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31.5.06

What's under Versailles?

In March, I posted about the latest work to restore the Château de Versailles to its Baroque state. The government has decided to recast the royal grille, a fence that separated the king's part of the courtyard from the common area. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, this barrier created a sort of royal clôture, a space set apart, and it was melted down during the Revolution. A new article by Marie-Douce Albert (Les dessous de la cour de Versailles, May 30) for Le Figaro describes the current state of work, which has revealed much of what is underneath that famous courtyard's cobblestones (my translation):

Several vestiges of the destroyed grille remained hidden in the ground and have been uncoverd during archeological excavation. By peering over the barricades, these days visitors can see a little bit underneath the courtyard of Versailles. You see the edge of the grill constructed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and the placement of one of the posts. You can make out little blocks of red wall, the remains of the preceding fortified wall, built by Le Vau. "These excavations have allowed us to demonstrate that the historical pictures we have preserved are accurate," says Frédéric Didier, chief architect of historical monuments. Placed solidly on those historic stones, the new grill will be finished by the end of 2007.
This sort of thing doesn't happen very often, so historians of Versailles are all watching with great interest.

Classical Month in Washington (June)

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Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature that appears on the first of the month. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Happy listening!

Thursday, June 1, 7 pm; Friday, June 2, 1:30 pm; Saturday, June 3, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with Kurt Masur, guest conductor
Beethoven's Leonore Overture and Symphonies 1 and 7
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 2)

Thursday, June 1, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Russian Romance
Khachaturian's violin concerto with concertmaster Jonathan Carney
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by John Henry Crosby (Ionarts, June 2)

Friday, June 2, 7:30 pm; Saturday , June 3, 7:30 pm
W. A. Mozart, Idomeneo
Opera Lafayette (Washington Early Music Festival)
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 4)

Friday, June 2, 8 pm; Saturday, June 3, 8 pm
Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance
New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
Filene Center, Wolf Trap

Friday, June 2, 8 pm; Saturday, June 3, 5 and 8 pm; Sunday, June 4, 2 pm
Folger Consort and Concord Ensemble
Music by Marenzio and Morley (Washington Early Music Festival)
Folger Shakespeare Library
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, June 5)

Saturday, June 3, 7 pm
Rossini, L'Italiana in Algeri
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 16)

Saturday, June 3, 7:30 pm
Brothers, Sing On!
Washington Men's Camerata
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, June 5)

Saturday, June 3, 8 pm
Spanish Treasure (Granados, Montsalvatge, and Mompou; Sephardic songs, Andalusian folk songs, Zarzuela)
Wolf Trap Opera Company (with Steven Blier)
The Barns at Wolf Trap

Saturday, June 3, 8 pm
National Philharmonic: Mozart's Great Mass
With Elizabeth Bishop, mezzo-soprano
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, June 8)

Sunday, June 4, 2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K. 478; Hindemith's Clarinet Sonata in B-flat major, and Strauss's Piano Quartet in C minor, op. 13
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 6)

Sunday, June 4, 2 pm
Frederick A. Peterbark, tenor, and Audrey Peterbark-Ross, piano
Unity Presbyterian Church (Temple Hills, Md.)

Sunday, June 4, 3 pm
Carmina, Floating Notes: Venetian Choral Music by Lotti and Caldara
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church

Sunday, June 4, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Chamber Players String Quartet [FREE]
Quartets by Mendelssohn and Shostakovich
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, June 4, 8 pm
Sumi Jo, soprano: Beautiful Challenge
Opera arias and sacred songs, with Vincenzo Scalera, piano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 7)

Wednesday, June 7, 7 pm
Outdoor Concert: American Symphonic Clarinet Choir [FREE]
On the Lawn at Strathmore

Wednesday, June 7, 7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, Iolanta
Opera Bel Cantanti
The Lyceum (Alexandria, Va.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 9)

Thursday, June 8, 7 pm; Friday, June 9, 8 pm; Saturday, June 10, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand
With Jane Eaglen, Christine Brewer, Christine Brandes and other soloists
Joined by Cathedral Choral Society, Children's Chorus of Washington, Choral Arts Society of Washington, Master Choral of Washington, and the Washington Chorus
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 9)

Thursday, June 8, 7:30 pm
Lydia Rathkolb, soprano, and Frank Conlon, piano [FREE]
Children's Songs and Love Songs by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ivan Eröd
Embassy of Austria

Friday, June 9, 7:30 pm
The American Chamber Players (Miles Hoffman, artistic director)
Weber, Trio for flute, cello piano; Armand Merck, Dialogue for violin and viola (world premiere); Bach, Sonata for flute and piano, BWV 1031; Mozart, Piano Quartet in G minor
Kreeger Museum June Chamber Festival
Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road NW)

Friday, June 9, 7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, Iolanta
Opera Bel Cantanti
La Maison Française
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 9)

Friday, June 9, 8 pm
Hesperus, Ecco la Primavera
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

Saturday, June 10, 9 am to 4 pm
Secrets of the Sistine Chapel, workshop by Philip Cave
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

Saturday, June 10, 4 pm
Concert of Sistine Chapel Workshop, Philip Cave
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

Saturday, June 10, 8 pm
Ground (early 17th-century Italian ostinato bass pieces)
Ignoti Dei Ensemble (Elizabeth Baber, soprano; Brian Cummings, countertenor; Daniel Boothe, violin; Charlie Weaver, lute-theorbo-guitar; Daniel Rippe, Viola da Gamba)
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

Saturday, June 10, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: A Maestro's Finale
Mahler, Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), last concert with Yuri Temirkanov
With soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme, mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, Baltimore Choral Arts Society and Morgan State University Choir
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 12)

Saturday, June 10, 8 pm
Gloria Italia: Palestrina and Monteverdi
Chantry and the Orchestra of the 17th Century (Washington Early Music Festival)
St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, June 12)

Saturday, June 10, 8 pm
Two Weddings and a Funeral: Herbert Howells, Requiem; Benjamin Britten, Wedding Anthem, Andrew Simpson, A Crown of Stars (world premiere)
Cantate Chamber Singers
Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, Md.)
See the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, June 12)

Saturday, June 10, 8 pm
National Orchestral Institute
Wagner, Siegfried's Funeral March; Britten, Sinfonia da Requiem, op. 20; Mahler, Symphony no. 5
Michael Stern, conductor
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, June 12)

Sunday, June 11, 6:30 pm
Sara Davis Buechner, pianist [FREE]
Music by Debussy, Friml, Gershwin, Mozart, and Munz
National Gallery of Art
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, June 14)

Sunday, June 11, 8 pm
Palestrina Choir, Princeps Musicae (Last. Concert. Ever.)
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

Monday, June 12, 6:30 pm (press conference precedes at 5 pm)
Roundtable discussion on Francesco Cavalli's opera La Didone
Italian Cultural Institute (2025 M Street NW)
In collaboration with Ignoti Dei Opera
RSVP required (202) 223-9800 ext. 1

Tuesday, June 13, 7:30 pm
The American Chamber Players (Miles Hoffman, artistic director)
Milhaud, Suite for clarinet, violin, and piano; Beethoven, Trio for Clarinet, cello, piano, op. 11; Martinů, Serenata for two violins and viola; Mozart, Quintet for clarinet and strings
Kreeger Museum June Chamber Festival
Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road NW)
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, June 15)

Tuesday, June 13 to Saturday, June 18, 7:30 pm; June 17 and 18, 1:30 pm
Kirov Ballet (Valery Gergiev, Artistic Director)
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review [Forsythe] by Oksana S. Khadarina (Ionarts, June 16) and the review [Giselle] by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 20)

Thursday, June 15, 7 pm
Malin Nilsson, soprano, and Maria Orlovskaya, piano
Jenny Lind Scholarship Winners
Corcoran Gallery of Art (co-sponsored by the Embassy of Sweden)

Thursday, June 15, 7 pm; Friday, June 16, 7 pm; Saturday, June 17, 7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Composer Portrait: Mozart
With Jennifer Casey Cabot, soprano, and Benjamin Butterfield, tenor
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, June 16)

Thursday, June 15, 8 pm; Friday, June 16, 8 pm; Saturday, June 17, 11 am (Casual Concert, without Rachmaninov)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with violinist Joshua Bell and Marin Alsop, guest conductor
Kabalevsky, Colas Breugnon Overture; Rachmaninov, Symphonic Dances, op. 45; Corigliano, Violin Concerto, "The Red Violin"
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 16)

Friday, June 16, 7:30 pm
The American Chamber Players (Miles Hoffman, artistic director)
Pierné, Sonata da camera, for flute, cello piano; Piston, Duo for viola and cello;
Poulenc, Sonata for flute and piano; Mendelssohn, Piano Quartet in B minor, op. 3
Kreeger Museum June Chamber Festival
Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road NW)

Friday, June 16, 8 pm; Saturday, June 17, 8 pm; Sunday, June 18, 2:30 pm
Cavalli and Busenello, La Didone (staged, with orchestra)
New World premiere
Ignoti Dei Opera Company
Washington Early Music Festival
Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre (American University)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, June 18)

Friday, June 16, 8 pm; Sunday, June 18, 2 pm; Friday, June 23, 8 pm; Sunday, June 25, 2 pm
Telemann, Orpheus
Wolf Trap Opera Company
The Barns at Wolf Trap
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 18)

Saturday, June 17, 7:30 pm
Glorystar's Children's Chorus Festival
Glorystar Children's Chorus, Children’s Chorus of Washington, Frederick Children’s Chorus, and the Maryland State Boychoir
Music Center at Strathmore

Saturday, June 17, 8 pm
National Orchestral Institute
Weber, Overture from Der Freischutz; Sibelius, Symphony no. 6; Stravinsky, The Firebird (1910, complete)
Stefan Sanderling, conductor
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, June 19)

Sunday, June 18, 1 pm and 3 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Family Concert: The Magic of the Firebird
Recommended for ages 7 and up
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Sunday, June 18, 6:30 pm
National Gallery of Art Vocal Arts Ensemble [FREE]
Madrigals by Verdelot, Arcadelt, Rore and other Italian masters
Washington Early Music Festival
National Gallery of Art, West Building, West Garden Court

Monday, June 19, 7:30 pm
Mathias Hausmann, baritone, and Betty Bullock, piano [FREE]
On the Occasion of Freud's 150th Birthday
Freud’s Vienna: Lieder by Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Alexander Zemlinsky, Franz Schreker, Arnold Schönberg, Franz Lehar
Embassy of Austria
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, June 21)

Monday, June 19, 8 pm
The Metropolitan Chorus, Music Under the Summer Stars
Free outdoor concert (no ticket required)
Lubber Run Amphitheater (Arlington, Va.)

Monday, June 19, 8 pm
The North Wind and the Sun: Vivaldi's Venice
Modern Musick (with Matthias Maute, recorder, and St. Mark's Chancel Choir)
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 20)

Tuesday, June 20, 12 noon
Tom MacCracken and Vera Kochanowsky, harpsichord duo
17th-century Italian music for one and two harpsichords by Frescobaldi and others
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Tuesday, June 20 to Saturday, June 24, 7:30 pm; June 24 and 25, 1:30 pm
The Royal Ballet (Great Britain)
Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty, and other selections
Kennedy Center Opera House

Tuesday, June 20, 8 pm
Il Quattro Stagioni: Italian Music in Europe (Bach's flute partita, Marais's La Follia, Vivaldi's Spring concerto)
Matthias Maute, recorder and flauto traverso
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 21)

Wednesday, June 21, 12 noon
Two Gents of Venice and Fusignano: Vivaldi and Corelli (trio sonatas)
Ensemble Gaudior
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Wednesday, June 21, 8 pm
Suspicious Cheese Lords, "Boot"-elicious: The Music of Renaissance Italy
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Wednesday, June 21, 7:30 pm; Sunday, June 25, 2:30 pm
Mozart, The Magic Flute
Robert Baker (Tamino)
Summer Opera Theatre Company
Hartke Theater (Catholic University)
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, June 20)

Wednesday, June 21, 8 pm; Friday, June 23, 8 pm
Bellini, I Capuleti e i Montecchi (abridged concert performance, with piano)
Meghan McCall (Giulietta), Jose Sacin (Romeo), Matthew Osifchin (Lorenzo)
Chamber Opera of Washington, D.C.
Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Arts (1700 Kalorama Road, NW, Suite 101)

Thursday, June 22, 12 noon
Voci di amori (17th- and 18th-century Italian solo and duet cantatas)
Tresorino (Jennifer Ellis, soprano; Jay White, countertenor; Michelle Roy, harpsichord)
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Thursday, June 22, 8 pm
Countertop Quartet and The Baroque Band, Music of the Venetian Ospedali
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Thursday, June 22, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Music for Hollywood Film Epics
Jack Everly, conductor
Music Center at Strathmore

Friday, June 23, 12 noon
The Virtuosos of Rome, Venice, Ferarra and Naples
Atsuko Ikeda, harpsichord
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Friday, June 23, 7:30 pm
Recital in Memory of Ignacy Jan Paderewski
John Robilette, piano
Embassy of Poland (2460 16th Street NW)

Friday, June 23, 8 pm
Amor l'ali m'impenna (Love Feathers My Wings): Passionate Music of the Italian Middle Ages and Renaissance
Armonia Nova
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Friday, June 23, 8 pm
Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, June 27)

Saturday, June 24, 3 pm
ArcoVoce, Desiderio d'amore
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Saturday, June 24, 7:30 pm
Georg Philipp Telemann, Cantatas
Washington Kantorei
The Falls Church (Falls Church, Va.)

Saturday, June 24, 8 pm
Deuce (Garry Clarke, Baroque violin; Michelle Roy, harpsichord), The Italian Job
Washington Early Music Festival
St. Mark's Episcopal Church (Capitol Hill)

Saturday, June 24, 8 pm
National Orchestral Institute
Prokofiev, Classical Symphony, op. 25; Hindemith, Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber; Strauss, Don Quixote
Eri Klas, conductor
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)

Sunday, June 25, 3 pm
Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, 25th Anniversary Concert
With Barbara Cook (music from Broadway musicals)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Sunday, June 25, 3 pm
DC3: Washington Music, the Way It Was And Is!
Washington Musica Viva
Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St NE), Theatre II

Sunday, June 25, 6:30 pm
Tempesta di Mare and Drew Minter, countertenor [FREE]
Music of the Late Renaissance and Early Baroque in Italy
Washington Early Music Festival
National Gallery of Art, West Building, West Garden Court
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, June 30)

Thursday, June 29, 6 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, Season Preview Concert [FREE]
Millennium Stage performance
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, July 1)

Thursday, June 29, 7 pm
Edith Piaf: Her Passionate Life and Music
Simone Marchand, French singer (narrated by Professor Joan Keefe)
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Friday, June 30, 8 pm; Saturday, July 1, 8 pm; Sunday, July 2, 3 pm
Ground (multimedia theater work using 17th-century ostinato bass pieces)
Ignoti Dei Opera
Baltimore Theater Project
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, July 1)

30.5.06

Opera on DVD: "Idomeneo"

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
W. A. Mozart, Idomeneo, Luciano Pavarotti, Hildegard Behrens, Frederica von Stade, Ileana Cotrubas, Metropolitan Opera, James Levine (re-released on April 11, 2006)
The picture on the cover of this DVD's box tells most of the story: it was the Met, it was the 1980s, a man named Joseph Volpe was only an assistant general manager, and the premier American opera company was finally getting around to performing Mozart's Idomeneo. This production made Mozart's early work popular with mainstream opera audiences, and it did that by showing that the big stars of the day -- Ileana Cotrubas, Hildegard Behrens, Frederica von Stade, and, God help us, Luciano Pavarotti (does that cast list take you back two decades or what?) -- wanted to sing it and actually did a nice job.

available at Amazon
Idomeneo, Glyndebourne Festival, T. Nunn, B. Haitink, P. Langridge, Y. Kenny


available at Amazon
Idomeneo, Drottningholm Slottsteater (released May 16, 2006)
Now, for my money, this would not be the way I would optimally want Idomeneo immortalized on my DVD player. I would lean toward one of the smaller productions, informed more by early music practices, like the 1983 Glyndebourne Festival version (with Trevor Nunn, Bernard Haitink, Philip Langridge, and Yvonne Kenny) actually set in Crete (strangely not the version chosen to be re-released as part of a Mozart Year Glyndebourne set this year, like this DG set of Mozart I have been reviewing here, beginning with La Clemenza di Tito). Even better, I am guessing, would be the Drottningholm Slottsteater version, with the added benefit of the beauty and authenticity of that remarkable theater, just released by Arthaus Musik this month (which I am hoping to see soon).

What will you get with this Deutsche Grammophon re-release? A vast production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, whose Met staging of L'Italiana in Algeri was just unearthed again here in Washington and whose "on location" film version of La Clemenza di Tito I recently reviewed. The set is mostly dominated by a massive mask, representing the ever-present menace of Neptune and based, it seems to me, on the Bocca della Verità in Rome. At other times, there are huge backdrops based on the engravings and drawings by Piranesi and others in the 18th century, showing the classical ruins of Greece and Rome. Ponnelle's costumes are all from Mozart's time, 18th-century Vienna, a conceit also found in the Clemenza film, meant to show that although the story is classical, Mozart was actually creating a work about his own age. This is another one of those operas about a ruler stepping down from power to avoid the death of the innocent.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Veduta dell'Arco di Tito, image scanned by René SeindalThe Elector of Bavaria commissioned Idomeneo for his court theater in Munich, where it was premiered in 1781, using an Italian libretto by Giambattista Varesco. The story is drawn from the legends of the Trojan War: Homer describes Idomeneos, king of Crete and the grandson of Minos, in the Iliad as the general who led the soldiers of Crete to fight with the Greeks (and doing some pretty kickass things on the battlefield in Book XIII). Virgil and others told the story of his return home, when he was nearly killed in a storm at sea. Poseidon saves Idomeneos, as he had helped him throughout the war, but requires the sacrifice of the first person Idomeneos lays eyes on when he gets to land, and that turns out to be his own son. Of course, in the Greek and Roman versions, Idomeneos carries out the god's demand and slays his own son, only to be cursed by the gods for filicide and driven further from Crete. In ancient Greece, you were damned if you did and damned if you didn't. You were just damned.

Mozart himself recycled the opera later in life, in a severely cut and reshaped version. (As stated in the liner notes, the composer's wife reported after Mozart's death that his time working on this opera in Munich was one of the happiest in his short life, probably filled with hope that he would soon have a court position that would allow him to create opera. Life does not always turn out as we hope.) I congratulate the Met because, although they took long enough to get around to performing Idomeneo, they used the critical edition by the excellent Mozart specialist Daniel Heartz for the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe, reconstituting the (almost) complete score for the first time. Hooray for musicology! This nearly full version is three hours long, and the only major omission (an unfortunate one) is the ballet that Mozart composed to conclude the opera at Munich. I wish that we could get over the modern operatic aversion to lengthy ballets, as they are an essential and glorious heritage of the court origins of the genre.

The singing is, with few exceptions, absolutely stellar. Luciano Pavarotti, for all of his dramatic impediments, is powerful in the title role, a voice that always impresses in spite of its occasional imprecision and ugliness. Frederica von Stade gives one of her most convincing performances in a pants role ever, as Idomeneo's son, Idamante. Her Act III duetto ("S'io non moro a questi accenti") with the exquisite Ileana Cotrubas (as the Idamante's beloved Trojan princess, Ilia) and the subsequent quartetto (with Pavarotti and Hildegard Behrens as Elettra, who is also in love with Idamante) are all wonderful. The standout performance is Hildegard Behrens, as the obsessed and cracking Elettra: her unhinged performance of "Oh smania! oh furie!" at the end of the third act, in a frizzy, bright orange wig is one for the ages, incendiary singing married to frenetic acting. Instead of following the libretto's stage direction ("parte infuriata"), she is carried off, frozen where she falls prone, arms sticking up above her head. The only (slight) disappointment is older tenor John Alexander as a warbly and poorly accented Arbace, the confident of Idomeneo.

Millicent Scarlett, sopranoThe huge Met chorus sings Mozart's weighty choral numbers with enough heft for Tannhäuser. The Act III choral scene ("Oh voto tremendo!") is one of Mozart's best, leading into the appearance of La Voce, the voice of Neptune that suspends Idamante's death sentence if Idomeneo will abdicate as King of Crete. Neptune's voice is heard, of course, accompanied by trombones. Mozart knew his Gluck, who had used trombones to supernatural effect in Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna, 1762) and four later operas, all of which were probably familiar to Mozart by the time he was working on Idomeneo. He would use the instruments later, to much greater effect, in the "stone guest" scene in Don Giovanni. Monteverdi also used trombones in a similar way, in the Hades scene if L'Orfeo and accompanying the anger of Poseidon in Il ritorno d'Ulysse in patria, although I doubt that Mozart knew those 17th-century operas. James Levine conducts a fine reading of this beautiful score with the Met orchestra. The sound and picture, captured digitally from a VHS recording, are not perfect but fine enough.

All of this is by way to telling our Washington readers to attend the upcoming live performance of Mozart's Idomeneo this Friday and Saturday (June 2 and 3, 7:30 pm) by Opera Lafayette at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park. It is a concert performance, but with dance provided by the New York Baroque Dance Company (hopefully, with that concluding ballet). The singing should be quite good, including Robert Baker as the High Priest, François Loup as the Voice of Neptune, and Millicent Scarlett as Elettra (I heard her powerful voice in excerpts from this role last October). This is the first concert in this summer's Washington Early Music Festival. Ionarts will be there.

Il Viaggio a St. Petersburg

Ionarts contributor Oksana S. Khadarina has just returned from a trip to St. Petersburg. She will be relating some of her cultural experiences over the next several days.


Gioachino Rossini composed the opera Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims) in 1825 for the coronation of French King Charles X. It was a “for the event” opera, and shortly after the premier the composer withdrew it from further performances. French producer Alain Maratrat and designers Pierre Alain Bertola and Mireille Dessingy decided to shake the dust from this old and forgotten Rossini work. The new production of Il Viaggio a Reims premiered at the Mariinsky Theater proved to be a huge success with the audience. This opera was composed for the finest bel canto singers of the 1820s and requires considerable vocal resources. This fact didn’t worry the soloists of the Mariinsky Academy of Young Singers. They tackled their parts like pros. This is a comic “party opera,” and this is exactly what the young cast of the Mariinsky demonstrated last Sunday: Il Viaggio is not so much about the traveling, it’s about fun and sheer entertainment.

The members of the Mariinsky Orchestra dressed in identical white tuxedos left the orchestra pit and were comfortably situated in the back of the stage. The young guest conductor Tugan Sokhiev, who stepped in for the ever absent Valery Gergiev, skillfully navigated the Big Band through marvelous Rossini’s score.

The opera has no direct narrative. It begins with a procession of unusual arrivals of European aristocracy to the small Golden Lily Inn. Russian officer Count di Libenkof (tenor Mikhail Latyshev) made a triumphant entrance on a white horse. A health specialist, Don Prudenzio (Mikhail Kolelishvilli), was carried on stage in a white box decorated with red crosses. The poetess Corinna used a “fashion runway” (installed on the orchestra floor as a part of set decorations) to get in. At first, these mysterious arrivals reminded the setting of the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None. But when the series of vocal solos, duets, and ensembles began, what happened on stage looked more like the operatic “European Idol,” except no one was voted off. (The ladies definitely outsang the gentlemen.)

The grand prix of the evening without doubt went to Marilyn Monroe look-alike, soprano Larisa Yudina. She was vocally stunning and brilliant as an actress portraying a fashion-obsessed French Contessa di Folleville. Her voice was luminous and crystal clear. She was charming and funny when she fainted and was proclaimed dead after learning that her finest wardrobe got lost on the way; and a little cute hat rescued by her maid “saved her life.” Clearly, she was the audience favorite. Golden Lily Hotel owner, Madam Cortese (soprano Anastasia Belyaeva), in her stylish red dress not only was a wonderful hostess but also gave a five-star performance as a singer. Queen-sized poetess Corinna was gorgeous in her simple yet elegant long white dress. The timbre of her voice was rich and warm. No wonder, she was able to calm down rowdy Count di Libenskof, who was contemplating starting a duel with Spanish Don Alvaro (Vladimir Tulpanov).

When all travelers had finally arrived, Baron di Trombononok (Vladislav Uspensky) broke the news that no horses could be found to travel to Reims and all travel plans would have to be cancelled. No horses? Not a problem! Golden Lily’s guests decided to stick around for a while and resolve some of their love issues, chat about art, fashion and politics, and then go to Paris to party at the house of Madam Cortese. (The Russian Count was totally smitten by Corinna’s singing and beauty, and he completely forgot that he actually did have the horses.)

One of the most successful duets was performed by Dmitry Voropayev (Cavalier Beliore) and Irma Gigolashvily in the beginning of the Act II, and in the finale of the opera, the “farewell number” called Improvisation en Mi bémol by Anastasia Belyaeva (Madam Cortese) and Nikolai Kamensky (Don Profondo) was good.

Not all solos were perfect, but singing together the Mariinsky Opera apprentice team made a superb ensemble. The final number of the opera, dedicated to the glory of France, was a musical triumph for Rossini and a definite victory for these young artists.



With a dozen singers to perform and a bunch of suitcases as a decoration set, Il Viaggio a Reims is a perfect portable opera. Valery Gergiev conducted this production in Paris last December. In January 2007 it will travel to Washington, D.C., and be performed at the Kennedy Center as a part of the Kirov's traditional annual visit.

Music Tonight: Amsterdam Klavier Trio

If you haven't any music plans for tonight, but a sudden craving, you might want to go to La Maison Française for a performance of the Amsterdam Klavier Trio (most recently reviewed at the Corcoran in January - this time with their regular pianist, Klára Würtz) who will present the Mozart B-flat, Mendelssohn's second, and Ravel's trio. I missed their concert at the Lyceum on Friday, but after just hearing them in the Mozart-Mendelssohn-Ravel program on Saturday I recommend this concert even more warmly than I did their Lyceum concert. Klára Würtz really is a marvelous pianist who can get great beauty even from lesser pianos. No wonder she has been invited to play alongside Brendel and Pollini in the Salzburger Festspiele recital series. La Maison Française will be the usual gracious host (that's code for "good wine afterwards"); tickets are $20 - although you'll want to shoot an e-mail to culturel.washington-amba[AT]diplomatie[dot]gouv[dot]fr before you go.

29.5.06

Bartók and Schoenberg at Covent Garden

There are quite a few loose ends from my survey of interesting opera around the world from last season. Reviews are trickling in for the fabulous double-bill offered by the Royal Opera at Covent Garden this weekend: Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Schoenberg's Erwartung (May 26 to June 17). We start with a review by Andrew Clements (Duke Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, May 29) for The Guardian:

The two one-act masterpieces of early modernism have become a standard operatic double-bill. They make a logical pairing, but it's usually Erwartung, Schoenberg's soprano monodrama, that is performed first, providing a fiercely concentrated preface to Bartok's more expansive two-hander. Willy Decker's Covent Garden staging, revived for the first time, reverses that order and, by using the same setting for both, convincingly makes the expressionist Erwartung the nightmarish consequence of Duke Bluebeard's Castle's dark-hued symbolism.

So the protagonist in the Schoenberg wears a tattered version of the red dress that the parade of Bluebeard's wives had all sported, and emerges through the same door that had shut them away from the world at the end of the Bartok. The unnamed woman is, Decker's production suggests, a refugee from that claustrophobic world; perhaps a wife (perhaps like, as Maeterlinck suggested, Debussy's Melisande was) who had escaped from its horrors and was seeking catharsis. The silent man who stalks her in this production (played by Barry Callan), and whom she repeatedly stabs, may be Bluebeard, but equally he may be some other totally innocent victim who is only guilty of being male.
Second, we have Richard Morrison (Bluebeard's Castle/Erwartung, May 27) for The Sunday Times:
At the end of Bluebeard, Judith — the wife with the fatal need to peel away her husband’s psyche and reveal the murderer within — is dragged away, seemingly for ever, through the seventh door. But, at the start of Erwartung, recognisably the same red-frocked character emerges, but now mentally unhinged and stalked by a seedy old man who is, equally clearly, Bluebeard’s doppelgänger. And she proceeds to turn the tables on him, very painfully. Even the musical transition works. Bartók’s spooky, ominously glinting score — its pentatonic contours continually poisoned by insidious dissonances, just as Bluebeard’s castle walls continually drip with blood — seems to find its natural sequel in Schoenberg’s jittery, hyper-tense atonality.
Finally, there is Dominic McHugh (Double Bill: Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung, May 26) for MusicOMH.com:
Albert Dohmen is the embodiment of Bluebeard, a very imposing figure on the stage whose mental agony is astoundingly vivid. What really sticks in the memory, however, is his voice, which is a beautiful, true bass-baritone that reaches to the centre of the low notes and shines lyrically at the top.

His physical engagement with Judit is remarkable: at different points, the two writhe about the stage, stand in confrontation and cannot bear to look at one another. It's great to have so intelligent a singer-actor paired with so apt a female counterpart: Petra Lang adds yet another impressive role to her Royal Opera repertoire, breathing life into the music and believably standing up to even so immense a Bluebeard as Dohmen. There's a huge shift of focus in the opera, from Judit's domination of the opening of the doors to the final, anguished monologue for Bluebeard; both singers give each other space to shine, and the curtain fell on the opening night to a huge cheer.
This is a revival of the 2002 production at Covent Garden. I am looking forward to seeing Duke Bluebeard's Castle next season at Washington National Opera, sadly paired not with Erwartung but inexplicably with Gianni Schicchi.

UPDATE:
See also --

Decoration Day

America's Memorial Day, a tribute to the nation's war dead past and present, was born in the wake of the Civil War between North and South -- historically the costliest in American lives lost, both sides being "American" of course. Originally called Decoration Day, in honor of the custom of decorating graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags, the observance was a small but symbolically important step towards reconciliation, honoring the sacrifices of Blue and Grey alike.

That observance has since grown into a day of remembrance for soldiers of all wars in which the US has fought, hence "Memorial Day." It has also moved from the traditional date of May 30 to the fourth Monday in May, creating the three-day weekend we know so well.

Marches, anthems, and dirges aside, there are few pieces of serious music that hew to the original concept of Decoration Day, with its specific reference to the Civil War. There are some, however, three of which (only one by an American) surely merit hearing more often. The most obvious choice, Decoration Day by Charles Ives, is quintessential Ives and quintessential Americana, an elegiac, small-town-America feel disrupted by competing marching bands ignoring both consonance and dissonance. Each more serious in tone, and each written to the (sometimes overwrought) poems of Walt Whitman, are Paul Hindemith's When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed for chorus, orchestra, and soloists, using lines commemorating the death of President Lincoln and the soldiers he sent to battle, as well as the fallen of World War II and the death of FDR; and Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dirge for Two Veterans.

All fine ways to remember the origins of Memorial Day on its true 'Decoration Day' date of May 30.

The above photo of the 'American Pillar' rose is from the Heritage Rosarium, Brookeville, MD, whose Memorial Day weekend Open House is one of the hidden treasures of the Washington area.

Summer Opera: "Orfeo" with Le Concert d’Astrée

We at Ionarts I wish all of our American readers a restful Memorial Day. We I take a moment to thank all the men and women who, when asked to do terrible things for our country's sake, have responded with courage and selflessness. I believe that our duty as civilians is to make sure they do not risk their lives for an unjust cause.

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Claudio Monteverdi, L'Orfeo, Ian Bostridge, Patrizia Ciofi, Natalie Dessay, Véronique Gens, Paul Agnew, Le Concert d’Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm (released on April 6, 2004)
The first production I mentioned in Opera in the Summer 2006 was a new version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, an opera I love by a composer whose operas have received a lot of productions in the last few years. (Not in Washington, mind you, I mean civilized places. Washington National Opera has avoided Monteverdi since 1987.) French conductor Emmanuelle Haïm led her Baroque music ensemble, Le Concert d'Astrée, in four performances in the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris earlier this month. The group recorded this opera a couple years ago, with Ian Bostridge, Patrizia Ciofi, and Natalie Dessay, along with some of the regular early music names, although the singing personnel at the Châtelet was completely different. For some reason, none of the French dailies reviewed this performance (including Le Figaro and Le Monde), but we can always count on the bloggers. Caroline Alexander published a review (L’Orfeo: Le baroque entre hip hop et Vespa, May 19) at Webthea.com (my translation):
La musica, pivotal divinity in Claudio Monteverdi's L’Orfeo, rises up in a sort of square box suspended in emptiness. In a grand costume, grenadine velours gown, embroidered, with jewels and brown curls carefully arranged down her front. While she sings of Orfeo's destiny, the prologue of what is normally called the first opera in music history -- which is not precisely correct but also not completely in error -- with her image expanded on a giant screen, she moves her back and her rounded hands dance a sorceress's ballet around the actual person floating on her cushion. A bluish light bathes the beginning of the first act: a city square with open sky, motor scooters and Vespas around which a group of young people congregates, dressed like you and me, twenty years old. The sounds that rise from the orchestra pit -- lutes, theorbos, harps, viols, cornetti, and sackbuts -- are pure Baroque. The contrast is one of smiling freshness. [...]

Orfeo, Théâtre du Châtelet, production by Opéra de Lille, photograph by M. N. RobertThe Italian man of the theater Giorgio Barberio Corsetti creates a mixture of genres, times, spaces, and techniques. Video often provides him the unifying thread, like those sauces that chefs use to adjust the ingredients of a dish. He films the actors, the singers, in vast, intimate scenes and choreographed movements, he makes their images float, in all poses, on the horizontal or upside down. Dreamlike reflections of actions that are unfolding on the stage... Other effects of transposition are less fortunate. Inside Hell, Proserpina and Pluto are transformed into a middle class couple glued in front of their television, the three spirits in flesh-colored leotards (they all look naked) make little cakes for them that look like white stones. Elsewhere those stones will serve, as in Le Petit Poucet [Tom Thumb], as a way to show Eurydice the way to go, behind Orfeo, to try to go back to the surface. This is the eternal problem of these radical shifts, which always run into trouble along the way -- most often, in the second half of the story -- because of some insurmountable obstacle, a detail that belongs in the original era and will not or cannot be changed.
Le Concert d’Astrée is six years old now, prestigious enough to have been invited for a residency with the Opéra de Lille. This model -- inviting a Baroque performance ensemble to produce Baroque operas regularly in a mainstream opera theater -- is becoming the norm in Europe, and I hope it catches on in the United States. This production will travel to the Théâtre Municipal de Colmar (June 9 and 11), the Théâtre de la Sinne de Mulhouse (June 17, 19, and 21), and the Opéra du Rhin in Strasbourg (June 27 and 29, July 1 and 3), so there may be more reviews next month.

28.5.06

Summer Opera: Fielding's "Tom Thumb"

Thanks to Anne-Carolyn Bird, I learned about a fascinating production at the Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle, which I featured in my preview of Opera in the Summer 2006. It is an ingenious resurrection of an 18th-century ballad opera, Tom Thumb (based on a 1731 play by Henry Fielding, with music by Thomas Arne and Johann Hasse, as well as popular tunes), performed here by the Carter Family Marionnettes. Puppet opera was a rather important subgenre in the 18th century, especially as a relatively easy way to create parodies of popular mainstream operas, and I am delighted by modern attempts to recreate it. This particular combination, of puppeteers and live musical performers, is the most exciting of all.

I found a review by Philippa Kiraly (Rule of 'Thumb,' a lusty satirical puppet show, May 15) for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The Carters think theirs is probably the first production in 200 years. True to tradition, they have mixed and matched from several versions and added topical comments, but it remains as it was always intended: a lusty, satirical, funny show. The opera opens with Tom Thumb's early life portrayed with small shadow puppets above the main stage, setting the mood unmistakably with a few deft vignettes. The 3-D puppets are brilliant creations, from tiny Tom Thumb bounding around, to a queen straight out of Tenniel's illustrations for "Alice in Wonderland," to a ghost, a large cow and a giantess with Wagnerian pretensions. They inhabit detailed sets, including a vaulted hall with heraldic shields and a gloomy bedroom with a curtained four-poster where the mattress rises with each bounce. [...]
Kiraly's preview of the production (Carter Marionettes tackle 18th-century 'Tom Thumb' opera, May 12) is also an interesting read:
Jonathan Swift ("Gulliver's Travels") said he only laughed twice in his life, and once was at "The Tragedy of Tragedies: The Life and Death of Tom Thumb," by Henry Fielding ("Tom Jones"), a play that was promptly developed into burlesque opera productions for adults and for puppets after its first performance in 1731. [...]

Fielding was a magistrate, and a member of the Scriblerus Club, which printed satirical pamphlets and included such men as Pope, Swift, John Gay ("The Beggar's Opera") and other literati. Fielding's gift with a pen found its target in the current rage for tragic poetic drama, which he found pretentious. "Much of the script is an attack on poetic excesses," says Stephen Carter. "The preface is hilarious." The Carters do extensive research on their period productions, and while they found a 1780s version of the libretto in the University of Washington archives, Carter's son Dmitri found a musical score from 1782 at an antiquarian bookseller in Nova Scotia.
I will simply add that this is exactly the sort of work we need right now. The Carters are taking their fascinating production to Vienna and the palace of Frederick the Great in Potsdam. [Anne-Carolyn says the Carters are not taking Tom Thumb abroad.] Sadly, there are no plans to bring it to Washington anytime soon. For some great pictures, see the post of Anne-Carolyn Bird, who sang the role of Tom in this production. Anne-Carolyn is on her way to Santa Fe again this summer, where Ionarts will happily be spending a couple of weeks in late July.

Domingo-Cafritz Artists at the Renwick

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The 2005 crop of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at the Renwick last year
Last Saturday at the Renwick Museum’s Grand Salon, the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program presented its current crop of singers, bringing to life a nice cross-section of excerpts from modern American opera, plus the Anne Truelove-Tom Rakewell farewell scene from Stravinsky’s A Rake’s Progress (American-adopted, one could say). The singers did not just perform in concert style, they acted out their parts in full costume with a few carefully selected props.

Seven operas, all by living composers, were grouped on either side of the Stravinsky: William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge (Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience was well received by Charles); Henry Mollicone’s Coyote Tales, Conrad Susa’s Dangerous Liaisons, Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights, John Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles, Robert Ward’s The Crucible, and Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata.

These were all well-rehearsed ready-for-stage performances, the singers’ enunciation consistently clear enough that the thoughtfully provided text sheets really weren’t needed. The Grand Salon has room enough to accommodate the larger voices, such as the deep, dark baritone of Obed Ureña, who after warming up a bit, was outstanding in the Ward duet with mezzo Erin Elizabeth Smith (also excellent).

The music presented varied in quality, but each selection hued to the mainstream eclectic-modern-tonally based American opera formula, with occasional touches of Broadway, though Mr. Susa’s letter aria was perhaps too pinched and dry for the talents of mezzo Leslie Mutchler (Zulma in the current run of L’Italiana), whose warm voice made a finer impression in the Corigliano duet with soprano JiYoung Lee (the duet a melancholic reflection by the Rosina and Susanna characters from Figaro, carried forward to the French Revolution in Mr. Corigliano’s conceit).

With short excerpts from such diverse works, it’s tough to say which might be the most stageworthy, but Coyote Tales (vignettes from Native American mythology) caught the ear (too easily, perhaps?), The Crucible has made its mark on stage (the duet here finely dramatic), and the Adamo clearly has a lot going for it and got good marks from Anthony Tommasini in the New York Times. Theatrical-wise, the Young Artists saved the best for a last, with Adamo’s lively and witty duet-combat over withholding sex until men give up their martial tendencies, thoroughly chewed up by tenor Greg Warren and soprano Christina Martos. The dust was flying off the Salon’s ancient padded circular couch, and that Ms. Martos, big-voiced and agile, showed the kind of perfect pitch the Washington Nationals desperately need, at least in the bracelet-toss.

A nice showcase, both for American opera and young singers, which left the audience wanting more. Able support and direction from Young Artists conductor Steven Jarvi, and pianists James Lesniak and Matthew Ottenlips, each of whom delivered the goods without distracting attention from the singers.

27.5.06

Nicola Benedetti Plays Szymanowski

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Karol Szymanowski, Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra (op. 35), Nicola Benedetti, London Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding (released on April 4, 2006)
Karol Szymanowski was born in a place that used to be in Poland but is today in the territory of Ukraine. We haven't had many opportunities in recent memory to hear much of his music. I heard a wonderful piece for violin and piano last fall, at the recital by my friend Sarah Geller. Pianist Piotr Anderszewski had announced that he would play some Szymanowski in his recital at the National Gallery last month, but he opted for Beethoven instead. I first heard about the young Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti about a year ago, when I read an article by Jessica Duchen. Benedetti won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2004, at the age of 16. Winning that prize was the key to her new contract with Deutsche Grammophon, for six recordings at the staggering salary of £1 million. The piece that won her that award was Szymanowski's first violin concerto, composed in 1915 and 1916. We have her teacher, Maciej Rakowski, to thank for introducing her to the piece, after she left the Menuhin School to study violin with him privately.

For her first recording with Deutsche Grammophon (recently released in the United States), she has set down that concerto, and what a delight it has been to discover it. Szymanowski was in his exotic phase, listening to a lot of Scriabin, Debussy, and Ravel. He based the concerto on a program drawn from Tadeusz Micinski's poem May Nights. This was the period of Szymanowski's sexual awakening, after visits as a (homo)sexual tourist to North Africa with a friend. Shortly after he composed this concerto, he wrote his novel Ephebos, now lost except for a fragment. He then met the 15-year-old Russian boy Boris Kochno, who became temporarily the realization of his pederastic fantasy, only to have him be taken up by Sergei Diaghilev, who made the young man his secretary in Paris.

Zeus kidnaps the Trojan boy Ganymede, Penthesilea Painter, Museo Nazionale FerraraA bold move, then, for Benedetti to pin her hopes to this relatively unknown concerto, definitely not one of the same old virtuosic barn-burners favored by most competitors. I am thankful for the sequence of events that brought her performance to my ears. It is a series of exotic vignettes, washed in warm Mediterranean colors, cut from the same Matisse-patterned cloth we are hearing in Stravinsky and Ravel around this time. There is the sheen of the harp, fluttering bird calls in the winds, the tinkle of metallic percussion and celesta like Anatolian jewelry. The liner notes quote a section of the inspiring poem, May Nights:
Once I wandered through these colonnades
Created by Abderraham for his beloved
In an amethyst night of Sheherezade
With talismans burning in the heavens
Pan is playing bagpipes to dancing Ephemerids in an oak grove
While the eternally young and beautiful weave together in love.
Although those selected lines are ambiguous as to the gender of the young bodies admired, Szymanowski was likely recalling his travels in less inhibited countries along the Mediterranean basin. He wrote later that one of his inspirations for the concerto was happening to look through his photographs from the trips to Sicily and North Africa.

Szymanowski composed this concerto with the advice of the violinist Pawel Kochanski, to whom the work is dedicated and whose cadenza Nicola Benedetti plays (although he was not able to premiere the work as Szymanowski wished). Benedetti's playing is radiant, on her 1751 Petrus Guarnerius violin from Venice, and the London Symphony under Daniel Harding clothes her sinewy, lush, often languid solos in a sonic cloak of many colors. If Benedetti's violin solo is the Tunisian Ganymede of Szymanowski's fantasies, she is both shy and elusive and energetically dancing. Her E string playing, in particular, even in very soft passages, is remarkably well placed.

Nicola Benedetti, b. 1987, and her violin, made in Venice by Pietro Guarneri, 1751Using this exotic work as a foundation, Benedetti has placed it at the head of a program of similar works, like Saint-Saëns' Havanaise, op. 83 (Cuba), Chausson's Poème, op. 25, and Massenet's Méditation from Thaïs (Egypt, by way of Paris). They are all lovely listening but it is the Szymanowski that stands out above them. In a touching gesture to her younger admirers, Benedetti has included a "performance track" of the orchestral part of the Méditation, so that aspiring violinists can play along themselves. They can even download their own violin part at Benedetti's Web site. For that reason among many, this CD would make an excellent gift to that young violinist in your life. Finally, she rounds out her program with two pieces created especially for her. Julian Reynolds's orchestration of Contemplation (Heifetz's arrangement of the Brahms song Wie Melodien zieht es mir) is a lovely thing, until now not recorded, evoking beautifully the poem that Brahms set (and which I find myself missing in this version). She is also the first to record John Tavener's Fragment for the Virgin, a piece the composer wrote for and dedicated to her. For much of the piece her enigmatic solo violin part is shadowed by a wreath of string dissonance in heterophony. It's pretty and catches the ear.

I do not think that Benedetti has quite the same talent as some of the other young violinists of her generation (I am much more impressed by Julia Fischer, for example), but she has great promise so let's give her time. However, I have enjoyed listening to this album very much, and I will continue to do so, mostly for that Szymanowski concerto. Nicola Benedetti's second recording, with James MacMillan conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, combines Mendelssohn's violin concerto with music by Mozart and MacMillan (the Scottish composer, whose music I admire, and who also appears to be taken with Benedetti as Tavener is). It was released this past week in Europe. We'll be watching for it at Ionarts.

Live Music around the Bloch

Gary Poster and Karyn FriedmanMusica Viva, one of the many smaller performing arts organizations in the Washington area – oft overlooked but more often than not contributing greatly to the regions’ cultural life, gave a very generous program last Tuesday, May 23, at the Ratner Museum in Bethesda.

Musica Viva, anchored by pianist and Executive Director Carl Banner, is essentially a piano-with-strings quintet with guest artists. Tuesday the guests were husband-and-wife vocalists Gary Poster, bass, and Karyn Friedman, mezzo-soprano, both with Eastman School degrees. This is an impressive pair: Mr. Poster, accompanied by string quartet and Mr. Banner as continuo (on piano), gave a lyrical, well-phrased account of Bach’s Ich habe genug. Bach’s long-lost original with soprano sax (played eloquently but a bit forcefully by Rhonda Buckley) in place of oboe was used (maybe not 'original,' but Bach was never shy about transcribing his own, or others’, music). Fans of the “historically authentic” approach may question it, but this ‘bass-and-sax’ version was nice enough on the ears.

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E. Bloch, Piano Quintets, Ivan Klánský / Kocian Q4t
Ms. Friedman, an attractive, skilled singer, sang Fauré’s cycle La Bonne Chanson, recently admired by Charles when Ian Bostridge performed it at the Library of Congress, with warmth and style. While the piano didn’t break through in the concluding Quintet No. 1 by Ernest Bloch, there was no mistaking the fact that Mr. Banner and the quartet really let loose here. The Bloch is a knotty, dense, multilayered work, built of melodic fragments and long rhythmic lines but with a tight, intense structure. The opening Agitato has moments that recall native American music, and the work does date from the composer’s first sojourn in the US, his adopted country. The Andante mistico was sinewy and eloquent in Musica Viva’s hands, and the ensemble let rip in the concluding Allegro energico with almost Bartókian, stunning, intensity.

26.5.06

Setting the Perfect Tone: Julia Fischer with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Yuri TemirkanovIs the region saving up its best musical events for last? In a season that was less exciting across the board than 2004/2005, we just heard the finest opera performance in The Turn of the Screw – and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s current string of concerts with German violinist Julia Fischer delivered easily this season’s best violin concerto performance. It all seems to bode well for the remaining highlights, Kurt Masur’s all-Beethoven concert with the NSO next Thursday and the two Mahler performances of the BSO and NSO the week thereafter.

First things first: Yuri Temirkanov was back after a prolonged (well over half a year), protracted stay in St. Petersburg that apparently included post-Soviet tales of embezzlement, the Russian Mafia, and firing the St. Petersburg Philharmonic’s corrupt administration. (Read Tim Smith’s article in the Baltimore Sun.) He jumped onto the rostrum and, as if possessed, with fresh and raw energy, dove into Carl Maria von Weber’s ebullient Overture to Euryanthe. One got the idea that the BSO might have missed their outgoing music director. The music is itself the utmost of charming Romanticism – light but never smacking of the facile quality that befalls even greater composers (Mendelssohn comes to mind) every once in a while. Expanding from chamber-like moments to the broad and expansive sounds of the, now expanded, explosive opening, this is the kind of music that would charm anyone’s socks off. The BSO didn’t treat it like a throw-away prelude, either but played with zest and great engagement.

Julia FischerJulia Fischer is not one of the teeny-superstars of the violin like, say, Nicola Benedetti or Hilary Hahn, a few years back. For one, Ms. Fischer, born in 1983, is not a teenager. But more importantly, she is building her career judiciously, step by step with great care, some well-applied self-restraint, and what seems an immaculate intellectual grasp. If her bio and recordings (on the audiophile label Pentatone) had not proven it by now, this concert did: she is not a violinist, she is a musician.

Equipped with a prodigious technique (itself being nothing special in these days of violin-athletes), she strikes a marvelous balance between the impressive intellectualism of her senior German violinist colleagues Christian Tetzlaff, Thomas Zehetmaier, and Frank Peter Zimmerman and lyrical élan (well displayed by Hilary Hahn). Her teacher, Ana Chumachenko, may have had a hand in this; the same teacher has also brought us Arabella Steinbacher, another rising violinist from Munich whose career and style are not too dissimilar. (I’ve probably not heard enough of either in concert to truly compare – but from what I have heard, I come away with the impression that Ms. Fischer tends towards the pristine while Ms. Steinbacher is more likely to ‘get dirty’ playing a particular work.)

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J. S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas

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Glazunov, Khachaturian, Prokofiev, Violin Concertos

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W. A. Mozart, Violin Concertos
What Julia Fischer chose to play with the BSO was no less a work than the Beethoven concerto: not a razzle-dazzle piece, the flash of which is to blind the audience and stun them into happy submission, but a work that demands foremost a thinking player’s approach, lest it fail to take off. Technical perfection and bravura playing can still produce a dud (as Anne Sofie Mutter has been happy to prove with two recordings) – conception and a sense of the complete work at every instant are more important. With her ability to place emotional peaks into refined playing, with her nicely developing tone – never shy, not too big – Ms. Fischer gave this concerto both: the nobility and excitement it needs without veering either into aloof coldness on one side or showy gypsy fiddling on the other. And while the “Beethoven Concerto against Violin” can take any number of approaches, it is especially allergic to the latter.

Cutting a dashing figure in a very red dress as she did, it was not enough to detract from the sternly delicate, searing Largo, where she made the otherwise middle-of-the run, broad rendition of the work sound very special; nuances well placed called attention to the music, not her. Grace and purity abounded. Under Temirkanov’s caring hands – here was something he visibly cherished doing – the BSO performed this and the cadenza-linked last movement splendidly, even with delicacy when called upon to do so. The ripping finale topped it all off in great style. This was an example of 45 minutes of music-making as it should be – and the audience sensed it: the longest standing ovation and sustained applause (did anyone at all sneak out into intermission?) I have witnessed at Meyerhoff Hall forced an encore out of her: Paganini’s Caprice No. 2 in B Minor; delicately sawed out of the musical material if perhaps not ideally prepared. Secretly, I had hoped for some of her Bach.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, A Violinist of Promise and Polish (Washington Post, May 27)

Tim Smith, Temirkanov's return was worth the wait (Baltimore Sun, May 27)

Charles T. Downey, Julia Fischer Gets In On It (DCist, May 27)


Shostakovich’s 1st Symphony does not have a nickname, but if my vote counted, I’d suggest “My Little Bombastic.” Outblaring and outgunning the two successive symphonies, it is a short, blazing trail of fire and brimstone. A student work of the 18-year-old Dmitry, the success of this symphony is not measured by the level of its sophistication (none of his symphonies are, really) or even coherence but by sheer visceral impact. Stravinsky, Mahler, and Prokofiev have their fingerprints on this work, but despite those and the early date of composition, it unmistakably spells out “Shostakovich” at every corner and with surprising clarity. The way that the unrelated themes bully each other around – the limping waltz with flute being rammed off stage by the timpani and brass-driven full orchestral forces only to suddenly make way for calm; then circus music – is Mahler in idea, Prokofiev in sound, Shostakovich in execution.

Anyone looking for particular sense in the way these divergent themes play off or against each other would do better to give up and enjoy the onslaught before the music is over. The symphony does not ask to be understood, it asks to be felt. Especially the haunting Lento, where there is respite found in (hollow?) beauty, a beauty not far from the second movement of the Ravel piano concerto, actually. And with Temirkanov once more leading something dear to his heart, the BSO following most every step of the way, it did make itself felt. A fine nightcap after one of the best Beethoven performances I have heard. So good, indeed, that I shall try to go again today. The third performance, as part of the “Casual Concert” series and without the Shostakovich, will be given on Saturday at 11AM.

Renaud Déjardin and Márta Gődény

Renaud Déjardin and Márta Gődény, La Maison Française, May 24, 2006On Wednesday night, the La Maison Française hosted a concert by cellist Renaud Déjardin and his pianist partner Márta Gődény. Last August, I went to the embassy to hear some of the qualifying round for the Rostropovich Cello Competition. I did not hear Mr. Déjardin that day, but he did well in the competition in Paris in November, receiving fifth prize. (All six finalists chose to play the same concerto in the final round, the Shostakovich op. 107, and an 18-year-old named Marie-Elizabeth Hecker impressed the jury the most.) Déjardin received a Mention, not a prize but an honor, in the 1997 competition, too.

Available at Amazon.fr:
Renaud Déjardin and Márta Gődény, Bohuslav Martinů, Sonatas for cello and piano
Bohuslav Martinů, Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Renaud Déjardin and Márta Gődény (released on September 1, 2005)
I will go out of my way to hear the music of Bohuslav Martinů, so when I saw the third cello sonata on the program, I added this concert to my schedule. It is a luscious work, with a diaphanous Debussy-like opening that corresponded well to the strengths of pianist Márta Gődény. This was her strongest performance of the evening, especially on the longer interludes in the work for piano alone. In the joyous 6/8 of the first movement there are delicious dissonances glistening inside the larger chords. Renaud Déjardin, too, was at his best here, especially in the slow movement, where his tone was consistently strong and urgent, with delicate pizzicati. The two players rendered the syncopated, bluesy third movement as a series of picaresque scenes. The third cello sonata was composed in 1952, the end of the Swing Era, when Martinů was in exile in the United States and around the time when in fact he became a U.S. citizen. Judging from this performance, I would guess that the duo's recent recording of the three Martinů sonatas would be worth hearing.

The duo opened with another strong performance, of the brief cello sonata by Claude Debussy. Composed in 1915, this sonata may have been a point of inspiration for the later Martinů work, as its structure and character are similar. Here also Gődény's strength as a colorist served her well. At times, especially for a former student of Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Conservatoire de Paris, she was almost too gentle, too self-effacing. Similarly, Déjardin has a soaring sense of line, but although he is always a self-assured player, he lacked an element of daring at times. Still, this combination proves a strength at moments like the opening of the second-movement Sérénade, with the cello's evocation of a plucked lute and the piano's delicate shading.

Martinů on Ionarts:

Charles T. Downey, Greek Passion in London (October 1, 2004)

Jens F. Laurson and Charles T. Downey, Beaux Arts Trio at the National Gallery (October 10, 2005)

Jens F. Laurson, Martinů Makes Happy (November 8, 2005)

Charles T. Downey, Martinů's Juliette in Paris (February 25, 2006)

Charles T. Downey, Jerusalem Symphony at Strathmore (March 1, 2006)
Least successful was a set of twelve transcriptions of Schumann Lieder (editorship unattributed -- we assume the performers are responsible), divided up into two groups of six. One or two of these would make a sweet encore, but without the poems that inspired Schumann, although the music and the playing were pretty enough, these wordless versions left me uninspired. I think more extensive adaptation -- rather than simple transcription -- is necessary to make these work on the cello, at least to have enough substance to make them interesting enough to stand on their own. This deficit was compensated for in the work that opened the second half, Schumann's Funf Stücke im Volkston, op. 102 (replacing the announced Mozart piece). The inspiration here was folksong, but the five character pieces are all created for these instruments and provide interesting challenges to the ear. Renaud Déjardin and Márta Gődény met all of those challenges in a fine performance, including the big multiple-stop section for the cello in the third movement and the Puckish melodic turns in the fourth. Not surprisingly, the best playing came in the delicate setting of a lovely, arching melody in the second movement. Atmosphere and color are this duo's strength.

The final concert of classical music at La Maison Française this season will feature the Klavier Trio Amsterdam next Tuesday (May 30, 7:30 pm). Also, American cellist Alan Toda-Ambaras, who was 14 years old when he received the Prix du meilleur espoir for best young cellist in this year's Rostropovich Competition (he was the youngest player this year), will play here in Washington in the fall. For this concert at Strathmore next winter (January 13, 7:30 pm), he will give a joint recital with violinist Daniel Austrich.

25.5.06

A Merciless, Glorious Turn of the Screw

available at Amazon
B. Britten, The Turn of the Screw, Britten / Pears, Vyvyan

available at Amazon
B. Britten, The Turn of the Screw, Harding / Bostridge, Rodgers

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B. Britten, The Turn of the Screw, Bedford / Langridge, Lott
Jeffrey LentzThere was little advance notice that the season for opera in Washington got an exciting addition, but the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater was filled nonetheless when Lorin Maazel presented Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw on Monday night. Everyone who was there will likely agree: it was the best opera performance that this city has witnessed this season. By far.

Britten’s Turn of the Screw is a fantastic opera – for chamber forces, three sopranos, tenor, and boy and girl soprano – but also a difficult opera and not likely to appeal to everyone. All those who attended the Châteauville Foundation production at the Terrace Theater knew what they were in for: a dense, chilling, creepy, and creeping psychological thriller set to haunting music that matches the action (or unbearable inaction) every step of the way.

I cannot recall the last time I had – literally – chills from head to toe. Here I did, when Miles, the boy, musters his courage, acknowledges the evil done to him, and cries out against his tormentor, the (molesting) spirit: “Peter Quint, you devil.” It was but one highlight among many. The cast was very even, very good – even superb. Primus inter pares was the outstanding tenor Jeffrey Lentz (excellent diction, haunting singing, good acting) as former manservant cum ghost Peter Quint. Michelle Rice as housekeeper Mrs. Grose had a marvelous, rich voice; Anne Dreyer was a very attractively chirruping and well-acted Governess, if with less clear diction than the rest. Miss Jessel, the former governess, now haunting Chez Bly (the uncle of the children Flora and Miles) in tandem with opponent/partner in crime Peter Quint was dramatic and ethereal in equal parts, sung by Valerie Komar. Tucker Fisher (Miles) and Jessica Moore (Flora) acted and sang their parts as well as one can imagine; just towards the very end of the opera did one hear the strain on little Mr. Fisher’s soprano. But at that point, drama and acting are more important – and they both were delivered spectacularly.

Anne DreyerThe opera's story by Henry James was adapted with sly and cunning skill by Myfanwy Piper. It combines the entertainment (albeit a very dark, scary entertainment) of a Broadway show with the quality of the finest literature, compelling the viewer/listener along with music that becomes a soundtrack (but none of the negative associations of “soundtrack” whatsoever) of the most haunting sort. Unforgivingly, the story of the hidden torture that the kids have to endure plows ahead. By the end, the opera has the audience in its palm and we allow it to crush us, willingly. Neither goosebumps nor chills were caused by the air conditioning.

Other Articles:

Tim Page, Young Singers Take A 'Turn' for the Better (Washington Post, May 21)

Charles T. Downey, Turn of the Screw (DCist, May 23)

Philip Kennicott, Maazel & Co. Make Impressive 'Turn' (Washington Post, May 24)

T. L. Ponick, 'Screw' a tricky vocal turn (Washington Times, May 24)

Tim Smith, Maazel, performers' 'Turn' with Britten is remarkable (Baltimore Sun, May 25)
If one takes to the music – and compelled by the drama one might more easily than by simply listening to a recording – it is impossible not to find it glorious. The chamber orchestra of youngsters under Lorin Maazel was a perfect little troupe. They supplied the passion, Maazel, probably the technically most gifted American conductor, turned them into perfection of playing and expression. Not only were the exposed and often challenging parts mastered with bravura, even the pauses and silences were masterfully judged. Piano, celesta, bells and harp play a prominent role amid four strings, flutes, oboe (and cor anglais), clarinets and horn. Fourths (alternatively threatening and joyful) and minor thirds dominate the musical mood and run through the score and story like the Ariadne-string – in ever changing, slightly different guises. Layer after layer is peeled away from the horrible truth that plagues the children. When salvation finally comes, it comes at the cost of Miles's life. The – already bitter – triumph of the Governess turns into a concluding requiem.

After this utterly moving experience, parents of small children will have been tempted to set up watch at their youngsters' bed; opera lovers meanwhile cannot wait to be granted another such gift from Maazel and his Châteauville Foundation. Indeed, the event just screamed out for the opportunity to hear other chamber or Baroque operas in the Terrace Theater with its very fine acoustic. Less expensive productions for the cognoscenti – Hindemith, Menotti, Blacher, Martinů, Glass, Henze next to Rameau, Lully or Scarlatti – would enrich the cultural life in Washington immensely. Whether that will remain a pipe-dream or not, the memory of this Turn of the Screw will remain something to feast on for a while.