Monday, January 16, 2017
Das Eröffnungskonzert der Elbphilharmonie, the opening concert of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. The building looms like a giant ship on a promontory on the harbour: a reminder of Hamburg's maritime and commercial heritage. The lower floors match surrounding buildings, while the upper floors and roof reflect the skie : an inspired concept in architectural terms. But what really makes the Elbphilharmonie interesting is that it's a game changer in many ways, with the potential to transform the whole way the European music business operates. "Freude" said the grandees making speeches, which is significant, for great art is inspired by joy, not small=minded negativity. The creative genius of Beethoven stood at the start and finish of this communal celebration, with the Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus op 43 and the sublime Symphony no 9. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods to empower men, an act which symbolizes enlightenment. That's why the arts matter. They generate creativity and, with that, the enthusiasm that generates change in many things, including economic regeneration. This new hall is a landmark that could challenge the dominance of Berlin and Paris. Not for nothing, the concert honoured Johannes Brahms, Hamburg's native son, who lived in Vienna, but remained, at heart, solidly North German. In Britain, we've no way to compete, since British arts policy favours micro-endeavour. The fact is, excellence needs vision, and commitment. The long-term benefits to the nation are infinitely greater than can be measured in simple terms. The drive that went into making Hamburg the major port that it is, is the kind of drive we need in the arts. Thomas Hengelbrock and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester chose a programme that demonstrated what the new building can do. The platform, larger than usual, nestles surrounded by different tiers of seating, rather like Berlin and Paris, so sound resonates more evenly than in conventional coffin-shaped halls. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Photoptosis (1968) tested the acoustic to the limit. Scored for a very large orchestra, the piece can be very loud indeed, but here what struck me most was the richness of sound, not the volume. The big climaxes are carefully constructed, with myriad layers of detail, some so subtle they can get lost. Yet in this hall, even the most refined components can be heard and relished. Suddenly, the hall was plunged into darkness, small rows of lights shining from the dense gloom like stars. The plangent strains of a Praetorius motet rang out, as if being heard across the centuries. In a split second, the 16th and the 20th century connected. Also, from an eyrie above the platform, the orchestra's principal oboe played Pan, from Britten's Six Metamorphoses from Ovid op 49. Philippe Jaroussky sang Italian baroque airs, accompanied by harp, from a position above the stage, the clear, pure beauty of his voice carrying effortlessly round the large auditorium., In one of the interval clips, he's seen testing the acoustic by exploring with his voice as he walks around. Then, Messiaen and Wagner, sounding clear and crisp. What a joy it must be for an orchestra to play in these surroundings, especially as the off-stage facilities are luxe class compared to many less generous venues. The best orchestras will now want to visit Hamburg: this superb acoustic will lift the game for everyone. Read more HERE about the technical aspects that make the acoustics in the auditorium. For this grand opening gala, the whole Philharmonie building exterior became the backdrop for a spectacular light show. This, too, made a statement, since the light show would have been visible across the harbour. The Elbphilharmonie light show could become a feature of Hamburg's civic life, just like the way Hong Kong skyscrapers become a gigantic canvas for illuminations during the Christmas season (where the flat outside wall of the main local concert hall is the focus of a light show) The arts aren't just for toffs. Involving the wider community outside the concert hall is a form of outreach and education without distracting from the main business of music making. Indeed, excellence "is" education. It opens up ears and minds. This programme also featured Wolfgang Rihm, billed as"Germany's greatest living composer", though he couldn't attend so Hengelbrock raised a placard with Rihm's name on it , a nice humorous touch. Rihm, Zimmermann and Rolf Liebermann, together with Mendelssohn and Brahms, Wagner and Beethoven: another point being made, that audiences can cope with diversity without having to be coddled. There are other halls in the new Philharmonie, better suited to smaller ensembles and chamber music. There's another concert on Sunday which will also be broadcast. Click on photo at right to see the building in cross-section. Yet another reason why the Elbphilharmonie is a game changer : It represents a new way of bringing music to audiences. HD was a start, but stymied because it depended on cinema distributors who didn't make enough money to promote it. But modern technology means that audiences can listen any time they want online, wherever they may be. Investing in orchestra-led, or opera-house led streaming means that those who make music get the full benefits of marketing, and also have greater control over artistic content. Can record companies still control the market and create instant media darlings when there's good music around for those who care about quality as opposed to celebrity No more provincial boundaries. And so the concert ended with the Ode to Joy, Beethoven 9, Bryn Terfel, Pavol Breslik, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, the NDR Choir and the Choir of Bayerischen Rundfunks. "Alle Menschen wurden Bruder"!" we've heard that thousands of times, but this time it felt fresh and real.
Matthew Rose as Baron Ochs and Alice Coote as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore The trouser (or breeches) role – a young male character sung by a woman – has been part of opera since its early days. And the role type has flourished since, in a variety of contexts. In the 18th century, the bulk of heroic male roles were written for soprano or alto castratos – but the trouser role was never just a ‘castrato substitute’: Handel ’s Radamisto and his heroic adolescent Sesto in Giulio Cesare are the most famous examples. Towards the end of the century, Mozart became probably the first composer to recognize the trouser role’s erotic potential, with Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro . His adolescent passion for Countess Almaviva is made all the more risqué by the fact that the lovesick page is sung by a woman, and Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte have additional fun when Cherubino dresses up as a serving maid. As castratos became a dying breed in the early 19th century, mezzo-sopranos increasingly took on Italian opera’s heroic lead male roles. Rossini wrote several principal breeches roles, including the title role of Tancredi and the soldier Arsace in Semiramide . Donizetti also created a few, although he tended to demote his trouser roles from heroes to sidekicks – as with Maffeo Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia , or Smeton in Anna Bolena . The tradition reached its culmination in 1830 with Bellini ’s Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi ; the virtuoso writing for mezzo-soprano perfectly expresses the hero’s youthful ardour and impetuosity. Over in France, 19th-century grand and comic opera alike saw an explosion of trouser roles: chiefly pages and lovesick adolescents. Although they were rarely in the first rank of dramatic importance, they were usually given beautiful arias, such as Ascanio’s ‘Mais qu’ai-je donc?’ in Berlioz ’s Benvenuto Cellini or Siébel’s ‘Faites-lui mes aveux’ in Gounod ’s Faust . The page-boy became such a popular character type that composers even added them to scenarios, as with the invented Stéphano in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette , with his lovely aria ‘Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle?’. In French comic opera, a girl could even play the hero on occasion, as with the title role of Massenet ’s Chérubin , or Prince Charmant in Massenet’s Cendrillon (a nod to pantomime’s Principal Boy tradition ). In 19th-century German opera, trouser roles were usually limited to children and supernatural beings, such as Puck in Weber ’s Oberon . Two notable exceptions were the young warrior Adriano in Wagner ’s Rienzi , a virtuoso role modelled on Bellini’s Romeo, and the flamboyant Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss ’s Die Fledermaus . But the the trouser role really came into his own in Germany from 1890 to 1930, with a number of feisty boy characters including Humperdinck ’s Hänsel and the Schoolboy in Berg ’s Lulu . Meanwhile in the former Czechoslovakia Janáček created one of the most poignant breeches roles in his 1930 opera From the House of the Dead: the boy prisoner Aljeja, described by the composer as ‘such a tender, dear person’. But before this, in 1911, came Octavian in Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier , perhaps the greatest trouser role of all. With this young nobleman, in love with an older woman, Strauss fully exploits the breeches role’s capacity to convey youth through the high female voice, and also its slightly risqué sensuality, particularly in the opening scene with Octavian and the Marschallin in bed. He playfully draws attention to the trouser role’s inherent artificiality by having Octavian dress up as a girl. And he provides one of the most satisfying portrayals of late-adolescent love through Octavian’s stunning duets with the Marschallin and Sophie, and the sublime trio for all three characters in Act III. Small wonder that in his next opera Strauss insisted on writing the ardent male Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos for mezzo-soprano. His breeches roles are a crowning glory of a distinguished tradition. Der Rosenkavalier runs until 24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , Teatro Regio, Turin , and Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires , and is given with generous philanthropic support from the Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .
Wagner Der fliegende Holländer from the Teatro Real in Madrid, with Kwangchul Youn as Daland, Samuel Youn as the Dutchman, Ingela Brimberg, Nikolai Schukoff, Kai Rüütel and Benjamin Bruns, conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, recorded live 23/12 and now on Culturebox, The presence of Kwangchul Youn and Samuel Youn (not realted) made this performance particularly moving Kwangchul Youn is an Elder Statesman, a Wagnerian of commanding presence and great depth, while the younger Samuel Youn represents the next generation In the context of this opera, this role reversal brought added piquancy to the inter relationship between The Dutchman and Daland, The Dutchman has roamed the seas for hundreds of years, and in the process has learned things no mortal should eperience Daland, with his fixation on worldy goods, cannot comprehend the metaphysical What will happen to Daland after he loses his daughter, his greatest treasure ? Will he learn from the Dutchman that there are things in this world and beyond that matter more than status and success One measure of really good performances is their ability to generate deeper insight into the meaning of the opera. Youn and Youn did this themselves by the dynamics between them without changing a word and without help from the staging That's true artistry, and it lifts this performance well above routine. It's a fallacy that performance need to be ranked: the vast majority are neither very very bad not very, very good Only pseuds "need" to rank things. It;s much more important to identify the good and less good within a performance This one was an interesting mix Kwanchul Youn carried the show: Samuel Youn complementing him well There were some very good cameos indeed, especially Kai Rüütel as Mary, so distinctive that her voice alone commanded presence, though she was costumed in unflattering drabness She made me understand why Wagner who didn't waste time on triviality, made the part significant Mary is a leader, not a conformist and protects Senta though Senta lets down the other women because she doesn't work As I listen to Rüütel 's firmly assertive yet womanly singing, I thought of Mary and Martha in the gospel of St Luke Martha works hard, while Mary dreams But Mary focuses on spiritual ideals. When Senta (Ingera Brimberg) clings to the portrait of the Dutchman, she hopes to save him from his fate, A rather bigger responsibility than spinning. In this production, Rüütelis seen polishing a light casing, then opening it uo to reveal a light bulb. Such a telling detail ! This production, by Alex Ollé and La Fura dels Baus premiered in 2014 in Lyon, and bears the hallmark of the Fura dels Baus style. Massive structures,dwarfing the characters but providing dramatic visual impact, which in an opera like Der fliegende Holländeris fundamental, for the Dutchman's ship is much more than a ship. It looms over the villagers like a malign presence. Like the storm it's a creation from hell, not a normal part of Nature. Daland and his men are seen walking down an extremely steep ladder whose steps are so far apart they probably won't meet industrial safety standards The singers seemed to descend with uncertainity, and for good reason : they are in a dangerous situation. A compartment high above the stage is lit to reveal the Dutchman's crew, high above the mortal plane.. In another typical Fura dels Baus touch, the designs by Urs Schönebaum and Alfons Flores are monumental but simple, detail added by changes of light and video projections. These are ideally suited to an opera like this where scenes like the storm and the ghost ship are hard to stage by conventional means. These waves, and the flashes of lightning were so vivid that they were discomforting. Exactly as they should be, in dramatic terms. Some scenes were less successful, such as the depiction of the women in vaguely Indian or middle eastern garb. There's no reason why the action needs to take place in Norway, or Scotland or wherever, but there's not a whole lot of point of transposing it somewhere largely irrelevant except perhaps, to bring in the idea of the women working on the beach, close to the seam like their menfolk. The party scene worked rather better, since the singers and chorus "danced" with formalized gestures, the men enacting movements like launching sails, and the women more fluttery gestures, like spinning. In contrast, the ghostly sailors don't do anything : they just stand still, apart from one another, lit in mysterious blue. Like Senta, separate from her peers, thinking, instead of working. The final scene was particularly effective : demonic shifts of light and texture, obscuring normal boundaries of form, the undulating sand dunes disintegrating in images of the sea, reflecting the turbulence in the music. Senta puts her hand into the sand, then covers her face in white, powdery paste so that she ends up looking like the Dutchman. A wonderfully ambiguous ending : Senta's body seems to dissolve in the sea, if it is the sea, or something more demonic. Is the Dutchman redeemed, or is Senta's sacrifice in vain ? Pablo Heras-Casado conducted enthusiastically. If the brass sounded a bit strange, and the percussion hollow, that worked well in connection with meaning.
At last, green shoots of Spring emerging from the gloom. The Barbican Spring schedule offers plenty if hope First off from 13-15 January, Simon Rattle conducts György Ligeti Le Grand Macabre, with the LSO and a strong cast that headed by Peter Hoare as Piet the Pot. I love Ligeti's quirky music and enjoyed then ENO production by Alex Ollé and Las furas del Baus back in 2009 Read more here That was the one with the giant woman whose body "was" the stage. Le Grand Macabre is as frustrating as it is inventive, so staging it takes some doing But I'm not sure what Peter Sellars will do to it No doubt it attracts the mega trendy crowd as it's selling fast though very expensive. On 19/1, however, and just as high profile, Rattle is conducting Mahler Symphony no 6 together with the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Remembering 'in memoriam Evan Scofield. This is a keynote concert, which will also be streamed on the LSO website, a wonderful development, since it brings the orchestra to the world Another Britisn music world premiere the next day, 201, Philip Cashian's The Book of Ingenious Devices, conducted by Oliver Knussen, together with Strauss Macbeth and Elgar Falstaff An intriguing programme in true Ollie style - will Cashian's piece have Shakespearean connections ? Huw Watkins is the soloist so presumably it's a piano concerto of some sort A big threme this season is "Russian Revolutionaries", so plenty of Shostakovich, but more unusually, Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 2 with the Melos Ensemble at LSO St Luke's on Jan 21st That weekend, a Philip Glass Total Immersion with better choices than some recent Total Immersions. All ears and eyes alert for Jonas Kaufmann's four day residency at the Barbican at the beginning of February That's been sold out for months, so hopefully, he'll be well enough Wagner, Strauss (Vier letzte Lieder, nach !) he's also doing an "in conversation" Sakari Oramo with the BBCSO and Antonio Pappano with the LSO, both interesting non standard programmes, and Daniel Harding weithn the LSO on 15/1 with Rachmaninov Symphony no 2 and another Mark-Anthony Turnage premiere, Håkan with dedicatee Håkan Hrdenberger as soloist. Yet another British composer premiere, Nicola LeFanu's The Crimson Bird for soprano (Rachel Nicholls) and the LSO, conducted by Ilan Volkov on 17/2 and a Detlev Glanert premiere on 3/3 with Oramo and the BBC SO. An extended Nash Ensemble residency at LSO St Lukes (lots of RVW chamber music) and and Andreas Scholl on 14/3 Then two concerts with Fabio Luisi on 16th and 19th March I'm opting for the second, with Brahms German Requiem François-Xavier Roth starts another After Romanticism series on 30/3 with the LSO - Debussy Jeux, Bartok Piano Concerto no 3 and Mahler Symphony no 1. Then a 3 concert series with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert - John Adams, Mahler, and the European premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Cello Concerto. Janine Jansen, Murray Perahia and Mariss Jansens with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and a keynote Dvořák Requiem on 13/4 with Jiří Bělohlávek, the BBC SO, the BBC Symphony Chorus, Brindley Sherratt, Ricahrd Samek, Jennifer Johnston and Katerina Kněžíková Then Easter is upon us !
The first black singer to appear at Bayreuth, Grace Bumbry has blazed trails of glory across the opera world for more than half a century. She made her debut in Paris in 1960 as Amneris. Wieland Wagner cast her as Venus in Tannhäuser in summer 1961. Jackie Kennedy summoned her to sing at the White House. Vienna upgraded her to soprano in Verdi’s Macbeth. She made a much-belated Met debut as Tosca in 1971, together with conductor James Levine, also on debut. In in 2013, she sang the Countess at the Vienna State Opera in Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. Happy birthday, amazing Grace.
Schumann Das Paradies et die Peri (Op 59) with Daniel Harding the Orchestre de Paris from the Philharmonie de Paris, with Christine Karg, Kate Royal, Gerhild Romberger, Andrew Staples, Alloan Clayton and Matthias Goerne last week in Paris, now on arte.tv. This is an exceptionally interesting performance, because it reveals insight into Schumann's distinctive ideas on musical drama, eclipsed by the revolution Wagner wrought in operatic form.. Das Paradies et die Peri premiered in Leipzig in December 1843, but Die fliegende Holländer had premiered in Dresden in January at same year. Schumann might seem eclipsed, but he represents an alternative but perfectly valid approach to music as theatre with roots in Germanic traditions like oratorio and Singspiele. Harding's firmly assured, yet refined perspective helps us appreciate Schumann on his own terms. This perceptive Das Paradies et die Peri follows on from Harding's groundbreaking Szenen aus Goethes Faust and from his workon Schumann's symphonies. Eventually, the world will value Schumann as Schumann, not as Wagner manqué. Die Paradies und die Peri is also seminal because it shows the depth of Schumann's engagement with literary sources. Even for the son of a Leipzig bookseller, Schumann was exceptionally well read and up to date on the latest literary trends. Moore's Lalla Rookh developed the fashion for orientalist fantasy, which intrigued the Romantiker imagination, opening up new horizons and alternatives to western European constraints. The Generic East implied unparalleled extremes, and emotions too wild for Christian convention. Lalla Rookh is One Thousand and One Arabian Nights on acid. Moore was an opium addict, like Thomas De Quincey and, later, Charles Baudelaire. Nothing like a bit of dope to break inhibitions. Nonetheless, the literary style of Lalla Rookh is itself utterly relevant. It is written in an exaggerated, verbose style so highly perfumed that it's almost unreadable now, but that was part of its original appeal. Exotic names and words pour forth in hallucinatory frenzy, creating a haze of soporific delights. How thrilling these references to strange, obscure places, people and objects to readers who had no idea of the real East, or Asia or Africa for that matter. It was enough that the words sounded wonderful, and, significantly, musical on their own terms."Lalla Rookh", incidentally means "Tulip Face" which was a compliment in times when tulips were prized imports from distant lands. The very context is inherently theatrical, the drama living in the imagination of the audience. Perhaps these days we're too used to passive entertainment, like reality TV, to comprehend. If anything, Schumann plays down the text so it flowers in his music. The peri flits freely between Egypt, Africa, Syria ^the land of roses", "Cashnere (Kashmir) and other places including "Peristan" (the land of Peris?) and ends up by the throne of "Alla" surrounded by lotus blooms. but Schumann's music is thoroughly German. Some figures, especially in the choruses, evoke the sturdy rhythms of Der Freischütz or even Der Vampyr, but the general style is distinctively Schumann. The narrative develops not through "characters" as in opera, but through commentary, as in oratorio. The story, as such, is more allegory than plot. To achieve her goal, the peri must produce three miracles blood, each episode more symbolic than stageable. Thus the florid text is depicted in indirect speech and in abstract sound. The young hero, for example, in a fanfare followed by tenor (Andrew Staples) and choir, the flow caught in its tracks by the dour tyrant (Matthias Goerne, sounding more bass than usual) The women's choir weeps : the tyrant lives, the hero dies. The "action" proceeds through choir ("Sacred is the blood") and orchestra, surging forwards. The second Part opens with a depiction of the Nile, (tenor, mezzo, female voices) , the horns inn the orchestra piping out a theme which could come straight from Mendelssohn. Think magic, not historical Eygpt. The horns add melancholy gloom. The peri weeps tears for the suffering of humankind, evoked by the interplay of all four soloists. Kate Royal sings of healing balms, and Christine Karg of repose, cushioned in (possibly) Narcotic perfumes : exquisite songs, separated by delicately muted trumpets, like etended Lieder - one thinks ahead to Schumann's Requiem. The chorus "Schmucket die Stufen zu Allahs Thron" is glorious, the voices sparkling brightly: but still, the peri cannot enter Eden. Thus the burnished darkness of "Jetzt sankt des Abends gold'ner Schei" (Goerne), broken briefly by the piercing brightness of the female voices. A haunting flute melody rises out of low cello murmurs, and Goerne returns : a quiet bass voice, singing of flowers, summer and the banks of the Jordan. Yet again, dramatic contrasts in sound. "Peri ! Oeri!" the chorus calls, shrilly, morphing yet again to bass baritone tenderness. Yet aGain, resolution comes from the structure of the piece itself and its musical expression. The soloists interact, joined by chorus and orchestra, and the Angel emerges. Divine intervention ! this is a part Bernarda Fink has done so memorably, that she's hard to forget, but Christine Karg does admirably. With a flourish, Das Paradies und die Peri ends with joyous tumult. An uplifting performance, idiomatically refined and true to the spirit of Schumann and to the tradition that inspired him. More to my taste than the several Rattle performances I've heard, yet also more "modern" than Gardiner and Harnoncourt, though I couldn't live without those. Modern ? Yes, for Schumann is modern, and timeless, even if the texts he uses might be alien to modern ears. photo Frédéric Désaphi
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