Sunday, August 31, 2014

Church of Chatter

They called it the Church of Beethoven because every Sunday morning they have a concert at The Kosmos at 1715 5th street.    The space doesn't really look like a church.  There was a coffee shop on one side.

I went for the program.

"At the River" (1916) by Charles Ives, an arrangement for violin and piano of one of Ives' songs.  (I sang this in college.)  It's one of those pieces where Ives changes a hymn into something unexpected.

Chaconne (1998) from The Red Violin by John Corigliano.  This was a very enjoyable selection in neo-romantic style from the sound track of the movie.  I have no idea if it followed the Baroque form for chaconne.  I wasn't paying enough attention.

Poet Bill Nevins, who teaches at UNM, read selections from his recently published book Heartbreak Ridge.

Two minutes of silence.

Sonata No 2 for Violin and Piano (1919) by Charles Ives.
I    Autumn:  Adagio maestoso - Allegro moderato
II   In the Barn:  Presto - Allegro moderato
III  The Revival:  Largo - Allegretto

The artists were David Felberg, violin, and Pamela Viktoria Pyle, piano.  They were both enthusiastic players of this excellent exciting music.  I have loved the work of Charles Ives for many years, and found the intensity of their playing transformative.  It should never be less than this.  David managed to break a few bow strings even.

Coffee, poetry, music, silence.  And no chatter during the playing.  As I always do, I tried to start up a conversation, but it didn't work this time.  Try this if you are ever in Albuquerque.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Chatter is an odd name for a chamber orchestra, but there you are.  Perhaps in Albuquerque this is not odd.  They used to be called the Church of Beethoven, but did not wish to be called "The ensemble that used to be called the Church of Beethoven" when they lost rights to the name.

Chatter gave a concert in the Albuquerque Art Museum last night in the same space as a Christo exhibit.  When I was in New York for The Gates, I loved it, but Christo as just photographs and drawings is less than spectacular.  Maybe it's for nostalgia.  It turned out to be an excellent performance space:  no echo, easy to hear, not too loud.  Even the synthesizer wasn't too loud.

A synthesizer in Mahler 4?  We heard it in an arrangement for chamber ensemble done in 2007 by Klaus Simon.  This was in turn based on a similar arrangement by Arnold Schoenberg which undoubtedly did not include synthesizer.   This arrangement seriously reduces the strings and winds to one player per section.  I sat behind the piano and synthesizer.

It was lovely but different.  Mahler loves to make interesting sounds with combinations of winds and percussion.  The interesting sounds were still there, but the much smaller string section moved the sound ideal from late Romantic closer to the sound ideal of Schoenberg.  Transparency of texture is a feature of this style.  Synthesizer fills in some of the thinning of texture when it becomes excessive but the wind players predominate.

The soprano was Hannah Stephens.  I enjoyed the whole performance.

The program notes seemed to be taken as is from Wikipedia, except when they were explaining that Mahler was forbidden by the Nazis, they left out that this was because Mahler was jewish.  It can't have been for anything about the music.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier usually looks like this:

This is the time of Mozart who as a child played for the Empress Maria Theresa.  Or perhaps we should say it used to look like this.

Now in the Strauss year this year in Malmö, Sweden, it looks like this:

With vivid colors that suggest but do not evoke a period. Nothing really looks like this. 

At Glyndebourne it looks like this:

Instead of Faninal's home we are at his factory, it seems.

And finally at Salzburg we have this:

The Feldmarschallin:  Krassimira Stoyanova
Octavian:  Sophie Koch
Sophie:  Mojca Erdmann
Marianne Leitmetzerin:  Silvana Dussmann
Annina:  Wiebke Lehmkuhl
Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau:  Günther Groissböck
Herr von Faninal:  Adrian Eröd
Valzacchi:  Kresimir Spicer
A Singer:  Stefan Pop

Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst

There are three scenes in RK.  Let's begin with the bedroom scene.  Traditionally there is one large room where servants and people desiring favors of the Marschallin enter freely.  The implication is that the Marschallin completely trusts her servants to protect her unconventional life from her husband whom she is afraid of.  There are tables and chairs for people to sit.

In Malmö the cart and the bed are the only furniture, and everyone makes himself at home by sitting on the bed as though it were a giant brothel.

In Glyndebourne there is no bed, but there are a long white sofa and a bathroom.

And in Salzburg they have gone for monumental.  The Marschallin lives in a suite.  There is a room with a bed and a view of monumental buildings against the back wall.  A door separates the bedroom from the reception room where the guests enter to make their requests.  Very civilized.  Mohammet leaves the breakfast outside the door.  The other servants also enter only the reception room.  Only Ochs actually enters the bedroom and acts like he lives there, which works well with the dialog.  If we are to believe in a relatively modern setting, we must see relatively modern behavior. 

Is the Austrian Empress gone forever?  Royalty in the German speaking countries ended after the first world war, so perhaps that defines the end of possibilities.  Or perhaps we may count capitalists as royalty.  The long tradition of beginning with the two lovers in bed together also seems to be fading.

Salzburg is the first time--I'm always looking for personal firsts--I have seen a Mariandel try to make the bed.  Octavian spends the entire scene moving pillows from place, sliding the blanket around and still doesn't manage to make the bed look made.

This is the most presentable Ochs I've seen.  He does the country accent well.

I wish I thought anything mattered but the singing and the acting.   Franz Welser-Möst also conducted the DVD of Rosenkavalier I reviewed here.  I complained about him in Arabella, but I have been liking him more lately.  For singing this isn't my favorite, but when you were raised on Schwarzkopf, no one is.

I would like to see Harteros sing the Marschallin with a completely German cast.  Information from Wikipedia about the accents and dialects in Rosenkavalier:


Hofmannsthal's libretto is a combination of different forms of the German language. Members of the nobility speak in very refined language, often archaic (set to the time of the opera) and very courteous. In more intimate circles they use a more familiar style of speech (du). For instance, the conversations between Octavian and the Marschallin in the first act use the familiar "you" but switch back and forth between more formal speech (Sie) and the familiar du, as well as the intermediate (and now obsolete) Er.
The language used by Baron Ochs is flamboyant at best and, although refined, makes use of non-German words such as his expression corpo di Bacco! (meaning "by Bacchus' body!" in Italian). Some programmes even have a glossary section. The language used by Octavian when impersonating Mariandel, and by other non-noble characters, is basically Austrian dialect, impossible to understand by a non-German speaker. The German used by the Italians, Valzacchi and Annina, is also very broken and mixed with an Italian accent, something planned by the authors for these characters.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What a Day!

This picture of Jonas Kaufmann and Cecilia Bartoli in a bikini singing under water all in one day.  My cup runneth over.   I think this picture has something to do with Andrea Chenier.  Opera is just too much fun.

Anna Netrebko had her engagement party last night in Salzburg.  And please notice this picture from the party.  Isn't this a completely different ring she's showing off?  May I please scoop Lebrecht?


Monday, August 18, 2014


Congrats @HeldenMomm! #HELPMANNS Best Female Performer (#Opera) winner for her role in #Elektra.  This tweet means that Christine Goerke won Best Female Performer in an Opera in the Helpmann Awards (Australian) for singing Elektra.

netrebko ring

If you don't read Lebrecht, here is a photo of Anna Netrebko's engagement ring.  It's a ruby surrounded by diamonds.  I'm not exactly sure if this is true or not.  It could be a prop ring from Manon.

As of today, all but one of the main unions has reached a tentative agreement at the Metropolitan.  I'm glad Mr. Gelb has decided to follow my suggestions.

Stoyanova has withdrawn from Ballo at the San Francisco Opera because of recent surgery.   She is replaced by Julianna Di Giacomo.  She starts in 4:30.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

St. Petersberg

The cover from Cecilia's new album.  She sounds fabulous and looks about 23.

FYI:  "Dear all, the beautiful cover photo of Cecilia Bartoli was taken by Uli Weber and the costumes were designed by Agostino Cavalca. Please know that no real fur was used in the production of 'St Petersburg'."

sexy picture

We are always on the lookout for sexy pictures and offer this one of Dmitri Hvorostovsky on vacation.  I just read that Russians don't like tattoos. Hmmm.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Il Trovatore from Salzburg

Conductor:  Daniele Gatti

Leonora:  Anna Netrebko
Azucena:  Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Manrico:  Francesco Meli
Count di Luna:  Plácido Domingo

Il Trovatore from Salzburg started earlier in the morning than I expected, and I missed the first half.  I'll have to pay more attention in the future.  I listened to the audio of the first half.

I think the way this looks is amazing, but it does not meet my requirement that the staging should explain the plot.  This staging explains nothing and is maybe as senseless as the Bayerische Staatsoper version here.  The stream also had no subtitles.  So memory has to do all the explaining.

We're in a museum with spectacular European art works, and the characters are people who work for the museum.  They switch into and back out of period costumes.  Perhaps the staging explains that Leonora and her adventures exist only in the mind of A. Netrebko (someone pointed out that the name tag on her blue suit says "A. Netrebko.")   I found it mildly amusing that while the tragedy is playing out, there might be art lovers sitting on the benches.

Netrebko and Domingo both premiered in these roles in Berlin last season.  They are both stage creatures who bring a lot of theatrical energy to their roles.  I love Anna and find that she almost achieves the greatness here that she desires and will do so in the future.  She occasionally diminuendos unnecessarily and loses a bit of control.  Her trill has very much improved.  Her voice, which is spectacular in this repertoire, is more beautiful than Callas, Radvanovsky or even Harteros, but she does not quite conquer it physically.  

Placido.  Well, he's my age and I am generally astounded that he sounds as good as he does.  He is doing a better job of sounding like a baritone these days.  He was supposed to be old in Nabucco, but di Luna is supposed to be an age similar to Manrico.  It doesn't work.  He uses his voice to great theatrical effect, but the sound is that of an old man.

In the bows Gatti was vigorously shaking the hand of Francesco Meli, a real, honest to god Italian tenor.  Others have said he was blah, but I'm not sure he doesn't just seem so in comparison to Netrebko and Domingo, basically the definition of not blah.  He's young.  I found him promising.
I missed the best parts of Marie-Nicole Lemieux.

I must mention that brightly colored nail polish was part of the costuming.  I'm happy to see Netrebko is still climbing on the furniture.

Post Script.  I'm incredibly picky here.  This is actually amazing.  Watch it on now. Here is the best bit.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From the Bastille Day Concert

I love to watch people rehearsing. For me this is better than the concert.  FYI: the picture on the back of her jacket is of herself as #74 in the top 99 from Ask Men.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

West Edge Summer Festival

Hydrogen Jukebox  

The Cast

Soprano 1:  Sara Duchovnay
Soprano 2:  Molly Mahoney
Mezzo:  Nicole Takesono
Tenor:  Jonathan Blalock
Baritone:  Efrain Solis
Bass:  Kenneth Kellogg
Narrator:  Howard Swain

Conductor:  David Möschler

Where to begin?  This "opera," Hydrogen Jukebox, by Philip Glass on words by Allen Ginsberg was presented by West Edge Opera at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.  When I used to visit this part of Berkeley, this was a BART parking lot.  They have replaced about half of it with this building, a center for people with disabilities.  They can go directly from the Ashby BART station into the basement of the building. 

The picture above shows the entire cast.  The Narrator, an actor who does not sing, is the guy in the center.  The stage for this production was on the south end of the large space and was quite tiny, with ladders going to the next floor.  At one point the invisible conductor climbed down one of these ladders and played the piano.

I was interested in these words by Glass:

"For me there are two considerations in setting text to music. There are the words themselves, which need to be set in the most natural way. With Allen's poetry I was most intent on respecting the music that was already in the words. Then there is the musical environment into which the words are set. In the poem Aunt Rose, for example, I used a 5/8 rhythm — a kind of lopsided rhythm — 1-2, 1-2-3. I heard the rhythm from the description of her toot: it's a picture of someone who walks with a limp. That's the only specific relation of the music to the words."

The result of this approach for my ears was a piece where the words dominated the music.  It also made for a very repetitive rhythmic feeling because Ginsberg's poetry tends to use a stagnant rhythmic pattern.  (Ok.  Pile on.)  I know.  Glass is always repetitive--he calls it "repetitive structures"--, but this is the only time it has actually seemed monotonous to me.  Maybe he's simply too respectful of the honored poet.

The opera uses 20 poems or fragments of poems on virtually any subject.  In one Jaweh and Allah are warring, a concept I loved.  Another deals with Aunt Rose.  Another is about smoking grass--very timely, don't you think?  There were homosexual and heterosexual couples.  Uncle Sam makes an appearance.  A flag is held up but carefully refolded and placed in a box.  It reminds you that there were once liberals in America.  I was astounded by how timely it all was even though the opera was from 1990 and many of the poems from much earlier.  I expected to be more shocked by this.  The world has changed a lot.

There was no real plot or characters.  The words were so dense and complicated that ones eyes were preoccupied with reading them with little time left for watching the action.

It's wonderful how Glass will make an opera out of anything.  Appomattox is still the most boring.

The End of the Affair 

The Cast

Sarah Miles:  Carrie Hennessey
Maurice Bendrix, her boyfriend:  Keith Phares
Henry Miles, her husband:  Philip Skinner
Mrs. Bertram, her mother:  Donna Olson
Mr. Parkis, detective:  Mark Hernandez
Lance, his son:  Ben Miller
Richard Smythe:  Michael Jankosky

Conductor:  Jonathan Khuner

The End of the Affair by Jake Heggie (2007 version) was staged at the north end of the large space.  This work is far more of a conventional opera with characters and a story, and takes place near the end of WWII in London.  It is based on a story by Graham Greene.

The plot is about an event and how it affects everyone involved.  Maurice and Sarah are in bed making love when a bomb strikes.  Maurice gets up to warn people about the bomb when another bomb causes a building to fall on him.   It's a bit like the movie Little Dorrit where the same story is told from two different perspectives.

At the beginning we see the story from Maurice's perspective.  The bomb strikes, he gets up, and Sarah leaves him with no explanation.  He spends the next 18 months trying to understand this, and ultimately hires a detective.  At the end of act 1 we see the incident portrayed from Maurice's point of view, and we fade to black.

The detective has stolen Sarah's diary, and Maurice reads the story from Sarah's side for the first time.  The building falls, Sarah sees Maurice and assumes he is dead.  She prays, "God, I will give him up if you will only let him live."  To her he is dead and then comes back to life.  She has summoned and received a miracle.  How can she not do what she has promised?

There is very much of a Catholic overlay to this story.  Mother makes a point of telling us that she had Sarah baptized Catholic when she was 2.  In the Catholic world miracles continue on to today.  God has chosen to bless Sarah with a miracle, and then when she dies others are also blessed.  Lance is cured of his disease, and Smythe loses his birth mark.  Parts of this sound pretty dubious to me from a religious perspective, but Pope Paul VI approved, so who am I to complain?

West Edge successfully invoked the mysterious mysticism of the plot.  Scenes of WWII bombed London are projected on the back.  Throughout the first act Sarah appears as a sexual fantasy object whom Maurice meets when he is thinking of her.  Her mysterious, haunting presence permeates every scene even when she has no lines.  She walks like a benign ghost over the stage.  For me the staging was marvelously effective.

Sarah gives herself to God.

All of the singing and acting was marvelous, especially Carrie Hennessey, Keith Phares, Philip Skinner, and Donna Olson.

Well done.  The music is 21st century romanticism.

I apologize for not making it to La Boheme.