Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

'In my end is my beginning': Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida perform Winterreise at Wigmore Hall

All good things come to an end, so they say. Let’s hope that only the ‘good thing’ part of the adage is ever applied to Wigmore Hall, and that there is never any sign of ‘an end’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny bring 'sweet music' to Wigmore Hall

Countertenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny kicked off the final week of live lunchtime recitals broadcast online and on radio from Wigmore Hall.

From Our House to Your House: live from the Royal Opera House

I’m not ashamed to confess that I watched this live performance, streamed from the stage of the Royal Opera House, with a tear in my eye.

Woman’s Hour with Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

At the start of this lunchtime recital, Roderick Williams set out the rationale behind the programme that he and pianist Joseph Middleton presented at Wigmore Hall, bringing to a close a second terrific week of live lunchtime broadcasts, freely accessible via Wigmore Hall’s YouTube channel and BBC Radio 3.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

23 Jan 2012

Five Boroughs Songbook

What does it say about New York that, in the songs of the city commissioned by the Five Boroughs Music Festival and given performances in Brooklyn, Queens and, now, Manhattan, the poets (often the composers themselves) rarely refer to life in that central part of the city, Rodgers and Hart’s “isle of joy”?

Five Boroughs Songbook

“The Five Boroughs Songbook.” Martha Guth (soprano), Jamie Van Eyck (mezzo-soprano), Alex Richardson (tenor), David McFerrin (baritone), Harumi Rhodes (violin), Thomas Bagwell and Jocelyn Dueck (piano). Manhattan premiere; Baruch Performing Arts Center, January 12.

 

These twenty songs by as many composers are largely concerned with the city as an abstraction, a beloved object, a universal core, or else they address the outer boroughs. Composers, poets, songwriters can no longer afford Manhattan perhaps. They live in Brooklyn’s lovely and not-so-lovely neighborhoods, or in the recuperating Bronx, or even Staten Island. They no longer even dream about Manhattan. Larry Hart wouldn’t recognize the place. Greenwich Village was not mentioned all evening—nor Chinatown, nor Harlem, nor even Inwood. Times Square, in Richard Pearson Thomas’s “The Center of the Universe,” was invoked to “remember the bad old days.” It is no use asking (though I do ask) how much longer New York will be “the center of the country, the world, the universe,” when none of the young, the adventurous, the energetic and creative immigrants can afford to live closer in than Bushwick or Newark.

This has an understandable effect on song output. In the gaudy days of Tin Pan Alley, songwriters stumped for inspiration could look out the window and come up with “Lullaby of Broadway” or “Way Out West on West End Avenue” or “When Love Beckoned on Fifty-Second Street.” But there is no Tin Pan Alley any more. Musically, there’s barely a Broadway. Few of the twenty composers on this program write that kind of theater (at least four of them have composed operas), but on this occasion they often seemed to channel the wisecracking New York wit and the nostalgic art largely missing from Broadway for the last generation. Requested by the Five Boroughs Music Festival to write about some aspect of New York, they have not been parochial in their choice of subject or text—some were old, some were modern, some were the composers themselves. Two of the songs were poems by the ever-exultant Walt Whitman, who retired in New Jersey but drew his universal point of view from his Brooklyn youth.

A lot of numbers in the Songbook boasted rumbling piano accompaniments to symbolize the constant basso continuo throb of the city. There were jazz inflections and dance rhythms, passing in and out of a song as if overheard while ambling by in the darkness. There were songs made up of fragments—fragments of overheard conversations, fragments of overheard melody (Harold Arlen, Giuseppe Verdi), fragments of dying or undying love affairs, fragmentary impressions of Brooklyn on a summer night or the odor of the garbage dumps on Staten Island, fragments of gnomic subway announcements.

_MG_1828.gifVan Eyck, Guth, Richardson, McFerrin, Bagwell, Dueck and Rhodes

There seemed to be quite a lot of songs about the subway. Glen Roven’s “F from DUMBO” seemed to consist of glances at the crowds by a numbly daydreaming straphanger. Gilda Lyons’ “rapid transit” invoked and celebrated the whole crazy system, its changeable schedules and half-audible warnings. Tom Cipullo’s “G is for Grimy: An Ode to the G Train” celebrated (and trashed) the one line in the system that never enters Manhattan at all. John Glover’s “8:46 AM, Five Years Later” unsensationally presented memories of being caught on the N train beneath the city on the morning of 9/11. There had to be one such song, just one, and this was one’s felt unforced and meaningful.

Yotam Haber’s exquisite setting of “On Leaving Brooklyn” made the very syllables of Julia Kasdorf’s revision of Psalm 137 into musical tones, “borough” and “Babylon” and “Jerusalem” becoming harmonized values and nostalgic wisps of melody. Scott Wheeler’s “At Home in Staten Island,” from an old poem by Charles Mackay, became a parlor ballad concealing its ache in an old-fashioned tune. Mohammed Fairouz’s ambitious “Refugee Blues” (which describes a more general situation rather than one specific to New York), builds on W.H. Auden’s use of a repetitive, folk song-like refrain, to achieve a gathering power. Jorge Martin set Whitman’s “City of Orgies, Walks and Joys!” to an irresistible boogie-woogie rich with the delight of simply romping about the town, while a solo violin gave the fantasy a piquant turn by chiming in just “off” the harmonies we had been led to expect.

Harumi Rhodes was the violinist. The pianists, Thomas Bagwell and Jocelyn Dueck, were both fine, but Rhodes played with almost vocal inflections of intricate participation rather than accompaniment: the violin as lieder singer. This speaks well of the composers who provided for her as well as her own poetic technique.

The songs were arranged for four contrasting voices, and the program varied and balanced their duties. Soprano Martha Guth and mezzo Jamie Van Eyck partnered well in the deadpan wit of “rapid transit.” Guth, having plumbed near-alto depths earlier, suddenly became a high, keening opera soprano for the melancholy of “At Home In Staten Island,” mated here with Rhodes’s violin, and (on the other side of that large borough) deplored the air of Christina Courtin’s “Fresh Kills.” Van Eyck brought drama to the mourning, accusing “Refugee Blues” and wistfulness to Renée Favand-See’s “Looking West on a Humid Summer Evening,” and lightly aired the brittle wit of Gabriel Kahane’s “Coney Island Avenue.” Tenor Alex Richardson was the yearning, regretting lover of Russell Platt’s “The Avenue” and Christopher Berg’s “OuLiPo in the Bronx.” David McFerrin’s grainy baritone gave us Martin Hennessy’s love song to the mothering city itself, “The City’s Love,” partnered Guth in Ricky Ian Gordon’s setting of Whitman’s invocation, “City of Ships,” and quietly made the point of “8:46 AM.” Texts were provided but the diction of all four was impeccable in the intimate confines of the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

The Songbook was recorded at an earlier performance with different singers, and the two-CD set is available from GPR Records on the Five Boroughs Music Festival web site.

John Yohalem

Click here to purchase the CD.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):