Recently in Performances
Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim
) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.
Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.
One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the
‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber
music to orchestral rehearsals.
The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.
I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly
bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s
thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some
Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with
the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music.
His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in
C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the
Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.
Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.
‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.
This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?
A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert. Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.
On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.
On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.
When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.
It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.
Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.
This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at
’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.
With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.
When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.
Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe
Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.
Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.
26 Sep 2007
Margaret Garner at NYCO
The New York City Opera’s production of Richard Danielpour’s and Toni Morrison’s opera, Margaret Garner, boldly faces the ugly history of slavery in the United States, and the racism inherent in the institution of opera.
It is difficult to criticize a work that is so optimistic in its
scope, and indeed, one that is the collaborative effort of two giants in
their fields such as Richard Danielpour and Toni Morrison are. And yet,
despite the ovations from the audience (especially for Morrison), despite the
excitement generated by opening night at the City Opera, the opera felt a
little flat. This is in part attributable to the one-dimensional nature of
the characters in Margaret Garner: without exception they are either
wholly good or wholly evil. Librettist Morrison and composer Danielpour fell
into a trap of creating Margaret and her husband Robert as something like
Margaret Garner attempts to address the historical figure of
Margaret Garner in a dignified and meaningful way—as is only to be expected
of Nobel Prize-winning Morrison. However, Danielpour, not unlike Puccini,
uses musical references in irrelevant and anachronistic ways. For example,
during the opera one hears (frequently) references in the orchestra’s music
to jazz and ragtime; and when the black (and black-faced) chorus sings they
evoke gospel music that you might hear pouring out of the Baptist churches in
the South today. He has used familiar sounds to make his audience tap their
feet and he weaves beautiful and jazzy melodies to tug at our heartstrings.
Some critics have referred to Danielpour’s “Leonard-Bernstein-like”
musical style, but his attempts are not as successful as Bernstein’s
dizzying combinations of styles, and the result is that Margaret
Garner is less effective as a dramatic opera than it could be.
Additionally, in his imitation of black American musics, Danielpour has
orientalized Margaret and her family, rather than presenting them in more
complicated musical language, which of course, Danielpour is capable of
composing. Like Madame Butterfly, Margaret and Robert become simplified,
overdrawn characters; they are held up as infallible in their love for one
another and for their children, and they are made into saints and martyrs. By
making Margaret a saint instead of a desperate human, Danielpour and Morrison
do not do justice to the facts of Margaret Garner’s life, which, when
examined on their own shed light on a slice of American history, even without
One problem with creating saints out of real peoples’ lives is that
though we can argue that this Margaret Garner of their creation—kind,
loving, intelligent, and beautiful—did not deserve her fate, the opera does
not make a strong stand about slavery in general. An opera that would truly
look our history of slavery in the eye must protest the enslavement of even
those people who were less virtuous than this Margaret; those who were not
good parents or faithful lovers; those who may have been somehow complicit
with the system of slavery in which they were raised. The house slave who may
have enjoyed her status or the transplanted husband who was not faithful
cannot measure up to the standard set by this martyred Margaret Garner. To be
truly “anti-slavery” we must recognize that even slaves who stole, who
abused the little power they had, who abandoned their lovers, or who were in
other ways unable to measure up to Danielpour and Morrison’s standard were
deserving of basic human rights of freedom and self-determination.
In another, more practical way, Margaret Garner strikes a blow
against the institutional racism that plagues opera houses. We need only look
at the hiring practices of the Metropolitan Opera (or the New York City Opera
or any other major US or European opera house) to see that while men and
women of color are often hired to sing roles designated as characters that
are black, Hispanic or Asian, they are rarely hired to perform roles that are
understood to be white characters; and furthermore, that white people are
sometimes hired to sing roles that are designated as black, Hispanic, or
Asian characters (think, for example on the famous singers who perform
Otello, Monostatos, Madame Butterfly). For more thoughtful writing on hiring
practices of the Met, see Wallace Cheatham’s article “Black Male Singers
at the Metropolitan Opera” in The Black Perspective in Music 16/1
(Spring 1988): 3 – 20; which is almost as relevant today as it was twenty
years ago. (Over his career Cheatham has also written about black women
singers in opera.) Margaret Garner, in its subject matter and casting,
perforce must address some of these issues. Three of the four NYCO debut
artists in this cast are not white. In choosing to have both black and white
characters in this opera about America’s history with slavery, it seems
that Danielpour and Morrison have created new roles for black singers, roles
that may help these singers further the careers of the artists who perform
them, if they can avoid being typecast.
Tracie Luck thrilled the audience at the NYCO premiere of Margaret
Garner, not only with her acting skills, but also with her beautiful
voice and some surprising low notes. Other newcomers Lisa Daltrius as Cilla
and and Gregg Baker as Robert Garner were also very talented and warmly
received. Another notable performance was given by Maureen McKay who seemed
to embody the perky and radical Caroline Gaines, daughter of the slave owner
Edward Gaines (performed by NYCO debut artist Timothy Mix).
The set designed by Donald Eastman was functional; it did not distract
from the action on the stage. This production offers the director the
difficulty of having to stage five deaths—two of which are hangings. The
first murder—that of the villainous overseer played by Joel Sorensen by
Robert Garner—involved some very convincing stage acting by the two
performers. Neither the hanging of Robert Garner or of Margaret Garner was
pulled off very well. The scene that should have been at the heart of the
opera—the one in which Margaret stabs her own children to death was
convincingly acted, but musically and otherwise undramatic. Any of the angst
that the real Margaret must have felt was glossed over briefly in one of the
shortest scenes of the opera.
Although this opera was disappointing, one cannot help but feel it is in
part because Margaret Garner is bearing so much social
responsibility on its own. Few other operas tackle such huge and relevant
issues. Perhaps if this opera were not one of so few that address race
relations in the United States, then we as audience members would not have to
scrutinize the message or the presentation so closely. If this were one of
many approaches to healing the wounds that slavery has left in our country,
then Margaret Garner would not have such a heavy burden to bear.
Megan Jenkins © 2007