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31.7.06

Dip Your Ears, No. 68

available at Amazon
W. A. Mozart, Die Zauberflöte, Abbado / Mahler CO D.Röschmann, C.Strehl, H.Müller-Brachmann, J.Kleiter, R.Pape, E.Miklósa DG
Claudio Abbado is enjoying his Indian Summer and conducts bands he feels particularly drawn to… among them the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (more or less made up of the best players of his previous orchestras, united by their love and respect for Abbado) and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. It is with the latter that he performed The Magic Flute in a production of his son, Daniele Abbado. Recorded live in Modena, it is Abbado’s first Zauberflöte and at once a great success.

A joyous performance that gives lie to the notion that conductors get slower and slower with age, this Flute has generally brisk (but also very flexible) tempi; there is no dwelling and lingering. As a dramatic comedy it is tightly and tidily presented and supported by wonderful singers. Dorothea Röschmann is a charming Pamina because she never whines – a flaw of so many Paminas. Christoph Strehl may not be a Wunderlich but is just right for the young, serious, noble Tamino: a delight! René Pape hardly needs my praise – is there any better Sarastro out there? Hanno Müller-Brachmann is a young, fresh Papageno who, in front of an Italian audience, does not feel the need to add some southern-German joviality to his light and breezy, humorous enough Papageno: much funnier and light-hearted than, for example, Fischer-Dieskau, who was once perfectly characterized as sounding like “a tourist in Lederhosen” (Böhm, DG – with Wunderlich as an unforgettable Tamino). The three ladies look better than they sing - but since they look very good, there is some room for variance without becoming a detriment to the recording. The three boys are actually boys (from the Tözer Knabenchor) - which has obvious disadvantages as far as the strength of the voices is concerned but works better dramatically. I tend to prefer that solution over three women. Erika Miklósa’s Queen of the Night offers partly stellar (pun intended) singing, but her atrocious German makes the spoken dialogue involving her rather an ordeal.

Speaking of speaking, Abbado is quick enough in his conducting to include plenty, nearly all, dialogue in this Magic Flute (since it was recorded live) and still fit the Singspiel on two discs. I often read reviews that bemoan the missing dialogue in recordings of this opera (most conductors cut at least some – to my knowledge only Haitink includes every last word) – but find most of it rather distracting than adding to the experience. For those who understand German it’s pleasant to have the option, I suppose, and the others can either ignore it or skip it with a click of the button.

The Magic Flute is an opera I very much like (it was the first I ever had on record) without obsessing about it. I’ve heard a few versions (Solti/Decca, Klemperer/EMI, Böhm/DG, Sawallisch/EMI) but always return to my trusty Böhm/Decca when I do listen to it. This new recording, however, might change the habit – fresh and sparkly as it is it blows away much dust: it’s the best Zauberflöte to have appeared since Arnold Östman’s period performance at Drottningholm (Decca).

Dip Your Ears, No. 67 (More Zemlinksy)

available at Amazon
A.Zemlinksy & A.Enna, Die Seejungfrau & Matchstick Girl,
T.Dausgaard, Danish NSO & Chorus
Dacapo 8.226048

available at AmazonSeejungfrau, Sinfonietta,
J.Conlon, Gürzenich
EMI

UK | DE | FR

available at AmazonSeejungfrau / Symphony in d,
A.Beaumont / Czech PO
Chandos


UK | DE | FR

available at AmazonSeejungfrau et al.,
Dausgaard / Danish RSO
Chandos

UK | DE | FR
Any mermaid coming my way is highly welcome – and if I have to content myself with Alexander (von) Zemlinsky’s tone poem of that name (as I had to, so far), that’s fine, too. Die Seejungfrau, in its original German title, is 104 years old, but its attraction remains undiminished. Zemlinsky is one of those sadly neglected composers of the turn of the last century who should appeal to all those who like Richard Strauss’s tone poems and Metamorphosen or early Schoenberg (think Verklärte Nacht or Pelleas & Melisande) or Mahler. (Zemlinsky was also the subject of Dip Your Ears, No. 56.)

So far, Chandos has the mermaid market cornered – both Beaumont (esp. on SACD) and Dausgaard (my favorite) have come up with excellent versions that have eclipsed even James Conlon’s EMI recording in my estimation. Here comes Dausgaard’s second recording with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra – this time live and on the Dacapo label. I can’t say it improves on his earlier version or Conlon's or Beaumont's, but it is another exquisite reading and welcome to the catalog. Particularly so, because the mermaid gets the show stolen by the accompanying matchstick girl. August Enna, a Zemlinksy contemporary, makes the latter seem like a super-star of classical music. Few are likely to be familiar with his work – and if, then probably only with his little one-act opera on H. C. Andersen’s tale. Incidentally, that’s a good start – because it’s a 30+-minute work of immense charm. There is Sibelius and R. Strauss washed together with some distinctively Russian opera turns of phrases and a strangely Italianate atmosphere amid the use of Danish tunes. At points during this opera, you would be excused to think La Bohème but with bearable music and delightfully short. Written for orchestra, choir, and two soloists (Inger Dam-Jensen and Ylva Kihlberg are the affectionate sopranos), it's a little gem to be appreciated by anyone whose musical shores it has washed on to.

Those who know well enough to be interested in northern European Romantics (Langgaard, Halvorsen, Nielsen, Norgard, Rautavaara, Ruders, Sibelius, Sinding, Svendsen – to name just a few) but don’t have Den lille pige med svovlstikkerne in their collection yet, this is worth getting just for the Enna. If you are intrigued and inexcusably without a Seejungfrau on your shelves, it might prove the ideal patch.


30.7.06

Ionarts in Santa Fe: The Tempest

Also on Ionarts:

Ionarts in Santa Fe: The Tempest Revisited (August 3, 2006)

More on "The Tempest" (July 30, 2006)

The Tempest (July 29, 2006)

Preview: Santa Fe Opera, Summer 2006 (July 19, 2006)


Other Reviews:

Craig Smith, Ades brings telling sea change to 'Tempest' (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 31) [The cranky comments on this article are not to be believed.--Ed.]

J. A. Van Sant, Strong Tempest at Santa Fe (Opera Today, July 31)

Scott Cantrell, New take on 'The Tempest' (Dallas Morning News, August 4)

James R. Oestreich, Santa Fe Opera Offers Love on a Stormy Island (New York Times, August 5)

Joshua Kosman, Thomas Adès' American premiere of 'Tempest' opera is a magical marvel of sound (San Francisco Chronicle, August 5)
The plays of Shakespeare may seem like the perfect sort of dramatic work for operatic adaptation, with memorable characters, moments of grand expression, and marvelous scope of setting. There are basically two models for past success: Verdi's late masterpieces, which are distant from their sources because the libretti are in Italian; and Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the best example of a Shakespeare opera in English, which uses the original text almost verbatim. The main drawback in The Tempest, the 2004 opera by British composer Thomas Adès, is that it is in English, but the retelling of the story in simpler language reads and sounds sadly like Shakespeare's homespun cousin. After a few days before the first performance of the opera, now in its American premiere at Santa Fe Opera, spent reading and studying Shakespeare's play again, the lightly rhymed, short-lined libretto by Meredith Oakes was a disappointment.

Shakespeare's play is a confusing aesthetic experience. It is a complicated story that does not necessarily leave you with any clear message. By removing its subtleties, the libretto also bleaches out most of the interest. You will not recognize Shakespeare's characters in the operatic version. Prospero is no longer the omnipotent thaumaturge: in Shakespeare, he directs Ariel to bring Ferdinand and his daughter, Miranda, together and is happy to see love blossom between them, having already announced his plan to see his child married to the son of his mortal enemy. In the opera, Prospero is helpless to stop the two young people from falling in love, and it seems to be against his plans.

Ariel is not explicitly a male spirit, but the possessive pronoun applied by Shakespeare is "his" instead of "her," while Adès and Oakes cast Ariel as one of the most striking coloratura roles ever conceived for the stage. The host of other spirits in the masque scenes of Shakespeare's plays almost disappear in the opera, to be replaced by a chorus identified as "The Court," a host of well-heeled people who land on the island with Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo. The opera enhances the roles of Prospero's enemies, while diminishing the characters at the center of the play. Nothing happens in Shakespeare's play without being part of Prospero's ultimate plan, while in the opera the action seems to overwhelm Prospero, leaving Ariel and Caliban the apparent victors, in possession of the island.

The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, set and costumes designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, set and costumes designed by Paul Brown,
photo by Ken Howard © 2006
Nevertheless, while I think that there are better ways to adapt The Tempest as an opera, Adès has composed something that deserves to be remembered, recorded, and performed widely. The score is paced very well, never dragging and always creating interest for the listener. Each act is more or less one continuous scene, although there are a few sections we might call arias and ensemble pieces that are set off by changes in style. At the symposium I attended on the morning of the premiere, the moderator asked Adès if he was most attracted by or sympathized with any one particular musical style or –ism; he paused for a well-timed moment, leaning toward the microphone, and said very dryly and to much laughter, "No." The Tempest veers between thorny dissonance (in the opening storm scene) and lush consonance (Ariel's agonizingly beautiful aria "Five fathoms down"), between contrapuntal complexity (the Act III sextet) and diaphanous orchestration (the clanging, sonorous masque scene). One could suggest similarities with the work of other composers, but this young composer (b. 1971) has found a unique voice, making such comparisons beside the point.

Director Jonathan Kent and set/costume designer Paul Brown wanted to flood the orchestra pit, a plan that was, wisely, not approved. They did incorporate a small pool of water at the front of the stage. In the dissonant eponymous storm that begins the opera, the chorus members of the Court rise up from an opening and pass through the pool, walking like zombies out of the water and across the yellow sand of the island. The basic set does not change through the opera's three acts, a raked island covered with yellow material that shines brightly under the lights. Several trap doors allow characters to sink into the island, as if in quicksand, or rise out of it, as Ariel does on a ladder. A large, leafless tree grows from the upstage corner, where Ariel and Prospero often hover over the proceedings. The costumes play with the juxtaposition of the desert island fantasy world with modern reality. The members of the Court look more or less like the British royal family and retinue. Ariel, spirit of the air, is a blue-plumed bird, and Caliban's "costume" consists mostly of a few splashes of mud.

Toby Spence as Ferdinand and Patricia Risley as Miranda, The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, set and costumes designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
Toby Spence as Ferdinand and Patricia Risley as Miranda, The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, set and costumes designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
Certainly, the triumph of this opera is the role of Ariel, an insanely strenuous use of the coloratura, truly birdlike, and not only in limited sections but with terrifying consistency. Toby Spence confided that many of the singers who created the opera were not sure that what Adès intended was even possible. The remarkable soprano Cyndia Sieden, reprising the role in Santa Fe after a triumphant premiere in London, arrived at a most satisfying approach, which involves a lightness that captures Ariel's inhuman quality. Quite rightly, she received the loudest ovation at the curtain call, and I found myself longing for her next entrance and shaking my head in admiration when she finished yet another incredible performance. Here she was directed to emphasize the avian nature of the role, made clear by her bright, lovely costume.

Cyndia Sieden as Ariel, The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, costume designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
Cyndia Sieden as Ariel, The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, costume designed by Paul Brown, photo by Ken Howard © 2006
No one in the cast was anything less than good. Special mention must be made of William Ferguson, who had the unfortunate task of stepping into Ian Bostridge's shoes in the role of Caliban. He excelled as the pathetic, earthly monster that Adès and Oakes made of Caliban, evoking an otherworldly delight in the final scene of the opera, as Ariel echoed from the wings his plaintive calls over the empty island. Toby Spence and Patricia Risley were a handsome couple as Ferdinand and Miranda, both physically and vocally, the unity of the pair represented in the closeness of their ranges. Bass Wilbur Pauley (Stefano) and countertenor David Hansen (Trinculo) made a charming Mutt and Jeff, distanced as they were in range, as the pair of clowns. The valiant Rod Gilfry seemed to struggle the most as Prospero, both with the numerous high-range demands of the role as well as the strain of being on stage and singing for so much of the opera. Santa Fe Opera music director Alan Gilbert conducted the fine orchestral ensemble, which after a slightly rocky start in the tempest scene (with percussion and other parts not quite lining up rhythmically), played very well. The strength of Thomas Adès, in my opinion, is his magical use of the orchestra to evoke countless colors and timbres, with a special favoring of glassy string chords, tinkly percussion, and the rumbling bluster of low instruments like the contrabassoon and low brass, which now and then poke their massive, mossy heads out of the orchestra.

The Santa Fe Opera has scheduled only three more performances of The Tempest, on August 2, 11, and 17. I will hear the first of those, but if I were in New Mexico through the end of August, I would be happy to hear all of them.

The Trey McIntyre Project

The name of 36-year-old choreographer Trey McIntyre is well known in the world of dance. He is one of the hottest contemporary dance makers, with an impressive resume that comprises more than 50 ballets created for such big-name companies as American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Stuttgart Ballet. McIntyre is a resident choreographer of the Washington Ballet. His latest work for the company, the Beatles part of The Bach/Beatles Project, received its premiere at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater in May to critical acclaim. McIntyre’s original and innovative choreographic palette makes his works “consistently interesting” and memorable.

The Trey McIntyre Project, the dance company founded by the choreographer, is coming to Wolf Trap on August 8. The program features three McIntyre works: an exhilarating dance, Like a Samba, set to Brazilian rhythms by Astrud Gilberto; hailed by critics “a masterpiece,” Just, danced to music by Henry Cowell; and a new work, Go Out, choreographed to bluegrass songs.

More information about the performance can be found on the Wolf Trap Web site.

29.7.06

More on "The Tempest"

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, Santa Fe, N.Mex.Ionarts made it to New Mexico on Wednesday night. This morning, I made my way down to the Scottish Rite Masonic Center (how fitting given the correlation of Shakespeare's The Tempest to The Magic Flute noted yesterday) on the Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe, a building (shown here) that could fit in only in a city like Santa Fe (noxious rose walls joining false Gothic and Moorish architectural elements). I was fighting my way past hordes of tourists descending on the Spanish market to attend a symposium on The Tempest sponsored by Santa Fe Opera. The round table discussion brought together Toby Spence (the creator of the role of Ferdinand, who is singing the same part here), director Jonathan Kent, composer Thomas Adès, and set and costume designer Paul Brown.

Symposium on The Tempest, Santa Fe Opera, July 29, 2006In an introductory exchange about the genesis of the opera, the composer described the work of librettist Meredith Oakes, who wrote a loosely rhymed, more metrical version of Shakespeare's text, reordering some events, compacting, sometimes expanding. Alex Ross already lamented the loss of some of the most famous phrases in the English language ("Full fathom five thy father lies," "We are such things as dreams are made of") in the libretto. Jonathan Kent said it was a wise decision to move away from Shakespeare, in spite of Britten's success in setting the words directly, because the "music of the text would interfere with or leave no room for the music of the composer." It also allowed composer and librettist to recast the story, tell it more efficiently and more directly, and craft operatic characters from those fashioned by Shakespeare.

The director and designer collaborated a few years ago on an outlandish production of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which included flooding the Almeida Theater's basement and destroying part of the roof so that characters could be flown in from outside. (The theater was about to be closed for renovations, so they had some latitude.) Jonathan Dove composed the incidental music for that production. When they began to discuss the concept for the opera, they first gave thought to flooding the orchestra pit to create a real lake, but more rational minds prevailed. The orchestra remained dry, but Kent and Brown did come up with a technically exciting (if minimalistic) production.

Sign in Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, Santa Fe, N.Mex.Has Adès changed anything in the score since the premiere? The question was put to him, and he answered that he made changes, but nothing that significant. The librettist altered a few words, and Adès lightened and otherwise tweaked some of the orchestration. He also sped up the opera overall, tightening the pace. "How is the opera different? 'Louder, slower'," he joked, referring to Toby Spence's earlier reference to a sign at the back of the balcony, with neon words that can cue speakers in the theater to speak up and slow down. Apparently, he did not tone down any of the vocal roles, most of which explore the extremes of the singing voice. The most notorious case is Ariel, cast by Adès as a coloratura soprano on speed. Some of the reviews of the premiere remarked on the outrageous demands of the part and the resulting unintelligibility of the words she sings. Adès explained that he viewed the character not as a human but as a spirit of the air and that her language, magical as it is, would probably be understood only by Prospero anyway.

Performances of The Tempest are scheduled at Santa Fe Opera on July 29 and August 2, 11, and 17. My review will follow shortly.

Classical Month in Washington (September)

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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!

September 2, 2006 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Radio Broadcast: La Clemenza di Tito
Washington National Opera
NPR World of Opera (in Baltimore-Washington: 91.5, 90.9)
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 9, 2006)

September 3, 2006 (Sun)
8 pm
National Labor Day Concert [FREE]
National Symphony Orchestra
West Lawn, U.S. Capitol

September 6, 2006 (Wed)
8 pm
Juan Gambina (tenor), and Michael Adcock (piano)
Embassy Series
Meridian House International (1630 Crescent Place NW)

September 7 and 8, 2006 (Thu/Fri)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (Roberto Minczuk, conductor/Joyce Yang, piano)
All-Tchaikovsky program
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 8)

September 8, 2006 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Tribute to French Opera
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theatre (Silver Spring, Md.)
Review -- Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, September 11)

September 9, 2006 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Radio Broadcast: Trilogy: Fedora (Act II), Otello (Act IV), The Merry Widow (Act III)
Washington National Opera
NPR World of Opera (in Baltimore-Washington: 91.5, 90.9)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, October 1, 2005)

September 9, 2006 (Sat)
6 pm
The Amadeus Orchestra [FREE]
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

September 9, 2006 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Soyeon Lee, piano
Korean Concert Society
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, September 11)

September 10, 2006 (Sun)
11 am to 4 pm
Annual Open House [FREE], with music and children's activities
Kreeger Museum

September 10, 2006 (Sun)
2 pm
Lawrence Brownlee, tenor (with Martin Katz, piano)
2006 Marian Anderson Award winner
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 13)

September 10, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
Tribute to French Opera
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theatre (Silver Spring, Md.)
Review -- Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, September 11)

September 10, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
Walsum Award Concert [FREE]
Left Bank String Quartet
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)
Review -- Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, September 12)

September 11, 2006 (Mon)
6 pm
Stephen Kalnoske, organist [FREE]
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 12, 2006 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Washington Musica Viva
Brahms, Schubert, and world premiere of Charley Gerard's 44 Faces of Funk
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum (Bethesda, Md.)
Review -- Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, September 14)

September 14, 2006 (Thu)
8 pm
D.C. Tango Festival: Las Cuerdas de Piazzolla
Pan American Symphony Orchestra with Amy Beth Horman, violin
Jack Morton Auditorium, George Washington University

September 15, 2006 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Tribute to French Opera
Opera Bel Cantanti
La Maison Française
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 16)

September 16, 2006 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Radio Broadcast: L'Elisir d'Amore
Washington National Opera
NPR World of Opera (in Baltimore-Washington: 91.5, 90.9)
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, April 3, 2006)

September 16, 2006 (Sat)
7 pm
Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi
Washington National Opera
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 23)

September 16, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic (Brian Ganz, piano)
Music Center at Strathmore

September 16, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
D.C. Tango Festival: La Cumbre del Tango
Pan American Symphony Orchestra with Raul Juarena, bandoneon
Lisner Auditorium

September 17, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra (Joseph Silverstein, guest conductor and violinist)
Music by Schubert, Stravinsky, Mozart, Haydn)
George Washington Masonic National Memorial (Alexandria, Va.)
Review -- Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, September 19)

September 17, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
Suspicious Cheese Lords, 10th Anniversary Concert
Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church (Potomac, Md.)

September 17, 2006 (Sun)
4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum
Paul Moravec, Tempest Fantasy (Washington premiere); works by Saariaho, Nakatoni, Mobberley, and Lansky
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 19)

September 17, 2006 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Stefan Jackiw (violin) and Max Levinson (piano)
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Preview -- Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, September 14)

September 17, 2006 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Tribute to French Opera
Opera Bel Cantanti
Olsen Theater, Flint Hill School (Oakton, Va.)

September 19, 2006 (Tue)
8 pm
Isabel Ettenauer, toy pianos, piano, and voice
Works by Essl, Cage, Hannan, and others
Austrian Embassy
Review -- Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, September 21)

September 20, 2006 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi
Washington National Opera

September 20, 2006 (Wed)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (Gil Shaham, violin)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 22)

September 21, 2006 (Thu)
6 pm and 8 pm
Baltimore Consort
Peabody Institute, Griswold Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 21, 2006 (Thu)
7 pm
Nicholas Maw, Sophie's Choice
Washington National Opera
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 26)

September 21, 2006 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (Gil Shaham, violin)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 22)

September 21, 2006 (Thu)
7 pm
Natasa Mitrovic (piano) and Ellie Valkenburg (soprano)
Lecture performance, contemporary Serbian and American composers
International Finance Corporation Cultural Center

September 21, 2006 (Thu)
7 pm
Central Javanese Gamelan Ensemble of the Embassy of Indonesia (led by Pak Muryanto) [FREE, reservation suggested]
Arlington Arts Center

September 21, 2006 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Gary Schocker (flute) with Cliff Jackson (piano)
Mansion at Strathmore

September 22, 2006 (Fri)
1:30 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (Gil Shaham, violin)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 22, 2006 (Fri)
5 pm
National Gallery Chamber Players Wind Ensemble [FREE]
National Gallery of Art, Sculpture Garden

September 23, 2006 (Sat)
10 am to 4 pm
35th Anniversary International Children's Festival
Arts Council of Fairfax County
The Barns at Wolf Trap

September 23, 2006 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Radio Broadcast: I Vespri Siciliani
Washington National Opera
NPR World of Opera (in Baltimore-Washington: 91.5, 90.9)
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 29, 2005)

September 23, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
Nina Assimakopoulos, flute, and Andrew Simpson, piano
New music by Andrew Simpson and other composers
Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Performing Arts (1700 Kalorama Road NW, Suite 101)

September 24, 2006 (Sun)
10 am to 4 pm
35th Anniversary International Children's Festival
Arts Council of Fairfax County
The Barns at Wolf Trap

September 24, 2006 (Sun)
2 pm
Nicholas Maw, Sophie's Choice
Washington National Opera

September 24, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
Piano Society of Greater Washington, Fall Recital [FREE, with reception]
Calvary Lutheran Church (9545 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Md.)

September 24, 2006 (Sun)
5 pm
Chamber Concert, members of Capitol City Symphony
Atlas Peforming Arts Center

September 24, 2006 (Sun)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra: Season Opening Ball Concert
Joshua Bell (violin), Irina Mataeva (soprano), Daniil Shtoda (tenor)
All-Tchaikovsky program
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts (Washington Post, September 26)

September 25, 2006 (Mon)
7 pm
Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi
Washington National Opera

September 25, 2006 (Mon)
7 pm
Les Grands Pianistes: François-Frédéric Guy
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 27)

September 27, 2006 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Nicholas Maw, Sophie's Choice
Washington National Opera

September 27, 2006 (Wed)
7 pm
Les Grands Pianistes: François-Frédéric Guy
La Maison Française

September 27, 2006 (Wed)
8 pm
Monument Piano Trio, with soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme
All-Shostakovich program
Peabody Institute, Friedberg Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, September 30)

September 27, 2006 (Wed)
8 pm
Cartoon, new music and video inspired by animated short films
Fireworks New Music Ensemble
Patricia M. Sitar Center for the Performing Arts (1700 Kalorama Road NW, Suite 101)

September 28, 2006 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov, conductor/Yefim Bronfman, piano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, September 29)

September 28, 2006 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi
Washington National Opera

September 28, 2006 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov (conductor), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo-soprano)
Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, September 30

September 29, 2006 (Fri)
5 pm
National Gallery Chamber Players Brass Ensemble [FREE]
National Gallery of Art, Sculpture Garden

September 29, 2006 (Fri)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov, conductor/Yefim Bronfman, piano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 29, 2006 (Fri)
7 pm
Puccini, Gianni Schicchi (for members of Generation O only)
Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, Washington National Opera
Pre-performance lecture at 5:45 pm
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, October 2)

September 29, 2006 (Fri)
8 pm
University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra (Chris Gekker, trumpet; Rita Sloan, piano)
Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
Review -- Gail Wein (Washington Post, October 2)

September 29, 2006 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov (conductor), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo-soprano)
Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 29, 2006 (Fri)
8 pm
Requiem & Resurrection: A Mozart Anniversary Celebration
Washington Bach Consort, with soprano Christine Brandes and other soloists
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, October 1)

September 30, 2006 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Radio Broadcast: L'Italiana in Algeri
Washington National Opera
NPR World of Opera (in Baltimore-Washington: 91.5, 90.9)
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 16, 2006)

September 30, 2006 (Sat)
7 pm
September 30, 7 pm
Nicholas Maw, Sophie's Choice
Washington National Opera

September 30, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Ilan Volkov, conductor/Yefim Bronfman, piano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 30, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Temirkanov (conductor), Nancy Maultsby (mezzo-soprano)
Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 30, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic, with Piotr Paleczny (piano)
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, October 2)

September 30, 2006 (Sun)
8 pm
Words of Wisdom, Words of Woe (Beethoven's Ninth Symphony)
Opera Theater of Northern Virginia and Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall, Northern Virginia Community College
Review -- Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, October 2)

Classical Month in Washington (August)

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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!

August 3, 2006 (Thu)
8:15 pm
NSO at Wolf Trap: An Evening with Renée Fleming
Filene Center at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, August 4)

August 4, 2006 (Fri)
8:30 pm
NSO at Wolf Trap: PLAY! A Video Game Symphony
With Master Chorale of Washington
Filene Center at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Jose Antonio Vargas (Washington Post, August 5)

August 5, 2006 (Sat)
8:30 pm
NSO at Wolf Trap: The Wizard of Oz
Filene Center at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, August 7)

August 5, 2006 (Sat)
1 and 4 pm
August 6, 2006 (Sun)
4 and 7 pm (Round House Theater, Bethesda, Md.)
August 7, 2006 (Mon)
6 pm (Kennedy Center Millennium Stage)
Stephen Mager, Dream of the Pacific (children's opera based on journals of Lewis and Clark, libretto by Elkhanah Pulitzer)
Washington National Opera, Opera Camp for Kids
Review -- Tim Page (Washington Post, August 7)

August 8, 2006 (Tue)
8:30 pm
Trey McIntyre Project
Filene Center at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Oksana Khadarina (Ionarts, August 11)

August 12, 2006 (Sat)
8 pm
Four Islands Recital
Wolf Trap Opera Company
Filene Center The Barns at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, August 14)

August 18 and 19, 2006 (Fri and Sat)
8 pm
Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro
Wolf Trap Opera Company
Filene Center at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, August 20)

August 20, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
U.S. Army Field Band 60th Anniversary Concert
Free concert, tickets required (contact the box office)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

August 21, 2006 (Mon)
6 pm
Cuarteto Madrid [FREE]
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

August 23, 2006 (Wed)
7 pm
Mulberry String Quartet [FREE]
Arlington Central Library, Auditorium (1015 N. Quincy Street)

August 25, 2006 (Fri)
8 pm
Our '70s Show
Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra (Keith Lockhart, conductor)
Liz Callaway, vocal soloist
Filene Center at Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va.)
Review -- Grace Jean (Washington Post, August 28)

August 27, 2006 (Sun)
3 pm
Smithsonian Chamber Players (piano trios by Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn)
James Stern (violin), Kenneth Slowik (cello), and Audrey Andrist (piano)
Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, August 28)

Visconti: Restored and Airconditioned

Il gattopardoAmid the plethora of cultural offerings in D.C. are the many film screenings at various museums (Freer, NGA, etc.), Embassies, and the AFI Silver which I tend to forget about or neglect when the concert season is under way. When D.C. turns into a muggy swamp for the summer and – as far as music is concerned – cultural wasteland, these events appear from under the radar screen and offer diversion of the best kind.

The finest example is the Visconti retrospective at the National Gallery of Art where from last Sunday until September 4th, newly and very well restored prints (with new subtitles) of six Lucchino Visconti films are being shown – five of which are collaborations with his screen-play writer Suso Cecchi d'Amico. The series opened with Luca Verdone’s 1983 biographic film of Visconti the film, theater, and opera director… and included contributions by many of his collaborators like d’Amica, Marcello Mastroianni, and Franco Zefirelli. Alas, the subtitles chose only to translate a quarter of the comments and even then rather liberally. It was followed by the beautiful L’Innocente, a compelling drama in its own right, even without the sub-stories of (male) self-delusion, chauvinism and the tint of an appeal to socialism.

Tomorrow at 4pm and again on August 2nd at 12:30 the NGA will screen Il gattopardo with the famous score of Nino Rota and more or less the beginning of Alain Delon's career. Check out the NGA’s schedule for the other films.

BSO Summer Thursdays at Strathmore: Beethoven's Ninth

[Beethoven, 34x21] - by László Környei - www.painter.hu/kornyei The rank and file of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society finished the Summer Thursday Series at Strathmore this year, as last year, with Beethoven’s 9th – perhaps the most iconic of all works in classical music. Conducting was the young and energetic Edward Gardiner who proved so energetic, indeed, that he proceeded to rid himself of excess energy by means of a most curious and surely inefficient “Edward Scissorhands” conducting technique replete with nervously militaristic spasms and convulsions. The result looked like a persiflage of the ‘modern, young and dynamic conductor’.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, A Ninth to Remember: Gardner Conducts, And Beethoven Sings (Washington Post, Friday Performance - July 31)
Fortunately the result with the principle-less but principled playing BSO was of a more relaxed nature – an autopilot performance that started and landed smoothly and safely and nary a bit of turbulence in between. After an engaging second but rather less inspiring third movement with many a detail awry, the finale heralded. The Baltimore Choral Arts Society provided the highlight of the evening with a cogent, rousing performance. Among the soloists – Alexandra Deshorties (soprano – at turns impressive), Kelley O’Connor (mezzo – drowned out), Gordin Gietz (tenor – strained) and Stephen Powell (baritone – very solid) – no one detracted nor particularly excelled.

Before a summery, liberally behaved but ultimately enchanted and frenetically applauding audience, Gardiner was faultless and delivered the necessities without, however, giving one ever the sense to have partaken in a great night of music making.

28.7.06

The Tempest

John Henry Fuseli, ArielThe Tempest is a somewhat enigmatic play among the works of William Shakespeare. Tradition tells us that it is Shakespeare's last play, but without any substantial evidence to prove it. Is Prospero, the aging wizard laying down the tricks of his trade, really a stand-in for Shakespeare retiring from the theatrical life? The Tempest is one of the few Shakespeare plays whose precise sources, if there are any, have so far eluded scholarship. The play is at once a rough comedy (with so much prose that its metrical quality is dampened) and a philosophical treatise (on forgiveness and the wise use of power). It is also a remarkably musical play, with what can only be described as court ballet scenes and numerous songs and other music incorporated into the action. It is, in some ways, a masque without being identified as such.

We should not be surprised that such a play is perceived as a natural for operatic adaptation. Representing the lower impulses of humankind, the monster Caliban describes what life is like on Prospero's island:

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds, methought, would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

The Tempest, Act III, scene 3
The earliest musical adaptations of The Tempest were attempts essentially to convert it into a masque, a court entertainment. Dryden did so toward the end of the 17th century, with music by Matthew Locke and others, and David Garrick made an operatic version in 1756. The play has undergone many transformations in the 19th and 20th centuries, including Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasy (1873) and famous attempts at providing incidental music for the play, including versions by Sibelius and Arthur Sullivan, while he was a student at the Leipzig Conservatory. Composers have already recast it as a modern opera at least four times, in works by Frank Martin (1956), John Eaton (1985, libretto by Andrew Porter, premiered at Santa Fe Opera), Lee Hoiby (1986), Peter Tahourdin (2000), and most recently Thomas Adès (2004).

Are these Tempest operas like the play? That is, a comic frame – a court ballet bit of grotesquerie – with something rather serious at the center? The play meant a lot of to the poet W. H. Auden, who wrote a long poetic adaptation of it in The Sea and the Mirror (so did Robert Browning, extending the play in Caliban on Setebos). I have also reread Auden's lecture on the play, thoughts on Shakespeare collected by Arthur Kirsch, which sums up this dual nature of high and low, comic and serious, in The Tempest:
Comic strips are a good place to start in understanding the nature of myths, because their language is unimportant. There are some famous passages of poetry in The Tempest, […] but they are accidental. Antony and Cleopatra and King Lear only exist in words. In The Tempest only the wedding masque – which is very good, and apposite – and possible Ariel's songs are dependent on poetry. Otherwise you could put The Tempest in a comic strip.
Auden also hits on another comparison that illumines the operatic potential of The Tempest:
There is a significant parallel between The Tempest and The Magic Flute. The problem posed in both works is the nature of education. Sarastro is like Prospero, the Queen of the Night like Sycorax, Monostatos like Caliban, and Tamino and Pamina like Ferdinand and Miranda. How do people react to education? You must go all the way if you start. You can be lowbrow or highbrow, you can't be middlebrow. Caliban might have been his "own king" (I.ii) once, but when he becomes a conscious being, he has to govern himself and he can't.
One editor of the play pointed out something that now seems so obvious, that the name Caliban is a poorly disguised anagram of "cannibal." The one reference in the play that is easily identifiable is that Gonzalo makes a speech based on Montaigne's essay "On Cannibals," which Shakespeare had certainly read in John Florio's English translation. In that brilliant essay, Montaigne recalls the testimony of a man who had traveled among the native cultures of South America. As brutal as some of the practices found among those tribes at war were (roasting and eating the flesh of those who were defeated), he wrote, none was actually more brutal than what was being perpetrated in Europe at the same time, in the name of religion (torturing and murdering people only because they were Catholic or Protestant).

The Tempest is also unusual among the plays of Shakespeare because it observes the Aristotelian unities, taking place quite clearly in one location, in the space of about four hours (2 pm to 6 pm). "The tempest," the storm raised by Prospero's powers, involves a temporary suspension of the normal order of things. Love can flourish, enemies can be forgiven, music can reign. Yes, I think it is a natural fit for opera. The American premiere of Thomas Adès's The Tempest is scheduled for this evening, at Santa Fe Opera. Ionarts will be there.

20th-Century Opera at Tanglewood

The Festival of Contemporary Music commenced last night at the Tanglewood Music Center -- the "summer home" of the Boston Symphony Orchestra -- with a triple bill of one-act operas by 20th-century icons. The performance included Hindemith's 1927 absurdist comedy Hin und zurück (There and Back), Stravinsky's 1922 opéra buffe Mavra, and Elliott Carter's 1997 What Next?, which received its premiere American staging. All operas were performed in English. All performers and orchestra members, as well as the conductors for the Hindemith and Stravinsky operas, were fellows of the summer programs offered at Tanglewood. What Next? was conducted by James Levine.

Paul HindemithHindemith's brief operas of the 1920s were intended to be a departure from everything related to opera as the world new it. Harmonic and rhythmic language, plot and development were all intended to be a shot in the arm of the status quo, and Hin und zurück is a perfect example of his aesthetic. The plot was simple: a man comes home to surprise his wife for her birthday. She receives a letter and, when pressed by the husband, reveals defiantly that it is from her lover. In a rage he kills her and then himself, all in front of an old deaf aunt who knits silently throughout the entire proceedings. But then a wise man appears, saying that life could just as easily proceed from death to birth. The action then reverses, phrase by phrase, back to the opening soprano aria "Now like new I awake."

Orchestrated with pianos and winds the pungent harmonies that could have been written only by Hindemith were punched out in idiomatic 1920s jazz rhythms. Over this texture lay surprisingly graceful and beautiful tenor and soprano lines. Doug Fitch (who also has directed for, among others, Santa Fe Opera) directed and designed sets for all three productions. His treatment of the absurdist nature of the Hindemith was well realized in touches both subtle (the wise man springing forth and melting back into the wool of the aunt's knitting, a family photo springing to life on the last note right before the black out) and not (loud colors on the set, over-exaggerated melodramatic staging). The fully encompassing production was a gem and the highlight of the evening. In an interesting aside, there was a cameo appearance by legendary soprano Phyllis Curtin as the silent, knitting aunt.

Igor StravinskyStravinsky's Mavra did not fare as well in its translation - both to English and through Fitch's direction. The music is exquisite, straddling the line between Russian folk and Stravinksy's neoclassicism, and it took quite a while to recognize the signature style of the composer. The translation was wordy, and set the voices against the chamber orchestra texture, which became increasingly more complex as the story developed. Fitch's stage design - all straight lines and pastels - was washed out in Clifton Taylor's general lighting scheme.

It also seemed that Fitch tried to link the Stravinsky with the Hindemith absurdist aesthetic, switching abruptly between stylized movements resembling that of cartoon characters and traditional Russian folk dance steps. The result, however seemed forced, especially as the plot of Mavra (a young girl gets her mother to hire a new maid, who actually is the girl's lover in disguise: hilarity ensues) could subsist on the inherent humor and didn't need to be adorned with cartoonish affectation. Unfortunately, all of the singers for the first two works were small-voiced, with the exception of tenor Randall Umstead, who played Vasily, the Hussar, in Mavra.

Elliot CarterThe majority of the program's energy - better singers, more elaborate sets and fascinating lighting, not to mention the music direction of James Levine - went into the Carter opera What Next?. Without having a score in front of you, or having the time to pull everything asunder to see how it was put together, one can examine only the parts, but it is very difficult to delve deeply into the successfulness of the piece as a whole during one listening. The situation involves the aftermath of a multi-car accident, as indicated by the percussive "overture" and the grotesquely scattered remains of both cars and bodies as the curtain rises. The six characters spend the entire opera trying to figure out who they are, how they relate to each other (if at all), and what happened. It's not clear if they are deceased, though the ashen makeup and Catherine Zuber's costume design suggests so (black and shades of grey with dark red flowers adorning the head), as did Fitch's staging, which reflected the eerie, uncomfortable plot.

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Elliott Carter, What Next?, Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra (released on November 25, 2003)
At times the writing for the voices soars gloriously, at other times it is unflattering - interesting writing, but not idiomatic for the voice. There is a moment of staggering beauty in an intermezzo paired with striking lighting from upstage and below. Entitled "The singing stage," it featured a luscious English horn solo, beautifully played by TMC fellow Andrea Overturf. All singers should be mentioned, their skill in navigating the strenuousness of the piece being apparent: sopranos Kiera Duffy and Jamie Van Eyck, alto Christin-Marie Hill, tenor Lawrence Jones, and baritone Chad Sloan. Carter himself was in attendance - walking with assistance to the pit where he beamed down at Levine, up at the singers, and out to a packed house.

An ECM recording of What Next? is available, a "review" (mostly interpretation) of which can be found here. The Festival continues through July 31, and Tanglewood's offerings continue through early September.

Summer Opera 2006: Marin Marais in Beaune

Marin Marais (1656-1728)This is the sort of opera production that makes my musicologist's heart go pitter-pat, the rediscovery of an opera by Marin Marais. The great viola da gamba player and composer was acclaimed as a great opera composer when his opera Alcyone was triumphantly rediscovered. The Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles produced this concert performance reconstruction (edited by French musicologist Gérard Geay) of Marais's Sémélé (1709), performed by Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel, as part of the Festival International d'Opéra Baroque in Beaune (the new name this year shifts the focus to opera). Performances were also scheduled for Montpellier (July 12) and at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris (October 23). Christian Merlin wrote a review of the Beaune premiere (Un opéra symphonique, July 3) for Le Figaro (my translation):

Hervé Niquet is never happier than when he sends trumpets and tympani charging at full flourish, reinforces a grandiose chaconne, or lets loose a supernatural tempest. He brings the pieces together with no dead time, while the smile of first violin player Alice Piérot shines on all the musicians and choristers of Le Concert spirituel. The casting is striking because of its youth, ready to do without any monstres sacrés. One admires the mastery of the French musical style and the diction: at a time when so many performances of Carmen and The Tales of Hoffmann remain incomprehensible, salvation comes decidedly from the Baroque singers.
Renaud Machart wrote a longer review ("Sémélé", de Marin Marais, ressuscitée à Beaune, July 6) for Le Monde (my translation):
If with Lully the truly dramatic splendor of the recitatives is manifest and the instrumental and choral moments are brilliant but often secondary, it is the reverse with Marin Marais: we remember especially the choral scenes and the orchestral music, including a monumental chaconne that has for a succulent oddity being at least in part in duple time. The performance by this production's young soloists, on Saturday, July 1, seemed a little bit like the graduation project of a Baroque internship. We heard especially the intention to do well, but nothing more. Hervé Niquet, with large gestures and lovely imagination, directed the large scenes of the score well, especially the choral passages, but the ensemble did not seem together in the longer scenes.

Because the festival leadership had decided to try to conclude the performance before the France-Brazil World Cup soccer match, the intermission was too short to allow the keyboard instruments to be tuned. Much of the second part (the prelude to the fifth act!) was played in a sort of No Man's Land of intonation, made worse by two string basses that had been out of tune since the beginning. We trust that Niquet will tweak this Sémélé into shape before its next performance.
A recording is hopefully in the works.

27.7.06

Summer Opera 2006: "Midsummer Night's Dream"

Iride Martinez as Tytania, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Glyndebourne Festival, 2006, photo by Mike HobanThe word from Glyndebourne has been fairly encouraging. This summer they are doing a couple revivals, playing it pretty safe, but then there is this Betrothal in a Monastery (more about that another time). One of the revivals was a tried and true production of an opera that should be performed more (especially on our side of the Atlantic), Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It has one of the great roles for countertenor, perfectly cast, in Oberon, sung this summer by Bejun Mehta. Warwick Thompson wrote a review (Glyndebourne's Magic 'Midsummer Night's Dream' Has Spry Puck, June 16) for Bloomberg News:

With its sylvan glades, secret gardens and mysterious pleached alleys, Glyndebourne must be one of the best opera houses in which to see Benjamin Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," especially when the pastoral magic outside is capped by an even greater magic on stage. Not all revivals of Peter Hall's brilliant 1981 production -- deservedly one of the cornerstones of Glyndebourne's repertory -- have ensured that's the case. Fortunately, the 25th anniversary staging, in repertory through Aug. 7, is a delight. Hall's idea is to make the setting, a "Wood near Athens," as much a character in the drama as Oberon or Lysander. Designer John Bury fills the stage with silvery moonlit foliage, yet when you look closely you can see that the trunks of the trees contain shrouded human beings. Occasionally they shift position, rustling their leaves as they go. Crouching children covered in tufts of grass move across the stage. Enormous branches slide up and down from the wings. When everything all moves at once, the effect is breathtaking.

It's a perfect setting for the fairy squabbles of Oberon and Tytania, and Bejun Mehta and Iride Martinez are excellent in those roles. Mehta has a powerful countertenor voice with a piercing but rich sound, and Martinez displays delightfully fluty and agile coloratura. It doesn't hurt that both look great on stage in their Elizabethan costumes, either. [...] There's plenty of energy to compensate in the performance of 11-year-old Jack Morlen as Puck. With his fragile-looking body and acrobatic tricks, he electrifies the stage every time he swings down in a cute little chariot. [...] Conductor Ilan Volkov doesn't conjure up the magical half- lights that Britten himself does on his recording, though he brings a sense of drama and pacing to the score. This is a dreamy "Dream," and worth a trip to the forests of Sussex.
Tim Ashley reviewed this production (A Midsummer Night's Dream, June 13) for The Guardian:
This year, Glyndebourne is into comedies about erotic manipulation. Hard on the heels of the masquerades and partner-swapping in both Cosi Fan Tutte and Die Fledermaus comes Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream with its supernatural interventions into the vagaries of desire and its at times disquieting intimations of both cruelty and transience. eter Hall's staging, first seen in 1981, has often been described as a perfect realisation of a fairy tale, though Hall also continuously reminds us of the opera's dark undertow. The forest is both an enchanted place and a weird living entity with a will of its own. When his crew of fairy children are out of sight, Bejun Mehta's Oberon lubriciously fondles the sleeping Tytania's body before squirting the juice of his magic flower into her eyes. No other production quite so unerringly captures both the callousness of the trick Oberon plays on Tytania, or the sense of sexual freedom and life-enhancing wonder that Bottom experiences on encountering her. Reality is safe and chilly by comparison: towards the end, the humans gravitate back to a world of frigid baronial splendour where they need log fires in all weathers to keep them warm.
Geoff Brown wrote a review (A Midsummer Night's Dream, June 13) for the London Sunday Times that had this to say about the contributions of the child performers:
Actually, for small people that magic may have increased. There is now the Harry Potter factor. What is Puck but a Hogwarts pupil with a ginger shock who hasn’t sorted his spells? Jack Morlen, aged 11, bold as brass, assumes the role with great bravado and the spindliest legs that ever walked through frozen ice. Trinity Boys Choir, Glyndebourne’s regular fairies, undertake their singing and floor-crawling with unusual purpose; chorus master David Swinson and the revival director, James Robert Carson, must have worked them hard.
George Loomis wrote a review of the early productions at Glyndebourne (At Glyndebourne, a heartfelt and sexy 'Così', June 27) for the International Herald Tribune. Here is what he had to say about the Britten:
Traditional productions might be said to be thriving at Glyndebourne, given the delights of Peter Hall's quarter-century old staging of Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," revived by James Robert Carson. John Bury's designs charmingly depict the forest as trees and shrubs (manned by human beings) swaying gently in the wind, and little gossamer-winged fairies look adorable in their Elizabethan costumes. Bejun Mehta sang with great sensitivity as Oberon - a welcome change to hear a countertenor in a role actually written for a countertenor. He was well matched by Iride Martinez's glistening Tatania, with Kate Royal (Helena) and Matthew Rose (Bottom) also making fine contributions. Britten's music is often unobtrusive, yet it cannily complements Shakespeare's text. It is a tribute to his achievement that the rude mechanicals' play-within-the-play can be as funny as the Shakespeare original. The score's onomatopoeic touches and lean, evocative textures were beautifully realized by Ilan Volkov and the London Philharmonic.
I am gearing up to hear Thomas Adès's attempt to make The Tempest into an opera, here in Santa Fe, and rereading Shakespeare's text I am struck by how crazy it is to think of making an opera out of words like that. It's probably easier to do with a libretto in a foreign language, where the ghost of Shakespeare is not hanging around. Be that as it may, Britten may have made something in his opera on Dream that is actually better than Shakespeare.

Don Quixote and Music, Part 6

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Don Quixote, new translation by Edith Grossman (released on October 21, 2003)


Don Quixote (online version, English translation)

Don Quijote (online version, Spanish original)

Ruta de Don Quijote (pilgrimage route following Don Quixote around Spain)

available at Amazon
Don Quijote de La Mancha: Romances y Músicas, Montserrat Figueras, Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall (released on January 10, 2006)
In honor of the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote and the release of an exceptional Cervantes recording by Jordi Savall, the Ionarts Book Club is reading the novel. Readers are welcome to make comments based on their own reading.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

When Don Quixote and Sancho enter El Toboso, on an ill-destined search for Dulcinea, they cross the path of a peasant going to his field early in the morning. He is singing the Romance de Guarinos, which Cervantes cites by its opening line ("Mala la vistes, franceses, en esa de Roncesvalles"). The point of both ballads, which Sancho seems to miss, is that they are about doomed military campaigns. Roncesvalles (Roncesvaux) is the name of a pass in the Basque country, known as Orreaga in Basque, where Charlemagne suffered a rare defeat. As he retreated from his Spanish campaign, he left a rear guard at this pass, men who were all killed by the Saracens. In this ballad, one of Charlemagne's officers, Guarinos, is captured in this battle and held prisoner by the Moors. In another famous account, the Chanson de Roland (in English translation), the great knight Roland dies at Roncesvaux, sounding the great horn given to him by Charlemagne too late for the Frankish king to offer his men any help.

The knight perceives hearing the ballad as a bad omen, but Sancho replies that Roncesvalles has nothing more to do with their present situation than another ballad, the Romance del Moro Calaynos. It shows the same devastation but from the other side: in it a Moor named Calaynos is charged by the lady he adores to go to Paris and bring back the heads of the three mightiest Frankish warriors. Although the ballad ends only with his entrance into Paris, we have to assume that he is killed.

Savall's recording makes no mention of several musical incidents in Don Quixote in the next long section of the book (it skips to Chapter 23). In Chapter 10, Sancho himself quotes from another ballad ("A messenger you are, my friend, no blame belongs to you"), and in the episode of the Knight of the Mirrors (Chapter 12), the young bachelor Sansón Carrasco (disguised as a wandering knight as part of a plan to force Don Quixote to return home) sings a sonnet to his lady. The latter is a silly poem, written by Cervantes supposedly in imitation of the worst poetry of his age, and even though it is sung in the book, I can understand the decision to leave it out. There is much verse quoted and other literary references in the episode of the Knight of the Green-Colored Greatcoat, who turns out to be Don Diego de Miranda (a nobleman who hosts Don Quixote and Sancho in his house for several days, where they converse with his overeducated son, Don Lorenzo), but no music. The only glaring omission is the loud dancing music heard at the wedding of Camacho the Rich (end of Chapter 19 and Chapter 20), which could have provided a great instruments-only track for this CD.

In the next section of the recording ("Living Ballads"), Savall includes pieces of music that are not actually performed at all in the novel but that are related to stories included in the narrative. In Chapter 23, Don Quixote weaves the story recounted in the Romance del Llanto de Belerma por la muerte de Durandarte into the dream narrative he relates from his time in the Cave of Montesinos. The tune of this ballad is quite simple but affecting, sung by Montserrat Figueras in her trademarked cantillatory style. Something about the music is so appealing that it helps the listener understand the sway the chivalric tales have in Don Quixote's mind, which on the page usually sound more absurd than tragic to modern ears. The romance is composed in the voice of Belerma, whose beloved Durandarte has just been killed in battle. Durandarte's last request to his best friend, Montesinos, is that Montesinos carve out Durandarte's heart to take to Belerma as a sign of his love even in death. In his madness, Don Quixote meets all of these characters in his imagination when he is lowered into the chasm named by legend for Montesinos.

There is another musical moment in the novel that Savall's recording omits, in Chapter 24, when the knight and Sancho, led by the cousin of their last host, meet a young boy on his way to join the army:
They overtook a youth who was walking along leisurely in front of them. He had a sword over his shoulder, and attached to it was a bundle, consisting apparently of his clothes, in all likelihood his trousers or breeches, a cloak, and a shirt or two. He was dressed in a short velvet jacket that was shiny as satin in spots, his shirt was showing, his stockings were of silk, and his shoes were of the square-toed variety in use at court. He was around eighteen or nineteen years of age, with a merry countenance and a seemingly agile body, and he was singing short-meter ballads as he went along, to while away the tedium of his journey. He had just finished a song which the cousin proceeded to memorize and which went like this: "My purse is lean, so to war I go; / If I had money, more sense I'd show."
The young man joins the travellers at a nearby inn, where there is a puppet show and an entertainment involving a divining ape. The puppet show relates the story of Sir Gayfiers (Don Gayferos), recounted also in another romance ("Si d'amor pena sentis"), which although not sung in the novel is recorded here. Melisendra, imprisoned by the Moors, speaks from her balcony to a knight she does not realize is her beloved Don Gayferos, telling him to go to her beloved and tell him that she is to be wed, against her will, to another man. Gayferos takes her on his horse, and they try to escape. When the Moors give chase, threatening to catch them, Don Quixote becomes enraged and, unable to separate fiction from reality, attacks all of the puppets and sets and destroys everything, believing he is rescuing the knight and his lady. It is also a simple tune, arranged lightly with harp and gamba, and Arianna Savall sings the vocal part.

Summer Opera 2006: "Iphigénie en Tauride"

Susan Graham in Iphigénie en Tauride, Opéra national de Paris, directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, 2006Marc Minkowski brought his group, Les Musiciens du Louvre -- Grenoble, to the Opéra national de Paris earlier this summer for a production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, with Susan Graham in the title role. The combination of star singer, Baroque performance group, enfant terrible director, and major opera house makes my heart sing. What did Marie-Aude Roux have to say (Iphigénie, momie recluse en Tauride, June 11) in Le Monde? Here is a partial translation:

This new production at the Palais Garnier, by the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski, making his début at the Opéra de Paris, will be remembered as one of the most striking spectacles of this season. Everything about it is of a remarkable clarity, an exemplary gravity, a limpidity as blinding as the crime of Oreste, the Oedipal matricide in black glasses who has come to receive his punishment in the arms of his sister Iphigénie, a refugee in Tauride after Diana saved her from Agamemnon's sacrificial knife in Aulis. [...]

Iphigénie in Tauride, according to Warlikowski, is a crazy, ailing virgin. An old actrice, bandaged up and trembling, heavily made up, dripping in jewels (the magnificent Renate Jett), constantly reliving her "Tauride story in deserted Mycenae," the daughter of the House of Atrides in woeful exile, surviving in a retirement home among the phantoms of her youth, surrounded by eternal old women -- the Erinyes or Eumenides. Tragedy is also about family -- polonaise, marriage, widowhood, the army, religion -- the last refuge of a 21st century, already ready to check out of what has only just begun. In a pure and hard space (tile and medical supplies, stripped beds, and club chairs in a corner around a television), behind a moving wall of tulle and mirrors, Oreste and Pylade are made prisoners, given over to the bloody hands of Iphigénie, a red-robed priestess out of a Pabst film, so in love with a brother she doesn't recognize that she cannot kill him without killing herself (at the moment she goes to slit his throat, a video makes her relive her own sacrifice in Aulis).
Other Resources:

Manon Ardouin, Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie! (ConcertoNet.com, June 10)

Jorg von Uthmann, Gluck's `Iphigenie' Ends Up in Old Folks' Home at Paris Opera (Bloomberg News, June 15)

Brigitte Cormier, Une vision fantasmée (ForumOpera.com, June 20)

Catherine Alexander, Les ravages du temps et de la mémoire (Webthea, June 22)
Minkowski and his group were almost universally praised in all the reviews I read. Susan Graham was ill at the opening of the production and had to cancel on opening night, but she returned to triumph. Her cover, Maria Riccarda Wesseling, was good on opening night and for the final three performances she was scheduled to sing. Jean-Louis Validire wrote a brief review (Les fantasmes du metteur en scène, June 12) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Not everyone is lucky enough to live in Grenoble, where Marc Minkowski led, on Friday in the large auditorium of the MC2, a concert performance of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, which was just presented at the Opéra Garnier last night. Parisian audiences are less fortunate. One had to be, in effect, a little bit schizophrenic to be able both to appreciate the excellent musical leadership of the conductor, who with his Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble knew how to produce with the elegance intended by the composer all the nuances and colors of this work, the product of the "reform" that broke with opera seria. [...]

It was an evening that would have been memorable if, yet one more time at the Opéra de Paris, the director had not deliberately torn up the libretto to make a completely different work. In a glaucous world, an old drunk woman, the silent double of Iphigénie, wanders between the washsinks, the beds, and the corner television of a run-down retirement home in which senior citizens waiting for death vegetate. The ballet was replaced by a ballgame and a grotesque procession, one old woman following the parade with her walker. The young Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski, who took over this production after Isabelle Huppert backed out, imposed his own world and nightmares as background, almost under the ground of Gluck's opera, thereby abandoning the libretto. It is that much sadder that the very interest of this opera rests on the intertwining of the poetry and the music and the rare equilibrium of the two makes it a masterpiece, when one truly wants to serve it rather than be served by it. That is the case with this production which, yet one more time, has little chance of remaining in the repertoire of the national opera.
Many of the other reviews were similarly very negative. Some reported that there was loud booing for the director and his production. It seems like Gérard Mortier will not rest until he is driven out of Paris by an angry mob. For those lucky readers living in France, one of the performances will be broadcast on France Musiques on August 14, at 8 pm.