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Richard Wagner

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Classical iconoclast

May 22

Interpreting Meistersinger : Glyndebourne, Munich

Classical iconoclast Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Glyndebourne. Is it unusual to start a new season with a revival ?  This production premiered on the exact date on which Wagner was born 200 years before.  Fortuitous timing, perhaps, but also a bright start to the 2011 season.  "Sunny but not shallow" I wrote at the time - read my original piece HERE .  David McVicar set the production around the time if Wagner's birth, which was appropriate in the composer's anniversary year, but rather less relevant now.  On the plus side, early 19th century designs are easy on the eye.  Perhaps the popularity of this production stems from it being so genteel and non-challenging. But Die Meistersinger isn't about pretty scenery. On the contrary. It says, quite clearly that appearances deceive. The good guy is not the one in the smart black suit. . s message is that appearances deceieve. The good guy isn't the one with the smart suit.  On the minus side, it gentrified 16th century Nuremburg,  obliterating the context of Reformation and revolt.  It didn't matter so much in 2011 because we were celebrating the start of the season, the production was fresh and it was different. Gerald Finley was a sophisticate, rather than earthy. Because he's a house favourite, it's perfectly reasonable to build a production around him.  There isn't and shouldn't be a "Hans Sachs type" but Finley's voice is on the genteel side, so his Sachs was never going to be gritty or pugnacious.  Hence his Sachs was an Early Romantic poet, from a time when poets were intellectuals, often aristocratic, almost all middle class.  They'd no more make a living fixing shoes than might a hero from Jane Austen.  True, the Romantic period was a revolution, but the revolution Wagner wrought transformed the music of the past, even if it grew from Romantic values.  I enjoyed the 2011 premiere because Vladimir Jurowski conducted exceptionally well. The orchestra communicated what the set avoided.  There's no reason why Die Meistersinger shouldn't be sunny and gay, in the old sense of the word, because the Nuremburgers are celebrating the survival of their city and the renewal,of art.  There is more in the opera, though.  The Meistersingers were happy enough to do as Beckmesser wanted and run Walter out of town, had Sachs not intervened.  Not for nothing, when darkness falls, the townsfolk s crap. It's comic but not funny. A crowd can descend into a mob. The Night Watchman is a counterpart to Sachs, restoring sanity.   And so to  Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from the Bayerisches Staatsoper in Munich, just down nthe road from Bayreuth and not far from Nuremburg. Presumably the locals have Die Meistersinger inn their DNA, notwithstanding their ancestors' less than worshipful approach to Wagner himself.  Even if they don't, the opera is so familiar that it could be interpreted in a new way, yet still true to the fundamentals.  Jonas Kaufmann is Munich's greatest asset, and even more popular than Finley is at Glyndebourne. I''m glad I listened to the premiere audio only, in order to get the musical,logic behind the interpretation.  Kaufmann is simply head and shoulders above everyone else in the cast, though they are good, and probably better than the Glyndebourne cast.  He's just so good that he changes the balance of the opera.  Jacques Imbrailo did the same with the Glyndeboure  Billy Budd, singing so divinely that some forget that for Britten, the story actually revolves around Captain Vere's moral dilemma.  It's fine to adjust balances in this way because they allow a change of perspective.  Kaufmann's Walter was so good that no one could have mistaken him for an untrained newcomer.  The birds in the woods who taught Kaufmann's Walter must have been pretty amazing.  An interpretation placing more emphasis on Walter than on Sachs would be perfectly valid, if done well, because walter is the future, as Sachs recognizes.   Sachs was named after St John the Baptist, who laid the way for Jesus.  Johannisnacht is a Christian festival, but also has connections with prehistory and even the occult.  The tree in the town square, for example is a kind of fertility symbol, and young folk go courting at the fair.  "Holy German Art" was poisoned by Hitler, but it's not actually about nazism.  The music isn't even demonic, just affirmative, so,playing it up for cheap,thrills is a ciop out.  It's time to exorcise that ghost from the opera and from its interpretation. . Holy German Art in Hans Sachs' time was an affirmation of native German values, as opposed to the Catholic Church, to the democratization of learning through the printed word.  Before Gutenberg, people didn't have books, and had to believe what they were told.   The real message of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg  is a lot more radical,than some realize.  Please alsomread Mills and Boon Wagner -Meistersinger at the Met  and  Stefan Herheim's perceptive Meistersinger, Salzburg and ENO Vindicated : Wagner's prescient warning. 

Guardian

Today

JS Bach: Clavier-Übung III CD review – Bach on a suitably baroque organ

James Johnstone (organ) (Metronome) (2 CDs)At the beginning of an ambitious series to match Bach’s great organ works to original instruments of his time, this first instalment strikes lucky with an instrument begun in the same year – 1739 – that Bach published his huge organ collection Clavier-Übung III in Leipzig. It’s in Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, by Berlin builder Joachim Wagner. Its pungent, sometimes rasping sounds have immense impact, though James Johnstone has a tendency to favour stridently loud pedals, and the opening Prelude is unbalanced. But the chorale preludes have variety and poise, and the final Fugue is very powerful – the inexhaustible contrapuntal virtuosity of Bach’s music remains astounding. Continue reading...




Royal Opera House

May 27

Watch: ‘The tragedies of all tragedies’ – Johan Reuter and John Tomlinson on Oedipe

‘Oedipe is Enescu’s first opera but he really goes for it!', enthuses Johan Reuter , who is currently singing the title role in The Royal Opera's new production of George Enescu ’s masterpiece. The Danish bass-baritone stars alongside British bass John Tomlinson in Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco 's new staging. 'These myths are famous for a reason' says Reuter. 'Freud famously took this story as an example of something lying very deep in human beings.' The Romanian composer based his first and only operatic work on the story of Oedipus , the tragic figure in Greek mythology who fulfills the prophecy of destroying his own entire family. 'It’s the tragedies of all tragedies,' agrees Tomlinson. 'It's the story of the man who kills his own father, marries his own mother and becomes the brother of his own children.' Tomlinson, who sings the role of Tirésias, believes Enescu's background as an instrumentalist had a direct impact on his vocal compositions: 'The parts are beautifully written for the human voice,' he says. 'Perhaps because he is writing from the violinist's point of view [and singers] often use the violin as an analogy for singing.' Both singers discuss the composer's distinctive style: a result of his incorporating the influences of his contemporaries to create his own sound. 'I hear Wagner , I hear Strauss and I hear Debussy ,' notes Tomlinson. ‘But ultimately its Enescu’s own music, it’s unique to him. It’s absolutely individual and it is fascinating.' Watch more films like this on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel: Oedipe runs until 8 June 2016. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production of La Monnaie, Brussels and Opéra National de Paris , and is generously supported by the Monument Trust, Richard and Ginny Salter, The Romanian Cultural Institute and The Friends of Covent Garden .



Richard Wagner
(1813 – 1883)

Richard Wagner (22 May 1813 - 13 February 1883) was a German composer, conductor, theatre director and essayist, primarily known for his operas (or "music dramas", as they were later called). Wagner's compositions, particularly those of his later period, are notable for their complex texture, rich harmonies and orchestration, and the elaborate use of leitmotifs: musical themes associated with individual characters, places, ideas or plot elements. Unlike most other opera composers, Wagner wrote both the music and libretto for every one of his stage works. Initially establishing his reputation as a composer of works such as The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser which were in the romantic traditions of Weber and Meyerbeer, Wagner transformed operatic thought through his concept of the "total work of art". This would achieve the synthesis of all the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts, and was announced in a series of essays between 1849 and 1852. Wagner realised this concept most fully in the first half of the monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. His Tristan und Isolde is sometimes described as marking the start of modern music. He had his own opera house built, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which contained many novel design features. It was here that the Ring and Parsifal received their premieres and where his most important stage works continue to be performed today in an annual festival run by his descendants.



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