Friday, March 15, 2019

Juditha Triumphans

Conductor: Andrea Marcon
Orchestra: La Cetra Barockorchester Basel 
Director: Floris Visser

Juditha, contralto, a Bethulian widow: Gaëlle Arquez
Holofernes, contralto, Assyrian general: Teresa Iervolino
Vagaus, soprano, eunuch, Holofernes's squire: Vasilisa Berzhanskaya
Ozias, contralto, high priest of Bethulia: Francesca Ascioti
Abra, soprano, Juditha's handmaid: Polly Leech
Jewish virgin: Gloria Giurgola

Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans (Judith Triumphs) was streamed from the Dutch National Opera on Operavision.  My usual source book says this was an oratorio in Latin, here performed in Italian and staged as an opera.  Interesting.  The story is from the book of Judith from the apocrypha, as it is called by protestants.  All of the singers are female, including the chorus, because Vivaldi taught at a girls' school.  There do seem to be quite a few male supers, many in NAZI uniforms, and occasionally they sing with the chorus of soldiers.  Holofernes and his troops are Assyrian while the people in mufti are Jews from Bethulia.  The timing of the original performance in Venice suggests that it is translated into an oratorio about the Turks invading Corfu in 1716.  So 3 time periods.
  • Book of Judith old testament era
  • Oratorio by Vivaldi 1716 not staged.
  • WWII Nazis 1940s for the staging.
The orchestration is astounding.  The same reference says: "The string orchestra is augmented by timpani, 2 trumpets, mandolino, 4 theorbos, 5 lyra viols (viols), 1 viola d'amore, 2 recorders, 2 chalumeaux (soprano) [ancestor of the clarinet], 2 oboes, organ."   I am hearing harpsichord.  Impressive.  It sounds much thicker than your average Baroque Italian orchestra.  In general Baroque scores don't show full orchestration, but to know more about these things, I would have to consult a Vivaldi specialist.

To begin we have the famous painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes (oops.  spoiler alert) by Caravaggio c. 1598.  People are shot.  Judith tries to persuade Holofernes that his power would be enhanced by clemency.

Structurally this is a Neapolitan opera with one florid da capo aria after another.  Maybe an opera would have more recitative.  The Assyrians are a bit creepy.  At about 1:40 the above painting is unveiled.  They are Nazis, so perhaps they are looting it.  This gives her the idea?  Yes.  She chops off his head.  At the end we are transported back to Venice, Judith regrets her deed and tears up the Caravaggio painting.

Musically this is a triumph.  The sounds are varied and fascinating.  We are hearing the real thing.  Vivaldi vocal music is seriously neglected by everyone except Cecilia Bartoli.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens

Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens came to visit at Mondavi to perform arias, spirituals, pop songs and whatever else they wanted.  They brought Myra Huang to accompany them on the piano.  She skillfully navigated the range of musical styles on this concert.  The whole concert was performed with the lid all the way up which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.

The program was divided into two parts:  the operatic repertoire they are famous for and spirituals, pop songs, and gospel songs.  We'll begin with the classical.  The house lights remained up for this part.

Larry and Eric are at opposite ends of the male operatic voices.  Eric is a bass-baritone while Larry soars high above almost everyone in the coloratura tenor category.  Eric does Wagner and Gershwin while Larry does Mozart, Rossini and Donizetti.  There isn't a lot of overlap in their repertoire.

To represent his usual stuff Larry brought us:
  • Il mio tesoro from Mozart's Don Giovanni
  • Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti's Elixir of love
  • Ah mes amis from Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment
This pretty much covers it.  The Donizetti arias are the main ones that receive encores these days, and he gave encore worthy performances.

"Una furtiva lagrima" came after they sang a duet from the same opera where the baritone conman sells the tenor a bottle of wine as a supposed love potion, "Voglio dire."  This is more fun when it's acted.

Eric sang
  • Se vuol ballare from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro
  • Infelice! E tuo crevedi from Verdi's Ernani
  • Le veau d'or from Gounod's Faust
They finished with "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Pearl Fishers, one of the greatest male duets in the repertoire.  I enjoyed all of this, but Larry in his high tessitura more successfully soared over the piano.

The lights went down for part 2.  The rest of the program started with spirituals such as Marian Anderson used to sing.  I thought of her when they performed a duet of "He's got the whole world in his hands."  This was her trademark song.  Eric excelled in "Deep River."

I didn't know all of the pop songs, but Eric Owens singing "Some enchanted evening" was wonderful.  The selection was puzzling.

They finished with two gospel songs.
  • I don't feel no ways tired
  • Every time I feel the spirit
It seemed like a concert as co-biography.  There was an encore but my memory has failed me.

It was a pleasure.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Monday, March 04, 2019

Joyce on

This is sort of bizarre.  Who would think of such a thing?  We all started out with a small blue book called Classic Italian Songs.  It came in different keys.  I got my first copy in a high school voice class where we sang, yes, "Caro mio ben."  I very quickly graduated to choir.

I haven't wandered too far off the subject.  Joyce DiDonato is singing them with a jazz ensemble backup.  They are originally scored for figured bass.  You knew that.  So why can't a jazz ensemble realize a figured bass as well as the next person?  This is in New York.

Now she's added one of those tango accordions to her ensemble.  She wanders off to other songs after a while.  It's fun.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

La Fille du Regiment

Conductor..................Enrique Mazzola
Production.................Laurent Pelly

Marie......................Pretty Yende
Tonio......................Javier Camarena
Marquise of Berkenfield....Stephanie Blythe
Sergeant Sulpice...........Maurizio Muraro
Hortentius.................Paul Corona
Duchesse of Krakentorp.....Kathleen Turner

Today's HD from the Met is La Fille du Regiment, a revival of the Laurent Pelly production.  I didn't think this was possible, but it was even more fun than with Natalie Dessay.

Tonio is a Tyrolean, and Marie is a found child raised by a regiment of the French army invading Tyrol.  Marie does laundry and peels potatoes.  She also wanders off into a neighboring village where she meets Tonio.  Pretty Yende does the best job ever of seeming to be a young woman raised by a troop of soldiers.  She swears, though I noticed they didn't translate this.

This was also an historic occasion:  we had the first bis (encore) in any HD performance.   Of course this was for Javier Camarena's performance of "Ah mes amis" with the famous 9 high Cs.  So with a bis that makes 18 high Cs.  Dare we say it?  He is the new king of the high Cs.

This is such a marvelous cast with gorgeous singing and lively acting that swept us along.  We laughed and cried and rejoiced when aunt/mother allows Marie and Tonio to wed.  Wonderful.

I missed the sprouted potato found with Marie's souvenirs in previous performances.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Telegraph Quartet

Jeremiah Shaw, cello, Joseph Maile, violin, Eric Chin, violin, Pei-Ling Lin, viola.  

The Telegraph Quartet came once again to play at my alma mater as part of the New Millennium Concert Series. 

They have delved deeper than Schubert and Mozart this time.  The three pieces below are all by Czech composers.

String Quartet No. 10, Opus 51 by Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904).  This is the most conservative of these three selections.
  • Allegro ma non troppo
  • Dumka:  Andante con moto - Vivace
  • Romanza:  Andante con moto
  • Finali:  Allegro Assai

Five Pieces for String Quarter by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942).  He was a German jew born in Czechoslovakia and died in the holocaust.  I enjoyed this very much.  It might possibly be called a suite, though certainly not in the classical form.
  • I. Alla valse Viennese (Allegro)
  • II. Alla serenata (Allegretto con moto)
  • III. Alla Czeca (Molto allegro)
  • IV. Alla tango milonga (Andante)
  • V. Alla tarantella (Prestissimo con fuoco)
String Quartet No. 6, Op.35 by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996)  I guess this guy is Polish and was born in Warsaw to a musical family.  When the war broke out, he fled to Minsk in the USSR.  Shostakovitch encouraged him to move to Moscow.
  • Allegro semplice
  • Presto aggitato
  • Allegro con fuoco
  • Adagio
  • Moderato comodo
  • Andante maestoso
The Telegraph Quartet is moving toward twentieth and twenty-first century works.  If they can bring us great style as we heard today, I encourage this.  After all, I'm a long time Kronos Quartet fan.

Les Troyens from the Paris Opera

I am viewing a film of Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Paris opera.

Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Production: Dmitri Tcherniakov

The Trojans at Troy

Aeneas: Brandon Jovanovich
Cassandra: Stéphanie d'Oustrac
Coroebus, Cassandra's fiance: Stéphane Degout, bass

Something like a movie marquee announces in French and English that the Greeks have abandoned their positions around Troy, and the war is over.  The streets fill with celebrators.  This is a regie production of Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Paris opera.  The characters are introduced with text at the top of the screen.  Priam looks a lot like Generalissimo Franco.  The billboard clarifies the action as perhaps never before.

I found Act I very coherent.  We don't see a horse, but the death of Laocoon is vividly described.  Cassandra warns and laments, but no one listens.

Where Act II should begin, we see soldiers with automatic rifles enter and shake hands with Aeneas.  Hmm.  So are we to believe he is a traitor?  His wife is dead and sends him a note explaining she is ashamed by his betrayal.  This is unclear.  Perhaps I have completely misunderstood.  His own people still seem to honor him.

Priam and his wife are shown dead.  Stéphanie d'Oustrac is wonderfully intense.  The men all head off and leave the women to die or be taken into slavery.  They choose death, and Cassandra goes up in flames.  I seem to remember a play by Euripides called The Trojan Women which describes a somewhat different fate for them.

This part of the opera is well presented.

The Trojans at Carthage

Dido: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Aeneas: Brandon Jovanovich
Anna: Aude Extremo
Narbal: Christian Van Horn

A title announces that we are in a Psychological Center for Victims of the War.  The set looks a bit like a hotel lobby.  This is my third insane asylum opera after Carmen (also Tcherniakov) and Oberon.  This part of the staging has nothing to do with either Berlioz's opera or the staging of the first half.  Yes, people in war are often in need of psychiatric care, but the opera is about the triumph of Rome, not mental illness.  Perhaps it is better to just listen.  The audio is gorgeous.  This staging is definitely boo worthy.

I may never have realized before what a great opera for chorus this is.  Dido enters and the chorus holds up a homemade sign saying "Tu es notre Reine." [You are our queen.]  Aeneas's son holds up his cell phone to show pictures of Troy to Dido.  Ach!  One is interested in the translation because nothing in the visuals is giving you a clue.  I missed before that these people of Carthage are from the eastern Mediterranean, just like the Trojans.  That explains a lot.

A black guy comes in and Aeneas tries to beat him up.  Weird.  The essential feature of an insane asylum is the keepers who now enter in red vests and lead everyone out.  It is hard to imagine any other tenor besides Jovanovich playing this scene.  I'm determined to watch it to the end, but it gets goofier and goofier.

In Act IV the patients are in a circle, and enact a story.  They hold up signs to indicate where they are and what is going on.  The title of the story is "La Chasse Royale."  Perhaps you will recall that Dido and Aeneas go out into the country on a hunt.  "The forest" is next.  The audience for these signs appears to be Dido alone.  We have nymphs and naiads and satyrs.  When the sign says "The marriage of Dido" [you're not required to trust my translations], Aeneas is handed a bow and arrow which he waves around.  He shoots Dido's companion and Dido faints.  The arrow is theater, and the companion is fine.  We were wondering why they would give a mental patient a weapon.

Dido goes back to her room, and a ping pong table appears.  Two keepers in red vests then proceed to play ping pong and sing about triumphing over the Africans. These are Dido's advisers?  Oy.  They plot the marriage of Dido to Aeneas.  There has been nothing that even remotely resembles ballet.

This director seems to be under the impression that psychiatric treatment consists of arranging fantasy scenarios for the patients.  Problems arise because the patients react as though they were real.  This doesn't correspond to any therapeutic method I have heard of.  In a nuthouse apparently anything can happen.

When everyone else has left the stage, Dido and Aeneas sing a very gorgeous version of "Nuit d'ivresse," one of the most beautiful duets in all of opera.  The ending is kind of cool.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Rhapsody in Blue at the Sacramento Philharmonic

Saturday's concert from the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera was made up entirely of American music.  We even had a living composer, Loren Loiacono, who said a few words about her piece.  Our guest conductor was David Alan Miller who conducted Beethoven's 9th here in 2016.
  • Sleep Furiously  . . . Loren Loiacono.  The idea comes from a sentence by Noam Chomsky, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."  This featured some lovely playing from the cello section interspersed with a lot of percussive chords.   Loiacono was a student of Stephen Stucky.
  • An American in Paris . . George Gershwin.  You will remember this piece from the Gene Kelly movie.  Gershwin is fun.
  • Concerto for Orchestra No.2  . .  Stephen Stucky.  He was composer in residence at the LA Philharmonic for many years, and it was there he composed this piece for them.  There  are codes in the first movement made up of people's names, but there is nothing about them that would let you know which notes they are.  He is most interested in the orchestration.
  • Rhapsody in Blue  .  .  George Gershwin with pianist Kevin Cole.  This piece is like a one movement piano concerto which in this instance was played as fast as possible.  Too fast.
Our pianist played a couple of piano arrangements of Gershwin songs:  "Fascinatin Rhythm" and "I got rhythm."  He showed the appropriate jazz style but seemed to think we would be most impressed with his speed.  When I hear that someone is playing a song, I like to imagine someone is singing it. 

I apologize for complaining.  It was a fun concert, if somewhat loud.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Metropolitan Opera in HD for 2019-2020

Turandot by Puccini (October 12),  We open our season with Christine Goerke.  This should be fantastic.
  • Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Production Franco Zeffirelli
  • Turandot Christine Goerke
  • Liù Eleonora Buratto
  • Calàf Roberto Aronica
  • Timur James Morris