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31.10.11

November in Classical Music



Charles T. Downey, This Month in Classical Music (The Washingtonian, October 31):

Washington has a rich concert life for classical music aficionados, but how should fans prioritize? What should someone who wants to give classical music a try choose from so many options? These are our picks for the best in classical music in Washington this month.

VOCAL MUSIC: The Washington Bach Consort will perform a concert of Baroque music featuring solo voices at the National Presbyterian Church (November 6 at 3PM) with soprano Agnes Zsigovics and countertenor Daniel Taylor. Pergolesi’s gorgeous Stabat mater is the main course, with appetizers of J. S. Bach and Christoph Graupner. November 12 at Strathmore, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will introduce a concert by the National Philharmonic devoted to “women pioneers” and featuring a rarely heard performance of the Grand Mass in E-flat major by American composer Amy Beach.

OPERA: The Washington National Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is one of the most promising of the season. There are two potentially very good sopranos alternating in the title role (Sarah Coburn and Lyubov Petrova), the rest of the cast is pretty good, and the company’s excellent new music director will conduct. The story is as sensationally weird as it gets in opera—there’s a murder and a legendary mad scene—and the staging, by David Alden, promises to be bloody and psychologically disturbing. Runs November 10 through 19 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
[Continue reading]

30.10.11

In Brief: Snow in October Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.
  • You may have heard about the gala concert for the reopening of the Bolshoi Theater: you can watch it online. [ARTE Live Web]

  • Work on your French as you listen to Jean-François Zygel, from the piano, comment on Mendelssohn's fourth symphony, with a performance of the work by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. (Click on the headphones icon to start the stream.) [France Musique]

  • You can watch the final round of the Neue Stimmen International Singing Competition, on Medici.tv. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Listen to the Orchestre National de France play Berg's violin concert, with Frank Peter Zimmermann, and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, with contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and tenor Stephen Gould. [France Musique]

  • Hear the latest composer retrospective from the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, devoted to the Italianate comic operas of Antoine Dauvergne: Les Troqueurs (1753), based on a story of La Fontaine, and La Coquette trompée (1753). [France Musique]

  • This is an intriguing program, consisting of pieces by Hanns Eisler, Schoenberg, Milhaud, and Bartók composed during their time in the United States, performed by the ensemble TM+. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Nicolas Hodges gives a recital of contemporary pieces by Brice Pauset, Claude Helffer, Jean Barraqué, and Bill Hopkins, at the Festival Musica Strasbourg. [France Musique]

  • For anyone who missed the announcement on Twitter, send congratulations to Anne Midgette and Greg Sandow, who are the proud (and exhausted) parents of a baby boy, born on October 15. The most important thing to know about parenting is: sleep when the baby sleeps. Also, new fathers should start working immediately on their pancake-making skills -- that is the only really important duty fathers have, making pancakes on weekend mornings while moms sleep. [Adorable Baby Cuteness]

  • The Maîtrise de Radio France and members of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France team up for a program of music by Elliott Carter and Stravinsky. [France Musique]

29.10.11

Maazel Cracks the Whip with NSO

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Charles T. Downey, Music review: Lorin Maazel conducts NSO
Washington Post, October 29, 2011

available at Amazon
Rachmaninoff, Piano Concertos 1/4, S. Trpčeski, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, V. Petrenko
Lorin Maazel, one of the world’s most accomplished and most senior conductors, has entered a glowing, autumnal phase in his career. In rather active semi-retirement since stepping down two years ago from a sometimes rocky tenure at the New York Philharmonic, Maazel has been giving performances characterized by warm, lovingly crafted mentorship — not descriptions one could always apply to this most imperious of leaders. In Maazel’s last appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra, in 2009, he galvanized the musicians — who were then at the end of a rudderless interregnum period before the advent of current music director Christoph Eschenbach.

Maazel did it again Friday night at the Kennedy Center, this time launching the NSO into a tight, muscled rendition of Berlioz’s overture to “Benvenuto Cellini,” imparting heroic fire to the music given to Berlioz’s violent, swashbuckling hero — the sculptor who speaks truth to power as he fights dramatic intrigues behind a papal commission for a bronze statue of Perseus.

The NSO has not played this overture since 1993, under the baton of then-guest conductor Leonard Slatkin. One did not expect its challenges to come back naturally to the musicians, but Maazel led with such a firm beat, so confident about the many transitions of tempo, that the piece fell easily into place. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Emily Cary, Trpceski debuts with Maazel and NSO (Washington Examiner, October 26)

Zachary Woolfe, Maazel, a Baton From the Past, Returns for a Visit to the Philharmonic (New York Times, October 21)

28.10.11

Budapest Festival Orchestra

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Charles T. Downey, Conductor Ivan Fischer’s melodic return
Washington Post, October 28, 2011

available at Amazon
Schubert, Symphony No. 9 / Five German Dances, Budapest Festival Orchestra, I. Fischer
Ivan Fischer is back in town. The Hungarian conductor, familiar to Washington audiences from his many years as a guest and principal conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra, is on a North American tour with his main band, the Budapest Festival Orchestra. There was no doubt after his superb performance Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center that audiences here have every reason to miss him.

As members of the orchestra had done Tuesday night in an equally fine concert of chamber music at the Library of Congress, the Hungarians were here to celebrate Bela Bartok, born 130 years ago. Fischer paired selections from the “Hungarian Peasant Songs” and the Second Piano Concerto with the immense, melodically rich Ninth Symphony of Schubert.

It is rare to hear an orchestra sound so unified, so energized and so polished. All sections contributed solidly and, more important, all merged cohesively, even with the unusual seating arrangement; in the first half, winds and brass were in the front row and the violins, standing, were on opposite sides. The strings gave a lush opening to the “Ballad” from the “Hungarian Peasant Songs,” and in the short series of “Peasant Dances” that followed, the ensemble moved as one in spontaneous, even mercurial, fluctuations of tempo. [Continue reading]
It was mildly surprising that the Hungarian ambassador decided to attend this concert, although it was exactly the sort of national celebration that ambassadors want to attend. Mildly surprising only because András Schiff, the concert's star soloist, has been so outspoken this year in his criticism of the Hungarian government currently in power, and what he sees as its indulgence of racist, anti-Semite, and nationalistic attitudes in Hungary. Schiff has made rare public statements and published letters to newspaper editors, for example, on this issue, urging the other governments of the world to make the Hungarian government change those attitudes. For his trouble, according to Schiff, he will likely never return to his native country, having received what he calls a "symbolic death threat" from friends of the current prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Schiff has joined the elder brother of Iván Fischer, Ádám Fischer, in forming a group called Artists Against Racism, and Schiff has claimed that government support of the Budapest Festival Orchestra was cut in response to critical statements made by Iván Fischer. Fortunately, nothing was said on either side before or during the concert.

SEE ALSO:
Jessica Duchen, Interview: András Schiff (Jewish Chronicle, October 6)

An Interview with András Schiff (Jewish Daily Forward, February 11)

András Schiff, Hungary's E.U. role questioned (Washington Post, January 1)

27.10.11

How Liszt Begat Bartók



Charles T. Downey, The Budapest Festival Orchestra at the Library of Congress
(The Washingtonian, October 27):

In celebration of the 200th birthday of Franz Liszt, Hungary’s most celebrated composer, the Library of Congress is hosting a festival of concerts devoted to music by him and those he influenced. On Tuesday night, the series continued with a program featuring the works of Béla Bartók, another celebrated son of Hungary. The musicians performing Bartók’s chamber music this evening had special significance, too, as they are all members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, whose North American tour was presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night.

Violinists János Pilz and Mária Gál-Tamási opened the program with a dozen or so of the duos, BB 104, pieces that were intended on one level for young violinists but that are also endlessly diverting miniatures, especially when played so well by musicians who have been educated in the folk-music-steeped system that Bartók helped put in place. Pilz and Gál-Tamási gave vigor and a bright tone to these pieces, some fresh, others melancholy, and most of them just the sort of sheer fun that is irresistible to young performers. In each piece, Bartók creates a tiny world with boundless melodic fecundity and rhythmic complexity. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Robert Battey, Bartok at Library of Congress festival a welcome, if incongruous, inclusion (Washington Post, October 27)

26.10.11

Classical Month in Washington (January)

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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!

January 2, 2012 (Mon)
3 pm
New Year's Salute to Vienna
Strauss Symphony of America with Vienna Imperial Ballet
Music Center at Strathmore

January 6, 2012 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Twelfth Night Concert [FREE]
Armonia Nova
St. Mark's, Capitol Hill

January 6, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Anonymous 4 and Folger Consort
Music of Hildegard von Bingen
Washington National Cathedral

January 7, 2012 (Sat)
2 pm
Orion Weiss, piano
WPAS
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

January 7, 2012 (Sat)
3:30 pm
Zuill Bailey, cello
Bach, cello suites
Music Center at Strathmore

January 7, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Anonymous 4 and Folger Consort
Music of Hildegard von Bingen
Washington National Cathedral

January 7, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 7, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
With Zuill Bailey, cello
Music Center at Strathmore

January 8, 2012 (Sun)
2:30 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 8, 2012 (Sun)
4 pm
Ko-Eun Lee, piano
Phillips Collection

January 8, 2012 (Sun)
6 pm
Twelfth Night Concert [FREE]
Armonia Nova
Christ Church (Alexandria, Va.)

January 8, 2012 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Jean Louis Steuermann, piano [FREE]
National Gallery of Music

January 8, 2012 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Kenneth Slowik, harpsichord
Bach, Goldberg Variations
National Museum of American History

January 8, 2012 (Sun)
8 pm
U.S. Marine Band [FREE]
GMU Center for the Arts

January 12, 2012 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hannu Lintu (conductor) and Leila Josefowicz (violin)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 12, 2012 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Itzhak Perlman, violin
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 13, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hannu Lintu (conductor) and Leila Josefowicz (violin)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 13, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
11 am and 1:30 pm
NSO Teddy Bear Concert: Teddy and the Ten Hats
Kennedy Center Family Theater

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hannu Lintu (conductor) and Leila Josefowicz (violin)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Axelrod String Quartet
With Old City String Quartet
National Museum of American History

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Hahn-Bin, violin
Candlelight Concert Society
Smith Theater, Howard Community College (Columbia, Md.)

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Itzhak Perlman, violin
Music Center at Strathmore

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra
With Sergey Antonov, cello
GMU Center for the Arts

January 14, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Concert Artists of Baltimore
With Josė Miguel Cueto (violin) and Gita Ladd (cello)
Peabody Conservatory, Miriam A. Friedberg Hall

January 15, 2012 (Sun)
1:30 and 4 pm
NSO Ensemble Concert: MORE Language and Music
Kennedy Center Family Theater

January 15, 2012 (Sun)
2:30 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 15, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Itzhak Perlman, violin
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 15, 2012 (Sun)
4 pm
Chrystal Williams (mezzo-soprano) and Lucas Wong (piano)
Phillips Collection

January 15, 2012 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Americantiga with NGA Chamber Players [FREE]
National Gallery of Music

January 15, 2012 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Axelrod String Quartet
With Old City String Quartet
National Museum of American History

January 17, 2012 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Les Saisons Russes
Mariinsky Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 18, 2012 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Les Saisons Russes
Mariinsky Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 18, 2012 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

January 19, 2012 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With James Gaffigan (conductor) and Ingrid Fliter (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 19, 2012 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Les Saisons Russes
Mariinsky Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 19, 2012 (Thu)
8 pm
Michael Gordon, Timber
MANTRA Percussion
Mobtown Modern
2640 Space (Baltimore, Md.)

January 19, 2012 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Hall
With Olga Kern, piano
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 20, 2012 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Les Saisons Russes
Mariinsky Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 20, 2012 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Monsigny, Le Roi et le Fermier
Opera Lafayette
Atlas Performing Arts Center

January 20, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With James Gaffigan (conductor) and Ingrid Fliter (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 20, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 20, 2012 (Fri)
8:15 pm
Off the Cuff: Also Sprach Zarathustra
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Marin Alsop)
Music Center at Strathmore

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
1:30 and 7:30 pm
Les Saisons Russes
Mariinsky Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
7 pm
Off the Cuff: Also Sprach Zarathustra
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Marin Alsop)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Monsigny, Le Roi et le Fermier
Opera Lafayette
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Mozart, Der Schauspieldirektor / Offenbach, Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le...
Opera Bel Cantanti
JCCGW (Rockville, Md.)

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With James Gaffigan (conductor) and Ingrid Fliter (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 21, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Honigberg-Stern-Andrist Trio
Dumbarton Concerts

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
1:30 pm
Les Saisons Russes
Mariinsky Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
2:30 pm
Barber, A Hand of Bridge / de Larra, El barberillo de Lavapiés
In Series
Source Theater

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Hall
With Olga Kern, piano
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Mozart, Der Schauspieldirektor / Offenbach, Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le...
Opera Bel Cantanti
JCCGW (Rockville, Md.)

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
American Youth Philharmonic
GMU Center for the Arts

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
4 pm
Karen Geoghegan (bassoon) and Timothy End (piano)
Phillips Collection

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Cuarteto Vivace Brasil [FREE]
National Gallery of Music

January 22, 2012 (Sun)
7 pm
Duo Stephanie and Saar
Dumbarton Oaks

January 23, 2012 (Mon)
7:30 pm
ETHEL (string quartet)
Atlas Performing Arts Center

January 23, 2012 (Mon)
8 pm
Joshua Bell (violin) and Sam Haywood (piano)
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 23, 2012 (Mon)
8 pm
Duo Stephanie and Saar
Dumbarton Oaks

January 24, 2012 (Tue)
7 pm
Master Class: Mark Morris Dance Group
Kennedy Center Rehearsal Room

January 26, 2012 (Thu)
4:30 pm
Noam Chomsky: Talk on Politics [FREE]
Stamp Student Center, University of Maryland

January 26, 2012 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Jörg Widmann (clarinet) and Christa Schönfeldinger (glass harmonica)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 26, 2012 (Thu)
7:30 pm
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Mark Morris Dance Group
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 26, 2012 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba
La Maison Française

January 26, 2012 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Lydia Teuscher (soprano) and Graham Johnson (piano)
Vocal Arts D.C.
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

January 26, 2012 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Imani Winds
Mansion at Strathmore

January 27, 2012 (Fri)
7 pm
Dean's Lecture: Noam Chomsky [FREE]
Clarice Smith Center

January 27, 2012 (Fri)
7:30 pm
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Mark Morris Dance Group
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 27, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Imani Wind Ensemble
Atlas Performing Arts Center

January 27, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Glass, LIFE: A Journey Through Time
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 27, 2012 (Fri)
8 pm
Swedish National Youth Orchestra
With Hugo Ticciati (violin) and Johan Bridger (marimba)
Music Center at Strathmore

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
11 am
Community Class: Mark Morris Dance Group
Kennedy Center Rehearsal Room

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
11:15 am and 12:30 pm
Children's Concert: Harry Potter
Ibis Chamber Music
Dome Theater, Artisphere (Rosslyn, Va.)

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
1 to 5 pm
Men in Blaque, Paul Jacobs (organ), The Singers Companye, and others [FREE]
National Gallery of Music

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
2 pm
Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba [FREE]
Library of Congress

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
7:30 pm
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
Mark Morris Dance Group
Kennedy Center Opera House

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Mozart, Der Schauspieldirektor / Offenbach, Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le...
Opera Bel Cantanti
JCCGW (Rockville, Md.)

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra
Vienna Presbyterian Church (Vienna, Va.)

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Jörg Widmann (clarinet) and Christa Schönfeldinger (glass harmonica)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Glass, LIFE: A Journey Through Time
Music Center at Strathmore

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Bach Sinfonia
Bach Project (chamber music)
Cultural Arts Center, Montgomery College (Silver Spring, Md.)

January 28, 2012 (Sat)
8 pm
Brad Mehldau, piano
Sixth and I Historic Synagogue

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
2 pm
Metropolitan Opera National Council: Middle Atlantic Region Auditions
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Jörg Widmann (clarinet) and Christa Schönfeldinger (glass harmonica)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Mozart, Der Schauspieldirektor / Offenbach, Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le...
Opera Bel Cantanti
JCCGW (Rockville, Md.)

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Glass, LIFE: A Journey Through Time
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
4 pm
Clancy Newman (cello) and Noreen Cassidy-Polera (piano)
Mansion at Strathmore

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
4 pm
Yoonjung Han, piano
Phillips Collection

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Les Violons du Roy
With Maurice Steger, recorder
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
6:30 pm
NGA Vocal Ensemble [FREE]
National Gallery of Music

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
7 pm
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore

January 29, 2012 (Sun)
7 pm
Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel
Russian Rapture: Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky
GMU Center for the Arts

January 31, 2012 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Black Tuesday (mixed repertory)
American Ballet Theater
Kennedy Center Opera House

Opera Lafayette

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Charles T. Downey, At Kennedy Center, duo adds to Opera Lafayette’s cachet
Washington Post, October 26, 2011

available at Amazon
Lambert (et al.), Airs de cour, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
[MP3]
One can count on Opera Lafayette to choose lesser-known but worthwhile music and to perform it beautifully. This was true Monday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, when it performed an assortment of French and Italian music for solos and duets, featuring two of the ensemble’s favorite guest singers.

Soprano Gaële Le Roi and tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt were sympathetically matched in the duets, such as the lovely “Qu’il sait peu son malheur” from Lully’s “Atys,” two never-overbearing voices that blended with and supported each other.

Fouchécourt was at his best in the comic solos, camping it up in the cross-dressed role of the old nurse Berenice, in excerpts from Cavalli’s “Ipermestra,” an opera rediscovered at the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 2006. Le Roi, who is a formidable singing actress, excelled in the dramatic recitatives for Galatea, bewailing the death of Acis in “La Galatea” by Loreto Vittori. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Cavalli, Ipermestra (performed at the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 2006) [Part 1 | Part 2]

25.10.11

Martha Graham, Looking Back


Katherine Crockett in "Move Variation" by Richard Move (photo by Costas, courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company)
Ground-breaking dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, who died in 1991, lives on in the company that bears her name. To celebrate the company's 85th anniversary, the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance is on tour, and their stop on Friday night at George Mason University's Center for the Arts was on one of my top picks for the dance season. The performance did not disappoint, offering the opportunity to revisit the company's history and some of its most celebrated choreographies. The experience also demonstrated that although the company carries on its founder's ideals, it is also becoming more and more like a museum. By contrast, the company founded by one of Graham's early collaborators, Merce Cunningham, is in the midst of closing permanently after Cunningham's death.

The first half of this program was a sort of guided tour of Graham's life and her work in dance. Films and images of Graham's early work, supplementing a historical narration, introduced a chronologically arranged series of short dances. It began with the embarrassingly cheesy exoticism of Graham's early work with Ruth St. Denis's Denishawn company, a sort of faux-Cretan priest of Knossos dancing to Erik Satie's dreamy Gnossienne No. 1 (complete with the misguided addition of a final cadence to give the music some finality) and a Carmen-esque gypsy-lite Serenata Morisca to music by Mario Tarenghi.

There were only the most superficial similarities from that early work in Graham's breakthrough pieces, Heretic (shown in video) and Lamentation. In the latter work, premiered in 1930, Graham used a sort of sheath of costume material to make her body into a series of geometric shapes, with stark movements, mostly while seated on a simple bench, evoking the vocabulary of grief. Video of Graham's performance showed that the dancer in this version, the tall, beautiful Katherine Crockett, was if anything more precise, more abstract, but also somehow less spontaneous than Graham's original. With the color of the costume now a more somber black, it was difficult to avoid seeing the costume, enveloping Crockett's head and body, as something like the Middle Eastern abaya, giving a different twist of meaning to this particular lamentation, something that the stark, folk-inflected music by Zoltán Kodály did not discourage.

Two more dances from Graham's most influential period, the 1930s, filled out the picture. Steps in the Street, with its crowd-like movement of women in black dresses, all seemingly disconnected from one another, seemed prescient of the existential loneliness of Giacometti sculptures, with some movements in silence and others set to music. Panorama, a paean to social activism, was recreated by George Mason University students, moving like flocks of birds in bright red dresses in angular, unsmiling movement, not with the same unity and polish as the professionals but with admirable enthusiasm.

The highlight of the evening was the most recent work, three dances by young choreographers called Lamentation Variations, in response to Graham's signature work, mentioned above, commissioned for the 2007 anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Crockett was back in the middle dance, Move Variation, bending and twisting in a shaft of sideways light, a playful intertwining of balance and stillness. The third dance, Keigwin Variation, brought the whole company together, each dancer seemingly checking himself or herself in a mirror. Fretting, worried gestures increased until the entire group collapsed in death, leaving one couple standing in an embrace, until slowly the woman of the couple slid from her partner's arms.


Other Reviews:

Sarah Halzack, Martha Graham dancers bring vitality to classic works (Washington Post, October 23)

Calvin Wilson, Dance performance enhances legacy of Graham (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17)
It was certainly worthwhile to see the company's recreation of perhaps Graham's most famous choreography, Appalachian Spring, which Graham and her company premiered in 1944, in the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium. The work is perhaps not quite as iconic as Aaron Copland's score, but its sincere war-time nostalgia -- the hopeful story of a homestead wedding somewhere on the American prairie -- is still affecting, if a little hokey. Samuel Pott, as the Husbandman, was tall and all-American in the boundless strength and gumption of his movement, while Maurizio Nardi's Preacher (a role danced by Merce Cunningham at the premiere) had both earnest faith and an odd note of menace. Isamu Noguchi's minimalistic set had just enough lines to suggest the simple country house, the silhouette of a rocking chair used as the seat of authority by Katherine Crockett's wise, overseeing Pioneering Woman.

The next modern dance event not to miss is the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater (December 2 and 3).

24.10.11

Listen What the Cat Dragged In: Grieg's Symphonic Works



available at Amazon
E.Grieg, Complete Symphonic Works v.1,
E.Aadland / WDRSO Cologne
audite SACD



available at Amazon
E.Grieg, Complete Symphonic Works v.2,
E.Aadland / WDRSO Cologne
audite SACD

The first thing that strikes one about these first two volumes of Edvard Grieg’s “Complete Symphonic Works” is how lovely they are packaged: Each (multichannel hybrid) SACD is contained in a three-way folding digipack graced by a very smart design: The oil painting “The Enchanted Forest” by Edvard Munch, Grieg’s namesake and compatriot, is reproduced on each cover. On itself, the coupling of Munch visual with Grieg audio isn’t very novel. But the five children in the foreground (they are taken out on a trip by their teacher—the latter’s hat is visible on the actual painting though not here—when they stop and gaze in amazement at the forest that comes into view) remain half transparent while only one child is, in turn, projected in full color and twice the normal size. That will do for five volumes—which, in a roundabout way, begs the question: What constitutes the “Complete Symphonic Works” of Grieg?
E.Grieg, Symphonic Dances, op.64 No. 1, Allegro moderato e marcato (excerpt)


Five discs might seem a good deal of music, given that the generally known orchestral music by Grieg is limited to the Peer Gynt Suites, the Piano Concerto, and the neo-baroque suite “From Holberg’s Time”. But the Swedish label BIS (in charge of pan-Nordic musical matters) has a set of Grieg’s “Complete Orchestral Works” (with Ole Kristian Ruud and Grieg’s home-town orchestra, the superb Bergen Philharmonic) that contains eight discs. And Naxos, another label strong on Scandinavian music, extends its Grieg series (under Bjarte Engeset) over seven discs. Something has to go… something that is apparently ‘orchestral’, but not ‘symphonic’. The answer is that “Symphonic” does not include works ncluded with voice whereas “orchestral” can include these works, too, as it is the case in other Grieg editions.

The complete incidental music for Peer Gynt is also missing, although it might not be missed. The core works, including the Piano Concerto (under the above definition not just ‘orchestral’ but also ‘symphonic’), are all included, which means you'll find the Lyric Suite for Orchestra op. 54, Grieg’s Symphony (there is one), the Norwegian Dances, the three Sigurd Jorsalfar Pieces op.56, and then plenty more you might not even have known existed. (A more detailed list on audite’s release notes, here.) The musical results with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under Evind Aadland are wonderful in the first two volumes. The former concert master of the Bergen Philharmonic (a violin student of Menuhin) and current music director of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra (a conducting student of the legendary Jorma Panula) makes much of this music with lively, never hackneyed, very well played, and—being live performances—very atmospheric performances. Aadland’s focus on the folk elements in Grieg’s music—based on extant Norwegian folk bits rather than faux-folk of his own creation à la Dvořák or Brahms—seems to show.
E.Grieg, Nordic Melodies, op.63 Kulokk, Andantino (excerpt)


How the Norwegian-German set, once it is a finished, compares to Ruud’s and Engeset’s will have to be heard. On individual discs, BIS also offers gorgeously designed SACDs and Norway’s finest orchestra, recorded in the splendid acoustic of Grieg Hallen in Bergen, but is quite expensive. (As a set it comes in conventional ‘Red Book’ CD stereo and very reasonably priced.) Naxos isn’t as cheap anymore as it once was, but it’s still ugly. The performances under Engeset are splendid, though. Only Norwegian purists will object, if jokingly, that five of the discs are performed with the Swedish (!) Malmö Symphony Orchestra.

23.10.11

In Brief: Liszt Edition

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

  • Celebrate the Liszt anniversary by listening to a recital by pianist Daniil Trifonov, playing Liszt song transcriptions. [France Musique]

  • Also, Zoltan Pesko leads the Budapest Radio Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Liszt's Christus in the Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides, with soloists including promising tenor Szabolcs Brickner. [France Musique]

  • Watch violinist Isabelle Faust with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, including Eliahu Inbal conducting a performance of Liszt's Faust-Symphonie. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • Pianist François-Frédéric Guy performs a recital, at the Festival des Nuits Romantiques du Lac du Bourget, alternating music by Liszt with poetry by Alphonse de Lamartine, recited by Marie-Christine Barrault. [France Musique]

  • You can also watch a selection of Liszt-related videos, with older performances featuring his music. [Medici.tv]

  • François-Frédéric Guy also plays Liszt's B minor sonata, paired with Beethoven's sonata Op.27 N°2. [France Musique]

  • Leonard Slatkin conducts the Orchestre National de Lyon in a program called "Leonard Slatkin's America," with music by Copland, Ron Nelson, and Michel Camilo. [Medici.tv]

  • Listen to a concert of music by Bach, Buxtehude, Krieger, Förster, and others, with Le Parlement de Musique from the church of Sainte-Macre de Fère en Tardenois. [France Musique]

  • David Zinman conducts the Orchestre National de France, with violinist Lisa Batiashvili, in a program of Ives, Barber, Stravinsky, and Michael Torke. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the RIAS Chamber Chorus and Akademie für Alte Musik perform sacred music by Schubert and Mozart. [France Musique]

  • The London Philharmonic performs, among other music, Mark-Anthony Turnage's On Opened Ground (2002). [France Musique]

  • Heinrich Schiff directs the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, with cellist Christian Poltéra, in music by Lutoslawski, Bach, Schumann, and Schubert. [France Musique]

22.10.11

Liszt at 200


(Liszt Google doodle)


available at Amazon
Alan Walker, Franz Liszt, 3 vols.


available at Amazon
Liszt, Années de pèlerinage,
Louis Lortie
Liszt Ferenc was born 200 years ago, on October 22, 1811. Sadly, in today's performing world he is generally represented by a disappointingly slender selection of his compositions. Did Liszt write some vulgar pieces? Yes. Was he a vulgarian or nothing but a flashy-trash virtuoso? Far from it. Alan Walker, whose three-volume Odyssey of a biography is essential reading on the subject, reminds us of so many reasons why Liszt was such an extraordinary figure in 19th-century music. With his youthful career as a touring virtuoso, he had radically altered the way that the piano was played, so much so that if he died when he was 36, as Walker put it, "the title of 'the first modern pianist' could not have been withheld from him. He had become, in the memorable phrase of Saint-Saëns, 'the incontestable incarnation of the modern piano'."

"And then," Walker adds, "Liszt simply walked away from it all." His style of performing left so many marks on the way we still experience piano recitals: playing in profile, playing from memory, his advocacy for the late sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert, his belief in new trends in composition. His decision to abandon the fame and wealth of his concert career was, in part, simply self-preservation. Walker notes that Liszt had reached a point of exponential growth, with each performance on a tour leading to a dozen requests for others. Liszt knew that "the moment had come for him to get out or be destroyed in the process." Audiences never forgave him for abandoning them: as Walker observed, the public "punished him by refusing to take his music seriously." Regrettably, that trend continues today.

For some Liszt to appreciate, we recommend the Liszt festival at the Library of Congress, which opened in spectacular style on Wednesday with a recital by Canadian pianist Louis Lortie. If you missed Lortie's concert, his complete recording of Liszt's Années de pèlerinage, on the Chandos label, is the next best thing. Some other laudable recent Liszt recordings include those by Evgeny Kissin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Nelson Freire.

BSO at Odds

available at Amazon
Mozart, Violin Concertos, J. Ehnes, Mozart Anniversary Orchestra


available at Amazon
Bartók, Violin Concertos / Viola Concerto, J. Ehnes, BBC Philharmonic, G. Noseda
The news about the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been grim in recent years: ticket sales are down (in Baltimore, if not in their southern home at Strathmore), salaries were cut, red ink looms everywhere, and some players have abandoned ship. When the National Symphony Orchestra was rudderless and floundering, the BSO rose above their competitor in programming and quality of playing, in the early tenure of their music director, Marin Alsop. In the last few years, however, the BSO seems to have gone into survival mode, and fewer and fewer of their concerts have made it on to my calendar. This week's program, a rather dull selection of Mozart and Debussy (all of it programmed at some point by the BSO in the last five years) heard at Strathmore on Thursday night, confirmed this assessment, an orchestra that sounded listless, distracted, disorganized, and uninspired.

Guest conductor Louis Langrée, music director of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, should have done better by the Mozart first half. He has a precise, almost fussy beat and prefers his Mozart gestures big and splashy, for example giving the upward scalar flourish that opens the first movement of the "Paris" symphony (no. 31, K. 297, D major) a bold and emphatic shape, but the BSO responded with playing that was far from crisp and unified. There were pleasing moments -- the honeyed tone of the violins and lilting movement of the second movement -- but whether under-rehearsed or underwhelmed (it was hard to tell) this was a lackluster, sometimes maladroit performance.

The orchestra sounded more coordinated in Mozart's third violin concerto, backing up the patrician solo of Canadian violinist James Ehnes. On his "Marsick" Stradivarius (1715), Ehnes produced a clean, burnished tone, with meticulous articulation contrasting crunchy detached notes with smooth legato ones. It is a broad, gorgeous sound, not overblown or with a nervous vibrato, although he did tend to play just a scintilla sharp of where the orchestra was (intonation did not settle into place as it should have). Ehnes gave a performance that was nearly flawless -- just the last few high notes of the first movement's cadenza a little sour, for example -- but not quite engaging or daring, in spite of his considerable technique. The second movement was an effortlessly soaring, spun-out cantilena, and the folk episode of the third movement made up for a real clunker somewhere in the cello or bass section in an earlier episode of the movement.


Other Articles:

Tim Smith, Louis Langree leads Baltimore Symphony in vivid night of Mozart, Debussy (Baltimore Sun, October 22)

Joe Banno, Louis Langree and the Baltimore Symphony do justice to Mozart and Debussy (Washington Post, October 22)

Marie Gullard, Violinist James Ehnes and BSO: Keeping Mozart fresh (Washington Examiner, October 19)
Claude Debussy has his 150th birthday coming up next year, but of the French composer's works that would be welcome listening neither of Langrée's choices are exactly underplayed. One of the highlights of the evening was the flute solo, by principal Emily Skala, that opened the sultry Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. Pierre Boulez once identified this piece, with its aimless flute solo, as having "brought new breath to the art of music" because it overthrew "the very concept of form itself." There were many nice touches, like the softness of the strings allowing the woodwind solos to predominate, the tinges of harp and antique cymbal, but one never had the sense that Langrée is the sort of conductor who obsesses over the details of sound. A similar practicality seemed to govern the conductor's well-rehearsed but somewhat business-like approach to the tone poem La Mer, building from a whispered opening to a thrilling swell in the first movement. In the more agitated parts of the third movement, though, the same lack of ensemble unity crept in to the sound, reinforcing the impression of a group of musicians at sixes and sevens.

Next week, guest conductor Vasily Petrenko takes the reins of the BSO, in another less-than-daring program: Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, and Liszt's first piano concerto, with Barry Douglas as soloist (October 28 to 30).

21.10.11

Louis Lortie Goes on Pilgrimage



Charles T. Downey, Review: Franz Liszt Bicentenary Project (The Washingtonian, October 21):

available at Amazon
Liszt, Années de pèlerinage,
Louis Lortie

(released on March 29, 2011)
CHAN 10662(2) | 161'20"
In honor of the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt’s birthday, which officially falls on Saturday, the Library of Congress is hosting a Franz Liszt Bicentenary Project. Canadian pianist Louis Lortie opened the festival on Wednesday night with a performance of the second and third volumes of Liszt’s autobiographical cycle Années de pèlerinage. The three “years” of the cycle recount various stages of Liszt’s travels through Europe; the lessons of his “apprenticeship” (a loving reference to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister); and, in particular, the artwork and cultural sites he saw, the literature he read, and the music he heard. That Liszt described himself as being on a “pilgrimage” is not just because he moved about so much, but also that he was, like Dante (who is given a major tribute in the second volume), on what ultimately became a spiritual journey back to God.

Born in Montreal, Lortie is a much-lauded virtuoso, although his performances have alternately thrilled me and left me disappointed. While his concert was one of my picks for the best in the Library of Congress’s current season, my enthusiasm was not as keen as it could have been, because of some mixed feelings about his playing. But this recital reestablished Lortie in my estimation as one of the most gifted colorists at the piano and placed him at the top of my list of the best interpreters of Liszt’s keyboard music. He took Liszt’s often over-the-top romanticism at face value, giving the music its full drama without letting it descend into vulgarity. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Robert Battey, Louis Lortie deftly plays Liszt on Library of Congress's new piano (Washington Post, October 21)

Colin Eatock, A feast of Liszt served up by Louis Lortie (Toronto Globe and Mail, October 17)

20.10.11

Listen What the Cat Dragged In: Music by Naji Hakim


available at AmazonHakim plays Hakim,
Organ Works
Najim Hakim
Signum Classics SIGCD-222



available at AmazonN.Hakim, Set Me As a Seal...,
Organ & Chamber Works
Najim Hakim, R.Tawil, J-P.Kuzma,
Quatuor de la Chapelle Royale
Signum Classics SIGCD-245


For eight years Naji Hakim had been the organist at Sacre Cœur when he became the successor of Olivier Messiaen at Église de la Sainte-Trinité and its two Cavaillé-Coll organs. He remained in that position until 2008. Who would have thought, just The Lebanese-French-Catholic eventual-student of Jean Langlais’ only went to Paris because his engineering studies in Beirut were interrupted—and at first he continued at the Télécom ParisTech before being egged on by Langlais to enter the Conservatoire de Paris. From then on, it’s been a constant stream of awards and prizes for Hakim, not just for his playing but also for his compositions and—by Pope Benedict—for his distinguished service to the faith. If Ratzinger likes Hakim’s music, it not only speaks to the strong musical bone the Pope has got in his body but also suggests susceptibility to humor, because that is perhaps the most distinguishing quality of Hakim’s output.




To Call My True Love To My Dance, Finale (excerpt)


I didn’t stumble across Hakim and his music until this September (I wasn't there when he was in DC in 2006, but Charles reported) when I heard “Arabesques pour orgue” at the ARD Competition (not included on these discs), to which Hakim had contributed the commissioned composition that every semi-finalist had to perform. What I wrote about Arabesques (“the work is, in short, a hoot—any piece of music that makes me grin, smile, seat-dance, and laugh in a concert setting has already won my heart… and [this] rollicking romp… does all that”) is true for the works on “Hakim plays Hakim”, too. The organist/composer loves the exuberant, the obviously playful, he cherishes movement and abandon. Song and dance are at the heart of more than just the “Arabesques” suite for organ (so its preface), as are the sometimes faint, sometimes strong Middle Eastern influences.


The chamber music with and without organ on “Set Me As a Seal Upon Your Heart” is different, less obviously ‘Hakim’. Variations on Carl Nielsen (Påskeblomst for string quartet) start things off in harmoniously-romantic manner, softly melting—then wildly veering—southwards in their varied course. The Variations on “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern” sound like one of Rheinberger’s Organ-Violin Sonatas if the composer had traveled just a little further eastward. The Magnificat is soars prettily (borderline hokey), just as soprano Rima Tawil howls her way through “Set me as a Seal” and “Amazing Grace” in hyper-romanticized manner: forgettable low points of an otherwise wonderful CD. The Capriccio presents Hakimesque high jinks at their best; Die Taube enriches (!) the repertoire with a work for string quartet and voice.




Morgenstern Variations, Largo (excerpt)

Ieva Jokubaviciute's Lullaby Mozart

Style masthead

Charles T. Downey, Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute opens new GWU concert series
Washington Post, October 20, 2011

available at Amazon
Music of Tribute: Alban Berg,
I. Jokubaviciute, M. Dix
George Washington University inaugurated a concert series Tuesday night named in honor of Stanley Yeskel, an avid amateur musician who died in 2002. The series, endowed by his son Peter Yeskel, a GWU graduate, will invite leading musicians to perform and interact with students. The first free concert, by prominent pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, drew a disappointingly small audience to the Abrams Great Hall at the Marvin Center, but word of the series will surely spread.

Jokubaviciute has impressed me in the past for her performances of contemporary music, but here she turned to Mozart, sadly not a felicitous choice. She played a selection of shorter, one-movement pieces — two fantasies, a rondo, an adagio — emphasizing their softer mysteries with an excessively veiled touch and overzealous application of the una corda pedal. The result was a little precious and dainty but not really beguiling, so well behaved that it became, at times, soporific. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
A Chat with Lithuanian Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute (Playbill Arts, December 15, 2010)

Steve Smith, Ieva Jokubaviciute and Vladimir Valjarevic on Berg (New York Times, November 12, 2010)

Charles T. Downey, Belgian work highlights duo's lyrical contemporary evening (Washington Post, April 15, 2010)

Ieva Jokubaviciute playing Debussy and Chopin at the Freer Gallery of Art (March 4, 2004)

19.10.11

Gypsies Invade Dumbarton Oaks

available at Amazon
Vivaldi: The Baroque Gypsies, Ensemble Caprice, M. Maute
(2007)

available at Amazon
Telemann: The Baroque Gypsies, Ensemble Caprice, M. Maute
(2009)


Dumbarton Oaks’ Friends of Music Series
(The Washingtonian, October 19)
[EXCLUSIVE]
In their home in Georgetown, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss had a room dedicated to music performances. Now that their house -- better known as Dumbarton Oaks -- is a museum, it hosts a series of concerts in that room to continue the tradition. It’s one of the most intimate and beautifully appointed venues for chamber music in the city, a place where one can listen to historical music while surrounded by Renaissance tapestries, paintings by Jacques Daret and El Greco, a medieval altarpiece panel by Bernardo Daddi, and a wood Madonna by Tilman Riemenschneider.

The Friends of Music series opened its concert season this past weekend with a performance by the Montreal-based Ensemble Caprice, heard on Monday night. The program was selected to prove a minor point sometimes made by historians about the palette of musical sounds that influenced the compositional style of Antonio Vivaldi. Although based for much of his life in Venice, Vivaldi traveled widely in Europe, including trips to Prague and Vienna to oversee performances of his operas. In addition, his base of operations in Venice, the Ospedale della Pietà, was on the Riva degli Schiavi, the canal where visitors coming from Eastern Europe arrived in Venice. Both of these facts suggest that he was exposed to the playing of itinerant Romani (Gypsy) musicians; that as a talented violinist he may even have played with them; and that he imitated some of their folk idioms in his own compositions. Ensemble Caprice, a small group of musicians playing on historical instruments, tried to demonstrate that connection with selections from Vivaldi’s instrumental works, mostly concertos, alternated with arrangements of folk tunes from the extraordinary 18th-century collection of Romani music Uhrovská zbierka, a book found in a town in modern-day Slovakia.
[Continue reading]

18.10.11

Virginia Opera Ascendant



See my review of the Virginia Opera's production of Aida:

Concert Review: Virginia Opera Performs “Aida” (The Washingtonian, October 17):

available at Amazon
Verdi, Aida, P. Domingo, A. Millo, D. Zajick, S. Milnes, Metropolitan Opera, J. Levine
[DVD]
Aida has some of the most recognizable strains of music composed by Giuseppe Verdi, and yet it remains one of the least staged of his most popular operas (not heard from the Washington National Opera, for example, in almost a decade). Aida is a grand opera, packed with big choral scenes, ballet, and other spectacle -- an Egyptian story made for the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo, with costumes and scenic ideas contributed by an Egyptologist. It is the sort of work that small, regional companies -- like the Virginia Opera, which brought its new production of the work to the GMU Center for the Arts on Friday night -- generally do well to avoid. The Virginia Opera, in fact, has just survived a schism in leadership, with board members, staff, and donors swarming from the hive to follow ousted music director Peter Mark -- but nonetheless, it chose Aida to open its new season. It was a gutsy choice, and one that paid off; the slightly camp yet savvy production is a success, minimalist in set design but meaningfully directed in all its scenic details, and with a solid cast. Combined with a season of three other equally palatable operas, it is a good indication that the Virginia Opera is headed for a bright future.

On the heels of a fine performance as Tosca with the Virginia Opera in 2009, and as Adriana Lecouvreur with the Washington Concert Opera last year, soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams took on the title role. She sounded overall to be in good form, with a few scratches and strains that possibly indicated minor vocal fatigue. Williams’s voice rang out over the big choral numbers, but it was the softer moments where she shone brightest, kneeling to sing the Act I “Numi, pietà,” for example, in a serene pianissimo. In “Patria mia,” set against a plaintive oboe solo, and in the final scene with Radamès, she was equal parts musically expressive and dramatically affecting. Mezzo-soprano Jeniece Golbourne was every bit a match for Williams as Amneris, the Egyptian princess who holds Aida, the Ethiopian princess, as her slave. Golbourne has a photon-strength voice, with a viscous thickness in the chest and occasionally a little shrillness at its apex, giving her Act I duet with Williams the sound of a jealous, competitive edge. [Continue reading]
SEE ALSO:
Anne Midgette, Virginia Opera produces a wonderful ‘Aida’ (Washington Post, October 17)

Ati Metwaly, Egyptian bass-baritone in Virginia Opera's production of Aida (Ahram Online, October 2)

Teresa Annas, Dressing up 'Aida' at the Harrison Opera House (Virginian-Pilot, September 30)

David Nicholson, Virginia Opera season opens with 'Aida' (Daily Press, September 28)