Monday, September 28, 2015
Saturday, September 26, 2015
|Harrison Miller and Nicholas McGegan|
Mozart wrote his Concerto for Bassoon in the congenial key of B-flat Major, K. 191 when he was but 18 years old. And bassoonist Harrison Miller is not that much older than that but seems to have mastered the very special idiosyncrasy of the instrument. We are not sure for whom the concerto was written in 1774 but it may as well have been written for Mr. Miller.
For much of the concerto, we experienced the bassoon as a sheep gamboling across a meadow of strings. Wide leaps and clearly articulated scale passages and trills sent thrills up and down our spine. The solo unaccompanied cadenza at the conclusion of the first movement was riveting; it seemed like someone telling their entire life story. The Andante seemed like an operatic aria with an outpouring of affection and devotion.
The remainder of the evening's program left nothing to be desired. We are not among those who crave the new and different; on the contrary we love the "war horses". There is a reason why some music has endured for centuries; it touches the heart and soothes the ear. Life today has enough anxiety and sufficient challenges!
We were ready to cut the young musicians of the Juilliard Orchestra some slack since it is just the beginning of the semester; this was unnecessary. Under the guidance of Maestro Nicholas McGegan, they came together as a unit and did as well with the Beethoven as they did with the Mozart
Maestro McGegan is a no nonsense conductor; we would call him expressive rather than theatrical. He pointed his finger, he waggled his hands, he wind-milled his arms, he stamped and he stooped and jumped up and down. None of this was self-serving; all of it was designed to pull the performance he wanted from the orchestra. The end result was he got what he asked for.
Mozart's Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, is affectionately called the "Haffner" since it was a reworking of a Serenade he wrote for the installation ceremony of a friend of his father who was elevated to the nobility. There is a vigorous opening movement followed by a serene and lyrical Andante with a recurring theme alternating with marcato passages in the strings. The Menuetto is stately yet rustic and employs rhythm in much the same manner as Beethoven's music.
And Beethoven did appear for the second half of the evening, in the marvelous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, known as the "Pastoral". We are not in agreement with critics of the time who criticized it for not breaking new ground.
We don't care one bit if it is "programmatic". If you want to hear birds singing or volcanoes erupting, that is your privilege. For our purposes we are happy to know that Beethoven visualized a day in the country and we did hear the birds. The storm was unmistakable with dramatic peals of thunder in the tympani. We particularly loved the way Maestro McGegan shaped the phrases of the Allegro by knitting together short motivi.
That's the great thing about a "bread and butter" program. One hears new things in old works and comes to love them even more.
(c) meche kroop
Friday, September 25, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Monday, September 21, 2015
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Saturday, September 12, 2015
|Outdoor HD Festival on Lincoln Center Plaza|
The HD experience has input from the HD Director who tries to show you the most important visual of any given moment. Perhaps it is a close-up of a singer's face, or perhaps a close-up of the the reaction of the character to whom, or about whom, the singer is singing. Perhaps it is a closeup of a set element or prop that could not be seen or understood by an audience member beyond the first row--a passed note, something dropped, or something being hidden.
Sometimes it is just an artistic vision of the HD Director. A good example of this is Gary Halvorson's direction of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette Mr. Halvorson's artistry lay in highlighting the visual metaphors of Johannes Leiacker's stunning set design. Elements of the astrological calendar, not very visible in the house, remind us that the lovers are "star-cross'd.", especially when he shows us an aerial view.
Additionally, the close-ups of the masks are incredibly beautiful, lending authenticity to the masked ball. So much labor must have gone into designing and executing the designs of those masks--details not even appreciated with opera glasses. The nuptial bed suspended high above the stage in-house seemed risky to the singers; on film it lent enchantment to the concept of lovers floating above the real world.
In Mr. Halvorson's Gianni Schicchi we loved the details of a wealthy Florentine home, details which cannot be taken in all at once in house. The expressions of the greedy family members were priceless, especially those of Stephanie Blythe.
Costume details are thrown into focus as well, as in Mr. Halvorson's loving attention to Michael Yeargan's period-accurate and lavish costumes for Cosi fan tutte. We even got to understand and apppreciate the women's undergarments.
HD Director Barbara Willis Sweete focused on the obscurely lit compartments of Christopher Oram's depressing Joseph Cornell box-like set for Don Giovanni--images that could not be made out in-house. In her direction of Les Contes d'Hoffman, Michael Yeargan's overly busy set design could be best appreciated in various focused close-ups.
Not every opera benefitted from close-ups. As beautiful as Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna looked in R&J, that's how unappealing Mr. Alagna, Olga Borodina and Liudmyla Monastyrska looked in the closing night Aida. Perhaps it was just the make-up but it detracted rather than added to the performance. Alexei Ratmansky's choreography looked downright silly.
In La Traviata, the visuals were even more striking. But if you objected to Willy Decker's cold modern production (as I do), it appeared even colder on HD. In Act II it seemed as if the Prince of Chintz had upholstered not only the furniture but also Ms. Dessay and Mr. Polenzani. It was the first time we did not break into tears at the end.
Adrian Noble's production of Macbeth also failed to lend itself to this art form. Watching Ms. Netrebko rolling around on the floor of a cold Scottish castle made us feel terribly uncomfortable; the modern dress robbed the story of its power and watching a bunch of mid- 20th c. housewives as witches seemed particularly offensive. And closeups of children vomiting were egregiously unnecessary.
To summarize, HD emphasizes visuals over auditory input. If this emphasis sheds light on the story or adds to the emotional impact, then HD has done a good job. If it shows us the adorable Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard as two stylish sisters, it has added to our appreciation. If the singers happen to be physically attractive so much the better. If the sets and costumes are detailed and authentic, it enhances our involvement.
But if the singers can't act, or don't look the part they are playing, or if the sets are barren and post-moodern, we would prefer not to see them.
Obviously, recorded sound can never give you the auditory thrill of hearing an opera live. That is the price one pays for all the afore-mentioned benefits.
We will close with a formula that works for us. First, see the HD to learn if you like the opera and the production and to relate to the story. Then listen to a good recording to learn the music. Finally, go see the production live and lose yourself in the music, hearing it as it can only sound in the opera house. Then you will have a complete experience.
© meche kroop
Friday, September 11, 2015
Friday, September 4, 2015
|Brian Zeger and Paul Appleby|
|Brian Zeger and Jamie Barton|
|Brian Zeger and Christine Goerke|
What do these three artists have in common beside being Richard Tucker Award winners?
What sets them apart from the huge pool of excellent singers we have heard?
It would seem to be a combination of audience rapport and a deep understanding of the text. Singing is communication from the heart. If the singer understands on an emotional level what he/she is singing about and can get you to feel it too, you experience a connection that goes way beyond listening, way beyond hearing. The feeling borders on mystical.
Dramatic soprano Ms. Goerke, mezzo-soprano Ms. Barton, and tenor Mr. Appleby have all that and more. The technique of producing the sound totally disappears and one loses oneself in the song. The listener becomes one with the singer. That's a rare gift.
Thanks to WQXR and their Greene Space we got to hear all three artists and to learn a bit about them as William Berger conducted interviews. All three have exceptional personalities and were willing to share about themselves with candor.
Mr. Appleby's "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubern schön" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, was given a most winning performance. "Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden" from Schumann's Liederkreis is a real heartbreaker in strophic form and Mr. Appleby completely captured the shades of regret in each verse. The joy of William Bolcom's "New York City Lights" was equally captured.
It was during the interview that we learned about the contributions made to Mr. Appleby's love of language by his university studies as an English major. His love of poetry and the words it comprises is unmistakably evident.
Ms. Barton, known as The Down Home Diva, hails from Georgia and has deep feelings for music with a Southern slant. Her bubbly personality would be enough to win us over but when she opens her mouth to sing, great depth colors everything. She generously spoke of her nurturing at the hands of the Tucker Foundation and from Marilyn Horne.
A pair of songs by Jean Sibelius--"Var det en dröm" and "Svarta rosor"-- were given a passionate performance in Swedish. Equally fine was an aria from Ponchielli's La Gioconda--"Stella del Marinar". Everything Ms. Barton sings is golden. In the interview she told of how she loves to try new things. What a future this young woman has!
Ms. Goerke is another fascinating artist and related how her lyric soprano changed rather early to a different fach and now she is singing Wagner and Strauss. She sang Strauss' "Cäcelie" and proved her point. But it was her performance of the Immolation Scene from Wagner's Götterdämmerung that totally blew us away.
At first, we thought she was channeling our favorite Brünnhilde, Hildegard Behrens, but we soon realized she brought her own essence to the part. It was noteworthy (no pun intended) and memorable.
Her performance of this scene was greatly assisted by Brian Zeger who was the collaborative pianist for all three singers. In the Wagner his pianistic skills were so finely honed that we could see the flames dancing.
We have been home for hours but we think the walls of the Greene Space must still be vibrating!
(c) meche kroop