Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

30.11.08

In Brief: Drop Down, Dew

LinksHere is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • If you enjoyed the production of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia at Washington National Opera last month, then you will find this news interesting. A researcher at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, believes that a painting formerly thought to be the portrait of an unidentified young man is actually a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia by Dosso Dossi. Don't call it fact quite yet -- wait until the findings have undergone peer review. [CBC News]

  • When you plan that day trip to Versailles, add a few hours for the historic sites being opened to the public in the village surrounding the famous chateau, including the Jeu de Paume, where the deputies of the Third Estate swore their oath in 1789, and several other historic sites, gardens, and neighborhoods. [Le Figaro]

  • Man With Apple Hovering In Front Of Face Sues René Magritte's Estate -- "Magritte's work has often been the subject of litigation, most notably in 2003 when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art filed a Treachery of Images charge against the artist's estate after purchasing a piece by Magritte that was believed to be a pipe, but was later revealed not to be a pipe." Hee hee. [The Onion]

  • Matthew Guerrieri offers a close reading of a passage from Augustine's Confessions. [Soho the Dog]

  • If you are a fan of the photography of Robert Doisneau, then you will want to know about the exhibit of 156 unseen photographs taken by him in Alsace near the end of World War II. The show is co-sponsored by La Filature de Mulhouse and the Club de la presse de Strasbourg. [Le Figaro]

29.11.08

Europeana Goes Live and Immediately Dies

Still catching up on the article reading missed during our trip to Rome, so the news about the European Union's digital library project just came to my attention. Europeana was supposed to be Europe's answer to the Google Books project. As reported by Claire Bommelaer in Le Figaro (L'Europe lance sa première bibliothèque numérique, November 20), the preliminary version of the project's Web site went live, with about two million online documents. It was actually supposed to be more than just books (my translation):

Among the initial contents will be Dante's Divine Comedy, paintings like Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring, historical documents like the British Magna Carta, recordings or manuscripts of Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin, or images of the fall of the Berlin Wall. From now until 2010, the plan was to reach at least six million works and to improve the portal to allow users to interact with one another and to allow multilingual usage. Brussels was supposed to invest 120 million € in 2009 and 2010 to improve the digitalization technology, and 40 million for the translation part, like automatic translation, which will be possible in 23 languages. Within two years, the question of more recent content, which pose problems of copyright compensation, will surely be worked out, thanks to agreements made with the publishers.
It all sounded great -- all of that French literature instantly translated into English! -- and that is what everyone apparently thought. According to an article (European digital library site crashes, November 21) by Stephen Castle in the International Herald Tribune, the site designers' predicted Internet traffic of five million hits per hour was exceeded by three times as much, overwhelming the servers and setting back the opening date for a few more weeks. Put me down among those who will be checking out that site more carefully when it reopens in mid-December.

28.11.08

Ionarts at Large: Last Day in Rome

Thanksgiving Day in Rome was a day like any other, although mercifully the rain and unseasonably cold air that had plagued us earlier in the week gave way to some warmer, sunnier weather. In the morning my longtime vow was fulfilled by visiting the Basilica of Santa Costanza, which involved a subway ride to Termini and a relatively short trip on the 36 bus. The one-time mausoleum intended to intern the ashes of Constantia, the daughter of the Emperor Constantine, is well-trodden territory for art historians, as it contains some of the best early Christian mosaics surviving in Rome. As you can see from one of photos, it did not disappoint. (The basin of water, with two birds perched on the rim, glistens with shiny color at the center of the section shown here.) Images of these mosaics are often used to define the term syncretism in art history textbooks, as they contain imagery of vines, grapes, and wine production that could be right at home either in a late Roman Dionysian cult building or as images of the Eucharistic wine in an early Christian church. From both an architectural and artistic point of view, it is a spectacular building.

Time did not allow for a visit to San Pietro in Vincoli as planned, but I did make it to the church of San Agostino, where the earthly remains of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, now rest, having been transferred from the place where she died, in Ostia. The conversation she had with Augustine in their rooms at Ostia, as she was preparing to return to her home in North Africa, is one of the most memorable passages in Book Nine of the Confessions. The church also contains, in the first side chapel on the left side of the nave, Caravaggio’s Madonna of Loreto, one of his most simply pious and wide-eyed paintings, free of the tortured overtones of so much of his work. As luck would have it, who should also be in the piazza of San Agostino that afternoon, also disappointed to learn that the church does not open until four o’clock, but Italian conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini, whose new CD was under review earlier this week.

On the way back to the Vatican side of the river, I took the photograph shown below (on the Ponte Umberto I), of the startling clouds of small, dark birds, flitting back and forth among the trees on either side of the river. A Roman informed me that they are called storni -- we call them starlings in English -- and it must have been a scene like this that Dante had in mind when he wrote of the souls in the second circle of hell, whirled about in a whirlwind like a chaotic mass of starlings (di qua, di là, di giù, di sù, as he so memorably put it -- this way, that way, up, down). The noise of wings flapping and anxious avian chatter was a wild cacophony, as were the resulting and unpredictable masses of droppings that fell.


E come li stornei ne portan l'ali
nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena,
così quel fiato li spiriti mali

di qua, di là, di giù, di sù li mena;
nulla speranza li conforta mai,
non che di posa, ma di minor pena.

27.11.08

Happy Thanksgiving from Rome!


Yesterday was quite a day, with the Mass at 5 pm in the Vatican and our concert at 9 pm at Santa Maria Maggiore. It is followed today by the additional strangeness of a Thanksgiving in a country that does not celebrate Thanksgiving. Being away from family and friends is difficult, but we will drown our sorrow in a celebratory dinner tonight at a restaurant in the Villa Borghese gardens. Turkey and cranberry sauce, it goes without saying, will not be on the menu.

Note above, in a not so good photograph, the little advance notice about our Mass and concert, which ran in the Corriere della sera yesterday. As a group we felt pretty happy with both performances, the culmination of a lot of hard work and preparation. Look for reports later this week on visits tomorrow to the Basilica of Santa Costanza and San Pietro in Vincoli, both visited by me for the first time this week.

Warm wishes and safe travels to all our American readers on this Thanksgiving Day!

26.11.08

Inside San Pietro


As you know, I am in Rome at the moment, as a member of the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. When we sang for Mass at St. Peter’s on Sunday and again when we went there for a rehearsal last night, we have been allowed to enter the church not through the main security gate but, by special permission, through a side entrance. Not wanting even to appear to compromise the security of the Vatican, I will not tell you how we got to this entrance, but it will not matter if I tell you that it goes through the door that the Pope or cardinals often use to enter the sanctuary of St. Peter’s to celebrate Mass.

If you have been in St. Peter’s before, it is the door under the jaw-dropping marble sculpture created by Bernini as the monument to Pope Alexander VII. It shows, above, the Pope kneeling in prayer and, below, the figure of Death, holding an hourglass, partially covered by a flowing drapery, sculpted in spectacular colored marble. That sculpture may be the most remarkable thing that Bernini created for the Vatican, and that includes the Gloria in the apse, the baldacchino at the crossing, and the colonnade in the piazza out front. The pictures above show the door opened and, from inside the hallway beyond the door, the view of the dangling legs of the skeleton of Death, which the Pope sees above him as he enters the church. The doors in the hallway, which are not accessible to the public, have the most fanciful handles, small sculptures of floating angels and grimacing grotesques. The grotesque on the left in the image shown here only appeared last night.


The rehearsal took place after the official closing of St. Peter’s, meaning that we had the experience of seeing the largest Catholic church in the world, empty of visitors and mostly dark. The music, especially the Haydn Mass being led by Helmuth Rilling, rang out in the stillness, a sound memory I will treasure for the rest of my life.


The Mass at St. Peter's takes place today at 5 pm and will be broadcast on Italian Catholic radio. We will be singing unaccompanied motets by Victoria, João Lourenço Rebelo, and Heinrich Isaac.

25.11.08

Classical Music in Washington (February)

Last month | Next month
Small eye = recommended

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!

February 1, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Chinese New Year Concert
Qingdao Symphony Orchestra and Choral Arts Society of Washington
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 1, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
Ryan de Ryke (baritone) and Daniel Schlosberg (piano) [FREE]
Phillips Collection
Review -- Tim Smith (Clef Notes, February 2)

February 1, 2009 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Ulrich Urban, piano [FREE]
Music by Mendelssohn
National Gallery of Art

February 1, 2009 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Axelrod String Quartet
Renwick Gallery

February 2, 2009 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Our Lincoln
Presented by Kentucky Humanities Council
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 3, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Nicola Benedetti, violin
WPAS
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 5)

Small eye
February 4, 2009 (Wed)
8 pm
Joshua Bell (violin) and Jeremy Denk (piano)
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 6)

Small eye
February 5, 2009 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Iván Fischer, conductor (music by Bartók and Dvořák)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 8)

February 5, 2009 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Ulike Anton (flute) and Russell Ryan (piano) [FREE]
Austrian Cultural Forum
Embassy of Austria

February 6, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Cypress String Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress
Review -- Robert Battey (Washington Post, February 10)

Small eye
February 6, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Iván Fischer, conductor (music by Bartók and Dvořák)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 6, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra
With Celine Byrne, soprano
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall (Alexandria, Va.)

Small eye
February 7, 2009 (Sat)
2 pm
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
WPAS
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 9)

Small eye
February 7, 2009 (Sat)
6 pm
Beyond the Baton: Iván Fischer
Kennedy Center Terrace Gallery

February 7, 2009 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin
18th Street Singers
Embassy of Switzerland

Small eyeSmall eye
February 7, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
György and Márta Kurtág (piano) and Keller Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 10)

February 7, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
Talich Quartet
Candlelight Concert Society
Smith Theater, Howard Community College

Small eye
February 7, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Iván Fischer, conductor (music by Bartók and Dvořák)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 7, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
Bizet, Carmen
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore

February 8, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Wonny Song, piano
Young Concert Artists Series
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Small eye
February 8, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Washington Bach Consort: The Dresden Connection
Sydney Harman Hall

February 8, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Left Bank Concert Society
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Small eye
February 8, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
Auryn Quartet
All-Beethoven program
Corcoran Gallery of Art

February 8, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
David Requiro (cello) and Elizabeth DeMio (piano) [FREE]
Phillips Collection

Small eyeSmall eye
February 8, 2009 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Radu Lupu, piano
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 11)

February 8, 2009 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Josef Feigelson, cello [FREE]
Music by Mendelssohn
National Gallery of Art

February 8, 2009 (Sun)
7 pm
Concertino Palatino
With Johannette Zomer (soprano), 17th-century music
Dumbarton Oaks

February 9, 2009 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Argento Chamber Ensemble [FREE]
Georg Friedrich Haas, In Vain
Austrian Cultural Forum
Embassy of Austria

February 9, 2009 (Mon)
8 pm
Concertino Palatino
With Johannette Zomer (soprano), 17th-century music
Dumbarton Oaks

February 10, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Guarneri String Quartet
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, February 12)

February 10, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Raymond Jackson, piano
Music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Grant Still, Frederick Eliot Lewis
Mansion at Strathmore

February 10, 2009 (Tue)
8 pm
Mira Trio
Library of Congress

Small eye
February 12, 2009 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Hilliard Ensemble
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 14)

February 13, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Atrium Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 13, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Puccini, Tosca
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 16)

Small eye
February 14, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
Ravel, L'heure espagnole (and Puccini duets)
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia
With Julia Rolwing, Leslie Mutchler, Ta’u Pupu’a, Peter Burroughs
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
All-Beethoven Marathon, Part 1
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, February 17)

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Puccini, Tosca
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Voice of the Jewish Diaspora
New York Festival of Song
Clarice Smith Center

Small eye
February 15, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Ravel, L'heure espagnole (and Puccini duets)
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia
With Julia Rolwing, Leslie Mutchler, Ta’u Pupu’a, Peter Burroughs
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra
With Tsuna Sakamoto (viola) and Ira Gold (double bass)
George Washington Masonic Memorial (Alexandria, Va.)

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
Silver Garburg Piano Duo [FREE]
Phillips Collection

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
4:30 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
All-Beethoven Marathon, Part 2
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
5 pm
Inscape Chamber Orchestra
Music by Justin Boyer, Franz Berwald, others
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer (Bethesda, Md.)

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
6:30 pm
University of Akron Choir [FREE]
Music by Mendelssohn
National Gallery of Art

February 15, 2009 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Smithsonian Chamber Music Society
All-Schubert program
Renwick Gallery

February 16, 2009 (Mon)
2 pm
Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Choral Festival
With McLean Youth Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 17, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Rita Medjimorec (piano) and Florian Kitt (cello) [FREE]
Austrian Cultural Forum
Embassy of Austria

February 17, 2009 (Tue)
8 pm
GMU Symphony Orchestra
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 18, 2009 (Wed)
7 pm
What Makes It Great?: Schumann
Lecture-Demonstration by Rob Kapilow, with Yuliya Gorenman (piano)
WPAS
Freer Gallery of Art

February 18, 2009 (Wed)
8 pm
Trio con Brio Copenhagen with James Dunham (viola) [FREE]
Library of Congress
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Washington Post, February 20)

Small eye
February 19, 2009 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Charles Dutoit (conductor) and Yuja Wang (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 23)

February 19, 2009 (Thu)
7 pm
R. Larry Todd, Lecture on Mendelssohn Bicentenary [FREE]
Library of Congress

Small eye
February 19, 2009 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Musicians from Marlboro II [FREE]
With Peter Stumpf, cello (music by Haydn, Brahms, Kodály)
Freer Gallery of Art
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Washington Post, February 21)

Small eye
February 19, 2009 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Ives, Saint-Saëns (Organ-Symphony)
Music Center at Strathmore

Small eye
February 20, 2009 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Scenes from Shadowboxer (new opera by Frank Proto)
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

Small eye
February 20, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Charles Dutoit (conductor) and Yuja Wang (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 20, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Ahn Trio
Music Center at Strathmore

February 21, 2009 (Sat)
5 pm
21st Century Consort
Music by Jacob Druckman, Augusta Read Thomas, David Froom, and Robert Beaser
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Small eye
February 21, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Charles Dutoit (conductor) and Yuja Wang (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Small eye
February 21, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
University of Maryland Symphony and Choirs
Music by Carter, Boulanger, Strauss, Bruckner
Clarice Smith Center

February 21, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
St. Petersburg String Quartet
Tudor Dominik Maican, String Quartet No. 3
Dumbarton Concerts
Review -- Robert Battey (Washington Post, February 23)

February 21, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
Bennewitz Quartet
Candlelight Concert Society
Smith Theater, Howard Community College

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Sue Heineman (bassoon) and Paul Cigan (clarinet) [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Jade Simmons, piano [FREE]
National Academy of Sciences
Review -- Ronni J. Reich (Washington Post, February 24)

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
New York Empire Trio [FREE]
Phillips Collection

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
Master Chorale of Washington: American A Cappella
National Presbyterian Church
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Washington Post, February 23)

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
4 pm
Amadeus Chamber Players, with Silver-Garburg Piano Duo
St. Luke Church (McLean, Va.)

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Mendelssohn Piano Trio [FREE]
Music by Mendelssohn
National Gallery of Art

February 22, 2009 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Chee-Yun, violin
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

February 24, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra
With Lorin Maazel, conductor
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Anne Midgette (Washington Post, February 26)

Small eye
February 24, 2009 (Tue)
8 pm
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
With Julia Fischer, violin
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 26)

February 25, 2009 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Leon Bates, piano [FREE]
Music by Barber, Copland, Corea
National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium

February 25, 2009 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Martin Bruns, baritone [FREE]
Freer Gallery of Art
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 27)

February 25, 2009 (Wed)
8 pm
University of Maryland Repertoire Orchestra [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

Small eye
February 26, 2009 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Gil Shaham (violin) and Xian Zhang (conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 27)

Small eye
February 26, 2009 (Thu)
7:30 pm
William Bolcom (piano) and Joan Morris (soprano)
Mansion at Strathmore
Review -- Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, February 27)

Small eye
February 26, 2009 (Thu)
8 pm
London Philharmonic Orchestra
With Vladimir Jurowski (conductor) and Leon Fleisher (piano)
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, February 28)

February 26, 2009 (Thu)
8 pm
Curtis Institute of Music on Tour [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 27, 2009 (Fri)
7:30 pm
IBIS Chamber Music Society [FREE]
Music of William Grant Still and William Alwyn
Lyon Park Community Center (Arlington, Va.)

Small eye
February 27, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Gil Shaham (violin) and Xian Zhang (conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 27, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 27, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Imani Winds
Clarice Smith Center

February 28, 2009 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Countertop Ensembles: Modern Voices
Saint Peter's on Capitol Hill

Small eye
February 28, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Gil Shaham (violin) and Xian Zhang (conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 28, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
With Manuel Barrueco (guitar)
Music Center at Strathmore

Masses by Pergolesi and Scarlatti

Available from Amazon
Pergolesi, Missa Romana / Scarlatti, Messa per il santissimo natale, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini

(released on October 28, 2008)
Naïve OP 30461
It seemed appropriate to review this new release from an Ionarts favorite ensemble, Concerto Italiano, while here in Rome. It brings together two lesser-known Mass settings made for churches here in the Eternal City. Alessandro Scarlatti called his third setting of the Latin Ordinary the Messa per il Santissimo Natale, a Mass for Christmas Day, completing it in 1707 while he was maestro di cappella at St. Mary Major. We had our first rehearsal there last night, in preparation for our Wednesday concert in that basilica, and my memories of making our last recording there, it turns out, were no exaggeration of how cold an unheated stone building can get at night.

It is the Scarlatti that most appeals to me in this pairing, a setting of all five Latin movements and with a more sustained style than Pergolesi, whose Mass, like many of his other pieces, is a string of pretty tidbits. Rinaldo Alessandri conducts with his accustomed rhythmic verve and attention to clean attack and release. He continues to indulge in a few old tricks, rarely allowing any slowing down in a movement’s final bars and ending in many cases on a short, clipped chord. The singing and playing are excellent, continuing to keep the group near the top of the HIP movement. There are no blemishes too prominent to mind, and some of the effects, like the breakneck speed imposed by Alessandrini at the end of the Pergolesi, are breath-taking.

The Pergolesi Missa Romana, only one of two settings of the Latin Ordinary that can be attributed to him, is an adaptation of work composed for Naples. It was performed in the Roman church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in 1734, which I passed by on Sunday evening. With its 12th-century portico and bell tower still intact, it is the burial place of the French painter Nicolas Poussin and has some striking work by Bernini, Simon Vouet, and Guido Reni. The Mass, for five-part choir, is only a Kyrie-Gloria pairing, with many striking passages. In the final statement of Kyrie, the punctuation of orchestral knife-stabs is followed by tortured harmonic suspensions in the choir, and the Domine deus opens with a gorgeous introduction for strings. The best movement is the first Qui tollis of the Gloria (“Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis,” as plaintive a prayer for mercy as possible, with shocking tonal shifts in homophonic chorus and sighing chromatic decoration by violins.

58’34”

24.11.08

Ionarts at Large: Palazzo Barberini

On Sunday afternoon in Rome, a few of us spent the early evening in the Palazzo Barberini, the extensive villa near the Quirinale that the Barberini family purchased in 1625. A series of celebrated architects – Maderno, Bernini, Borromini – expanded and renovated the building, which now houses the Galleria nazionale d’arte antica. The art is displayed on the piano nobile, a floor of grand rooms intended for entertainment and the reception of business contacts. You ascend the famous staircase, in the shape of an oval, built by Borromini in the palazzo’s right side wing, which is echoed by the oval chamber of the main entrance (now closed off) constructed by Bernini. In any case, the first room you see is the main salon, decorated by Pietro da Cortona, the celebrated painter of illusionistic ceiling frescos, with The Triumph of Divine Providence and Elevation of the Barberini Family. Pietro’s “audition piece” for that commission is the so-called Square Chapel, a smaller room in the palazzo where he painted the main fresco, a crucifixion scene, and the students in his workshop made accompanying frescos.

The museum is a fairly laid-back place, open until 7:30 pm most nights and costing only five euros to see the painting galleries. The collection now on display includes some El Greco, Titian, Tintoretto, and Orazio Gentileschi. The high points include two Hans Holbein portraits, both celebrated, of Henry VIII and Thomas More (the latter is one of my intellectual and spiritual heroes), as well as Raphael’s notorious portrait of his mistress, La Fornarina (the nickname meaning that she was the daughter of a baker, in Trastevere). Some surprises came from Ribera’s Gregory the Great, a pair of intensely penitent Magdalens (by Simon Vouet and Guido Reni), and two polished portraits of the apostles Matthew and Luke by Guercino.

The main reason for me to go to the Palazzo Barberini was to see their three Caravaggios, part of a life-long project to see all of that painter’s works. The bloody, disturbing rendition of Judith and Holofernes is widely known, with the intent and seemingly well-behaved widow in the act of beheading her rapist. This painting’s erotic overtones have always disturbed me, thoughts that were only reinforced by finally seeing it in person. Perhaps more about that another time. It was also a pleasure to see the murky painting of Narcissus, transfixed by the beauty of his own reflection in the water. The erotic look, even autoerotic in this case, is a powerful thing in Caravaggio’s work.

I also spent a very pleasant half-hour lying on one of the couches provided by the museum to survey Pietro da Cortona’s overwhelming ceiling fresco. A card of curatorial text provided a handy guide to the imagery, which shows the virtues attributed to Maffeo Barberini (Pope Urban VIII) triumphing over the corresponding vices. It may not be as stunning a work as Gaulli’s Triumph of the Name of Jesus (at Il Gesù, where we will be singing a Mass later this week) or Carracci’s ceiling in the Palazzo Farnese, but the illusionism Pietro achieved is startling. Many of the trompe-l’œil sculptural framework is so well shaded that you continue to doubt that you are really seeing paint. One particular corner, Minerva’s defeat of the giants, features sprawling legs so convincingly foreshortened that they seem to hang down from the surface.

23.11.08

Brevamente In Breve

LinksHere is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • The historically informed performance practice movement has received another imprimatur of its official success, being transformed from an edgy movement that was (and in some quarters still is) vilified by listeners and traditional musicians alike into something as mainstream and accepted as possible. William Christie, the visionary leader of Les Arts Florissants, has been given a seat in the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. [TV 5 Monde]

  • We'll let you know if the strike at many of Rome's museums on Friday continues into this week. We do have some free time for some cultural enlightenment. [Reuters Italia]

  • If pressed to choose the world's best orchestra, as Gramophone recently asked a group of music critics, the Royal Concertgebouw would have gotten my vote, too. Berlin and Vienna are hardly surprises either. Perhaps a little surprisingly, Cleveland makes it to seventh, followed by the L.A. Phil at eighth. With the Budapest Festival Orchestra at ninth, the NSO may be regretting not being able to engage Iván Fischer in a more substantive role. [The Times]

  • Jessica Duchen has some further thoughts on the matter of the "daft list." [Jessica Duchen]

  • It's official -- researchers have located the tomb of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus in the cathedra of Frombork in Poland, where he lived as a canon at the end of his life. [The Guardian]

22.11.08

Ionarts at Large: Andiamo a Roma

The Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, of which I am a member, is in Rome this week. Tomorrow, we will be singing at the Papal Mass in St. Peter's (November 23, 10:30 am), along with several Masses at other churches in Rome throughout the week. This concert tour culminates with a concert on Wednesday, part of the 7th Festival Internazionale di Musica e Arte Sacra at Santa Maria Maggiore (November 26, 9 pm), preceded by a collaborative Mass, again at St. Peter's, at 5 pm.

If you happen to be in Rome, we hope to see you there. More pictures and cultural observations to follow.

21.11.08

'Norma' in Baltimore


Ruth Ann Swenson (Adalgisa) and Hasmik Papian (Norma) in Norma (photo courtesy of Baltimore Opera)
Add to the list of opportunities to hear bel canto opera this month the fine production of Bellini's Norma at Baltimore Opera. Wednesday evening's performance confirmed what seemed evident just from looking at the cast list: the company outdid itself by assembling a fine group of singers, especially in the pairing of prima and seconda donna for Norma and Adalgisa. Under most circumstances, the devoted connoisseur of opera, especially one dedicated to bel canto opera, would be willing to travel to hear a performance of the rarely heard Norma, one of the legendary summits of the style. This production is worth the effort.

Starring in the title role is Armenian soprano Hasmik Papian, returning yet again to the part that has earned her critical acclaim here in Washington and around the world, including famously sweeping in to last year's production at the Met. Papian sang with remarkable fortitude, scaling her voice to the moment in a range from velvety pianissimo to searing forte. Not every run or trill was in place, but she has earned the reputation she has as one of the few sopranos today who can sing Norma well. True, her voice can tilt toward the acidic here and there, but that is well suited to the vengeful, mercurial disposition of the Druid priestess.


Soprano Hasmik Papian in Norma (photo courtesy of Baltimore Opera)
If anything, the Adalgisa of Ruth Ann Swenson was more astounding, the voice having blossomed in its lower range since her recent battle with cancer. It was still as golden and smooth, all around with much more bel in the bel canto than Papian. The duet of the two women in Act II merged the two voices seamlessly, making it the high point of this top-notch musical evening. Swenson may not be welcome at the Met anymore, but that theater's loss is our gain. The other major role, the punishing tenor of Pollione, was sung capably by Frank Porretta, who started off very roughly on Wednesday night but warmed up to a more secure place in his voice, an instrument that is more muscle than finesse. Chinese bass Hao Jiang Tian was a stentorian presence as Oroveso.

The libretto by Felice Romani borders on the patently absurd, involving the love entanglement in ancient Gaul of a Roman soldier (Pollione) with not one, but two Druid priestesses, who are both supposed to be vowed to chastity to the moon goddess. The production directed by Roberto Oswald was a somber affair, full of gloomy colors that made Norma's red veil in the final scene stand out for it warmth. The costumes by Anibal Lapiz were so drab and ugly that one was thankful for the often murky lighting by Benjamin Pearcy to make them less visible, like the shabby robes for the priests that looked recycled from the Hebrew chorus of Nabucco. When Norma made her famous entrance in Act I, one could be forgiven for wondering why that filthy washerwoman had entered instead.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Baltimore Opera's 'Norma' is of note (Baltimore Sun, November 20)

Anne Midgette, In Baltimore's 'Norma,' Swenson Is Second to None (Washington Post, November 21)
Romanian-born conductor Christian Badea's gestures seemed to show him as completely in sync with his singers, trying to give a flexible reading of the simple orchestral score. Unfortunately, the orchestra was not as responsive in following him, creating more than a few poorly aligned moments. One hopes that full houses for this production will help the company regain some of the money lost on the fall's first production, Aida, which caused a major cash shortfall as ticket sales fell off as the stock market deflated. The official word from inside the company is that the rumors of imminent bankruptcy are exaggerated, although the new leadership is prepared to make the cuts necessary to lower future costs to keep Baltimore Opera afloat. Let us hope that they are right, but opera lovers should also do their part and attend one of the remaining performances.

This production of Norma will be repeated two more times, tonight (November 21, 8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (November 23, 3 pm). A special promotion is in place that discounts ticket prices by $20 for tonight's performance.

20.11.08

Hantaï Delights by Candlelight

Style masthead

Harpsichordist Hantaï Blends Sound, Setting
Washington Post, November 20, 2008

Pierre Hantaï, harpsichord
Music by J. S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti
Grace Episcopal Church, Georgetown
Co-sponsored by La Maison Française

19.11.08

Opera Costume Sale at the Garnier

According to an article (Les soldes fastueux de l'Opéra, November 17) by Ariane Bavelier in Le Figaro, the Opéra national de Paris put up 7,000 opera costumes for sale to the public last weekend, a huge yard sale in the Grand Foyer of the Palais Garnier (my translation):

"I love this Faust costume: I am going to wear it for my son's wedding," says one man, apparently not worried about any possible bad luck from that opera, as he claimed a dark suit, vintage 1900. And then a scream as he discovers the label sewn into the inside of the back: "This was Villazón's!" Because here, beneath the gold of the Grand Foyer, the 500 people let in every hour and a half to gather around garment racks are all opera lovers. Half of the tickets for the sale (8 €) were bought by subscribers, who were limited to three costumes per person. Only members of the Association pour le rayonnement de l'Opéra de Paris had the right to buy as many costumes as they wanted. Some will wear them to AROP soirées, others to costume balls.

"I spent 17,000 € yesterday and convinced a girlfriend to give me her ticket for today," says a surgeon who explains that he already has forty-some costumes in his home, exhibiting them in alternation on four dummies in his living room. In the middle of the floor, a woman in bra and underwear tries on a dress for Manon and contemplates herself in the golden mirrors, where the 18th-century dresses have the most beautiful effect. To hell with modesty! There are no dressing rooms, and singers never have the same shape. Necessity makes the rules.
The 7,000 costumes come from 25 productions that will never be shown again in Paris. The company expects to make 300,000 €, as well as saving considerably on the cost of storing old costumes.

18.11.08

Opera for Kids: Carmen Look-In


Master Ionarts and Miss Ionarts survey the Opera House
Writing reviews every week means listening always with a critical ear, keeping in mind the best comparable performances. So it was a relief, on a Saturday morning outing with the kids, to think only of the fun part of going to the opera. This time it was the latest installment of Washington National Opera's Family Look-In series, a kids' digest form of one of the current productions, Bizet's Carmen. Young singers from the Domingo-Cafritz program gave plenty of energy and enthusiasm to the selected scenes, which included most of the tubes in this opera full of hits.

The best way to send the message that this kind of outreach program is important to the company is for the big names to pony up their time. That is just what the biggest kahuna of them all, General Director Plácido Domingo, did by appearing in person on the podium. Master Ionarts witnessed him conducting the Don Giovanni Look-In last year, but now Miss Ionarts can also say, later in life, that she saw Domingo in person. In addition, both children can say that they saw Denyce Graves, too, since the star of this production herself showed up to sing the Act I Séguedille. The newest and most exciting partnership of this Look-In brings together the WNO and Ms. Graves' alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts (where Mrs. Ionarts also went to high school). Students in the school's technical theater department worked with the opera designers to create their own costumes for Carmen, which they presented during the Look-In.

The nuts-and-bolts side of opera production is an excellent way to make this larger-than-life genre seem as normal as any other type of entertainment. As was the case last year, Master Ionarts most enjoyed the presentation by the company's stage manager Beth Krynicki, who showed some of the tricks behind the set pieces, props, and lighting effects, as one of the scene changes took place with the curtain open. Although Miss Ionarts was frightened by the anger of Don Jose in the final scene ("He's not nice!"), neither child seemed too bothered by the murder of Carmen at the end, which was -- somewhat surprisingly -- included in the Look-In. (Two crying children did have to be carried out of the front section of the theater.) In a sense, most operas deal with adult themes, which were edited out in previous Look-Ins (no drugs in Porgy and Bess, for example), so there is only so much editing one can do. This became clear to me as I tried to explain the story of Carmen to the kids.

All in all, this Look-In was even more successful than previous ones. Maureen Bunyan from ABC 7 News was, once again, our excellent narrator. Both children thoroughly enjoyed the singing, as well as the conducting and clapping exercises led by Maestro Domingo, which culminated in a boy in the front row (who turned out to be a friend of ours) "conducting" the orchestra through a crescendo. With every seat in the house sold out, Washington National Opera continues to lay a strong foundation with the next generation of opera lovers.

17.11.08

Ionarts at Large: Welser-Möst in Henze & Mozart


“We should play music, whenever it’s good music” answers Franz Welser-Möst to the question why he programmed Hans Werner Henze’s First Symphony with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E-flat K482 and the “Prague” Symphony for the his concerts with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (October 30th/31st). His rejection of playing modern music only when it’s a world premiere is part of the same subtle, conservative dissent as his decision to put a Mozart Symphony at the end of the concert, rather than open with Mozart and finish with a romantic barnstormer; “grand, effect-orchestrated monsters”, as he calls them.

available at Amazon
Hans Werner Henze, Symphonies 1-6,
H.W.Henze / BPh, LSO
DG / Brilliant

Not that he’s no good at the latter. The Henze, arguably one such grand work, comes across elegiac and polished – sounding much more like a romantic symphony in the vain of Fortner (Henze’s teacher) or K.A.Hartmann, than a 20 year old composer’s Darmstadt debut. How much of that the tone-row based, loosely dodecaphonic, 1946 symphony owes to its 1964 and 1991 revisions I don’t know, but listening to the almost unchanged lyrical second movement (Notturno, lento) I venture to say: much less than it owed to the orchestra’s obviously well-rehearsed performance and the noble, aloof air FWM lent it.

In the evidently under-rehearsed concerto (pianist Gitti Pirner played nimble, understated and very affable Mozart), the orchestra earned demerits for a first movement full of flubs. They recovered in time for the symphony, which was given as full-bodied Mozart, just the way large symphony orchestras should play Classical music if they are not to sound silly. That big-band Mozart is not just a necessary exercise in de-coagulating an orchestra’s sound, clogged from too much heavy romantic fare, has been proven beyond all doubt by the Krips recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips) which remain the acme of the art of tip-toeing with a body of 50 string players.

FWM didn’t achieve Kripsian lightness, but since the Prague Symphony’s three movements look forward to a grander type of symphony as much as Beethoven’s first two symphonies look back, it can take the heft that the BRSO gave it. FWM’s main achievements were lavishness without indulgence, gentility without preciousness, and (perhaps surprisingly) a sense of untamed excitement in the Presto.



Recommended Recordings (Welser-Möst):
FWM's reputation is that of an unexciting conductor who doesn't rise beyond surface-sheen and remains emotionally shallow and interpretatively bland. Any of these five recordings should prove that stereotype wrong (or at least too general to stick), especially the Schmidt recordings and the Alpine Symphony which I recommend as a HiFi, near-cinematic audio spectacle.


available at Amazon
F.Schmidt, Sy.4, F.W-M
/ LPO


available at Amazon
F.Schmidt, Book of 7 Seals, F.W-M / BRSO / René Pape, Chr.Oelze, et al.
available at Amazon
R.Strauss, Alpine Symphony, F.W-M / Gustav Mahler YO


available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Sys.5 & 7, F.W-M
/ LPO
available at Amazon
E.Korngold, Sy. in F-sharp, Songs, F.W-M / Phil.O, B. Hendricks


available at Amazon
A.Pärt, Sanctuary, F.W-M
/ LPO




(This is the abbreviated version of an article that will appear in the Jan/Feb edition of American Record Guide.)