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Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
21 Jul 2010
Cosima Wagner — The Lady of Bayreuth
Originally published in German as Herrin des Hügels, das Leben der Cosima Wagner (Siedler, 2007), this new book by Oliver Hilmes is an engaging portrait of one of the most important women in music during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Famous as the wife of the pianist-conductor Hans von Bülow, who ran off to marry the composer Richard Wagner, Cosima was the daughter of Franz Liszt and eventually the matriarch who forged her last husband’s legacy at Bayreuth. Hilmes begins his study of Cosima in the present at the annual Bayreuth Festival, which continues to attract audiences. In explaining his interest in Cosima, Hilmes identifies his sources (pp. 349-50), which are in this case voluminous and extend beyond the woman’s diaries, which have already been published in German and English translation. This is an account of an exceptional woman, who transformed conventional widowhood into a living monument to her husband’s memory and also shaped music performance internationally through her development of the Festival at Bayreuth.
Hilmes divides his work into chapters that cover Cosima’s life logically, started with her early life as the illegitimate daughter of Liszt and the French author Marie d’Agoult. He follows with an account of Cosima’s relationship with Liszt’s one-time student Hans von Bülow, which ultimately resulted in what Hilmes calls a marriage of convenience. Here Hilmes is good to show the misunderstandings that have emerged over the years, and to allow some of the documents to speak for themselves, which emerges neatly in his coverage of an episode in which Bülow encountered Cosima with Wagner on the street (pp. 58-59), a scene which has a different character depending on whom one reads. Hilmes’ approach opens the door to a fresh account of Cosima’s affair with Wagner, her divorce from Bülow, and her eventual marriage with Wagner. This portion of the book is of interest for the subtext that emerges in the section headings. Since Bülow conducted the premiere of Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, the presence of that title as a subhead (p. 77) offers a useful point of reference. Likewise, other references to literature and other topics emerges as with “Human, All Too Human” (p. 112) and others. Despite the subtle references, Hilmes is nowhere arch or judgmental. He discusses the sense of guilt Cosmia felt in the way she treated Bülow sensitively. Elsewhere Hilmes shows how active a role Cosima played in Wagner’s life, and this anticipates the role she would take in shaping Bayreuth as an institution later in her own life.
The account of Cosima’s life with Wagner is lively and engaging. The freshness with which Hilmes approaches the episode invites an investigation of the sources and also a rereading of those famous diaries of Cosima in light of the perspectives that are found here. Wagner’s death is depicted with proper reverence, yet shown to be the turning point in what emerges as a kind of musical cult (p. 158), as Cosima identifies herself almost entirely with Wagner and also their home — she even uses Wahnfried as an eponym in correspondence with her daughter Daniela. This is a fascinating aspect of Cosima’s life, and it merits attention in Hilmes treatment of it. In turn, it sets the stage for the international attention that reaches Bayreuth and the role that the Festival takes in shaping German culture. The question of antisemitism emerges in this book, and its treatment is appropriately open; elsewhere Hitler’s relationship with Wagner’s music comes into play, as does the ways in which Cosima shaped the future of Bayreuth as she approached her later years. Hilmes discusses Siegfried Wagner sufficiently and also treats some of the family relationships with a deft hand. As found in other books, the Wagners are a subject that merit separate treatment, and Hilmes offers a nice balance in discussing the family matters, while always retaining the focus on Cosima as his subject.
Part of the attraction of this biography is the lively style the Stewart Spencer brings to the translation. It reads well, and flows with a natural, authorial sense of the language. Spencer seems as engaged in the subject as the author, and that is due to his own work on Wagner and his music. For these and other reasons, this biography has much to recommend for those interested in Cosima and her hand in shaping one of the important institutions in German music in the last century.
James L. Zychowicz