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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
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