Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Special: Abendfriede

Evening on the Rhine
A weekend is drawing to a close, Gentle Readers, in which I have actually been singing in (very modest) concerts instead of attending them. And as I am now kaputt, erschöpft, fertig, and a variety of other vivid German words expressive of fatigue, I shall leave you with one of the things I've been singing: a lovely lied by Josef Rheinberger, to a text of Friedrich Rückert. (Yes, the Rückert of Rückert-Lieder fame.) This, though, is less metaphysical than Mahler's texts: swallows fly to their nests; peace is over house and chamber; before settling into slumber on the horizon, the last ray of sun promises a beautiful morning to come:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Joy of Creation: Sir John Tomlinson sings Michelangelo in Frankfurt

When putting Sir John Tomlinson's lieder recital on my calendar, I anticipated being immersed in a world of antiheroes and demigods. Instead, Tomlinson used the Michelangelo settings of Britten, Wolf, and Shostakovich to meditate on the fragile beauties of humanity (full program available here.) With Tomlinson's artistic choices--and persona--the angst I associate with the cycles faded into the background, and insight laboriously carved from experience took center stage instead. The audience was far from filling the house ("almost insulting," said a lady in front of me who had brought her CD booklet to follow along) but genuinely attentive and well-mannered. To my surprise, the stage was furnished with more than a piano: a table and chair, an easel, and a large chest of the sort ubiquitous in early modern urban residences; given the themes of the evening, the latter might be construed to suggest a coffin. Sir John himself was clad in a very distinguished ensemble reminiscent of the belle epoque, with cuffed trousers, waistcoat, and silk cravat; over this he donned a painter's smock which might belong to any century. If not representing Buonarotti, then, did he stand in for The Artist? Any artist? In the end, I felt the trappings were extrinsic to the story he told, which was one of closely observing humanity, celebrating and comforting our mortality by revealing it anew.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Enflammons son courroux: Les vêpres siciliennes in Frankfurt

Repression and resistance. Photo (c) Opera Frankfurt/Thilo Beu
The scenario of Verdi's Vêpres siciliennes, with pervasive corruption and radical resistance (and doubts about what forms resistance should take) is only nominally medieval; Verdi moved the action from the 16th century to the 13th in order that the opera might safely serve as a political rallying cry in his own day, and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have certainly offered all too many instances of similar oppression and violence. The music is itself permeated by this violence. Although written in the Meyerbeerian tradition of grand opera, the unsettled, unsettling orchestration and structure are unmistakably Verdi's own. The opening chords foretell no good; in this production, a gunshot proceeds them, explaining the foreboding. This deed is done in silence and darkness; but as it turns out, it is not (only) a characteristic abuse of power. When the thugs have gone, men and women of all ages materialize, at first singly and then in greater numbers, to furtively lay candles and flowers at the site of the murder. The photograph pinned above these tributes is that of Helene's brother, the murdered Frederic. (I give the French names, as Die Sizilianische Vesper was here given in its original language.) The production of Jens-Daniel Herzog for Oper Frankfurt sets the narrative amid Germany's own political upheavals of the 1960s and 70s; the turning points of the action, like the psychological states of the characters, are always attuned to what's going on in the orchestra. I personally found that Herzog's production made me more alert to the tensions among the revolutionaries, and to the musical representations thereof, than I'd been in previously listening to the piece. The political background never becomes more clearly defined than it is by Verdi and Scribe, but thanks to strong ensemble work and good relations between stage and pit, the emotional and psychological narratives of the piece were vividly realized.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mefistofele: All'erta, è la battaglia incerta

Mefistofele and the empty world.
Photo (c) Staatstheater Mainz/Martina Pipprich
Arrigo Boito's under-performed Mefistofele seems to be enjoying a revival of sorts (there's a run in San Francisco and an upcoming concert performance at Carnegie Hall.) It also served as the stirring season opener of the Staatstheater Mainz, where I've just basked in its gloriously ambitious romanticism. Mainz boasts a strong cast, and a production where unexpected coups de theatre build emotional as well as dramatic suspense. More production photos can be found here, but they convey only a fraction of what actually happens on stage. The singers worked well together, as well as exhibiting individual commitment, and the cumulative effect was quite impressive. Boito's Gesamtkunstwerk is filled with the deliberately anarchic, the musically unexpected; that it all adds up to an intriguing, exciting whole is not the least of its surprises.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Special: September Schedule

Well, Gentle Readers, I've survived an international move, mostly gotten over jet lag, and sort of figured out the local public transit system. This means, of course, that it's time to figure out the local opera schedule. Fortunately, the Staatstheater Mainz has day-of half price tickets for all students. They also have those sleek, libretto-quoting postcards you see on the left. I have to say I prefer them to the "Look at this exotic thing!" advertising I've received from opera companies in the past (ahem.) Mefistofele and Macbeth are on the program for this month, so lots of exciting orchestration is hopefully in my future. The orchestra itself has an interestingly varied program, ranging from Buxtehude to Cage and beyond, so I may explore their offerings as well.


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