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On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for
musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing
for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write
About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from
those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
30 Aug 2009
Louis Andriessen De Staat at the Proms
De Staat is a seminally important work. So much modern music stems from it, not only “serious” classical music but progressive popular music too. It “is” music theatre, for it’s designed to be experienced live, the visual effect part of the action.
At the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, it was wonderful to see the brass sections, carefully positioned at each side of the orchestra, catch the light, magnifying the blaze of sound. De Staat is so radical that it still sounds fresh after almost 40 years. Essentially, it’s a wild, almost savage piece that breaks all the rules of form and development that constitute formal music. But such manic, kinetic energy! Driving, compelling rhythmic patterns drive the piece forward. The patterns are circular, revolving on themselves relentlessly without beginning or end. Structurally, blocks of density are intersected by planes of sharp brightness.
De Staat is theatre, designed to be experienced live as its visual impact is very much part of the action. Thus two brass sections are positioned on each side of the orchestra, trombones and trumpets catching the light, so they shine in an ever more dazzling blaze. The harp is placed prominently, for it represents the plucked strings mentioned in the text.
De Staat is also interesting because it transcends text. It’s based on Plato’s The Republic where music is denounced as a form of subversion. The words matter. At early performances, audiences were given the text to read carefully before the beginning. so they’d retain the ideas rather than read them during performance. For De Staat transcends text. The singing is deliberately embedded into the music, almost abstract, like a cryptic code whose meaning goes deeper than surface words. Modern music doesn’t do simple word-painting. Meaning is absorbed, translated into abstract sound.
The texts are in ancient Greek, which most people don’t understand nowadays, which is all the more reason to focus on how the music itself expresses meaning, not just the words. The final chorus is illuminating for it quotes authoritarian dogma dictating what instruments and tonal modes may be used and which forbidden. “Musical change always invokes far-reaching danger. Any alteration in the modes of music is always followed by alteration in the most fundamental laws of the State”.
So Andriessen’s unremitting, hard planes of sound express extreme tension.This Proms performance, conducted by Lucas Vis, leading the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, celebrated the composer’s birthday, so wasn’t quite as distressful as some performances, where the relentless, pounding rhythms create severe anxiety. This is an ensemble for whom the work is basic repertoire - listen to the live recording, also by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, from the 1978 Holland Festival, included as a CD in the book by* Robert Adlington, Louis Andriessen : De Staat* (Ashgate 2004).
This sense of fear and danger is important, for the driving repetitions represent the idea of enforced conformity. Hence the need for tight, disciplined performance. The very structure of De Staat is meaning. As Andriessen has said, “there is no hierarchy in the parts”. The chorus is only one of the several units in the piece that function in parallel, rather like society itself. . Voices may be suppressed in authoritarian states, but abstract music can still speak. This pertains to much of Andriessen’s work for music theatre and opera, where the action “is” in the music rather than the concept of opera as narrative singing with music..
Andriessen has written several operas, some of which are well known, such a Writing for Vermeer. He’s collaborated fruitfully with Peter Greenaway for several years, reflecting their common interests in music and film. in 2008, Andriessen’s “film opera” La Commedia was featured at the Holland Festival. An excerpt from the opera, The City of Dis, was premeired at the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
This Prom program was extremely well chosen, placing De Staat between Steve Martland’s Beat the Retreat and Cornelis de Bondt’s Closed Doors. Martland’s piece mixes early English music with progressive rock. It’s a cheerful act of irreverent anarchy, written in protest against new government laws on outdoors entertainment. De Bondt’s piece, from 1985, starts and ends with a deep sonic boom that reverberated nicely in the Royal Albert Hall. It’s part of a much larger work that pivots different threads of music history upon each other. That’s why there were two conductors, not in itself any big deal (Charles Ives did it decades ago). Like De Staat, the material circulates, disparate parts that can’t meld although as a whole they make a statement.
The Proms are broadcast every day on BBC Radio 3 and are available online, on demand for seven days after the performance. See www/bbc.co.uk/proms