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Richard Wagner

Friday, July 1, 2016


Classical iconoclast

Yesterday

Dante the opera, Palazzetto Bru Zane

Classical iconoclast Benjamin Godard's opera Dante rarely heard but causing quite a sensation.  In January this year, it was heard at the Prinzregententheater, Munich, and later at the Opéra Royale de Versailles, Paris and broadcast throughout Europe.  What a delight!  This was the first performance odf a modern edition of the orchestral score, produced by the  Palazetto Bru Zane. Godard (1849-1895), like many French composers, resisted Wagner and the cult of Bayreuth.  Dante (1890) is lyrical drama in the French tradition,  a fin de siècle descendant of Massenet, Thomas  and Gounod, though not  a precursor of Debussy, whose Pelléas et Mélisande was to premiere only seven years after Godards early death. 12 years later.   Dante and The Divine Comedy are so well known, there's no point rehashing them here. Godard's Dante , though,  is also interesting because it brings o suggests a connection between Dante and Goethe's Faust.  In this Dante we can gear echoes of Gounod's Faust, of Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust and even of Boito's Mefistofele : All are part of an interest in the Gothic Imagination and its fascination for the demonic and macabre beneath surface lushness.  One might also consider Baudelaire Les Fleurs du Mal and the etchings of Gustav Doré, which I've used here. While Godard certainly can whip up a beautiful storm, helped by the exceptionally good performance,.  Véronique Gens is easily the finest specialist in late French Romantic repertoire,and brings the very tricky role of Béatrice to life with the lustrous timbre of her voice, and the poise with which she negotiates the range in the part.  No wonder Dante would go through hell for her !  Béatrice (and Gens) so dominate this opera that it would be hard to imagine a performance without the beauty of Gen's singing.  The rest of the cast is superb too. Edgaras Montvidas sings Dante, Rachel Frankel sings Gemma (Béatrice's friend), and Andrew Foster Williams sings the Shade of Virgil.  Ulf Schirmer conducts the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. All too often rarities like Dante are spoiled by mediocre, lack lustre performances  by conductors who rely on the fact that audience don't ave a point if reference, and fall for the safe and bland, which doesn't do the music justice. Godard isn't a genius, which is all the more why this performance is so good. Ulf Schirmer isn't the kind of conductor who gets away with things because he has no competition.  Everything I've heard him conduct is geared towards the specifics that make a composer individual.  Not all that many condutors have that gift. Palazzetto Bru Zane is to be congratulated on going for the best, without compromise.  This Godard Dante is being released on CD, An essential purchase, I think. Please read the notes prepared by the Palazzetto Bru Zane, HERE. probably the best source so far on the composer and on the opera. I quote "Godard’s opera, composed in 1890, skilfully juxtaposes political developments – crowd scenes in Florence and the feud between Guelphs and Ghibellines – and the expression of medieval courtly love. In the opera Gemma, a young girl married to the protagonist out of duty and then abandoned, becomes the close friend of the beloved woman, Beatrice, of whom she is also the secret rival. The most remarkable aspect of this opera, though, is the insertion of a ‘Vision’, a kind of synthesis of the Divine Comedy set to music. Act three thus ranges between an imaginary Hell and Paradise, with sections bearing titles such as Apparition de Virgile Chœur des Damnés, Tourbillon infernal, Divine Clarté, and Apothéose de Béatrice . Godard here appears at the peak of his melodic inspiration and his overall compositional mastery, in a style that swings between Gounod and Massenet. The vocal quintet called for in the opera perfectly captures all the heroic and expressive potential of singers well-versed in Wagner and Verdi."

Guardian

June 29

Das Rheingold review – Opera North's back-to-basics Wagner feels like a liberation

Royal Festival Hall, London This was a concentrated and riveting realisation of the first part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, with Jo Pohleim’s Alberich and Wolfgang’s Ablinger-Sperrhacke particularly strongDuring his visit to London in 1877, Richard Wagner was thrilled by what he saw of Victorian London from the river. “This is Alberich’s dream come true,” he enthused to his wife, Cosima: “Nibelheim, world dominion, activity, work, everywhere the oppressive feeling of steam and fog.” Related: Exclusive: watch an animated guide to Wagner's Ring cycle Continue reading...






Guardian

June 26

Aldeburgh festival review – Britten’s not the only talent

Michael Tippett, long overshadowed by Aldeburgh’s founder, finally got his place in the Suffolk sunTwo composers independently uttered cries from the heart last week, one in the grandeur of a Park Lane hotel, the other in the muggy heat of an eccentric “Tudorbethan” cinema in a Suffolk fishing village. Amid the raucous campaigning of a different kind, you may have heard neither. Oliver Knussen (b1952), receiving an Ivor Novello award for classical music, spoke of the “extraordinary number of incredibly gifted young composers” whose work deserves celebrating instead of being relegated to the status of “pond life”. (He was addressing his remarks especially to the BBC, that major commissioner still nervous of integrating new music into the mainstream.) As a guru and teacher to so many, and a sharp realist, Knussen is not prone to exaggeration.In Aldeburgh one of his former pupils, Julian Anderson (b1967), gave the 2016 Hesse Lecture. Speaking movingly to a capacity crowd, he challenged fellow composers to take themselves seriously, to regard their achievements with pride. Rather than remain apologetically on the sidelines and assume the worst – a lost cause, bad box office – he urged them to throw themselves into the centre of the action. Aside from purely musical inventions, they have always made things happen. Take festivals. Wagner’s Bayreuth or Britten’s Aldeburgh exist only because of a composer’s vision. Continue reading...

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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