29 Oct 2010
New York Festival of Song
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
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 Tsarskoye Selo.
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.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
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.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
He was talking from the stage about the day mezzo Sasha Cooke walked into his office fresh off the boat from Texas and the day tenor Paul Appleby waltzed in from Indiana. And another hundred people just got off of the train…. If they are terrific singers, I hope they turned to the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS). I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t.
Paul Appleby [Photo by Ken Howard]
The first concert of this year’s series was devoted to youth, and specialized accordingly in songs not merely about youth but often those composed by very young composers, composers who went on to bigger things. But those of us who love early Verdi operas and early Rodgers & Hart musicals and the Grateful Dead before they were everywhere appreciated the connoisseurship of reveling in very young Fauré and Schumann and Rorem and Busoni and Grieg and Ives and Sondheim—and slightly older Gershwin and Dylan. What themes inspire young composers to give a hint of how worthwhile they will become? Is it all lindenbäumen and young love’s first blight? Or is it … anticipation?
I first noticed Sasha Cooke when she sang the Sandman in the Met’s otherwise vocally undistinguished new Hänsel und Gretel, a moment of childlike magical glee, just right for Humperdinck. In a tiny hall like Merkin with its very live acoustic (when a small chorus sings there, you can hear each individual voice), she sounds quite different: Her voice is enormous, plush, lustrous, easily so, and perfectly supported. For most of a song recital, of course, she scales it back to merely very pretty, but whenever she reached an appropriate climax, restraint falls away like a superfluous shawl, and the results are resplendent—intimate, but hugely intimate. As an interpreter, she had the most fun becoming a small child for Ned Rorem’s “A Journey,” the bashful maiden boasting of her first conquest in Grieg’s “Verschwiegene Nachtigall,” where she slipped flawless little ornamental turns into the nightingale’s insinuating “Tandaradei,” the rather more sophisticated maiden of Hugo Wolf’s “Begegnung,” the aching hopefulness of Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World,” and—in duet with Appleby—the breathless expectant wonder and the contrasting, consummated coda of Charles Ives’s delicious “Memories” (“We’re sitting in the opera house”). She is a singing actress to anticipate and a voice to hear one of these days in a place where she can let it fly.
Sasha Cooke, Steven Blier and Paul Appleby
I haven’t heard Paul Appleby on the opera stage and, frankly, his voice seems (like Cooke’s) too delicious, too full-sized, too able to only be a concert singer, first rate as he is at that subtle skill. He has a smooth, supple delivery and inhabits his narrators: reveling in Schubert’s matchless invention in “Geheimnis” (Schubert was 19 at this point, almost an old master: the song is already D.491) and Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon.” Then, in moves and accent and exultant manner, he became with entire believability a Midwestern youth come to take the city by storm in Christopher Berg’s rollercoaster setting of Frank O’Hara’s “I’m Going to New York,” then cocky with adolescent sexual discovery in William Bolcom’s setting of Theodore Roethke’s “I Knew A Woman” and bitter with youthful disillusion in Marc Blitzstein’s “In the Clear.” His voice has power, but he holds it in reserve when portraying character; it comes out in songs like Paul Moravec’s setting of Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up.”
Later concerts this season will be devoted to Songs of Gay Life and Songs of the Iberian Peninsula. Spain has been a NYFOS destination before, but we are unlikely to run low on little-known Iberian song literature anytime soon.