those singers. Placido Domingo, according to the booklet, stepped in at the last minute to replace a troubled Franco Bonisolli. Looking fit and suitably dark and handsome, Domingo's darker sound fits most of Manrico well — the Di quella pira being one unfortunate exception. Only here do conductor and singer momentarily choose different tempos, and Domingo omits all the traditional Manrico interjections during the chorus, turning around at the last moment to project a not especially thrilling high note on a single "all' armi." As this follows the longest ovation of the evening, for a wonderfully smooth and masculine Ah si, ben mio, Domingo has nothing to be ashamed of.

Raina Kabaivanska's Leonora has enough feminine grace and beauty to make both Manrico's and the Count's passion fully understandable. Her exquisitely floated high notes do much to excuse an occasional clouded tone at the end of long lines. The act one Tacea la notte goes beautifully; by act four, understandably, D'amor sull'ali rosee has to be more carefully approached. A superbly acted final scene caps this fine performance.

Piero Cappuccilli manages the difficult feat of showing both the cruel, even sadistic side of the Count di Luna while earning our sympathy for a man desperate for the beauty of a love in a life marked by war and tragedy. His performance grows through the evening, and von Karajan knows that here he has a singer who does not need to "act" — his handsomely sculpted profile and hooded eyes tell all we need to know, while the voice throbs with masculine passion.

As Azucena, Fiorenza Cossotto may alarm some viewers with her acting, which is, to put it mildly, unrestrained, but no one could quibble over the superb control of her gorgeous voice. She makes every moment of Azucena's music into an argument in support of Verdi's original intention to name the opera after this character. And to see the singer at the final curtain, still unrestrained in her passionate acceptance of the crowd's wild enthusiasm, may be to realize that her acting was, for her, quite natural.

Before any of these great singers reach the stage, Verdi has the opening scene of exposition, which can throw a Trovatore off the tracks right at the start if not well delivered. Here von Karajan has a younger Jose van Dam, and the evening gets going with appropriately ominous, exciting singing. Even the Ruiz here is a name not to be dismissed — Heinz Zednik, the fantastic character tenor of the Boulez Bayreuth Ring.

The camerawork provides movement for the viewer where Karajan's direction does not; however, one might wish that the Count was visible at the climax, as the camera focuses only on Azucena. A strange filter over the screen in the garden scene apparently could not be removed — a minor distraction, but annoying. The titles, as so often seem to be the case, could have used another round of editing.

Although the DVD set comes on two discs, surely to accommodate the many curtain calls, it has no extra features. This is disappointing, as the booklet mentions an intermission interview with the conductor at the time of original broadcast. However, no lover of this magnificent score should deny him/herself the pleasures of this release. Perhaps not the least of those pleasures is the sight of conductor Karajan being hit on the head by an errant bouquet at final curtain, which is capped by the conductor bending down to accept from the orchestra pit a bundle of flowers almost as large as himself. Consider that the true bonus to this treasurable document of inspired, passionate Verdi performance, circa 1978.

Chris Mullins

Posted by Gary at 2:14 AM

BACH: Matthäus-Passion

Ullmann, Mertens, Korondi, Vondung, Güra, Begemann
Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern, KlangVerwaltung, zu Guttenberg etc.
Farao Classics B 108 035 (3 CDs plus bonus CD)

On an accompanying CD and in the liner notes, interviewer Klaus J. Schönmetzler asks conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg, "Why another St. Matthew Passion?" This is a fair question considering the glut of recordings ranging from the overtly romantic to the idealized "authentic" (and mostly fast) Baroque editions. To his credit, Guttenberg responds to this question by acknowledging an aversion to interpreting Bach overly Romantically while desiring a Baroque sensibility. As a theologian, zu Guttenberg understands an undeniable conviction in Bach's theology, particularly in the chorales, which he acknowledges can lead to a more Romantic interpretation. Zu Guttenberg's attempt to capture this devotion coupled with the reality of twenty-first century instruments and performers, produces a St. Matthew stuck in a mediocre middle ground between a Baroque "ideal" and a Romantic interpretation.

Indeed the conductor's vision is the strongest aspect of the performance. Zu Guttenberg makes some very dramatic decisions to convey the pathos of Bach's music. Theology and conviction are most prevalent in the chorales with hushed dynamics, dramatic cesuras, and strong marked accents imparting the didactic impact of the chorale texts. However, the remainder of the singing, while clear, is mostly uninspired. The bass, Hans Christoph Begemann, is the only soloist who adds enough assuredness to his arias to match the chorales' effect. Hungarian soprano, Anna Korondi, is tinny and thin, particularly in the upper register, resulting in a forgettable "Aus Liebe." Tenor Werner Güra combines a bit of fire and flexibility in his arias, but alto Anke Vondung lacks both, failing to match the complexity of the music.

The orchestra is nimble but large and seems to cover the voices throughout — soloists and choir. Perhaps the recording engineering allows the orchestra to overpower the soloists' voices, resulting in a loss of sensitivity. Klaus Mertens sings Jesus with a certain clarity and humilty in his tone. On other hand, the Evangelist, Marcus Ullmann, is downright wimpy. His voice is unable to cut through the continuo vocally, let alone carry the dramatic thread of the work. Since in Bach the quality of the Evangelist dictates the quality of the performance of the entire passion, it is difficult to imagine that this recording could be much better. Zu Guttenberg has a clear image of both the Gospel story and Bach's setting, but he is unable to fully execute his ideal given the inherent weaknesses of his performers.

Adam Luebke

Posted by Gary at 2:00 AM

January 2, 2005

Trois Valses at Théâtre Royal de Liège

Wow ! Les Trois Valses comme il faut in Liège

Laurence Janot (Fanny Grandpré) and Jean-Baptiste Marcenac (Octave de Chalencey)

For the year's end the Walloon Opera always offers some lighter fare. A few years ago we saw a very fine La Périchole and then the way was free for some bad American musicals like last year's Sugar (= Some like it hot). This reviewer who rates Lehar, Kalman, Rodgers and Kern almost as high as any member of the Holy Grail of opera composers was therefore more than happy that Liège offered some Oscar Straus. Not that this Straus (with one "s" as he dropped the second "s" in his surname for fear people would think he was a member of the dynasty) composed a neglected or unforgettable masterpiece with his Les Trois Valses. Originally the operetta was created at Zürich as Drei Walzer in 1935. Composer and librettists had a nice idea for a quick buck. It starts as the story of a dancer and a noble in the France of Napoleon III. To save his military career she leaves him and Paris. In the second act her daughter (a famous chansonnière) and his son meet thirty years later, fall in love but due to a misunderstanding separate. Once more thirty years later granddaughter (famous movie star) and grandson (assurance seller) meet and this time everything works out for the best. Straus arranged music by Johan Strauss-père for the first act, dipped into Strauss-son's compositions for the second act and composed an original score for the last act. By 1935 however classical operetta was already moribund. The continuing success of Lehar's last tragic works has led us to believe that Land des Lächelns, Friederike, Zarewitch, Schön ist die Welt and Giuditta were somewhat typical but they definitely were not. On the contrary, only Lehar's stupendous melodic gifts succeeded in making a success out of them. By that time movies were all around and theatres were looking for spectacular countermoves. Salaries and costs were raising, so were the numbers of spectators needed to pay for all that jazz. More people meant more popular features and therefore music adapted to the lowest common denominator. It was the birth of the spectacular revue operetta whereby theatrical effects were often more important than musical substance (exactly the same happened with the classical American musical). The most important role shifted from the composer to the producer who found the money, engaged a composer and a librettist and added or subtracted songs by other people if he found the music too sophisticated, with too little hit-quality. The best example of is the perennial Im Weissen Rössl (White Horse Inn), nominally by Ralph Benatzky but with most of the hits by other composers.

This was what more or less happened with Drei Walzer. The extremely popular French soubrette Yvonne Printemps saw a performance of the original, had Straus play the score for her and asked the boss of the Bouffes Parisiens for his opinion. The man was flabbergasted. This was a very traditional operetta which would need a good tenor who would drown Madame Printemps. He had a better idea. He retained only a few bits of the music of father and son Strauss, gave all the tenor's music to Printemps as well and made the hero a speaking role he could cast with the young French actor Pierre Fresnay (later on best known for his fine acting in Monsieur Vincent). Straus' score for the third act was strewn over the whole operetta so that musical content is somewhat thin. But a smashing success it was. London and Broadway producers took notice, compared the original with the new French version and went for the last one of course. For more than sixty years this French version has held its own in all French speaking countries while the original has completely disappeared and it is no co-incidence that only the French version was recorded complete.

So what did the Liège production look like ? Its director was Jean-Louis Grinda, general manager of the Walloon Opera. Grinda simply went the same way he had gone with his production of La Périchole. He respected the ideas of the original authors and stuck to 1867, 1900 and 1937 as dates for his three acts. So no unnecessarily updating which would have somewhat clashed with the music. He clearly believed in the story and didn't use it to ridicule it or to give it three layers. Therefore the performance took flight and one could believe in the characters; always difficult in an operetta with such an enormous amount of co-incidence. Though there has to be a comic relief in it, it was not searched in a vulgar or overblown way. The last act was a wonderful smile upon the way movies adapt a story to suit their commercial needs. The two youngsters are supposed to act in a movie about the tragic love of their grandparents and one couldn't help laughing at the movie clichés that were performed while one had seen the simple truths of life in act one. Grinda was of course helped by the spectacular, rich and costly demands of the opérette-revue: every act had three new and fine settings (Dominique Pichou was the designer and the fine costumes were drawn by Danièle Barraud) so that the eye had always something new and fine to look at. Casting such operetta's nowadays is a Herculean task: the two main parts are always played by the two same actors but there are 27 other roles as well. Of course this can only be done by assigning several roles to the same actor but with the aid of a new costume, a hairdo and some change of voice 12 actors took on the task.

French Laurence Janot sang and acted the female lead and she took our breath away when she did quite a lot of fine high class dancing herself in the first act till it dawned upon us that she was a former ballerina. Though she is over forty she succeeded exemplary well in her three roles and she has a nice and warm lyric soprano with probably more decibels than Madame Printemps ever had. Her partner Jean Baptiste Marcenac (speaking role) proved to be as excellent in the many serious as in the comic moments. All other singers performed their roles with enthusiasm and I even noticed the return of former fort tenor André Jobin (son of Raoul) in three bit parts. I was struck by one painful fact. The not so young public is clearly not accustomed any more with the genre. It has been educated far too long (all over the world) with a notion that music theatre is art, not fun and one shouldn't show too much enjoyment. Fifty years ago each musical number would have been applauded and the temperature would have risen far more quickly while now most of the two first acts went in silence. By the last and best act the public had finally understood that one could freely laugh, cheer and applaud.

Jan Neckers

[Click here for additional information on this production.]

Posted by Gary at 3:25 AM

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at De Munt, Brussels

© Johan Jacobs

De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an unforgettable Contes d'Hoffmann (later reworked for Salzburg), fully respecting the original intentions while in Brussels he did a spectacular and updated Agrippina and a dark and brooding Don Giovanni. Though he is now one of the happy few directors wanted all over the world he nevertheless often returns to this country. McVicar has one overriding obsession: he wants to tell a good story and he wants to tell it clearly. He doesn't like humbug and clearly speaks out when he sees it. Of Robert Wilson's Aida (also premièred in De Munt and later given at Covent Garden) he says: " "they are constructing something on the scene while a sound track of Aida is running" ; a pronouncement that more or less corroborates with the opinion of the Aida (Norma Fantini) who called it "Aida in Tokyo".

Well, McVicar delivered the goodies. This was Midsummer Night's Dream as Shakespeare probably would have loved to see it and never saw it as the technical means and the money at his disposal were infinitely smaller. In an interview after the performance I read that the play is performed on a giant attic of a big English country house and that came somewhat as a surprise to me. The lightning (Paule Constable) and the scenery were so ingenious (Rae Smith) that I took it for a wood, be it one without too many leaves. And with the rising costs of garbage collection nowadays, one often finds seats and all kinds of props in our few woods. The whole looked rich and sumptuous and gave a wonderful idea of a fairy tale: somewhat like Disney with style. So did the costumes of the many performers (Smith too) and it was a joy to see fairies instead of giant bees or spiders or the nowadays popular cliché of clowns.

McVicar likes his singers to think with him and to have the same attitude towards telling a clear story though he had some stiff demands to made upon the cast (he likes to meddle with casting). Puck (David Greeves) didn't only have to sing and to act but to perform some difficult acrobatics high in the sky as well. Oberon can lengthen and shorten his height in the best fairy tale tradition and I admired Michael Chance who quietly and assuredly continued singing while his legs were lengthening with some 14 feet.

The big cast was lead by bass-baritone Laurent Naouri as Bottom. He doesn't like his wife to use her influence and I wish she would. It needn't end in a Sutherland-Bonynge or Freni-Ghiaurov blackmail but Naouri is a very fine singer whom I'd like to hear more in his native repertory where he could take over José van Dam's sceptre. He failed in his Met audition several years ago and I think the Met would do well to give him a second chance instead of only engaging Madame Naouri-Dessay. As he studied at the Guildhall in London his voice freely rang out in the verses culled from the original play. Laura Claycomb was the sensuous Tytania though I think the part is somewhat low for her high coloratura soprano. Countertenor Michael Chance as Oberon didn't endear me to his kind of voice as his sounds were weak and unfocused. All other artist performed worthily. Special mention must be made of the youth choir of De Munt. Strengthened by a few other choirs they sang and acted their heart out and either McVicar worked wonders with them or otherwise they are all headed for a big career on the scene due to their innate talent. Ivor Bolton was the careful conductor of the splendid sounding orchestra.

And so we come to the main drawback in my eyes and especially my ears. Frankly, I don't think that Britten's score deserves such a splendid and costly production. By 1959 the composer was probably tired of criticism that he was old-fashioned, that only movie composers employed tonality and he tried to prove his detractors he too was a modern composer. 45 years later this only results in a far too heavy orchestration always dominated by the woodwinds, all kinds of drums, bells and timpani resulting in a lot of dissonance. The original play was reduced to one third but the original words were used in the libretto. Due to all the noise Shakespeare is in for a heavy drubbing. This reviewer who is a former teacher of English was not able to understand more than a few sentences from the female performers. The men as always could be understood somewhat better as they had a lot of sprechgesang but still spectators without the ability to read either the Dutch or French surtitles wouldn't know what the fuzz on the scene was all about. Britten never was a prolific tune-smith ("Young man, don't you think I would have written some fine melodies if I had had Verdi's talents" he remarked in 69 when I was complaining of lack of melody in his works). Only at the beginning and end of each act that Britten allows himself some lyric utterances but for the rest it is often a trip through the desert.

Jan Neckers

[Click here for additional information on this production.]

Posted by Gary at 2:54 AM

January 1, 2005

Classical Music Sales Looking Up

A Year When Classical Labels Came Through


In 2003, the problems affecting the classical recording business seemed daunting: markets flooded with multiple versions of the standard repertory; declining sales; widespread layoffs in the offices of the major labels; ill-conceived moves by controlling conglomerates to cut losses that only made matters worse.

Still, during that sobering year, many companies, to their credit, adjusted their priorities, focused anew on releasing albums that added something of artistic merit to the discography, and generally realized that smaller could in fact be better.

Several companies also pledged to take innovative steps within the next year to deal with the financial realities, steps that might find opportunity amid the challenges. So, now that 2004 has past, it's time to see whether the companies are keeping their promises. In several cases they are following through, as a crop of welcome recent recordings makes clear.

For example, in early January of 2003 there was an article in this newspaper about the looming expirations of copyright protections in Europe for countless classic recordings from the 1950's. In the United States such copyrights last 90 years, at least for now, while advocates for public domain access and defenders of the rights of production companies continue to slug it out in the courts. But in Europe, copyrights for recordings expire after 50 years. This means that starting now and during the next decade landmark 1950's recordings by artists ranging from Maria Callas to Elvis Presley are coming into the public domain in Europe. Since American retailers routinely stock imported European records, especially classical albums, such releases are already showing up in the stores.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 7:16 PM

La Serva Padrona in Boston

Soprano Amanda Forsythe voices her love of opera

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | December 31, 2004

Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, Music Director.
Photo: Julian Bullitt

Soprano Amanda Forsythe has sung so often with baritone David Kravitz that she was only mildly surprised recently when she Googled her name, and up popped a reference to "Amanda Kravitz."

Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, Forsythe is paired with Kravitz again for Pergolesi's delicious little opera "La Serva Padrona" ("The Maid as Mistress"), presented by Boston Baroque as part of its annual New Year's Eve/New Year's Day gala at Sanders Theatre.

In the opera, the spirited servant girl Serpina tricks her boss Uberto into marrying her. As it happens, Forsythe is busy planning her own wedding this summer — but not to Kravitz. Her fiance is Edward Elwyn Jones, the new university organist and choirmaster at Harvard.

The soprano, who is in her 20s but is pointedly vague about just which birthday she has passed, arrived in Boston a few years ago as a graduate student at New England Conservatory. Her star had been conspicuously rising ever since. Martin Pearlman, artistic director of Boston Baroque, gave her her first professional break in 2001 and has repeatedly re-engaged her; she has also sung with Emmanuel Music and the Handel & Haydn Society.

Forsythe was elegant, poised, focused, and determined as she talked recently about her emerging career. She grew up on Roosevelt Island, alongside Manhattan, and sang in high school choirs without ever taking her vocal potential very seriously.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:12 AM