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31.7.08

Ionarts in Santa Fe: Le Nozze di Figaro

For more background information on this opera, see my preview article on Le Nozze di Figaro.

Elizabeth Watts (Susanna, seated) and Susanna Phillips (Countess) sing Che soave zeffiretto in Le Nozze di Figaro, sets and costumes by Paul Brown, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Elizabeth Watts (Susanna, seated) and Susanna Phillips (Countess) in Act III ("Che soave zeffiretto") of Le Nozze di Figaro, sets and costumes by Paul Brown, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
The first week of full repertory, with all five operas in rotation, began on Monday night at Santa Fe Opera, with the company's new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. The earlier curtain time, 8:30 pm, allowed the house to appreciate one of the best reasons to hear opera at John Crosby's outdoor theater, the stunning vista of the Jémez Mountains. With the back of the stage left open to the evening air, behind a floor filled with stems of brightly colored flowers in the design of Jonathan Kent, the New Mexico sunset was at its most beautiful. This production, in more ways than the vista, was about Santa Fe Opera's bread and butter: its extensive history with Mozart, with this opera in particular, and its role as a showcase for the best young singers on their way toward renown.

Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown, the director and set/costume designer who were responsible for the beautiful and intriguing staging of The Tempest two years ago, have created a visually gorgeous production. There is nothing controversial or even particularly daring about it -- the opera is allowed to unfold directly, in an 18th-century setting -- but with a close reading of the libretto the director has helped the singers inhabit the roles and act in natural and well-motivated ways.

Although Mozart and Da Ponte took steps to soften the erotic attraction between the Countess and Cherubino, as found in Beaumarchais's play (transferring some of the Countess's French lines about the page to Susanna, as pointed out by Kristi Brown-Montesano), Kent chose to heighten the signs of the mutual attraction. This became apparent when the Countess's heartrate was visibly racing by the end of "Voi che sapete" and continued throughout the opera. The only part of the staging that missed the mark was Figaro's "Se vuol ballare," where the metaphor of courtly versus peasant dance is introduced (Brown-Montesano mentions that much of Figaro's music is characterized by popular dance rhythms). This would have been a much more subtle evocation of the class conflict that simmers under the surface of Mozart's folle giornata than the clumsy decision to have the chorus of peasants make off with the Count's furniture after the wedding scene.

Mariusz Kwiecień (Count Almaviva) in Act III of Le Nozze di Figaro, sets and costumes by Paul Brown, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Mariusz Kwiecień (Count Almaviva) in Act III of Le Nozze di Figaro, sets and costumes by Paul Brown, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
The high point of the casting was the regal and vocally luxurious Countess of Susanna Phillips, a former SFO apprentice singer who has a burgeoning career. The performance was attractive not least because she was a beautiful young Countess, which helped the impression of her erotic frustration at her husband's inattention, but also for sheer vocal lustre, as in the luscious pianissimo return of the A section in "Dove sono." She also held her composure most impressively in a languid, time-stopping rendition of "Porgi, amor," in spite of an embarrassing bassoon gaffe at the end of the orchestral introduction.

Phillips was matched, in vocal power and attractive stage presence, by her Count, Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień, who cut a handsome figure in a floor-length leather coat in the first act. He was also a vicious brute, shamelessly groping Susanna and even brandishing an axe to uncover Cherubino in the Countess's closet in Act II. His good looks and rakish manner helped make the Count believable as a seducer, whose advances Barbarina and even Susanna should really be tempted to accept. The voice was no less smooth and unctuous, with real power as he introduced convincing little embellishments and solid high notes to the part. There was no doubt of the imperious preeminence of this patrician couple over the entire society presented on stage, reinforced by the sets -- of plain IKEA blonde wood for the first act (in Figaro's bedroom), and more Rococo designs of metallic gray for the second and a material like cut glass in the third.

Isabel Leonard (Cherubino, on horse) and Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) in Le Nozze di Figaro, sets and costumes by Paul Brown, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Isabel Leonard (Cherubino, on horse) and Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) in Act I ("Non più andrai") of Le Nozze di Figaro, sets and costumes by Paul Brown, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Radiantly beautiful mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard somehow became a convincingly boyish Cherubino, her vibrato slightly too nervous at first but settling into a more polished sound. It was hard not to think of Luca Pisaroni's sadistic antics in Radamisto when he was singing Figaro, especially as he bullied Cherubino in "Non più andrai," making him sit on a toy horse and subjecting him to other humiliations. Of the conniving supporting trio, Michaela Martens' Marcellina was the most impressive, with a syrupy sound and spiteful wit. Gwynne Howell's Bartolo was amusingly pompous (although with issues at both ends of his range and a less than solid rhythmic sense), and Aaron Pegram's bald-headed Basilio was appropriately vicious (he is a recently graduated SFO apprentice, too). Sadly, both Marcellina's "Il capro e la capretta" and Basilio's "In quegl'anni, in cui val poco" were cut from the fourth act, as they generally are in most productions.

Elizabeth Watts was an impish Susanna, perhaps a little too much toward the cunning soubrette characterization, which undermines her surprising similarity to the Countess (a point explored in Brown-Montesano's book). Her sound was disappointingly small most of the evening, and the vocal disparity with Phillips seemed to be behind her attempt to impersonate the Countess's voice in the fourth act, by comically adding heft to her tone. Intended as a joke, it only made Watts seem underpowered the more, making one wish that the Countess had the top part of the harmonies in "Che soave zeffireto," for example. Watts had all the notes and the comic sense to keep the audience laughing, covering her mouth as she soared up to the high G C in my favorite terzetto ("Susanna or via sortite" -- where she is supposed to be in hiding), but it was hard not to want a more expansive sound in "Deh vieni." Similarly, the Barbarina of apprentice singer Jamie-Rose Guarrine, pretty but a little weak, made one wish the company had asked Anne-Carolyn Bird back this summer.

Other Reviews:

Anthony Tommasini, From Handel, Faithlessness and Devotion (New York Times, August 4)

Scott Cantrell, Elaborate scenery, expressive cast make for a modern 'Figaro' (Dallas Morning News, July 30)

John Stege, Fantastic Figaro (Santa Fe Reporter, July 15)

Kyle MacMillan, Opera's "F's" deserve "A's" in Santa Fe's productions (Denver Post, July 5)
The score (see the full score from the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe) is so familiar to orchestral musicians and conductors that it can receive short shrift in rehearsal. Kenneth Montgomery had a firm hand at the podium, setting and keeping pleasing tempi and corralling his forces impressively. His only bad judgment was with the exalted act of forgiveness in the fourth act ("Contessa, perdono"), which was so glacially slow that it became like a dirge. The orchestra had its problems, too, with some scandalously imprecise playing from the horns and disappointing, whiny tone from the oboes at times. The subtle sounds of a pianoforte (player uncredited) provided the chords of the recitatives, in a flexible and charming accompaniment.

This production of Le Nozze di Figaro will be repeated at Santa Fe Opera on August 2, 5, 9, 18, and 22.

Head in the Maine Clouds, Again

Newell Convers Wyeth spent summers in Cushing, Maine, being inspired by the landscape, the light, the clouds.

As a boy reading Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, or the tales of King Arthur, wondering how anyone could imagine such fantastic environments for pirates, giants, and knights in shining armor -- now I know.

I've woken here to a rolling fog, from which at any moment a ship under full sail, brandishing a skull and crossbones banner, could emerge.

The most amazing, billowing clouds have drifted past, round, squared, long and wispy -- white, purple, black, and everything in between. It's been magical -- avast, ye, tighten the main sail -- it's time to meander home!

Best of this season's Maine eats:
Lobster: DIY, Stonnington CO-OP, Restaurant, Thurston's Lobster Pound
Steamahs: a tie, Thurston's for traditional steamed; The Cockatoo for a fabulous Portuguese, tomato/garlic recipe
Best Desserts: Lilly's, Deer Isle; Dennis's, blueberry pie
Best New Find: Oakland House, Rusticator Restaurant; runner-up, Lookout Inn, Flye Point

30.7.08

Ionarts in Santa Fe: Adriana Mater

For more background information on this opera, see my preview article on Adriana Mater.

Monica Groop (Adriana) and Pia Freund (Refka) in Adriana Mater, directed by Peter Sellars, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Monica Groop (Adriana, below) and Pia Freund (Refka, above) in Adriana Mater, directed by Peter Sellars, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
On Saturday night, the Santa Fe Opera extended its distinguished history of presenting new operas to American audiences, with the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho's second opera, Adriana Mater. Earlier that morning, at a symposium on the opera, the composer, librettist Amin Maalouf, and director Peter Sellars spoke about the opera and its third production (after the world premiere in Paris and a production at the Finnish National Opera this spring). The Santa Fe theater required some adjustments, to George Tsypin's luminous sets, to the casting, and especially to the orchestration, which had to be reduced in numbers of strings and other instruments. Even so, the opera lost little of its emotional punch, unfolding in a steady, purling flow, tidal, glacial, pulsatingly quiescent. There will be more to say about the work itself after a second hearing tonight [see my Final Thoughts on the 2008 Season].

The libretto by Amin Maalouf is set in a village before and after a devastating war. No nationality or location is specified, and the enemy force that threatens is identified only as les autres, the others. The character names and other minor details make the Serbian-Bosnian conflict the likely background (something confirmed by Maalouf), but the idea is that the story could easily be imagined in any number of wartorn areas. (Maalouf, raised in French Catholic schools in his native Lebanon, has lived in France since the 1970s and writes in French: so the themes of homelessness and civil strife have a background in Lebanon, too.) George Tsypin's sets, made of sculpted resin, glow with light like burning embers or reflect it like dull metal or stone, recalling the domes of mosques or Eastern Orthodox churches. In the second act, most of the village walls have been reduced to rubble, the only real reference to the warfare that has occurred in the time elapsed between the rape of the central character, Adriana, and the birth of her son, Yonas.

Monica Groop (Adriana) and Pia Freund (Refka) in Adriana Mater, sets by George Tsypin, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Monica Groop (Adriana) and Pia Freund (Refka) in Adriana Mater, sets by George Tsypin, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
War and violence are told only through the interactions of four characters: a soldier, Tsargo, rapes a woman, Adriana, who confides in her sister, Refka, and gives birth to the soldier's son, Yonas. The son discovers that his father is not a war hero, as his mother told him when he was growing up, but a rapist and murderer. When the rapist returns to the village at the end of his life, the son confronts him and threatens to kill him. (The question of paternal identity is also at the center of the recent film set in Sarajevo, Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams.) A faceless chorus comments from the pit, amplified at Santa Fe, as are all the principal singers, mostly repeating words or phrases sung by the characters, as well as singing on neutral syllables and occasionally introducing their own words. At the symposium, Saariaho said definitively about the chorus, "They are not persons. They color the orchestra, continuing some of the lines." As Peter Sellars sees them, she added, "they are like spirits in the village."


Monica Groop (Adriana), Matthew Best (Tsargo), Pia Freund (Refka), and Joseph Kaiser (Yonas) in Adriana Mater, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
As Adriana, mezzo-soprano Monica Groop was eloquent, still, and richly voiced, although many of the lowest parts of the role trailed off into shouted speech. As Adriana's sister, Refka, soprano Pia Freund, struggling with a cold, was less beautiful in sound, but just as dramatically convincing. Both women, who are Finnish, sounded less than idiomatic in French, although the sense of alienation from language is not necessarily inappropriate, and both were occasionally covered in louder orchestral passages, despite the amplification. Matthew Best's Tsargo had a growly menace, both pathetic and threatening, although in the first scene he did not appear as a young man (as Peter Sellars put it at the symposium and the libretto indicates). The young Canadian tenor, Joseph Kaiser, was also suffering from a cold but recovered on opening night to give a dramatic and heroic rendition of the high-lying part of Yonas, Adriana's son. Their embrace of reconciliation at the end of the opera, beginning with just putting their heads on the other's shoulder, was a striking, emblematic moment.


Monica Groop (Adriana) and Joseph Kaiser (Yonas) in Adriana Mater, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
It was difficult not to regret that Esa-Pekka Salonen, who conducted the opera's premiere, had been replaced by Ernest Martinez Izquierdo at the podium, first in Finland and now at Santa Fe. In his entertaining comments at the symposium, Peter Sellars made a point of stating that Izquierdo loves the score of Adriana and conducts with that love, adding wryly that love is not a word associated with what most conductors do (unless it has "self-" in front of it). Izquierdo certainly knows the score well and shaped it with delicacy and scope, keeping the extremely complicated structures aligned, allowing masses of sound to blossom and evaporate. The pace of the opera is slow and deliberate, mixing dream and reality in an almost indistinguishable way. More than once at the symposium, Peter Sellars used the image of a Byzantine altarpiece to describe how the libretto and music worked, with the characters removed from time and space, against a golden background.

Other Reviews:

Craig Smith, ‘Adriana’ has plenty of depth, heft (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 28)

Anthony Tommasini, Compassion, Not Revenge, After a Rape in a War Zone (New York Times, August 1)

Scott Cantrell, Santa Fe Opera premieres arresting war story, 'Adriana Mater' (Dallas Morning News, August 1)

Anne Midgette, Promising 'Adriana' Could Use a Drama Lesson (Washington Post, August 4)

George Loomis, Adriana Mater, Santa Fe Opera (Financial Times, August 4)
Saariaho's compositional inclinations have included electronics and spectralism, the unfolding of dissonances around the central organizing principle of the overtone series. Some themes stood out over several hearings, especially a downward microtonal glissando, perhaps a sighing motif, that is repeated throughout the score. Downward half-steps, set sharply on the beat, also pervade the music, ultimately associated with the repeated singing of "J'aurais dû" (I should have), as the four characters all express regrets in the final scene. The rocking semitone pulses through the score until the final tableau, as mother and son embrace, and then resolves. Saariaho's sound is distinctive, although she turns to more or less standard atonal clusters, amassed in huge waves, to set the rape scene. Much more memorable are the softer washes of sound, especially as larger orchestral tutti passages vanish, to reveal the ping of a triangle, the rumble of contrabassoon or low brass, or the stray raindrops of celesta or the extensive battery of percussion.

For all of Saariaho's association with IRCAM and the French spectralists, it is the orchestral music of Sibelius that seems the most important influence. At more than a few points, as magisterial brass spiked their heads through the texture, similar moments in Sibelius's symphonies came to mind. The comparison puts me in mind of what Saariaho said about Adriana during the symposium, that it was the dream sequences she most relished, as they allowed her to turn her ear from the horrors of the story's oppressive reality. Noting that she has a complex dream life herself, Saariaho said that no matter how long she has lived in Paris, her dreams are always set in Finland.

Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater will be repeated at Santa Fe Opera on July 30 (tonight) and August 8 and 12.

29.7.08

Santa Fe Preview: Falstaff

available at Amazon
Verdi, Falstaff, T. Gobbi, E. Schwarzkopf, A. Moffo, Philharmonia Orchestra, H. von Karajan


Online Score:
Piano-vocal score
Verdi's final opera, Falstaff, is one of those fabled twilight works, a masterwork from a career not lacking in masterworks. Verdi had not actually undertaken a comic opera since very early in his career, with Un Giorno di Regno in 1840, although there were signs that he had long been interested in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor as a source text. In 1889, when he began the process of creating Falstaff, Verdi had a distinguished career as a dramatist behind him and, to assist in the crafting of the libretto, a veteran composer and author in Arrigo Boito, with whom he had forged a strong working relationship in Otello.

Boito sensed the potential triumph in the work at an early stage in his discussions with the composer, writing in a letter dated 9 July 1889, "All your life you have wanted a good subject for a comic opera. [...] There is only way to end better than with Otello, and that is to end victoriously with Falstaff. After having made all the cries and lamentations of the human heart resound, to end with an immense outburst of hilarity! It's dazzling!" In the summer of 1889, Verdi and Boito exchanged letters discussing the process of distilling Shakespeare's play, with some scenes from the Henry IV and Henry V plays. Boito confessed to Verdi, in a letter dated 20 August 1889, "At first I was in despair at the thought of sketching the characters with a few lines, moving the plot, extracting all the juice from that enormous Shakespearian pomegranate, allowing no useless seeds to slip into the glass." Few descriptions of how one goes about adapting literature as opera are more apt.

available at Amazon
Verdi-Boito Correspondence, ed. M. Conati and M. Medici, trans. W. Weaver
Falstaff returns to Santa Fe after a surprisingly short hiatus, having been staged here last only in 2001, and it is staged with remarkable frequency in many houses (some recent ones include Kirov Opera, the Salzburg Festival, Welsh National Opera, and San Francisco Opera). Some essential parts of the opera were clear in Verdi and Boito's minds very early in the work's genesis, and a successful production treats them with care. Verdi mentioned in a letter of 18 August 1889, before Boito had even completed the first draft of the libretto, ""The strangest thing is that I too am working! I am amusing myself by writing fugues! Yes, sir: a fugue ... and a comic fugue... which might fit nicely into Falstaff!" This is, of course, the famous ending of the opera, which offers the comic motto of the work, "The whole world is a joke." Some of Falstaff's misadventures might seem cruel, but ultimately, the opera tells us, all misfortune is just part of the absurdity of existence.

The fugue and the outrageous fairy scene that precedes it are Verdi and Boito's brilliant response to the crucial problem of writing a comedy. As Boito put it early on in their correspondence about Falstaff (7 July 1889), "No doubt about it: the third act is the coldest. And this, in the theater, means trouble. Unfortunately, this is a law common to all the comic theater. The tragic has the opposite law. The approach of the catastrophe in a tragedy (whether foreseen as in Othello, or unexpected as in Hamlet) increases the interest prodigiously because its end is terrible. So the last acts of tragedies are always the most beautiful. In comedy, when the knot is about to be unraveled, interest always dwindles because the end is happy." We know that Fenton and Nannetta will end up married, over her father's objections, and that Falstaff will get his punishment and (perhaps?) learn his lesson, but just how it will happen is held in reserve.

Ulysses
Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Verdi: A Biography
If the fugue was due to Verdi's ingenuity, it was Boito who insisted on the other excellent innovation of Falstaff, the nature of the music for the two young lovers. At one point Boito suggested cutting Fenton's aria (presumably "Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola," which remained in the opera), because it seemed to him to be "pasted in there to give the tenor a solo." Instead, he envisioned something quite different for the lovers, as he described in a letter on 12 July 1889: "I like that love of theirs [Fenton and Nannetta], it serves to make the whole comedy more fresh and more solid. That love must enliven all of it throughout and to such a degree that I would almost like to eliminate the duet of the two lovers. In every ensemble scene this love is somehow present [...] So it is pointless to have them sing a genuine duet together by themselves. Their part, even without the duet, will be very effective; indeed, it will be more effective without. I don't quite know how to explain myself: I would like to sprinkle the whole comedy with that lighthearted love, like powdered sugar on a cake, without collecting it in one point." Verdi created music of such light-hearted effervescence for the lovers, and it should be allowed simply to sparkle.

Mary Jane Phillips-Matz has written about Verdi's uncharacteristically high spirits during the composition of Falstaff, in spite of many tragic events that occurred in the Verdi circle around the same time: "The composer's philosophy of life often led him to believe that little good could ever happen on this earth. 'Whatever is life? When we are young, everything is pleasant, we are carefree, impertinent, proud, and it seems that the whole world should exist [just] for us. When we are old ... But never mind these miseries.' So he wrote to Stoltz. [...] Nevertheless, when Strepponi and Verdi visited Milan that month, he seemed happy enough. While there, they invited Boito, Giulio and Giuditta Ricordi, their daughter Ginetta, and their son-in-law to dinner.
Verdi was in a cheerful humor, and ... has never seemed younger and in better spirits; in his appearance, words, [and] manner he looked like a contented man. When the champagne was served, when everyone was in excellent spirits, Boito rose and, showing that he wanted to propose a toast, said: 'I drink to the health and victories of the Big Belly!' Everyone was surprised; no one understood what Boito was referring to. (p. 705)
In 1893, Verdi went to Milan for the premiere and all of the associated festivities, which he attended with seemingly boundless energy. He and Boito had to appear on the balcony of their hotel to acknowledge the throngs of well-wishers. Phillips-Matz writes, "An unidentified writer who was with them reported that the composer was 'happy and satisfied: his beautiful face was bright with a smile. Verdi gladly received the congratulations of his friends, and did not forget anyone who was there.' [...] Nowhere is there a hint that the composer ever showed fatigue or exasperation during the taxing month before the Falstaff premiere. Instead, several men of science published articles on his extraordinary physical strength, energy, and soundness of mind (p. 718)."

Sadly, Laurent Naouri took the role of Falstaff at Santa Fe only for the first half of the run (through July 11). He will be replaced by Anthony Michaels-Moore, who was certainly impressive in the Met's Peter Grimes earlier this year. The quartet of women will feature Kelley O'Connor as Quickly (she was unforgettable in Ainadamar), and conductor Paolo Arrivabeni will have his American debut at the podium. Director Kevin Newbury has described his production as focusing on the theme of childhood, set in the late 16th century of Shakespeare's play and inspired by "Jan Steen’s paintings of lively domestic scenes."

Performance of Verdi's Falstaff at Santa Fe Opera are scheduled for July 29 (tonight) and August 4, 11, 16, 19, and 23.

28.7.08

Ionarts at Santa Fe: Billy Budd

For more background information on this opera, see my preview article on Billy Budd.

William Burden (Vere) in Billy Budd, directed by Paul Curran, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
William Burden (Vere) in Billy Budd, directed by Paul Curran, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Better late than never. Santa Fe Opera has finally staged two of Benjamin Britten's masterpieces, with Peter Grimes in 2005 and now Billy Budd this summer. This opera is, with Grimes, Britten's grand operatic masterwork, and it works very well with a blockbuster staging like that of Francesca Zambello for Washington National Opera. Paul Curran, as he did for the Santa Fe Grimes, has situated his production in a way that seems both expansive for the more intimate Santa Fe stage and yet closing in to more introspective space.

The set that remained for both acts showed a composite view of the deck of the HMS Indomitable (sets designed by Robert Innes Hopkins), with the helm wheel far upstage, on a raised deck with the Union Jack fluttering in the desert wind blowing through the open stage. A yellow mast in the center raised up the foretop riggings, and other ropes and sails were seen closer to the audience, as well as two cannons on either side. Walls slid from both sides, meeting in the center, to mark off Captain Vere's quarters, and the raked stage lifted up to reveal the men's quarters beneath the deck (not unlike Zambello's production, but less spectacularly).

Keith Jameson (Novice) and Peter Rose (Claggart) in Billy Budd, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Keith Jameson (Novice) and Peter Rose (Claggart) in Billy Budd, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
The headliner of the cast, who were all generally good, was Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the title role (his first American appearance in the title role, having debuted it earlier this spring with Opera Australia). Rhodes certainly looked the part, a handsome, lanky, even gangly Billy, scuttling up and down the rigging and, of course, singing some of the time without his shirt. Vocally, however, it does not strike me as his part, although his slightly woolly sound was pleasant enough. Some of the high notes were just not there, at least on last Friday night, as in Billy's scene with the chorus ("Starry Vere, I'm for you"). He did not seem all that comfortable with the musical demands of the role, either, not quite certain of the beat at several points. Tenor William Burden, a former Santa Fe apprentice and audience favorite, was a refined, aristocratic Vere, an impression helped not least by the staging, which showed him sipping a glass of port as the three men were impressed into service in the first act. His voice is not something I found easy to love, with some vocal tics like scooping and other affectations that caused a few intonation problems.

Peter Rose (Claggart), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Billy), and John Duykers (Red Whiskers) in Billy Budd, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Peter Rose (Claggart), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Billy), and John Duykers (Red Whiskers) in Billy Budd, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
By far the most impressive sound came from the snarling, sadistic Claggart of British bass Peter Rose, so spiteful of the machinery in which he is a cog that he spits in Captain Vere's port glass. He was a huge, hulking figure with a powerful voice to match, descending to a menacing growl in the bottom range (only exaggerated final consonants displeased). Britten battled somewhat with his librettists, especially E. M. Forster, over the homosexual motivations of the characters in the opera, much more transparent in Melville's book than they ended up in the opera. Curran opted to bring those desires out of the closet, as it were, by importing great significance to the red neckerchief that Billy wears. Claggart imperiously orders Billy to remove it, deeming it too colorful for a ship at war. Not only does he pocket the token, like Cherubino with the Countess's ribbon in Le Nozze di Figaro, but it appears again in Claggart's hand when he sings his monologue "O beauty, o handsomeness, o goodness!".

Most unusually, it appears yet another time, in the hand of Captain Vere at the end of the opera, as he struggles with how to respond to Billy's unintentional murder of the scheming Claggart. Its presence there indicates that Vere likely understood the self-loathing origins of Claggart's hatred of Billy, as he clearly believed that Claggart's accusations were groundless. Vere cannot bring himself to make that knowledge public, with the shame of "the sin that cannot be named" providing another reason why the captain does nothing to save Billy from his fate. Steve Smith, who was seated next to me on Friday night, and I both saw this as a tragic expression of a sort of "Don't ask, don't tell" policy in His Majesty's Navy.

Lucas Meachem (Donald) and Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Billy) in Billy Budd, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Lucas Meachem (Donald), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Billy), and Cast in Billy Budd, Santa Fe Opera, 2008 (photo © Ken Howard)
Among the supporting cast, so large in Billy Budd, Keith Jameson (former Santa Fe apprentice and Bob Boles in Peter Grimes) had an especially fine turn as the Novice. Some of his high notes were (not inappropriately) a little squeaky, but the voice had intense appeal as the young man's flogging and subsequent shame were plaintively accompanied by those bluesy alto saxophone solos (Eric Lau). Jameson had exactly the right dramatic presence for the novice, genuinely terrorized rather than whining or snively. The passages with the Novice, more than any other scenes, seem to support Humphrey Carpenter's comparison of the sufferings of the ship's all-male environment to those of a British boys school. Did Britten suffuse the Novice's music with his own memories of being unjustly punished at school?

Other Reviews:

Craig Smith, Going Dutch with 'Billy Budd' (Santa Fe New Mexican, July 10)

D. S. Crafts, SFO Cast Carries Britten's 'Billy Budd' (Albuquerque Journal, July 15)

John Stege, Hey There, Sailor (Santa Fe Reporter, July 16)

Hervé Le Mansec, Décapant ! (ResMusica, July 18)

Steve Smith, Anchors Aweigh (Night after Night, July 26)

Georgia Rowe, Innocence Meets Fate (San Francisco Classical Voice, July 29)

Scott Cantrell, 'Billy Budd' would benefit from a recast (Dallas Morning News, August 2)

Anthony Tommasini, Billy Budd the Jock, Beautiful and Agile (New York Times, August 2)

Anne Midgette, Promising 'Adriana' Could Use a Drama Lesson (Washington Post, August 4)

George Loomis, Le nozze di Figaro, Santa Fe Opera (Financial Times, August 14)
Timothy Nolen (Mr. Flint) and Richard Stilwell (Mr. Redburn) had too much fun in their witty interactions ("Don't like the French!"), and the ensemble gave a puissant, virile sound to the remarkable choral numbers, with vast waves of sound in the shanty scene ("Blow her to Hilo") and battle scene ("This is our moment!"). Santa Fe Chief Conductor Edo de Waart led a convincing reading of the score from the podium, although Richard Hickox, whom we reviewed at Washington National Opera, had a more profound knowledge of and ease with the score. De Waart was most challenged in those large choral scenes, where there were several disturbing misalignments between the singers, who tended to rush ahead of the beat, and the orchestra.

Among many beautiful solos from the pit, the piccolo's warbling commentary in Billy's dawn song, just before the execution, was particularly fine. As for the so-called Interview Chords, the series of sustained triads that are heard in the orchestra as Vere meets with Billy to explain his fate, de Waart gave them a stillness more serene than ominous, although the forte entrance of the brass chord was powerful. Curran's only misstep in the staging was the music theater antics of the crew during the shanty scene (see photo above -- "We're off to Samoa!"), but all in all, this was an excellent production for the debut of Billy Budd at Santa Fe Opera.

Britten's Billy Budd will be repeated on July 31, August 6, 14, and 21 at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe Preview: Le Nozze di Figaro

Le Nozze di Figaro:
available at Amazon
R. Jacobs

available at Amazon
Glyndebourne

available at Amazon
Salzburg Festival

available at Amazon
Covent Garden (DVD)


Online Score:
Neue Mozart-Ausgabe | Mozart Werke
The Santa Fe Opera programming formula usually includes a modern masterpiece (Billy Budd) and a premiere (Adriana Mater), combined with a less familiar opera from an accepted composer (Radamisto) and two more popular chestnuts to round out the season. One of the chestnuts this year is Le Nozze di Figaro, which is the most often staged Mozart opera at Santa Fe, having been seen here as recently as 2000 (the opera is one of the Top Ten performed in America). In fact, the company has performed one Mozart opera every season since 1990, as well as most seasons before that, largely the big four (for example, Così fan tutte in 2007 and Magic Flute in 2006) but with a few excursions into the less familiar, like Lucio Silla in 2005.

Figaro, premiered in Vienna in 1786, was the beginning of a legendary collaboration between Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte, who created the libretto from a very current "hit" play by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro, from 1784. Mozart's version enjoyed a successful production at the Burgtheater, as well as a revival in Prague and another later in Vienna: Mozart composed new arias for the new Susanna in 1789, replacing "Venite inginocchiatevi" with "Un moto di gioia" and "Deh vieni" with "Al desio di chi t'adora." Haydn, who wrote in a letter that he heard Figaro in his dreams, even tried, unsuccessfully, to mount the opera at Eszterháza. Its popularity has endured through the last century or so, too, and new CD and DVD versions continue to hit the market at a dizzying rate.

The opera and its characters have been the subject of an incredible amount of analysis, musicological and otherwise. Søren Kierkegaard, fascinated with the psychological and mythological depth of Mozart's Don Giovanni, famously identified the adolescent page, Cherubino, as the young adult precursor of Don Giovanni. The matched pair of the Countess and Susanna are close conspirators across rigidly controlled class lines, an interchangeability that is reinforced by their actual role reversal in the final act. As Kristi Brown-Montesano puts it in a new book on the women in Mozart's operas, "In a genre that thrives on catfights and romantic rivalries between women, the Countess and Susanna display a remarkable solidarity, more so than any other two female characters in Mozart's operas. Le nozze di Figaro turns on this rapport, the strength of which ultimately generates the happy denouement to the folle journée (pp. 155-56)."

The Countess's entrance in the opera is one of the most memorable. As Brown-Montesano puts it, "We meet Mozart's Countess in the privacy of her bedroom, far away from Figaro's schemes and the Count's salacious advances toward Susanna. The scene stands out from almost everything that has come before it (p. 169)." That stunning first aria, "Porgi, amor," is marked Larghetto, a slow tempo that stalls the opera in a sort of stasis. In the words of Brown-Montesano, "Time is suspended, and during the fourteen bars of formal orchestral introduction -- the longest in the opera, particularly given the tempo -- we are encouraged to gaze at the Countess as a physical presence. In the words of Allanbrook, the Countess does not so much make an entrance as she is 'discovered' (pp. 169-70)."

available at Amazon
Kristi Brown-Montesano, Understanding the Women of Mozart's Operas
There is a palpably mystical or religious quality to the Countess's music, a feeling that is confirmed by a similarity, pointed out by Daniel Heartz, between "Porgi, amor" and Mozart's soprano solo in the Agnus Dei movement of his Missa Solemnis (K. 337), and between her later aria "Dove sono" and the Agnus Dei of the Coronation Mass (K. 317). To use Brown-Montesano's words again, "Mantled with beatific lyricism, the Countess supports -- especially in her arias -- the ideal of woman's moral power, passively exerted through affective private expression, devotion to others, and self-sacrifice (p. 171)." It is that spiritual quality that appears to triumph at the opera's conclusion, when the Count is forced to acknowledge his sin and ask the Countess's forgiveness.

Although that moment is so striking, the conclusion is ultimately hollow: "What is missing, of course, is a true uniting of Count and Countess in song. Pardon is asked and given (they may even draw closer together physically as the crowd moves in on their public reconciliation), but there is still separation. [...] The Count's memory of his repentance will fade in a month or two, and the Countess will again be crying in her bedroom (pp. 177-78)." Indeed, in the next Beaumarchais play, little has changed.

The casting of Figaro offers some of the most exciting singers on the roster this season, with Luca Pisaroni (so impressive in Radamisto) as Figaro, Mariusz Kwiecień as the Count, and Isabel Leonard as Cherubino. In particular, Susanna Phillips will surely make the Countess as she should be, a lovely and still-young woman, rather than the more matronly type who is sometimes cast. The new production promises interesting ideas from director Jonathan Kent, who was responsible for the beautiful and intriguing staging of The Tempest two years ago.

Performances of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at Santa Fe remain on July 28 (this evening) and August 2, 5, 9, 18, and 22.

27.7.08

In Brief: Santa Fe Edition

Photo by Corine Lesnes
Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.
  • While Barack Obama was in Germany, John McCain went to a German restaurant in Ohio. Almost the same. As Le Monde correspondent Corine Lesnes puts it -- "Who said that Barack Obama has troubles with beer drinkers? Not in Germany, in any case, to judge by this button." One of the commenters adds, "What will we get when he visits the red light district in Amsterdam?" [The Big Picture]

  • Jessica Duchen lists her top picks for the Proms. [Jessica Duchen]

  • Don't worry, readers of Lisa Hirsch -- she was here in Santa Fe this week, where I met her, and will be back home very soon. [Iron Tongue of Midnight]

  • Tyler Green wrote an article about the future of the National Gallery of Art for Washingtonian. It is finally online. [Modern Art Notes]

  • American composer Norman Dello Joio is dead at age 95. [Sequenza 21]

  • Matthew Guerrieri has an excellent series of posts on the Elliott Carter extravaganza engineered by James Levine at Tanglewood. [Soho the Dog]

  • For a contrasting view, Sieglinde links to a hysterical anti-Carter diatribe published by a paper in the Berkshires. Welcome back, Sieglinde! [Sieglinde's Diaries]

Classical Month in Washington (October)

Last month | Next month

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. 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!

October 1, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Bizet, The Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

October 2, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hélène Grimaud (piano) and Miguel Harth-Bedoya (guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 2, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

October 2, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

October 3, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

October 3, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hélène Grimaud (piano) and Miguel Harth-Bedoya (guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 3, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
University of Maryland Symphony and Wind Orchestra
With Larissa Dedova, piano
Clarice Smith Center

October 4, 2008 (Sat)
4 pm
New York Philharmonic
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 4, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Bizet, The Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

October 4, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Venice's Musical Circle
Countertop Ensemble and Washington Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble
Universalist National Memorial Church (1810 16th St. NW)

October 4, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

October 4, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hélène Grimaud (piano) and Miguel Harth-Bedoya (guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 4, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
Beethoven's 9th symphony
Music Center at Strathmore

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Music by Beethoven and Shostakovich
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
National Philharmonic
Beethoven's 9th symphony
Music Center at Strathmore

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Trefor Smith, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Amadeus Orchestra: Haydn and His Circle
With Jeffrey Chappell, piano
Amadeus Concerts
St. Luke Catholic Church (McLean, Va.)

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Leon Fleisher's 80th Birthday Celebration
With Jonathan Biss, Yefim Bronfman, and Katherine Jacobson Fleisher
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 5, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
)musica(aperta [FREE]
Mysticism in Spanish Renaissance music
National Gallery of Art

October 6, 2008 (Mon)
7 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

October 7, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata: Die Elenden sollen essen (BWV 75) [FREE]
Washington Bach Consort
Church of the Epiphany

October 7, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Bizet, The Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

October 8, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Concertante
Chamber music by Martinů, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 9, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Patrick Bismuth (Baroque violin) and La Tempesta
La Maison Française

October 9, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Jennifer Ellis Kampani (soprano) and J. Reilly Lewis (harpsichord)
Mansion at Strathmore

October 10, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
András Schiff, piano
All-Beethoven program
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore

October 11, 2008 (Sat)
11 am
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Mozart, Schubert)
Ignat Solzhenitsyn, conductor
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 11, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Britten, Albert Herring
Castleton Young Artist Residency
Châteauville Foundation (Castleton Farms, Va.)

October 11, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Camerata Salzburg
With Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
WPAS (Season Opening Celebration)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 11, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Rossini, Mendelssohn, Mozart
Music Center at Strathmore

October 12, 2008 (Sun)
1 and 3 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Family Concert: Orchestra from Planet X
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 12, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Britten, Albert Herring
Castleton Young Artist Residency
Châteauville Foundation (Castleton Farms, Va.)

October 12, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Minju Choi, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

October 12, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Gilles Vonsattel, piano [FREE]
Music by Bach, Liszt, Muhly, Rorem, Schubert
National Gallery of Art

October 14, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Vasily Popov (cello) and Ralitza Patcheva (piano) [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

October 15, 2008 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Michele Campanella, piano
Music by Domenico Scarlatti
National Gallery of Art (East Building Auditorium)

October 15, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Tribute to Rostropovich
With Rostropovich Foundation Scholarship winners
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 16, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991)
Documentary film screening [FREE]
Library of Congress

October 16, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Mahler, Third Symphony (Iván Fischer, conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 16, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Edwin Good, piano
Mansion at Strathmore

October 16, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Bernstein, Mass
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 17, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
IBIS at the Movies [FREE]
IBIS Chamber Music Society
Lyon Park Community Center (Arlington, Va.)

October 17, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Collegium Vocale Gent [FREE]
With Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
Library of Congress

October 17, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Mahler, Third Symphony (Iván Fischer, conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 17, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Bernstein, Mass
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 17, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Eroica Trio
Barns at Wolf Trap

October 17, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Verdi, Il Trovatore
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for Fine Arts

October 18, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, The Unknown Bizet
Washington National Opera
La Maison Française

October 18, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Mahler, Third Symphony (Iván Fischer, conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 18, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Bernstein, Mass
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 18, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Axelrod Quartet
Music by Cherubini
Renwick Gallery

October 18, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
With Brian Ganz, piano
Music Center at Strathmore

October 18, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Turtle Island String Quartet with Sérgio and Odair Assad: String Theory
George Mason University Center for Fine Arts

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Verdi, Il Trovatore
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for Fine Arts

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Morris Robinson, bass [FREE]
National Academy of Sciences

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Alexander Romanovsky, piano
Châteauville Foundation (Castleton Farms, Va.)

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Mirjana Rajić, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
IBIS at the Movies [FREE]
IBIS Chamber Music Society
Church of Clarendon (Arlington, Va.)

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Ewa Podleś (contralto) and Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Festival Strings Lucerne [FREE]
Music by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Sarasate
National Gallery of Art

October 19, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Axelrod Quartet
Music by Cherubini
Renwick Gallery

October 21, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Covington String Quartet [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

October 21, 2008 (Tue)
8 pm
Fessenden Ensemble
Music by Persichetti and Nielsen
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

October 23, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Steven Isserlis (cello) and Iván Fischer
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 24, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Carsten Schmidt (piano) and James Wilson (cello) [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

October 24, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Alexandre Tharaud, piano
La Maison Française

October 24, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Steven Isserlis (cello) and Iván Fischer
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 25, 2008 (Sat)
4 pm
21st Century Consort: October Surprise
Smithsonian Resident Associates
Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

October 25, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Christopher Taylor, piano [FREE]
Messiaen Centennial Concert
Library of Congress

October 25, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Steven Isserlis (cello) and Iván Fischer
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
1 pm
Post-Classical Ensemble
Carnival of Creatures: A Scary Family Concert
Music Center at Strathmore

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Andrew Willis, fortepiano
Mansion at Strathmore

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Channeling Glenn Gould
U. Maryland faculty members
Clarice Smith Center

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Bernstein, Mass
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Peabody Trio
Corcoran Gallery of Art

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Mirjana Rajić, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
IBIS at the Movies [FREE]
IBIS Chamber Music Society
Katzen Arts Center, American University

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Vienna Piano Trio [FREE]
Music by Haydn, Schubert, Smetana
National Gallery of Art

October 26, 2008 (Sun)
7 pm
Musica Pacifica
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

October 27, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello
Young Concert Artists Series
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 27, 2008 (Mon)
8 pm
Musica Pacifica
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

October 28, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Christoph Keller, organ [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

October 28, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Janaki String Trio
WPAS
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 28, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia
With Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello
La Maison Française

October 29, 2008 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Musica ad Rhenum [FREE]
Seventeenth-century music for recorder, cello, and harpsichord
National Gallery of Art (West Building Lecture Hall)

October 29, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Jupiter String Quartet [FREE]
Music by Haydn, Shostakovich, Gubaidulina
Freer Gallery of Art

October 29, 2008 (Wed)
8 pm
Maurizio Pollini, piano
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore

October 30, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
All-Wagner program (Iván Fischer, conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 30, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Claremont Trio
Music by Muhly, Smetana, Schubert
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 30, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Arianna Zukerman (soprano) and Joy Puckett Schreier (piano) [FREE]
Austrian Cultural Forum
Embassy of Austria

October 30, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Fireworks Ensemble [FREE]
Founder’s Day Concert
With preconcert lecture (6:15 pm), by Jessica Krash and Norman Middleton
Library of Congress

October 30, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Nikolaj Znaider, violin
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

October 30, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Kronos Quartet
Crumb, Black Angels
Clarice Smith Center

October 31, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Screening of Der Golem
With live music by Hesperus [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

October 31, 2008 (Fri)
7 pm
Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006)
Screening of Paul Festa documentary film [FREE]
Library of Congress

October 31, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Stanford Olsen (tenor) and Kenneth Griffiths (piano)
Vocal Arts Society
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

October 31, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Katarina Michaelli (soprano) and Monika Mockocakova (piano)
Embassy Series
Embassy of Slovakia (3523 International Court NW)

October 31, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
All-Wagner program (Iván Fischer, conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

October 31, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Nikolaj Znaider (violin) and Ludovic Morlot (guest conductor)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

Ionarts at Large: Harding, Gerhaher & Schade in Das Lied von der Erde

available at Amazon
Dvořák, The Golden Spinning Wheel & Piano Concerto, Concertgebouw / Harnoncourt / Aimard


available at Amazon
Mahler, DLvdE, King & Fischer-Dieskau / WPh / Bernstein


available at Amazon
Mahler, DLvdE, King & Baker/ Concertgebouw / Haitink


available at Amazon
Mahler, Symphony No.10 (Cooke III), WPh / Harding


available at Amazon
Mahler & Schoenberg, Lieder, Chamber Symphony, Gerhaher et al.
A Golden Spinning Wheel of earthy colors started churning under Daniel Harding’s baton-less hands when he led the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Dvořák’s orchestral ballad on June 26th at the Herkulessaal. Though pleasant all the way, there wasn’t much of a long line that kept your attention. Harding did his part to get the well oiled machine that is the BRSO to stir up grand emotion and drama at the appropriate points (some of which are rather Mendelssohnesque), but ultimately it’s not a particularly strong piece of music. Tchaikovskean excess here and there, a grateful triangle part, and otherwise a dawdle of light Dvořák. Harding, a young Steve McQueen of the conductor’s rostrum, got the wind and brass to sound dry and detailed, but didn’t get far beyond the gentle meaninglessness of it all.

The reason to attend was in any case Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Swiss-born, German-Canadian Michael Schade and Christian Gerhaher. Just in time for the 100 year anniversary of its composition, it won’t be the last time Munich audiences will hear Das Lied between now and the 100th anniversary of its premiere in Munich under Bruno Walter (1911). There will more even performances, too, but if the alto/baritone part will be bettered is questionable.

Harding, who has just recently recorded the Mahler 10th Symphony (in the Cooke III performing version), didn’t seek any of the high romantic spirit that Bernstein displays in his Vienna recording (also the tenor/baritone version). Instead, and perhaps thus in keeping with the 10th (member of this unofficial last symphonic triptych that also includes Das Lied and the Ninth Symphony), Harding shaped individual voices nicely, gave his precise cues, but got little out of it that might be described as a unifying impression. Somehow the sounds didn’t coalesce and instead disturbed more than they can, as it is. Because to these ears this ‘song-symphony’ is already the most impenetrable of Mahler’s works, that wasn’t an auspicious beginning.

Surely part of the difficultly of Das Lied lies in its fiendishly difficult tenor part. It would take a singer of Heldentenor-stature, or one whose voice can cut naturally through the orchestra, to make this sound anything less than a struggle. Schade, although his torso has grown like Barry Bond’s since I last saw him, is not such a singer. He remains an, albeit dramatic, Mozart tenor. And if the word “struggle” might be an unfair word to use, he threw himself at the music more valiantly than successfully. All too often his voice was covered by the playing of the Bavarians.

Gerhaher could not have been a greater contrast to the operatic style of Schade. It was either revelatory and possibly even comical, just how telling and obvious the differences were between the operatic and the Lied-style. Schade had the stock gestures of the stage ready, including that unfortunate haughty air. Gerhaher instead looked almost unhappy, uncomfortable, and nervous about taking his three songs – perhaps the result of intense concentration.

He exudes a total, very human seriousness. Serious and natural at once – which is also how his voice sounds. Admittedly his parts – “Der Einsame”, “Von der Schoenheit”, and the great “Der Abschied” – are more thankful than the tenor’s, and perhaps slightly less difficult, but that alone wasn’t enough to account for the difference between him and his colleague. Without any sense of effort, nothing sung with the perceivable intent to impress the audience, so fully focused on the music Gerhaher seemed even to let the orchestra disappear into insignificance. A touch awkward perhaps, a tad brooding, but convincing like I have never heard that part before – especially because “Der Abschied” was incomparably done.

That last song, a sort of second movement to the much shorter ones that came before, sounded not unlike “Der Leiermann” from Schubert’s Winterreise when flute and baritone presented their lamento over the double bass’ pedal point. Suddenly the work’s greatness was easy to detect and feel. And throughout there was Gerhaher’s pianissimo that stood in the room as if spoken: immovable, utterly exposed, with deadly accuracy and such great delicacy and control that only superlatives would do it justice: think of a cellist, who manages to get the finest, yet softest tone from his instrument instantaneously, instead of wiggling his way to the right pitch and dynamic level. That’s how Gerhaher’s “Ewig”. They really were “ewig” as they faded into the silence of the Herkulessaal, not hushed but nearly inaudible – terrific!

26.7.08

Interview with Monica Bacelli

During La Calisto's run at the Munich State Opera I had the opportunity to talk to mezzo soprano Monica Bacelli about singing mediocre parts, her Puccini-dislike (a woman after my own heart), Maurizio Pollini destroying harpsichords, why modern music is worth listening to (or performing), and what makes this particular David Alden production so special. Below is the roughly edited interview in modest video quality.


25.7.08

Classical Month in Washington (September)

Last month | Next month

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. 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, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Cornelia Frazier (soprano) and Ruth Locke (piano) [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

September 6, 2008 (Sat)
12:30 to 4:30 pm
Scott Houston ("The Piano Guy")
Piano lecture-demonstration (Smithsonian Resident Associates)
Freer Gallery of Art

September 8, 2008 (Mon)
8 pm
Christopher Dudley, trombone [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

September 9, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Jeffrey Chappell, piano [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

September 9, 2008 (Tue)
8 pm
Mobtown Modern: Too Cool for School
Contemporary Museum (Baltimore, Md.)

September 11, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Classical Hollywood (Richard Kaufman, guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 12, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Jessye Norman, with jazz quartet
Music of Duke Ellington
Clarice Smith Center

September 12, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Golden Age of Film Music (Richard Kaufman, guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 13, 2008 (Sat)
12 noon to 11 pm
Open House Arts Festival [FREE]
Kennedy Center

September 13, 2008 (Sat)
6 pm
Emerson Quartet
Smithsonian Resident Associates
National Museum of Natural History

September 13, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 13, 2008 (Sat)
8:30 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Season Opener, with Yo-Yo Ma
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 14, 2008 (Sun)
3 pmSara Daneshpour, piano
Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

September 14, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Viva La Voce (four singers with Frank Conlon, piano)
Amadeus Concerts
St. Francis Episcopal Church (Great Falls, Va.)

September 14, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Matt Haimovitz, cello
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington

September 15, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Indira Mahajan
Marian Anderson Award Recital
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

September 15, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Broken Reed Saxophone Quartet and Carl Banner (piano)
Washington Musica Viva
Music of Mozart, Tailleferre, Wilder, and Gerard
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum (Bethesda, Md.)

September 16, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Armonia Nova [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

September 17, 2008 (Wed)
7 pm
Benoît Delbecq, piano
Corcoran Gallery of Art

September 18, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
Lecture: “After Pearl Harbor: Music, War, and the Library of Congress” [FREE]
Professor Annegret Fauser (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Library of Congress

September 18, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 18, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Holst, The Planets
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 19, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Jennifer Ellis Kampani, soprano [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

September 19, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Holst, The Planets
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 20, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Bizet, Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 20, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Season Opening Ball Concert
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 20, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Holst, The Planets
Music Center at Strathmore

September 21, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 21, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Holst, The Planets
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 21, 2008 (Sun)
7 pm
Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel
Haydn and Mozart—Humor and Heartache
George Mason University Center for the Arts

September 22, 2008 (Mon)
7 pm
Bizet, Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 22, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Francesco Tristano Schlimé, piano
La Maison Française

September 23, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
ArcoVoce [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

September 23, 2008 (Tue)
6 pm
NSO Chamber Ensemble [FREE]
World premieres of commissioned works
Millennium Stage
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

September 23, 2008 (Tue)
8 pm
Fessenden Ensemble
Music by J. C. Bach, Jacob, Rheinberger
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

September 24, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 24, 2008 (Wed)
8 pm
Squonk Opera: AstroRama [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

September 25, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Bizet, Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 25, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

September 25, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Mahler/Bernstein, with Kelley O'Connor
Music Center at Strathmore

September 25, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Squonk Opera: AstroRama [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Hampton Trio [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
6 pm
Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra [FREE]
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Mozart, Don Giovanni (in English)
Opera Vivente (Baltimore, Md.)

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Mahler/Bernstein, with Kelley O'Connor
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Music from the Court of Isabella d'Este
Folger Consort
Folger Shakespeare Library

September 26, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Squonk Opera: AstroRama [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

September 27, 2008 (Sat)
2 pm
Anna Vinnitskaya, piano
WPAS
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

September 27, 2008 (Sat)
5 and 8 pm
Music from the Court of Isabella d'Este
Folger Consort
Folger Shakespeare Library

September 27, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 27, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

September 27, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Mahler/Bernstein, with Kelley O'Connor
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Bizet, Pearl Fishers
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Music from the Court of Isabella d'Este
Folger Consort
Folger Shakespeare Library

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Walsum Awards for New Music [FREE]
Evelyn Elsing (cello), Loren Kitt (clarinet), Santiago Rodriguez (piano), David Salness (violin)
Clarice Smith Center

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Le Cabaret de Carmen
American Opera Theater
Baltimore Theater Project

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Mahler/Bernstein, with Kelley O'Connor
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Mozart, Don Giovanni (in English)
Opera Vivente (Baltimore, Md.)

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
5 pm
Chamber Music Concert
Members of Capital City Symphony
Atlas Performing Arts Center

September 28, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Shunske Sato (violin) and Tao Lin (piano)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

September 30, 2008 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Tom Gallagher (tenor) and J. Reilly Lewis (keyboard) [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany

September 30, 2008 (Tue)
6 pm
NSO Chamber Ensemble [FREE]
World premieres of commissioned works
Millennium Stage
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

September 30, 2008 (Tue)
7 pm
Bernhard Gal at Sonic Circuits
Festival of Experimental Music
Austrian Cultural Forum
Pyramid Atlantic Art Center (Silver Spring, Md.)

September 30, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House