Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Douce France: Chanson from Von Otter and Dessay

Paris in November. Photo via Buttered Bread.
If the persistent grayness of November is getting you down, Gentle Readers, I have a suggested pick-me-up. The end of October saw two new releases of French art song and popular chanson. Anne Sofie von Otter's Douce France is a two-disc bounty of gems from Reynaldo Hahn to Charles Trenet, while Natalie Dessay's Entre elle et lui is a collaboration with Michel Legrand, and an exploration of his oeuvre. While they're very different projects, I think each is remarkably successful in what it sets out to do.

  I could go on for ages about Anne Sofie von Otter's gifts as a singer of art song (as, indeed, I have in the past.) In contrast to her obscenely lush Les nuits d'été, her voice here is clearly that of a mortal being. And Von Otter sings with great vulnerability, employing a conversational style unusual to the art songs, and illuminating. At this point in her career, it could go without saying that Von Otter has an inspired gift for phrasing, and impeccable attention to text, but these are qualities which give constantly new delights, so I'm mentioning them anyway. Her treatment of the Hahn songs on the disc is playful and sensual, with "Le plus beau présent" and "Quand je fus pris au pavilion" as highlights. She is well-partnered by her pianists, with Richard Strauss allusions in the instrumental part in "Puisque j'ai mis ma lèvre" (at least, I think the allusion is to "Cäcilie," if it's not to something more obvious that I've missed.) A refreshingly unhistrionic take on Saint-Saens' "Si vous n'avez à me dire" was poignant. The impressionists were also well represented, with Ravel's "D'Anne jouant de l'espinette" and "Ballade de la reine morte d'aimer," and Debussy's gorgeous Trois chansons de bilitis. The name of composer Charles Martin Loeffler was new to me; Von Otter gave two passionate, winsome selections from his "Four poems for  voice, viola, and piano."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wolfram von Eschenbach, beginne!

The adventures of Siegfried.
Even in the midst of my researches, Gentle Readers, I find myself reminded of opera. This week, I discovered (while looking for much less flashy legal texts) that manuscripts for several of Wagner's source texts have been digitized. So whether you have a hankering for the thrill of reading a handwritten copy of Das Nibelungenlied (as who does not?) or just want to look at some beautiful images, I have links for you. First up: Das Nibelungenlied. Pictured is the first section post-prologue, The Adventures of Siegfried (Aventiure von Sifride.) Good news for all my fellow Walküre-lovers: the first thing we're told is that "Siegfried was a true child of royalty, whose father was called Siegmund, his mother Sieglinde." If you want a line-by-line rendition of the text pictured in readable type, go here; if you want a transcript of the whole thing based on Handschrift A (pictured,) go here; if you want to look at the whole manuscript, go here. If this has piqued your interest, but you just want to read it in English, don't worry; you can do that here.

Next: Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, for triple Wagner-opera points.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Special: Ubi caritas

Mainz's cathedral, photographed from the opera house
Since reporting from Tannhäuser, Gentle Readers, I've been so out of touch with local opera that I barely know what I missed. (Except the prima of Rinaldo here in Mainz, for which there were no student tickets.) This shocking state of affairs has been brought about by academic deadlines. Once I've presented on my research this week, though, things will be better; and once November 15--favorite deadline for funding organizations and conference organizers alike--is past, opera-going will become positively reckless once more. Rinaldo has only a few more dates, but I'm going to try to make one of them. A new production of Gluck's Ezio opens in Frankfurt this month, which I'm quite excited about. Prokoviev's Love for Three Oranges--possibly the perfect pick-me-up opera for dreary winter weather--comes to Wiesbaden. Perhaps most excitingly, from December to mid-January, Darmstadt will be celebrating the bicentenary of Georg Büchner with a double bill of Wozzeck-operas. For now, though, Gentle Readers, I leave you with this recent setting of Ubi Caritas, courtesy of this week's choir rehearsal:


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