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Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
07 Aug 2005
The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky
The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky joins more than a dozen similar volumes published by the Cambridge University Press over the years and devoted to the life and works of a single composer. Each one traditionally is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field, organized into three main sections — biography; works (mostly by genre); reception and posthumous legacy.
Predictably, however, just like the composer in question, this Companion is much too complex to fit comfortably into the mold. The reader will immediately note the seemingly disproportionate amount of space dedicated to the issue of reception: six of fourteen articles are placed in that section of the volume, with many essays from the other two sections veering frequently in the same direction. Indeed, as Christopher Butler's and Arnold Whittall's essays in the opening section illustrate, contributions to this collection inevitably represent conflicting trends in Stravinsky criticism. In "Stravinsky as Modernist," Butler casts the composer in his traditional role as a "conservative modernist" as opposed to Arnold Schoenberg's "progressive avant-garde." Meanwhile, Whittall, in a rather unfortunately titled "Stravinsky in Context" (now there's a title that means everything and nothing!), often contradicts his colleague while discussing many stylistic and compositional parallels between Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Commissioned separately, the essays do not engage each other's arguments. Instead, the authors polemicize — vehemently at times — with Richard Taruskin, whose distinct, distinguished shadow has loomed large over the Stravinsky discourse ever since the 1996 publication of his comprehensive two-volume Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions. Indeed, several essays in this Companion are heavily indebted to Taruskin's work. This includes Rosamund Bartlett's opening article "Stravinsky's Russian Origins," the only truly biographical essay in the volume. But while Bartlett's fascinating account of the artistic life in early 20th-century Russia is well worth the reader's attention, I hesitate to make the same claim for the two "Russian" essays in Part 2 of the collection, Anthony Pople's "Early Stravinsky" and Kenneth Gloag's "Russian Rites: Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, Les Noces." While both authors make a point of summarizing the views of other scholars, such as Pieter van den Toorn and Stephen Walsh, as well as bringing their own perspectives to the table, the number of Taruskin references in Pople's account in particular is at times so overwhelming that one feels a strong desire to abandon the Companion altogether and run back to the original.
Thankfully, that feeling disappears as the reader progresses through the volume and away from the "origins." Martha M. Hyde's insightful essay "Stravinsky's Neoclassicism" explores the complex notions of engagement with time, past and present, imitation, anachronism, and the relationship between neoclassicism and post-modern pastiche. Opera lovers will be delighted to see a significant portion of the article devoted to the analysis of The Rake's Progress, in its textual and musical dialogue with Goethe's Faust. Music for — broadly defined — theater is also the subject of the editor, Jonathan Cross's contribution to the volume, "Stravinsky's Theaters," in which he discusses the aspects of "high" and "low" in the composer's various staged projects. One of the most valuable contributions to the volume, in my opinion, is Joseph Straus's wonderful overview "Stravinsky the Serialist"; but a word of caution — the author's detailed analysis of specific passages may prove prohibitive for the uninitiated.
Two of six "reception" essays in the Companion also include analysis of excerpts from Stravinsky's serial compositions. In a part of his "Stravinsky and Us" (to be discussed below), Richard Taruskin offers an alternative (or perhaps a complementary) view of Stravinsky's journey into serialism to the one outlined in Straus's article through the textual analysis of the Cantata. Meanwhile, Craig Ayrey, in "Stravinsky in Analysis: The Anglophone Traditions," traces and critiques the analytical approaches to Stravinsky's music used in the English-speaking world by applying them to the Lacrimosa section of the Requiem Canticles. Unlike Taruskin's, and even more so than Straus's essay, Ayrey's contribution is dense with formulas, and thus not recommended for amateurs or the faint of heart.
To the contrary, Nicholas Cook's delightful essay titled "Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky" is a must equally for a scholar, performer, and intelligent listener. Cook examines the composer's attitude toward the value of interpretation in performance, and poses questions on the relative significance of the composer's own conducting for discerning his intentions by pointing out important interpretive deviations in his successive recordings of the Rite of Spring. The essay also includes astute observations about the connections between Stravinsky's "new objectivity" and the issues of "authenticity" in contemporary performance practice. For a different kind of contemporary practice, Jonathan Cross's interview with Louis Andriessen titled "Composing with Stravinsky" addresses Stravinsky's influence on this Dutch composer, as well as on other composers today, an influence — it is asserted — that is still in its early stages. The interview is a worthy read; the only drawback perhaps is that the discourse all too frequently abandons its supposed subject matter and focuses on Adriessen's career instead.
Two articles in the Companion address the most classic issue in Stravinsky reception — criticism. Stuart Campbell's essay "Stravinsky and the Critics" provides an overview of the composer's relationship with his critics throughout his long career, and elucidates the role played by these critics (including the fellow expatriates and composer colleagues) in disseminating his works and ideas. Max Paddison's "Stravinsky as Devil: Adorno's Three Critiques" discusses the complexities, contradictions, internal motivations, and a gradual evolution of Theodore Adorno's Stravinsky critiques, from the late 1920s through the early 1960s.
Overall, The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky should wear the label "use with caution." While a specialist student of Stravinsky would find in it much fascinating and useful material, the collection would not serve as a good general introduction to the composer's life and works. The reason for this, primarily, is the absence of a continuous narrative or even a coherent argument — in a word, a single point of view. It is a pity that the format of a Cambridge Companion does not provide for an in-depth editorial introduction — beyond, that is, the four sentences available on the opening page. Without it, the diversity of angles and the sharpness of arguments may distract and confuse a reader not easily familiar with the daily fads of Stravinskian discourse. In a stroke of editorial ingenuity, Taruskin's "Stravinsky and Us" serves as a conclusion to the volume. This essay's main focus is unraveling a variety of self-constructed and posthumously imposed "Stravinsky" mythologies that engender our daily engagement with the phenomenon of this composer and his music. To an extent, the controversies and contradictions that fill the current Companion themselves provide a telling illustration of the enduring power of the myths, and the eternal pleasure we musicologists derive from endlessly perpetuating them.
University of Missouri-Columbia