Recently in Reviews
For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.
‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.
‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.
Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.
Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.
A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at
the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.
Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.
Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece
With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.
J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.
The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.
Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.
What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?
Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.
What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.
In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.
The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.
Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.
This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.
The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.
07 Aug 2009
Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music — Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
In the Euroarts series Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music: Documentary & Performance, the volume devoted to Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra stands out as a particularly accessible and well-executed release.
As with the other DVDs in this series, the contents of the disc are divided between an analysis of the work as its “Documentary” and a film of a performance of the work, and this combination makes the release particularly useful as a teaching tool. To the credit of Günter Atteln, who was responsible for it, the documentary nicely allows historical background to intersect with a description of the music. More than that, the use of iconography helps to give a concrete image of the composer and that is a fine springboard for the interviews with the conductor Pierre Boulez.
Going further, it is useful to have the musical passages illustrated at times with images of the notation, so that students who view the documentary can have some reinforcement of the connections between written music and audible sound it represents. This demonstrates the well considered presentation behind the series, which extends further into the well-written script, inviting narration, and fine pacing. Moreover, through its focus and concision, the documentation on Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra serves the work well through the balance it offers on biography, analysis, and cultural elements.
Moreover, it is useful for audiences to hear the esteemed composer and conductor Pierre Boulez interviewed apart from his presence on the podium for the performance of the work. Boulez’s authoritative voice demonstrates his fluency in German, and the subtitles are a solid way for audiences unfamiliar with that language to apprehend his comments without the artifice of dubbing or other such means. As such, the interspersing of the female narrative speaking idiomatic British English with the continental Boulez commenting in German also contributes a nice variety to the spoken work in that part of the DVD.
As to the performance itself, the concert of the Berlin Philharmonic was given at the Mosteiro des Jerónimos, Lisbon on 1 May 2003. This monastery provides a picturesque background for the performance with its soaring, Gothic arches giving a sense of spaciousness to the concert. The acoustics in this performance space serve the work well, with its clean resonance for the burnished sound of the Berlin Philharmonic. In fact, the performance itself is one which deserves attention its own merits, as a relatively rare presentation of this work on DVD. The apse of the monastery allows for some excellent sightlines for capturing Boulez’s conducting well, and the lighting allows for some fine shots of the orchestra which avoid the glare which sometimes occurs in films of concerts on stage. At the same time, the position of the orchestra and conductor on almost the same visual plane as the audience adds a further level of accessibility to audiences who may be less familiar with this work or other examples of concert music.
The visual images are clear and immediate, the sound rich and full. With subtitles available in French, German, English, and Spanish, it should be possible for people in various Western countries to enjoy this DVD. In addition, the booklet accompanying the DVD contains a brief essay by Wolfgang Stähr, along with a pithy timeline of Bartók’s career, and a glossary of musical terms in German, French and English. (For the latter, a three-volume alignment would have been useful for teaching purposes.) All in all, it is a welcome addition to the series and a fine tribute to one of the masterworks of Bartók. Such an introduction would allow new audiences to delve more deeply into the Concerto for Orchestra. From here it would not be difficult for those interested to move to other music by Bartók, including such fine works for the stage as the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin or the opera Bluebeard’s Castle.
James L. Zychowicz