29 Oct 2010
New York Festival of Song
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
“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.