Monday, May 22, 2017
Two London events: Oedipa collaborates with the extraordinary female baritone Lucia Lucas (Wuppertaler Bühnen, Deutsche Oper, Chicago Opera Theatre) on an evening of song in transition: from masc to femme, classical to queer and oppression to freedom. Singing Bizet, Britten, Wagner, Purcell and Adams, flirting with Sarah Vaughan and Rocky Horror, Lucia draws on her experience singing classical repertoire across the world to tell her incredible story and celebrate the fluidity and plurality of gender in opera. Tickets here .
The Colón hasn´t offered Richard Wagner´s "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" since 1980, though it is arguably the greatest German operatic comedy of the Nineteenth Century; this in a big opera house of important history is quite simply an aberration. And "Tannhäuser" isn´t staged here since 1994. The composer´s second opera, "Das Liebesverbot" ("Forbidden love"), written in 1835-6, is clearly mediocre, and the only reason to present it is that for aficionados it´s a curiosity that, warts and all, in its better fragments gives some inklings of the great Wagner revealed in 1841´s "The Flying Dutchman" (though premièred in 1843). In fact, his first opera, "Die Feen" ("The Fairies"), created in 1833-34, was belatedly staged posthumously in 1888, and there the hints of the future are more evident. And of course, in "Rienzi", on Bulwer Lytton´s novel about Rome´s last tribune, even if it follows grand opera lines; it was composed in 1838-40, and had its first hearing in 1842 at the Dresden Court Opera: Wagner´s fame got a decisive giant step. Wagner was only 22 when he started on "Das Liebesverbot", a free adaptation of a problematic Shakespeare comedy, "Measure for measure", transplanting it from Vienna to Palermo (Sicily). It´s one of three comedies called "bitter" or "dark", the others being "Troilus and Cressida" and "All´s well that ends well". They were written in the difficult years before and after the death of Elizabeth I (1603) and they offer "a distempered vision of the world", especially "Measure for Measure" (1604-5), "searching, unsettling and precarious play" (Encyclopedia Britannica). I haven´t been able to compare it with Wagner´s libretto, but I have to state that I find the latter an aberration of continuous contradiction and improbability, from the very premise: Friedrich, Governor of Palermo, imposes the death sentence to anyone that indulges in sex for pleasure, and this in the middle of Carnival celebrations. No less absurd is Isabella´s behaviour: a severe woman living in a convent, she does expose Friedrich´s hypocrisy (he desires her) but in the final scene she robs the equally hypocritical Luzio from the light-hearted Dorella (to whom Luzio had promised marriage) and leaves the convent. And so on. Wagner had been named conductor of the small Magdeburg opera house; facilities were few, orchestra and choir were weak and the cast very poor, but the composer wanted this ragged lot to learn a long and complicated opera in just ten days. The only two programmed performances failed utterly (the second was cancelled!), and Wagner tried in vain to obtain the support of other cities in the following years to offer "Das Liebesverbot" (curiously he didn´t even try to get them interested in "Die Feen"). So the opera lay forgotten for more than a century; and of course Bayreuth never staged the three initial Wagners. Until it was revived in 1923 in Munich with scant success. But matters changed in 1983 when Munich Opera´s Musical Director Wolfgang Sawallisch conducted all thirteen Wagner operas celebrating the centenary of his death: the ponderous (more than four hours) "big comedy"-"grosse Komische"- was judiciously pared down to two hours forty minutes, and with fast tempi and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle´s talented staging it became a success and was recorded live. I own that recording (edited much later, in 1995) and find it very good. It puts the best possible face on a problematic opera. The Colón production lasts about the same and is based on the score edited by Breitkopf & Härtel. And as so often nowadays, it is shared by several theatres to cut costs: originated in Madrid´s Teatro Real, it is co-produced by Covent Garden and the Colón. The London theatre is there for the simple reason that the stage director Kasper Holten (debut) was until very recently the Covent´s Opera Director (in a polemic tenure that allowed such things as a gory "Lucia di Lammermoor"). In fact this comedy is seldom funny and the music is a mixture of influences that go from Bellini to Auber and Weber. There are much better German comedies in those Romantic decades, but the Colón ignores them: Lortzing´s "Zar und Zimmermann" (1837), Nicolai´s "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (1849), Weber´s "Abu Hassan" (1811), Cornelius´ "The Barber of Baghdad" (1858). There´s some sparkle in the Wagner Overture and second Carnival scene, and a modicum of drama in the interview of Isabella and Friedrich; plus lyricism in Mariana´s aria (the rejected wife of Friedrich) and a nice duet of Isabella and Mariana. I single out the Isabella of soprano Lise Davidsen (debut, Norwegian, very tall, young and imposing): a stunning voice of ample volume and range, managed with great skill: a Senta or a Sieglinde in the making. I wasn´t impressed by the arid timbre of tenor Peter Lodahl (debut, Danish) as Luzio, although he moves well. Our Hernán Iturralde was a sturdy and professional Friedrich. Christian Hübner (German bass, debut) did a convincing Brighella (maybe the most authentic "buffo" role), an arrogant policeman happy to arrest and judge... but he goes to the clandestine Carnival: the rough deep voice is also accustomed to the great Wagnerian villains (Hunding, Hagen). The Spanish light soprano María Hinojosa did a charming Dorella and Marisú Pavón sang with fine line her Mariana. Tenor Carlos Ullán seemed uncomfortable in the role of the condemned Claudio. The others did well, especially Norberto Marcos (Angelo); Fernando Chalabe was Pontio Pilato (what a name!), Sergio Spina, Antonio; and Emiliano Bulacios, Danieli. Slovak conductor Oliver von Dohnányi did an effecrtive job of preparation, obtaining reasonable quality from the orchestra, and Fabián Martínez managed well the abundant choral music. As to Holten´s production, of course he didn´t respect the 16th Century specified in the libretto, and neon lights mixed with colorful buffo costumes and a handsome unit set full of stairs (a touch of Escher extravagance). Friedrich was ridiculed grabbing a teddy bear in bed. Stage and costume designer, Steffen Aarfing. Interesting lighting by Bruno Poet, and acrobatic choreography by Signe Fabricius (with good dancers hired for the occasion). There was a second, all Argentine cast. For Buenos Aires Herald
Dutch opera is mourning the death of Dennis Wilgenhof, a popular and accomplished singer whose career was on an upward trajectory. A few months ago he sang Wagner at Bavarian State Opera, a few weeks ago he was singing at La Scala. Dennis, who was 44, was found dead on Tuesday in a hotel in Maastricht, where he taught at the local academy. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack. Our condolences to his loved ones. The tenor Mihael Schade writes: ‘Holland has lost not only its tallest and nicest bass, but a superbly musically gifted opera bass on the doorstep of a big career. ‘Our opera community lost a wonderful young man who was personable, friendly, professional, outgoing and a team player. I spent 44 days rehearsing and performing at LaScala with Dennis Wilgenhof in February and March just recently, and can say that my life is better for having met him- his completely shocking death is to me a reminder to go out there and Carpe Diem, live the dream you love , but while you do just love and call your loved ones- rest in peace Dennis- too soon Lord too soon!’
Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before. If the breathiness that once made his style so immediate is gone, that's more than made up for by the authority with which he now sings. In this recording, the lustre of the voice combines with Goerne's truly exceptional powers of interpretation : an ideal channel for a composer like Schumann, whose genius, surprisingly, is still underestimated. Many of the songs in this collection come from the composer's later years, sometimes unappreciated because the style changes, heading toward new pathways. Schumann was well informed, aware of new currents in cultural life. Certainly he knew Wagner, but Wagner and Schumann were probably heading in different directions. Goerne has been interested in late Schumann for many years, and sang many of these songs in his concert at the Wigmore Hall in 2015 with Menahem Pressler, where the songs were presented in the context of late Schumann piano pieces. (Please read more about that here because it is important to consider the songs in relation to the piano works so dear to Schumann's soul). This recording, thus, is a must for anyone genuinely interested in Schumann beyond the "greatest hits" for it shows how Schumann remained a creative force, despite encroaching illness, an illness that might possibly be better understood today, which might have extended his creative years. Nikolaus von LenauSchumann's op 90, to poems by Nikolaus von Lenau, were written in August 1850. Goerne and Hinterhäuser began with Mein Rose, the second song in the set, evoking the fragrance of love song which makes Dichterliebe an enduring masterpiece. Goerne's voice though formidably powerful, can also be remarkably tender. The gentle lilt of Die Sennin suggests warm summer breezes wafting the herdgirl's songs down from alpine meadows to the valley. It's a song in which tenors excel, but Goerne captures its sunlit radiance. Then Einsamkeit, where the mood darkens. Under the densely overgrown spruce trees, "Still hier der Geist der Liebe", deep, hopeless love. Thus we're prepared for Requiem, the seventh and last song in Schumann's op 90. The Requiem sets a text by an anonymous poet, which is rather apt since the poem deals with the annihilation of personality that is death. The piano part is soothing, the lines long and sedate, but Goerne's artistry brings out the undercurrent of tragedy that lies beneath the conventional,piety the text. We remain in the pensive solitude of Der Einsledler op 83/3 (Eichendorff) , also from 1850, before looking back on the past with a few songs from Myrthen (Heine) op 24 from 1840, the glorious Liederjahre in which Schumann's genius for vocal music suddenly blossomed, inspired, perhaps by his marriage to Clara. Die Lotousblume and Du bist wie eine blume are sensuous, Goerne's voice imparting tenderness as well as desire. Provocatively, though Goerne and Hinterhäuser interrupt the floral reverie two Rückert songs, Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint op 37/1 and Mein schöner Stern !" op,101/4 from Minnespeil, a collection from 1849 for different combinations of voices, reminding us of Schumann's interests in larger vocal forms. It feels as though a chill has descended upon the spring blooms, just as Schumann himself would experience disruption. Nachtlied op 96/1, to the famous text by Goethe, is in Schumann's setting, much more haunted than Schubert's. Wifried von der NeunGoerne and Hinterhäuser then return to 1850, with the complete set of Sechs 6 Gesänge op 89 to poems by a strange man who used the pen name of Wilfried von der Neun, "Wilfred of The Nine", meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote "the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change....It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one." The songs aren't premier cru : Schumann with his exquisite taste in poetry must have had a bad day. Nonetheless, Goerne and Hinterhäuser give such a fine performance that definitely justifies the prominence given to therm on this disc. Lesser musicians beware. Though not ideal, these songs are worth knowing because they demonstrate Schumann's willingness to explore new directions. ams is the source to go for studying these songs, for he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör' ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe. Sams said "Schumann's memory is playing him tricks". Moreover, this set was written close to the time Schumann wrote the superb Lenau set op 90 with which Goerne and Hinterhäuser began this recording. This shows that Schumann's powers were not failing. Like most creative people he wasn't afraid to take risks. It may be significant, though, that Lenau had some kind of mental breakdown in 1844, aged only 42, and spent the rest of his life incarcerated in an asylum. this recording ends with Abendlied op 107/6 from Sechs Gesänge (1851–52) to a poem by Gottfried Kinkel. The song is dignified, an exercise in balance and refinement. Listen to how Goerne shapes the lines, flowing smoothly from very high notes to very low. The song demonstrates his range and technical ability, but even more impressively his grasp of emotional subtlety. As night falls, the world sinks into darkness. But the stars appear "in Majestät". The poet hears "the footsteps of angels" and the advance of a golden, celestial chariot "in gleichen, festem gleise". No wonder the song ends, not with gloom but firm resolve."Wirf ab, Herz, was dich kränket und was dir bange macht". Definitely not "alone" in Einsamkeit.
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York City Date: May 9 at 8:00 PM Philadelphia Orchestra performs Bernstein, Mozart, and Schumann Even while conducting “The Flying Dutchman” at the Met, Yannick Nézet-Séguin still makes time for his orchestra’s third and final Carnegie Hall performance of the season. The program features works that in their own way are as storm-tossed as Wagner’s opera: Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”), featuring the excellent mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, with the amazing soloist Radu Lupu; and Schumann’s Second Symphony.
Ravi Shankar and wife Sukanya Rajan © Ravi Shankar The idea for Ravi Shankar 's opera Sukanya , the final project of the great Indian sitarist and music pioneer, first came about in 1995. Shankar’s mother-in-law mentioned how it was fortunate she had called her daughter Sukanya, remarking on the similarity between Ravi and Sukanya’s romance and the story of the mythical Sukanya recounted in the Mahabharata . That story took seed in Shankar’s mind, and its fruit is the full-scale opera Sukanya – the final step in Shankar’s lifelong endeavour to unite the music of the West with the music of the East. Shankar worked on Sukanya up to the very end of his life. When he passed away in December 2012 he left the opera incomplete. Bringing it into a performable edition has been the work of British conductor and violinist David Murphy , who also conducts the world premiere. Murphy’s long relationship with Shankar places him in a unique position to make Shankar’s vision a reality. Murphy first met Shankar in 2004, at Dartington festival . Murphy had made a name for himself through the work of his own ensemble Sinfonia Verdi , for which he found innovative ways to synthesize Western music practices with music from other traditions. Despite his experience, working with Shankar ‘was a baptism of fire’, as Murphy recalls. ‘He was well into his eighties but worked incredibly fast. The ideas would just pour out like molten lava. I had never experienced anything like it before.’ Murphy and Shankar continued to work together, and through their many collaborations Murphy learnt ‘how Raviji liked to have Indian music orchestrated for Western instruments. In the early stages I would do what I thought was textbook, interesting orchestration. I’d come back the next morning and he’d say, “David, you’ve put too much makeup on the raga [a concept of Indian music with no Western equivalent – a melodic mode with a particular character]. She has a beautiful face but we can’t see that pristine beauty any more”. So it was a gradual process of learning how to bring out that natural purity’. Orchestrating Indian music for Western instruments presents a host of challenges, even down to the notes themselves. ‘Indian tuning can cause problems for Western musicians’, explains Murphy. Indian music uses scales based on the harmonic series , which introduces notes that are mostly not used in Western music – notes considered ‘microtonal’ , falling between recognized notes. Finding a solution is crucial to the character of the music. ‘It’s the journey through the microtones, arising on a beautifully in-tune interval, which is the expressive heart of the music’, says Murphy. ‘Gradually you realize you are hearing all the overtones of a note, so that each note becomes, in effect, a chord.’ Opera brings yet further complexity, as Indian and operatic vocal traditions come together. ‘He didn’t want Western singers to try to imitate Indian singers’, says Murphy, ‘but the Western singers will sing Indian ragas. It will be a unique sound’. In addition to ragas, the music of Sukanya also incorporates konnakol , a kind of voiced percussion. ‘With this he would put a touch of Western harmony and counterpoint, to explore the Indian rhythms in a way that had never been done before’ says Murphy. ‘Both traditions are used in a pure form, but to create a new sound. We were working on this even in the hospital, before his final surgery – he knew we were working against time, but he wanted to get it all as clear as possible.’ Opera’s status as a ‘total art work’ chimed particularly with Shankar, says Murphy. ‘Sukanya brings together all the elements of his life as a performing artist – right back to his childhood years as a dancer. Something that integrates music, dance, drama and all aspects of stagecraft has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years – far before Wagner’s influential essays . Raviji saw what is now possible in a 21st-century opera: a cross-cultural, total art work for a globalized world.’ Shankar was having new ideas right up to the end, says Murphy, ‘and if he’d lived another ten years the results would have been in completely unchartered territory’. As it is, Sukanya ‘has a complex structure, and amazing drive and energy’ – a fitting finish to a life that transformed what Indian and Western music can be. This article draws on Michael Church’s interview with David Murphy, available to read in full in the Sukanya programme. Sukanya runs 12–19 May 2017 with performances at Curve, Leicester , The Lowry, Salford , Symphony Hall, Birmingham , and Royal Festival Hall, London . Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve, Leicester , and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Arts Council England and the Bagri Foundation .
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.
Great composers of classical music