Recently in Reviews
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.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
23 Aug 2009
Paul Hindemith: Die junge Magd, Op. 23, no. 2; Ernst Toch: Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29.
Gustav Mahler was not alone in setting verses from Hans Bethge’s collection of Chinese-inspired poetry entitled Die chinesische Flöte, as he did in his symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde.
In contrast to Mahler’s effort, Ernst Toch composed a three-movement work which makes use of Bethge’s title for its setting of three poems: “Die geheimnisvolle Flöte,” “Die Ratte,” and “Das Los des Menschen.” Among the recent selections in the series Edition Staatskapelle Dresden is a CD which includes an historic performance of Toch’s Die Chinesische Flöte, a setting of three of Bethge’s poems, from 22 February 1949 along with a recording from 15 September 1948 of Paul Hindemith’s Die junge Magd, Op. 23b.
Dating from 1922 Ernst Toch’s Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29 is a substantially different work than Mahler’s more familiar setting of Bethge’s poetry. From the outset the spare timbres connote a different style. In contrast to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, in which chamber-music texts are part of the larger fabric of the work, Toch’s Chinesische Flöte is conceived for solo voice and chamber orchestra. Almost programmatically, the solo flute is prominent in the first movement, Toch’s setting of “Die geheimnisvolle Flöte,” and complements the voice throughout the work. Toch is sensitive to Bethge’s text, and allows the declamation to emerge readily in his sometimes spare orchestral textures. Likewise, he makes effective use of instrumental interludes to set off the verses of the poem and thus underscore the text, rather than render it all at once and thus risk losing the attention of the listeners. Inspired by the original text of Li Tai Pao, Bethge recreated in German the sense of remoteness to which Toch responded appropriately. Trötschel captures the sense of text well with her phrasing and intonations. Since the piece lies well for Trötschel’s voice, she is able to convey in this performance shades of meaning in the text.
The second setting in this cycle is a much shorter, somewhat ironic text entitled “Die Ratte” (“The Rat”), a metaphor for an obsession. Thus, the rapid-fire declamation that Toch uses is entirely appropriate to the verse, and serves as an excellent contrast to the sense of remote calm he achieved in the first piece. Again, Trötschel brings a natural kind of phrasing to the delivery, which is always clear and distinct. The third and final piece is “Das Los des Menschens” (“The Lot of Mankind”) a poem in which the summer season becomes a means of expressing something of the angst about human existence. Here Toch adapts from cliché sounds associated with the orient in the accompaniment in a setting with equal weight to the first. The instrumental music is more prominent than in the first movement and serves to punctuate the verses in this setting. Trötschel’s delivery brings clarity to this performance, which allows the text to be heard distinctly. The latter serves well for those who want to hear Bethge’s text, which is, unfortunately, not reproduced in the liner notes - for these pieces and Hindemith’s Hänssler offers the texts only in English translation, rather than the conventional bi- or trilingual presentation association with Lieder or chansons.
Composed around the same time, Hindemith’s song cycle Die junge Magd also makes use of a chamber ensemble for its accompaniment, specifically a string quartet augmented by flute and clarinet. The resulting timbres involve some of the composer’s distinctive style, which underscores the expressive dissonances he used in his settings some of the Austrian poet’s Georg Trakl’s verse The poems express some of the meaninglessness aspects of human existence, and Himdemith’s settings intensify them. Further, Ruth Lange brought out the introspective nature of the work with her idiomatic performance of the music. Performed in Germany shortly after the end of World War II, this work bears a further level of meaning, through a recording made during the rebuilding of a country which was at the forefront of modernism. The first poem of the cycle is particularly effective “Oft am Brunnen” and each of the succeeding five songs has something to offer. The recording is remarkably reproduced well in this CD, but it would be useful to have the texts reproduced in the accompanying booklet. As interesting as it is to have more background on the performers than usually occurs, the text is essential to pieces like this, which are available less frequently in recordings than other
James L. Zychowicz