Thursday, October 27, 2016
This recording by conductor Simon Rattle and cellist Sol Gabetta enable us to experience music of great contrast that ranges from the quiet and sublime, to the strongly rhythmic. The selections are: Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, with Sol Gabetta (cello) Ligeti: “Atmosphères” Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring Richard Wagner: Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1 All performed with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle conducting. The orchestra performs the prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin, György Ligeti’s orchestral piece Atmosphères and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, a work which is entirely focused on new sound of the early 1900’s, and pushes the boundaries of classical music in terms of sound, rhythm and energy. Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker contrast the prelude to Wagner’s Lohengrin and György Ligeti’s orchestral piece “Atmosphères” perfectly, demonstrating that they both employ different styles to pursue a similar objective – an iridescent, otherworldly sound. Star cellist Sol Gabetta provides an outstanding interpretation of Elgar’s Cello Concerto: the final great work of the composer, full of melancholy and a sense of farewell. In contrast to Elgar, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps is focused on the future. Despite its inherent modern sound it also provides a wealth of sensual pleasure which the musicians communicated with total ease. Here is a brief extract of the Elgar concerto:
Detail of Mary Cassatt's Woman in Black at the Opera (1879) A night at the opera is electric. It’s no wonder that visual artists have long been inspired by this most intoxicating of art forms. Some early artworks present a window into a world available only to a small handful of elite opera-goers; later works turn their attention from the stage and shine the spotlight on the audience and even use the architecture of opera houses as a canvas. Here are our favourite pieces of visual art inspired by opera: William Hogarth A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ VI (1731) Detail of William Hogarth's A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ VI (1731) William Hogarth ’s painting captures the climactic scene of John Gay ’s ballad opera – the moment the highwayman Macheath is sentenced to death. The Beggar’s Opera had its premiere at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre in London and went on to become his most popular work. It was later adapted by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill and renamed as Die Dreigroschenopera (The Threepenny Opera ) in 1928. ‘Notice that some of the audience are sitting on the stage: they look like judges. Fiction and reality are blurred here,’ says Nicholas Till from The Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre at the University of Sussex . ‘It affirms Hogarth's support for English culture over the cosmopolitan culture of the Whigs, who supported Italian opera, which The Beggar's Opera parodied.’ Giovanni Paolo Panini Musical feast given by the Cardinal de La Rochefoucauld in the Teatro Argentina in Rome (1747) Detail of Giovanni Paolo Panini, Fête musicale donnée par le cardinal de La Rochefoucauld au théâtre Argentina de Rome en 1747 à l'occasion du mariage du Dauphin, fils de Louis XV (1747) Giovanni Paolo Panini was famous for decorating some of the best palaces in Rome. He was also a famous professor of perspective and optics at the French Academy in Rome , a skill evident in this magnificent rendering of the Teatro Argentina – one of Rome's oldest theatres. Louis Béroud L'Escalier de l'opéra Garnier (1877) Detail of Louis Béroud's L'escalier de l'opéra Garnier (1877) French painter Louis Béroud was drawn to Paris to paint the city’s most famous buildings. Here he captures the grand staircase of the Paris Opera 's Palais Garnier . The building was reportedly designed to maximize the potential for people-watching, with stories of balconies and open staircases encouraging visitors to gaze up and down at their fellow audience members. Edgar Degas Ballet of the Nuns from Act III of Robert le diable (1876) Detail of Edgar Degas' The Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer's Opera Robert Le Diable ( 1876) Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides © Victoria and Albert Museum, London ‘The Impressionists saw the theatre as a way of representing modern society in microcosm, in all its glory and trappings’ says Dr Karen Serres , Schroder Foundation Curator of Paintings at The Courtauld Gallery . Edgar Degas is perhaps best known for his depictions of dancers: ‘He was interested in the contrast between ballet dancers, most often drawn from lower social classes, and the high art they performed,’ observes Serres. Degas painted dancers involved in opera as well as ballet, most notably in the provocative 'Ballet of the Nuns' scene from Act III of Giacomo Meyerbeer ’s Robert le diable . The opera's 1831 premiere starred the great ballerina Marie Taglioni with her contribution choreographed by her father Filippo Taglioni . Mary Cassat Woman in Black at the Opera (1879) Detail of Mary Cassatt's Woman in Black at the Opera (1879) During the 19th century, opera became accessible to larger and wider audiences, which the Impressionists wanted to record and celebrate. ‘Most often they would focus on the audience rather than the performance,’ says Serres . ‘The theatre was often more important as a social venue than as a place for real cultural engagement.’ Spot the man peering over the box in Mary Cassatt ’s Women in Black at the Opera, he’s not looking at the action on stage but the woman engrossed with the performance. Pierre-Auguste Renoir La Loge (Theatre Box) (1874) Detail of Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), La Loge (Theatre box), 1874, The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London ‘Here, the figures are not engaging with the performance because they are focused on the main activity of these evenings: to see and be seen,’ explains Serres. The relationship between the figures is quite ambiguous: are they a couple? Whether they are or not, they both seem to be aware of being under surveillance. Édouard Manet Jean-Baptiste Faure as Hamlet (1882-3) Detail of Unfinished portrait of Jean-Baptiste Faure by Édouard Manet [public domain] Édouard Manet ’s portrait of French baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure (the first Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos) captured him in the title role in Ambroise Thomas ’s opera Hamlet – based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. The portrait was not received well when it was first shown at the Paris Salon in 1877. Faure, who was an avid art collector and owned many works by Manet, refused to accept this painting, feeling that the piece (which had taken many sittings) trivialized his triumph in the role and was insufficiently sophisticated in its style. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec The Opera 'Messalina' at Bordeaux (1900-1901) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Opera 'Messalina' at Bordeaux (1900-1901) Photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA During a summer spent in Bordeaux, French painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec would attend night after night at the opera, beguiled by the performers on stage. This piece captures a scene of British composer Isidore de Lara 's Messaline (or Messalina) – a four act opera written about a Roman empress torn between her love for a poet and a gladiator, who happen to be brothers. John William Waterhouse Tristan and Isolde with the Potion (c. 1916) Detail of John William Waterhouse's Tristan and Isolde with the Potion (1916) John William Waterhouse embraced the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting despite the fact it had gone out of fashion several years before. The Pre-Raphaelites were painters and poets set on creating art in a less formal and 'academic' manner than Raphael and his admirers, and aiming to emulate the clarity, detail and complexity of early-Renaissance Italian art. Waterhouse’s painting is inspired by the Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult which follows the adulterous love between a Cornish Knight and an Irish Princess. Appearing in literature as early as the 12th century, the legend was was adapted numerous times over the centuries before composer Richard Wagner created the opera Tristan und Isolde . Waterhouse no doubt would have been familiar with Wagner's masterpiece. Tacita Dean Die Regimentstochter (2005) Detail of Die Regimentstochter (2005) by Tacita Dean. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris British visual artist Tacita Dean ’s Die Regimentstochter remobilizes old opera programmes to assert their political and cultural importance. After scouring flea markets in Berlin, Dean presented 36 programmes from opera and theatre productions of the 1930s and 1940s where the city was the capital of Nazi Germany. Each programme has had sections cut from it, which gives the impression that a political stamp has been removed. ‘There’s a real political force to these careful cuttings and the multiple hidden layers they reveal,’ says Dr. Georgina Guy of Royal Holloway's Department of Drama Theatre and Dance . The viewer is unsure whether the stamp removal occurred at the time of the performance, in the car journey home or during the artist's creation of her work. Vivid Sydney Sydney Opera House (2016) Lighting The Sails. Songlines. Artwork by Karla Dickens For the past eight years, Vivid LIGHT at Vivid Sydney has transformed the Sydney Opera House into a canvas for a spectacular light display. The white tiled sails of the building's iconic roof are used as a projection space for animations. 2016 saw the first time work by an Aboriginal Australian presented work on the giant canvas. Artist Karla Dickens was born in 1967 – the year of the referendum that gave Aboriginal people Australian citizenship and the right to vote for the first time. Do you have a favourite opera-inspired piece of visual art? Let us know in the comments below.
While I’ve posted a good number of operas written in the last 50 years since I began my Mixcloud site, music from the pre-Mozart era is distinctly lacking. Accordingly, I am pleased to offer a simply gorgeous performance of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice starring Juan Diego Flórez. The youngsters at Parterre may not know this, but the proscenium of the old Met (1883-1966) held tributes to six prominent composers. Along with the no-brainers of Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi, there was, somewhat oddly, the name of Gluck (even odder: that of Beethoven, but no bel canto composers). While that house stood, the company presented only four of his nearly-50 operas. In its Italian version, Orfeo ed Euridice led the way with 67 performances (some of them sung in German); Alcest followed with 16 performance between 1941 and 1961 (most of them in English); Armide was given seven times between 1911 and 1912; Iphigénie en Tauride was on the bill for only five performances in the 1916-1917 season (all in German). This week’s performance is of the French version with all the inherent ballet music, from a 2015 Covent Garden performance with John Eliot Gardiner leading the English Baroque Soloists. The casting of Flórez may at first seem strange: it took the Met till 2007 to present a male Orpheus, countertenor David Daniels; the role had strictly been the property of mezzos for more than a century. There is also an edition for low voice which I heard performed in Klagenfurt with a baritone and in Bratislava with a bass. While I can’t promise Ipermestra or Le nozze d’Ercole e d’Erbe, you can look forward to more Gluck in the coming months (Iphigénie en Aulide was posted in 2014).
Here's something I've never seen before: a concert by the SF Opera Chorus, and hoorah for that. They're a great group that has made immense contributions to many, many performances. Their role in Les Troyens was unforgettable, for instance. I will be out of town on the 19th and can't go to this program, but I hope there's a good turnout. Those Debussy songs are gorgeous, which I know because I sang them many years ago. Note the early start time of 7 p.m. OUT OF THE SHADOWSConcert featuring the San Francisco Opera Chorus November 19 at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 pm)Taube Atrium Theater, Wilsey Center for OperaVeterans Building (4th floor), 401 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA Approximate running time: 60 minutes (no intermission)Tickets: $30 general admission Chorus Director Ian RobertsonFabrizio Corona, piano Program (subject to change) Johannes Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem: IV “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”Claude Debussy: Chansons de Charles d’Orléans1. “Dieu! Qu’il la fait bon regarder!”2. “Quand j’ay ouy le tabourin”3. “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain”Leos Janáček: The Wild DuckIgor Stravinsky: Ave MariaArvo Pärt: Bogorditse Dyevo (Ave Maria)Franz Biebl: Ave MariaHector Berlioz: Le Ballet des Ombres H 37Sergei Rachmaninov: All-Night Vigil, Op. 37, VIII: Praise the name of the Lord,Traditional: “Ride on King Jesus” (arranged by Moses Hogan)Traditional: “Deep River” (arranged by Moses Hogan)Charles Alfred Tindley: The Storm is Passing Over (arranged by Barbara W. Baker)Eric Whitacre: Water NightRichard Wagner: Tannhäuser: “Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle” (“Entrance of the Guests”)Jerome Kern: Show Boat: “Hey! Fellah!”
drumslight-11. Photo by Kamal Aboul-Hosn What a racket! Shostakovich punctuates his first opera, The Nose , with instrumental interludes, and the first of these is scored exclusively for unpitched percussion. An assortment of drums, cymbals and other motley instruments are bashed and rattled with explosive, feverish energy that builds to climaxes of nightmarish intensity. This ingenious movement is much more than a headache in aural form, though, as Shostakovich shows us that he can reflect the deadpan wit of his source material without needing to use either of those usually essential tools of the opera composer: words or melody. The interlude is sandwiched between scenes that show men with hangovers having awful days. First the barber Ivan Iakovlevitch wakes up hoping to solace himself with some bread and onions. But lurking in the loaf is a nose – possibly belonging to an unlucky customer. His wife screamingly demands he dispose of it, which Ivan miserably slopes off to do. But how to manage that without attracting the interest of the police? Platon Kuzmitch Kovalov, painfully waking after the interlude finishes, has an even worse time of it. Worried about a pimple he noticed on his nose the day before, he goes to fondle it – and finds, instead of a nose, a smooth flat patch of skin. His nose has done a runner. The source for this stupid story is Gogol ’s tiny tale The Nose, considered one of, if not the best, short stories ever written. One of the things that Shostakovich admired most about this miniature masterpiece was how ‘Gogol states all comic events in a serious tone’, and the same unshakeable deadpan characterizes his opera. ‘I did not want to make a joke about the nose’, Shostakovich says. ‘Honestly, what is funny about a human being who has lost his nose? The Nose is a horror story, not a joke.’ Indeed. Horror is laced throughout the many different musical styles Shostakovich co-opts into his score, and has its first real outburst in this gruesome, percussive interlude. He doesn’t give us just a lot of noise, though: like the comedy, this is horror in a very serious tone. As you would expect with a percussion ensemble, rhythm is the crucial compositional ingredient. Shostakovich marshals with ruthless precision the voices of his nine instruments. (Do you want the list? Here’s the list: bass drum, castanets, clash cymbal, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, tam-tam, tom-tom and triangle.) Quite dissimilar to the music of his near-contemporary Stravinsky, which delights in changing time signatures, Shostakovich maintains a regular pulse throughout, fiercely emphasized by ‘ta-ta-TAH’ rhythms and jabbing syncopation – a foreteller of the ferocious marches that storm throughout the music of his later career. There is, inevitably, some of the same militaristic sense here in The Nose. But that’s far from being all that’s going on. Drum roll, if you please! Shostakovich instantly conjures a shadowy circus, and it’s a roll long enough to cover all kinds of alarming animal activities. It ends, though, with a cheeky cymbal crash, punchline to a vaudevillian routine. That marks the end of the interlude’s first half, but its mirror at the end of the second half has bombastic, unsettling jolts like shells falling on a battlefield. Connecting these two long assaults is music that starts off like a fugue, an intricate subject passed between each voice, and becomes something more impressionistic, expressed through muttered outbursts that are quickly stifled. Connecting all those different feelings together, taken as a whole the interlude can morph yet again and even work as a simple (if complex) parody: David Syrus , The Royal Opera’s Head of Music, hears a send-up of Wagner ’s chorus of anvils from Das Rheingold , that track his gods’ descent into the grimy world of the Nibelungs. A march, a chorus line, explosions with a punch line, death and comedy – it’s all there. In this three-minute interlude Shostakovich telescopes the vibrancy of the whole opera, hinting at the wealth of methodical musical madness that is to come, alluding to all of the different styles that make up this exuberant, show-off piece. And he does it all without sounding a single note. The Nose runs 20 October–9 November 2016. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production with Komische Oper Berlin and Opera Australia and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Hamish and Sophie Forsyth, The Tsukanov Family Foundation and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .
New York´s Metropolitan Opera is recognized as the most important in the world, and its satellite transmissions, with excellent sound and image, have been a major contribution to opera in many countries. Fortunately, the Fundación Beethoven took up the challenge and we have had many seasons at the Teatro El Nacional, generally with packed audiences, who know that many of the artists heard and seen don´t come to our city, for the Colón is far from being what it was. However, there has been a downside more and more evident: the Met used to be a guarantee of productions where not only the music but also the libretto were respected. As one great European house after another fell under the evil trend of disregarding the very essence of opera as a genre that allows us to explore different epochs, supplanting it with incongruous and often insulting changes, it finally reached the Met, and its current Director Peter Gelb is responsible for that, as he is in the positive side of the worldwide transmissions. So now we have a Nazi "Manon Lescaut" or a "Rigoletto" in Las Vegas. This year his choice for the opening was curious: generally the Met offers a grand production of operas that have a spectacular side, such as "Aida" or "Turandot", and of course with the most famous singers. Wagner´s "Tristan and Isolde" certainly isn´t that: an intimate story of love, vengeance and death between Medieval Celtic reigns, with few choir interventions and no massive scenes. But apart from the distortion of taste and common sense, there´s another general problem: even if tickets are quite expensive, costs are very substantial; at the Met salaries of orchestra and choir are exaggerated and productions have gone sky high. So the Met complies with reality: this "Tristan" is a coproduction with Festival Hall Baden-Baden, Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera and China National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing. So you can see the same stage conception in four cities; and the HD live process extends this to two thousand venues in 69 countries. Wonderful if the production is good, but deeply destructive if it is bad. And this one is. The producer is Mariusz Trelinski, Director of the Teatr Wielki; stage design by Boris Kudlicka; lighting by Mark Heinz; projections design, Bartek Macias. Director of HD live: Gary Halvorson. And an inexplicable item, for there isn´t any: choreography, Tomasz Wygoda. In the cast I find two characters that don´t exist in Wagner: young (in fact, boy), Tristan; the other isn´t even seen: a Doctor. Now let me stress the musical side, for it was very worthwhile. I didn´t know Sir Simon Rattle as a Wagnerian, and I was pleasantly surprised: his reading was intense, coherent and intelligent, and of course the Met Orchestra is first-rate, so we had the intercrossing of Leitmotiven admirably expressed. And the singers were of undoubted quality. Nina Stemme probably is the best Isolde nowadays, of the Behrens rather than the Nilsson mold: a solid firm voice, but foremost a psychological insight that makes riveting every passage she sings. She recorded it with Plácido Domingo. Stuart Skelton, a new name for me, is tall and portly; his timbre is of the Windgassen rather than the Melchior tradition: it is clear, well projected and of ample register, though lacking in the volume and baritone richness of the ideal Tristan. He sings musically, with no nasality, and has the stamina to arrive fresh to the end of his part (the Third Act has terrible demands). And he is reasonably good as an actor. Ekaterina Gubanova was an expressive and well-sung Brangäne, and Evgeny Nikitin a bluff and forthright Kurwenal. We know the exceptional King Marke of René Pape, for he made his Colón debut two years ago singing the Second Act in the concert version conducted by Barenboim. The production: a) We were robbed of hearing the Preludes concentrated on the music, for a big periscope circle center stage showed confused images of mostly inextricable meaning. b) Costumes were modern and revolvers were used. No sense of Medieval values. c) Clumsy final minutes: you don´t see King Marke´s retinue nor the clash between Kurwenal and Melot, only lights with no people; and in what should be a sublime Isolde Love-death goodbye, she cuts her veins. And so on... For Buenos Aires Herald
Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 - 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas", as they were later called). Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the "total work of art". This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants.
Great composers of classical music