Sunday, July 15, 2012


I blog about music because it helps me to structure my thoughts.  The purpose is to deepen my own understanding -- thus the occasional educational tone.  The pupil is myself.

My brain is busy mixing The Maestro Myth and the streamed Giulio Cesare from Salzburg.  Is it the maestro who makes the music?  Or is it something closer to Leontyne Price's advice to sing for yourself?  Are we better off with a monolithic, imposed egocentric interpretation by one person, or is something more individually personal better?  The true expression comes from the heart, but whose heart?

I want to do a musical review of Giulio Cesare based on the stream.

This was my third experience of Cecilia Bartoli's Cleopatra -- first a staged version at the Zurich Opera with Marc Minkowski conducting and La Scintilla playing, then a concert version in Paris with William Christie conducting, and this staged third version from Salzburg with Giovanni Antonini and his orchestra Il Giardino Armonico.  It is interesting to explore the subtle differences.

All three were long versions with little or no cuts.  Minkowski and Christie seemed to try to compensate for this by rushing through everything.

The performance in Zurich was odd.  Minkowski is a dynamic but idiosyncratic conductor who brought out some odd features, like performing most of the repeats sotto voce.  La Scintilla was out of tune and not in good form.  They made the mistake of putting a horn player on the stage where he proceeded to bloop every third note.  I suspect these problems have prevented this performance from being released on DVD.  Cecilia was very physically dynamic and intense throughout.  There are some poor quality recordings of bits of this on YouTube, and I notice mainly the quick tempos.

In Paris I was handicapped by sitting behind the performers.  A concert performance can be nice, but you only get the full effect of an opera when it's staged.  There was a kind of sameness to the different numbers.  This is the most common thing that happens in a performance and is probably the strongest indication that the maestro is present.  What is wished for is complete individuality.  Is this too hard to understand?

Of live performances I have seen, this opera remains my personal favorite for Cecilia Bartoli.  It would have been very hard for me to miss the Salzburg performance.  Thanks to the modern device of live streaming, I had a front row seat.

We may carp over the staging of this opera, especially the raunchy bits, but musically it was an absolute triumph.  Somewhere in an interview Cecilia said that all the participants were on the same page musically--not a direct quote.  I can't remember the precise words.  It was that rarest of musical events--the true ensemble performance.

My personal favorite is Cecilia's performance of "Tutto puo donna," a beautiful woman can accomplish anything.  She, of course, is the living embodiment of these words.  Her style of delivering this aria is her own unique creation.  Let's face it, anything she sings is her own unique creation.  This above all else is what makes her her.  Her voice is at its most gorgeous now.

But that same kind of thoughtful personal expression was everywhere, whether nasty, tragic, sexy, triumphant, or frightened, each achieved a personal individuality from all the artists present that combined and blended into great beauty.  Perhaps the collective soul of music soars higher than the individual ego.

I always feel about Giovanni Antonini and his orchestra Il Giardino Armonico that they embody a similar kind of collective enthusiasm that spreads out to include everyone in sight.  Handel was never this wonderful.

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