|Kaiser and Fleming; (c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera|
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
|Lomeli and Nistico; photo (c) Carol Rosegg|
Let me say at the outset that I like L'Elisir, and think that it's sweet and can even be profound, as well as being incontrovertibly funny. And there were not-insignificant aspects where I felt that the City Opera's current production fell short of realizing this, but with a fundamentally good-natured Dulcamara, a Belcore who didn't take himself too seriously, an Adina who can trill journeying credibly towards self-awareness, and a perfectly adorable Nemorino, there was enough to keep me happy. Let me get all my complaining about Jonathan Miller out of the way first, though. Although the production is sleek enough, I didn't feel it was insightful. I had hoped for possible poignant emphasis of social difference... but I didn't get much of that. The surtitles were updated to 1950s America along with the rest of it, and as a gentleman in front of me observed, aside from the scudi ("bucks",) there aren't significant obstacles to this. But I didn't think the production did anything (well, it did slapstick comedy, against which I admit a bias.) The Personenregie (credit to stage director A. Scott Parry) was nice when it wasn't slapstick; and the singers were creditably game in it all.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
program note informed me of Ligeti's interest in folk music, and echoes of dancing tunes (and Alphorns!) were clearly audible. Deliciously surprising things happened to the form, there was off-stage brass, great, vigorous playing from the entire orchestra, and delightful violin work--given the Gypsy influence, I'm tempted to say fiddling!--by Glenn Dicterow in the finale, which made me want to get up and dance. I assumed Haydn's 7th symphony had been selected because its common title, "Le Midi," giving it a thematic link to the Bartók. The program note was helpful here, too; apparently the symphony was composed shortly after Haydn entered the employ of the Esterházy family, explaining how he made it into a series called "Hungarian Echoes." Salonen and the orchestra also made a good case for its inclusion as a work that, like the other two on the program, pushed the boundaries of expected form and had a lot of fun doing it. The music was rendered with a passion, precision, and panache that Haydn certainly deserves but too seldom, I think, gets.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
My initial excitement for Bluebeard's Castle with the NYPhil was based on knowledge of the work's reputation alone, but over the past fortnight or so, I worked to change that. I started with the two recordings available through my university library. Because the opera gods smiled on me, one of these featured Christa Ludwig (excerpt here,) and the other featured Anne Sofie von Otter (inexplicably, that CD seems to be $50.00, but you can get the MP3 for $7.99; excerpt here.) Not the least of the reasons this pairing proved a fabulous introduction was that these mezzos presented wildly different interpretations (of course, Istvan Kertész and Walter Berry on the first recording, and Bernard Haitink and John Tomlinson on the second, are hardly chopped liver... but it's all about the mezzos for me. Especially these two.) Anyway: Christa Ludwig was a gorgeously warm Judith, overflowing with tenderness, her voice radiant with love and the need for love. Her performance was complemented by Walter Berry's clearly suffering Bluebeard, who wanted Judith as a person, not a trophy. Their tragedy, then, was that of two people who loved each other and couldn't find ways to communicate everything that needed to be said. That was heartbreaking; the Von Otter/Tomlinson recording was deeply unsettling. Von Otter's Judith was (I thought) afraid from the beginning, but also fiercely proud. I could almost see the defiant tilt of her head, and she demanded Bluebeard's trust as her right. This was a battle of wills with Tomlinson's outwardly immovable Bluebeard... which neither won.
My brain seething, then, with confused thoughts about romanticism, modernism, and gender, I turned to scholarly articles. I have discovered a lack of consensus (somehow unsurprising.) I have, however, discovered a number of other things as well! This very cool collection of essays includes one on "Bluebeard, Hero of Modernity" which places Bartók's opera in the context of lots (and lots and lots) of modernist anxiety about how to (re)define gender roles and public and private relations between men and women. In the same collection, there's a musicological article which taught me the word isomorphic, and about why the chords of F# and C sound so creepy together, and about the diabolus in musica (ooooh.) Also interesting to me were the connections between Bartók and the author of the play/libretto for Bluebeard's Castle, Béla Balázs. The men shared interests in both Hungarian folk music, and in symbolist drama like that of Maurice Maeterlinck, of Pelléas et Mélisande and Ariane et Barbe-Bleue fame. A chapter in a book by a psychotherapist sees the work as depicting "a failure to cross a threshold into a full conjoined intersubjectivity." Er, yes? More interestingly to me, the author noted musical cross-references to earlier works which Bartók had dedicated to earlier loves (he dedicated Bluebeard's Castle to his wife... no comment.) Carl Leafstedt, in The Cambridge Companion to Bartók, links the work (Bartók's only opera) to his other stage works as a "portrait of [modernist] loneliness"; meanwhile, Judit (!) Frigyesi, in this book, analyzes the influences of peasant and Gypsy music (even though he wouldn't admit it!) on Bartók's musical language. I've been having fun--can you tell? I still have more questions than answers, though. Hopefully I haven't bored you all to tears, Gentle Readers; tomorrow comes the more interesting post on what the NYPhil, Gabor Bretz, and Michelle DeYoung made of it all, and what I made of them. In the meantime, here's conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen talking about Bartók.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Så som i himmelen (As it is in Heaven.) I still can't decide whether its exploitation of audience expectations is shameless, or a stroke of genius... or both. I admit, freely, that I am sentimental (though hopefully not a sentimentalist.) And I happen to like the Lives Transformed Through Music plot (cf. Les Choristes.) I can't help it. And, at least at several days' remove, I think "As it is in Heaven" succeeds astonishingly well, despite (or because of) introducing several familiar plot arcs at once.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
1966 Böhm Tristan. I will always imagine "Habet Acht!" in her voice. The fact that Ludwig's Brangäne is so emotionally as well as vocally rich contributes no small part to the recording's success, for me. (She recorded the role again under Karajan.) So much for the grounds of initial respect. But it was her Leonore which made me fall in love.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
I have a new object of hero-worship and his name is Andris Nelsons. I spent much of Friday night on the edge of my seat (which, unbelievably, was in the orchestra section and obtained at student price 15 minutes before curtain.) The Met's Queen of Spades, in a suitably moody production, romantic and stark by turns, and always stylish, is cast this season without a weak link; each of the principals brought impressive vocal artistry and theatrical intensity to their respective roles. Pictures from previous runs of Elijah Moshinsky's 1995 production may be found here and here; update: pictures from this run here. I feel I'd be better able to evaluate it if I were more familiar with the score, or other productions, but it served well to highlight the contrasts between the "normal" world of St. Petersburg and the fateful trajectory of the obsessed Hermann. I'm not quite sure I understood the device of the picture frame, although it did serve as a dramatic demarcation between Hermann and society in the scene at the ball and elsewhere. The restricted color scheme also helped keep even the grandest scenes from the merely spectacular (a scenery-applauder was shushed, and my soul rejoiced, but unfortunately they found strength in numbers on two occasions. Premature applauders were also shushed, twice! Overheard conversations confirmed the impression that although there were empty seats, those who were there were enthusiasts.) For a quick synopsis of the opera go here.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
pictures here.) However, and this is a not inconsiderable criticism, I didn't feel the production gave much support to the dramatic arc of the plot or the inner life of the characters; the stand-and-sing syndrome had a tendency to manifest itself. The production did leave space for the characters to have inner life, and the two final scenes were, I thought, superior to the rest of the production in this respect, with Edgardo's death scene visually echoing Lucia's madness very movingly.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Guy Joosten's production, frankly, did nothing for me. I like a perspective drawing or a constellation map as much as (well, probably more than) the next person, but "It's the Renaissance!" strikes me as insufficient for a driving production idea. The firmament was also very present, echoing the motifs of the libretto, but not in a visually consistent way; elegant maps and models ("It's the Renaissance!") were supplemented by Space Age photographs, mostly of nebulae, on the back wall. Then there was a solar eclipse, and then there was something resembling an Escher drawing. I don't know what it was supposed to be doing there... possibly representing that violence leads nowhere. But we knew that already.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Like everyone else in the Northeastern United States, I imagine, and legions elsewhere, I have begun to doubt the approach of spring, even as I desire it. There is still snow on the ground here, and a few warm days have only served to sharpen the contrast with the freezing temperatures. (At least they aren't much below freezing.) But yesterday had warm sun with its cool breeze; and I saw the first buds on a tree this past week, and the first nubs of green bravely poking above the ground. So here is a medieval musical miscellany to go with this changeable season:
And as an addendum of sorts: did you know that Hermann Prey (he bodes well to become a Sunday Special celebrity!) recorded some of the works of the Minnesänger? I didn't before starting on the creation of this post, but now I do.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
|Principals of L'Africaine 1865 premiere in costume|
My impressions are of course hampered by the fact that this was my first hearing of the music, but I was favorably impressed, if not transported. Eve Queler was--understandably and, I think, commendably--applauded with a fervor that acknowledged her role as the OONY founder. However, while the orchestra gained in energy over the course of the evening, I suspected that the music could have been given more variation in dynamics and tempi to communicate the emotional drama of the score. Maybe I'm looking for something that's not there, but the orchestration, the vocal characterization, and the libretto all seemed to suggest the possibility for more intensity than I experienced. Still, the music was interesting and evocative. Piccolos, soft cymbals, and a triangle may seem like a musical cliché in the introduction of the Exotic Other, but if everyone else was copying Meyerbeer, one can't blame him (except for Orientalism.) The scene where de Gama's plans are debated in council was dramatically great--factions of a male chorus shouting at each other over an orchestra, with more important characters voicing their own motivations as well!--and the music of the mysterious island was lushly sensual. I'm not familiar enough with the score to say whether or not there were cuts; the music and drama developed smoothly, though.