Recently in Reviews
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.
24 Nov 2009
Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections
Ralph Locke’s recent book on Musical Exoticism is both an historical survey of aspects of the exotic in Western musical culture and a discussion of paradigms of the exotic and their relevance for musicological understanding.
Locke divides his investigation into two major parts, which may
be characterized as 1) methodological, and 2) illustrative, the latter
furnishing numerous examples starting with Händel and Rameau and extending
through to current compositions including cinematic music.
In the first part Locke is careful to differentiate his position on
exoticism and related terms vis-à-vis others who have approached this topic in
the past. Locke’s introductory remarks, in which he elaborates on the
meaning of “exotic” especially as used for Western music, set forth
terms that he will use extensively in subsequent chapters. He broaches, for
instance, an analytical paradigm which he terms “Exotic Style
Only,” modifying this with his own “All the Music in Full Context
Paradigm.” To be sure, both models receive full expression, with
appropriate examples, in the following chapters. Yet the reader is here
prepared for a critical discussion that will demonstrate Locke’s point
that “exoticness often depends not just on the musical notes but also on
their context as well as on other factors, such as the particulars of a given
performance and the musical and cultural preparation of a given
listener.”  Based on this assumption Locke seeks to broaden his
readers’ understanding of the exotic in music while claiming that
“musical exoticism is not “contained in” specific devices.
Rather it arises through an interaction between a work, in all
[author’s emphasis] its aspects, and the listener.”  Before
closing his introductory remarks Locke reinforces such distinctions by
reminding his audience of exotic environments or individual characters, often
portrayed in opera, which are rendered by traditional, “non-exotic
musical means.”  Examples of this tendency for Locke include
Handel’s Tamerlano and Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly, both illustrating a culture or milieu in some way foreign to
the potential audience. Neither work is composed entirely, or even
consistently, of elements that would be identified as distinctly part of an
exotic medium. The synchronization of the listener’s expectations with
the composer’s means and intentions will then yield an exoticism that is,
ultimately, a type of “reception.” 
In these issues marking his approach to the exotic in music Locke is able to
draw on theoretical grounding in the work of fellow musicologists, e.g. Rose
Rosengard Subotnik and Richard Taruskin. Here Locke is especially interested in
approaches that are based not only on “musical analysis” alone but
also those which consider societal components as well as extra-musical
associations. This balance can prove to be difficult to maintain, even among
those scholars who are suggested as leading proponents. As an example, the
passage cited here from Subotnik’s work on Deconstructive
Variations relies on the harmonic analysis of a Chopin score, reflecting a
more text-based and traditional approach; only at the conclusion of the
relevant chapter does the commentary move toward questions of music in society.
Locke admits to the difficulty of submitting much of what he terms
“Western art music,” e.g. sonatas, symphonies, quartets, to an
overriding social analysis. It is surely then a logical first step in the
revisionist approach to musical exoticism here taken that a number of
Locke’s examples show a clear association with some “other”
place and people. [20-21] This enables the author to establish categories of
analysis for his “Full-Context” Paradigm, which may subsequently be
applied to other musical examples or forms. Finally Locke considers the
approaches taken in recent investigations with a specific focus on his chosen
topic. Hence Jonathan Bellman’s and Timothy D. Taylor’s books are
examined for their usefulness in the portrayal of musical exoticism, yet both
are understood by Locke as functioning within the framework of an “Exotic
Style Only” Paradigm, as found in the present study. Locke sets for
himself the task of using the foundation already set by these previous scholars
and of expanding the possible associations of exoticism with further
“crucial and neglected issues.” 
In his proposed new definition of exoticism Locke relies on concepts such as
“Here and There” and “home country or culture.” 
Especially significant in the author’s new definition is a
differentiation between the perceptions of listeners reacting during the
composer’s day and those hearing a piece still performed many years
later. As put succinctly by Locke, these latter “listeners may now be
living in new and different cultural situations and may thus bring different
values and expectations to the work.”  As an enhancement of
suggestions first put forth by Dahlhaus, Locke assembles a “relatively
comprehensive typology”  of stylistic features which have been
typical in Western music perceived as exotic during the past few centuries.
Here he considers not only matters of pitch and harmony or dissonance but also
modal features and repeated patterns of rhythm or melody often derived from
dance. Locke refers to variations on a number of these stylistic features in
subsequent chapters when analyzing specific works and questioning how these
might be perceived by a given listener in a given age as exotic.
In the second major division of his book Locke presents a disciplined survey
of various musical forms from the beginning of the eighteenth century until the
present day in order to arrive at a trajectory of the exotic in music. The
section entitled “Handel’s Eastern Dramas” is intended by
Locke to examine and compare the portrayal of various historical figures in the
operas and oratorios with a relevant geographical anchor. Hence typical despots
from the East, characters in Tamerlano and Belshazzar, are
discussed from the viewpoint of ideological gesture, political message, and
musical style. This depiction is then contrasted with a contemporary display of
even greater geographical variety in Rameau’s Les Indes
galantes. By using similar methods for analyzing musical-dramatic works
from the same period Locke is able to develop, in gradually evolving
chronological segments, an aesthetic of the exotic. This range of aesthetic and
social concerns is then treated from Mozart’s Turkish style to the gypsy
image in Carmen, emerging ultimately into twentieth-century works, a
period starting with the exotic in Madama Butterfly. The reader and
listener are then left — appropriately — with questions concerning
additional works by those very contemporaries discussed, e.g. Gretry and
Massenet, and how such pieces might be fit into the model as it further
evolves. The extensive bibliography will serve, when combined with
Locke’s suggestions for methodology, as a means to explore the topic of
exoticism on many other musical avenues.
Click here for an online preview of Musical Exoticism.