Best wishes to Pauline Oliveros, a deep listener and deep composer, who turns eighty today. There will be a celebratory concert at ISSUE Project Room on Saturday Friday night.
— Jonathan Harvey, Wagner Dream; Claire Booth, Gordon Gietz, Matthew Best, Dale Duesing, Martyn Brabbins conducting the Ictus Ensemble (Cypres)
— Cage, Works for Percussion Vol. 2; Third Coast Percussion (Mode)
— Carl Loewe, Songs and Ballads; Florian Boesch, Roger Vignoles (Hyperion)
— Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde; Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Josef Krips conducting the Vienna Symphony (DG, live 1964)
— Britten, War Requiem; Ian Bostridge, Simon Keenlyside, Sabina Cvilak, Gianandrea Noseda conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Choir of Eltham College (LSO Live)
At the Getty Museum (site of the picture above) I picked up a copy of Karen Painter and Thomas Crow's 2006 anthology Late Thoughts, with a fascinating John Deathridge essay on Wagner's "Unfinished Symphonies," a John Rockwell piece on Weimar Republic opera, and a conversation between Frank Gehry and the late, greatly lamented Ernest Fleischmann.
I'm in Los Angeles for the premiere of John Adams's The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the LA Phil production of Don Giovanni, and Anne LeBaron's Crescent City. Meanwhile, in this week's issue of The New Yorker I have a column about the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and two of his younger baritone successors, Christian Gerhaher and Florian Boesch.
May 28, 2012 | Permalink
The Cleveland Orchestra's concert performance of Salome at Carnegie Hall last night was in many ways splendid, and yet I came away mildly dissatisfied. I should confess at once that I was long ago diagnosed as a Salome nutcase; I began my book The Rest Is Noise with an extended description of the opera's 1906 Austrian premiere, and evaluated more than thirty Salome recordings for the Gramophone Collection. The perspective of the nutcase is not always the most useful; nonetheless, here it is.
Nina Stemme unquestionably possesses one of the supreme dramatic-soprano voices of the moment — perhaps the voice — and it was a thrill to hear her in a New York venue in a signature role. (She has sung Senta and Ariadne a few times at the Met.) She sailed through the part with a coolly gleaming tone that grew immense in the final scene. Friends report that they had trouble hearing her from upper balconies; I had no such trouble down in the orchestra. At the quietest dynamics she assumed the slender purity of a lyric voice. She easily mastered the role's sprawling range, delivering brilliant high Bs and making handsome mezzo-ish sounds around and below middle C. The infamous low G-flat on "Todes" was more stated than sung, yet it registered strongly. All the same, I found the portrayal too composed, too detached. There was little engagement with the deranged opulence of Wilde's imagery, with the fundamental transition from lust to murderous rage. Perhaps Stemme was made cautious by the awkward stage setup, which had the singers on risers behind the orchestra; the urge to focus mainly on the mechanics of her singing must have been strong, especially with so many opera mavens scrutinizing her.
Eric Owens made a magnificent first stab at Jochanaan, giving warmth and vigor to a character whom Strauss confessed to finding somewhat ridiculous. Rudolf Schasching was a standard-issue Herod of the ranting, hammy type, albeit one who went at his duties with considerable verve and wit. Once again, the opportunity to cast the role with a more flexible, lyric voice was missed. Jane Henschel was a cutting, funny Herodias, Garrett Sorenson an appealingly ardent Narraboth. The Cleveland played spectacularly all night, but Franz Welser-Möst, undeniably an idiomatic Strauss conductor, seemed in a peculiar rush. I kept wanting him to stop and savor the incomparable atmospherics of the score; the five-note dissonances that moan in the brass as Salome sings "Ah! ich habe deinen Mund geküsst" simply came and went, causing few shivers. A less helter-skelter pace might also have enabled Stemme to dig more deeply into her role. The ovation that erupted in the audience after the final blows suggested that almost everyone enjoyed the evening more than I did. Certainly, I don't doubt for a moment that Stemme is an astonishing vocal phenomenon.
May 25, 2012 | Permalink
Timothy Andres, a free spirit among younger American composers, plays a late-night recital at Wigmore Hall on June 8. New Yorkers can hear a preview of his program at LPR next Tuesday. Also, on June 2 he's playing a G. B. Shaw-themed program at the Players Club, in conjunction with the Irish Repertory Theatre's staging of Man and Superman, which is quite excellent. His second Nonesuch album is coming soon.... Tickets for the BAM edition of Einstein on the Beach, in September, will go on sale in staggered fashion next month.... The greatly gifted composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa, who is leading the chorus in Einstein, performs with friends from the tour at The Stone tonight (Thursday). The late Stefano Scodanibbio receives a tribute at the same venue tomorrow.... The New York New Music Ensemble plays a program of Donatoni, Philippe Hurel, Annelies van Parys, and Gérard Grisey (his Vortex Temporum) at Merkin on May 29. Van Parys is new to me: audio samples on her website suggest that she's a remarkable talent.... A trio of composer portraits coming up at Music at First in Brooklyn Heights: Tristan Perich (May 31), Aaron Siegel (June 1), Ted Hearne (June 2). Mantra Percussion plays at each event.... Zachary Woolfe has an enthusiastic brief review of the new Naïve recording of Vivaldi's Teuzzone, with Jordi Savall conducting. Something that jumped out at me as I listened: "Ove giro il mesto sguardo" (at 29:00) sounds a great deal like "As with Rosy Steps the Morn" from Handel's later Theodora (at 00:48). Incidentally, the legendary 1996 Theodora at Glyndebourne, with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, David Daniels, Dawn Upshaw, Richard Croft, and William Christie, is now available in the festival's gorgeously produced CD series.... Will Robin has lately put up a bunch of interesting posts at Seated Ovation. I, too, am taken with Michael Mizrahi's Bright Motion album, and especially with the title work by Mark Dancigers.... The American Composers Orchestra will host its annual Underwood New Music Reading Sessions at the DiMenna Center June 1-3. Ryan Chase, Peter Fahey, Michael-Thomas Foumai, Paul Kerekes, Pin Hsin Lin, and Benjamin Taylor are featured this year.
May 24, 2012 | Permalink
May 23, 2012 | Permalink
"Opera News Will Continue to Review Metropolitan Opera Productions"
In view of the outpouring of reaction from opera fans about the recent decision to discontinue Met performance reviews in Opera News, the Met has decided to reverse this new editorial policy. From their postings on the internet, it is abundantly clear that opera fans would miss reading reviews about the Met in Opera News. Ultimately, the Met is here to serve the opera-loving public and has changed its decision because of the passionate response of the fans.
The Met and the Met Opera Guild, the publisher of Opera News, have been in discussions about the role of the Guild and how its programs and activities can best fulfill its mission of supporting the Metropolitan Opera. These discussions have included the role of reviews in Opera News, and whether they served that mission. While the Met believed it did not make sense for a house organ that is published by the Guild and financed by the Met to continue to review Met productions, it has become clear that the reviews generate tremendous excitement and interest and will continue to have a place in Opera News.
May 22, 2012 | Permalink
Last week I reported to the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, in the West Village, to see Sonnambula, a new viol consort that I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog but hadn't had a chance to hear live. The setting was uncommonly pleasant; St. Luke's is one of the loveliest small churches in New York, set amid green spaces and protected from Sex in the City tour buses. Sonnambula, which was founded by Elizabeth Weinfield, aims to present little-played repertory for "large and diverse consorts of viols." Their latest program, titled "Splendors of the Spanish Renaissance," was intimate in scale, with Weinfield joined by the viol-players John Mark Rozendaal and Rebekah Ahrendt, the recorder- and dulcian-player Rachel Begley, and the tenor James Kennerley. Nonetheless, the group produced a warm, full sound in two recercadas by Diego Ortiz, Cabezón's Diferencias sobre el canto llano del caballero, and various canciónes and villancicos. Unfortunately, the Montreal-based lutenist Esteban La Rotta, who had been announced for the program, fell foul of visa problems. I'd earlier encountered Kennerley in his capacity as the organist and music director of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and wrote about him in my "Cheap Seats" column of 2009. He turns out to be an excellent, true-toned singer, even if, as he admitted during the concert, his Spanish delivery is a touch Anglicized. I look forward to Sonnambula's future perambulations.
May 21, 2012 | Permalink
Richard Horowitz, who has had an astonishing sixty-six-year-run as the principal timpanist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, plays his final performance tomorrow, when the orchestra appears at Carnegie Hall. A lovely article by Fred Plotkin, on the WQXR website, highlights not only Horowitz's many decades in the pit — when he made his debut, in 1946, Lily Pons was singing Lakmé — but also his work as a maker of instruments and batons. (A 1988 Times article tells more about the batons, one of which rests with Leonard Bernstein in Green-Wood Cemetery.) At a recent Traviata, Peter Gelb brought the timpanist out on stage for a tribute; Mark Horowitz, his son, filmed the moment from the pit. Many congratulations to Mr. Horowitz on his magnificent career.
May 19, 2012 | Permalink
A monumental, vastly influential figure is gone. I can't help feeling shock at the news — a world without Fischer-Dieskau seems foreign and unnerving. As it happens, I had been listening to his recordings constantly in recent days, while I worked on a column about Christian Gerhaher and Florian Boesch, two of his most distinguished younger successors. When I saw the first reports on the Internet, Fischer-Dieskau's book on the Schubert songs was on my desk and his 1962 Winterreise was in my CD player. I stopped the music and sat in silence for a long minute — it was an uncanny feeling. I'll say more in The New Yorker a week from Monday.
More: There will be an all-night LP vigil at a new Brooklyn space called JACK, on Saturday night. Worth reading are a Guardian obituary by the late Alan Blyth; a memorial from Ian Bostridge; appreciations by Tony Tommasini and Leo Carey; and Martin Kettle's quietly heartbreaking 2005 interview with the singer, in which he wonders if he will be forgotten. He will not.
Not many people in the musical world intimidated Benjamin Britten; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of them. Below, I've excerpted two letters that Britten wrote to the baritone — the first almost comically meek in tone, the second considerably warmer. They bracket the legendary premiere of the War Requiem, in Coventry, on May 30, 1962. During the recording sessions for that work, in January 1963, Fischer-Dieskau approached Britten with the idea of writing an opera on King Lear. Britten seems to have agreed to the proposal, and, as Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke observe in the notes to Volume 5 of Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears began making notes toward a libretto. Then, later in 1963, Britten mentioned the project in an interview with Desmond Shawe-Taylor, and the resulting torrent of chatter, replete with references to Verdi's unrealized Lear opera, seems to have discouraged his interest. The Lear for which Fischer-Dieskau yearned was, in the end, composed by Aribert Reimann; the DG recording of that work is one of the most stunning documents of the singer's art.
Britten to Fischer-Dieskau, 1961: "Please forgive me writing to such a busy man as yourself — you can be sure that if I did not feel very strongly I should not be troubling you! ... I am writing what I think will be one of my most important works. It is a full-scale Requiem Mass for chorus and orchestra ... Peter Pears has agreed to sing the tenor part, and with great temerity I am asking you whether you would sing the baritone. You may not, I fear, be free (the dates of the two performances are May 30th and June 1st, with rehearsals the few previous days), and above all you may not feel inclined to do this, but I am earnestly hoping you may be free and willing... [handwritten] Please forgive me troubling you."
Britten to Fischer-Dieskau, 1962: "I am made happy when I think of our working together, & our meeting with you and your dear wife, in Coventry. It was one of the great artistic experiences of my life ... I cannot say how touched I was by the great trouble you took over the War Requiem, & by your complete understanding of what I was trying to say in this work."
Fischer-Dieskau in his memoirs: "The first performance created an atmosphere of such intensity that by the end I was completely undone; I did not know where to hide my face. Dead friends and past suffering arose in my mind."
"A. [Avigdor Arikha] put on Hans Hotter singing Der Leiermann, S. preferred Fischer-Dieskau, 'at the end there's a real cry, he cries out.' We put on Fischer-Dieskau to compare. At the end, the cry, a shudder. S. looked at me, there it was. Nodded. Too moved to talk."
— Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett
I caught the New York City Opera presentation of Telemann's Orpheus at El Museo del Barrio last night, and find myself in accord with the Zerbinetta take. I'm happy to have seen the work, and Rebecca Taichman's staging has some vibrant touches (the scene centered on Nicholas Pallesen's commanding Pluto is a delight), but the score is quite far from being a neglected masterpiece, and, as Zerbinetta says, many Baroque operas — including at least four or five by Cavalli — deserved a New York staging in front of this one. Certainly, City Opera made good use of the Museo del Barrio theater, which turns out to be a fine venue for Baroque opera. Two performances remain.
May 16, 2012 | Permalink
May 15, 2012 | Permalink