Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tales of Hoffmann in HD


Olympia: Erin Morley (absolutely fabulous)
Antonia/Stella: Hibla Gerzmava
Giulietta: Christine Rice
Nicklausse: Kate Lindsey  (wonderful)
Hoffmann: Vittorio Grigolo  (best ever)
Four Villains: Thomas Hampson

Conductor: Yves Abel (excellent)
Production: Bartlett Sher

Today was the second simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann. Bartlett Sher told Debbie Voigt that the inspiration for his staging was Kafka.  I think in this version the production was somewhat darkened and toned down.  Nothing looked too shocking.  In another context the production was called surreal.  I think this is a correct use of the term.

I notice they have put the order of the scenes back to the traditional order:  Antonia before Giulietta.

Yves Abel from his official biography:   "A Franco-Canadian, he has a particular affinity with the French repertoire and has won significant critical acclaim for his achievements as founder and Music Director of L'Opéra Francais de New York, with whom he has regenerated rare French operas and also performed the world premiere of Dusapin’s To be Sung. Since 1994, the company has performed regularly to capacity audiences at the Lincoln Center."  This is included because I panned the conducting for Merry Widow.  He was great, but if he wants on my sexiest conductors list, he needs a better picture taken while conducting.  Just saying.

 

I wanted to see Grigolo in this role.  He was perfect beyond my imagining, wildly romantic, exactly what you want in a Hoffmann.

Huge complaint:  no separate bow for the ballet.  Boo.

This worked extremely well for me.  I hoped others liked it as much as I did.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Jessye



Gounod's "O Divine Redeemer."  We used to sing this in church once in a while, not really so much now.  You will never hear it more beautifully sung than this.

P.S.  It's a habit by now.  This hearing in church would have happened long, long ago.  It cannot be certain even that I heard it more than once.  I know that I remember only the chorus from "O divine redeemer", but I remember it exactly, along with all the words which were the same as these.  The minds of the young are remarkable.  Try to give them something important to remember.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Richard Tucker Gala 2014


This year the gala appeared on my local PBS station. Perhaps this was due to my complaining, perhaps not. I'm showing the program that was on tv. Maestro Emmanuel Villaume conducting.

GIUSEPPE VERDI, “Tutto parea sorridere…Sì! de’ Corsari il fulmine” from Il corsaro, MICHAEL FABIANO, Tenor.  Michael is the current Richard Tucker Prize holder.

VINCENZO BELLINI, “Qui la voce…Vien diletto” from I puritani, PRETTY YENDE, Soprano.

GIUSEPPE VERDI, “Infelice!..e tuo credevi” from Ernani, ILDAR ABDRAZAKOV, Bass, NEW YORK CHORAL SOCIETY men.

GIACOMO PUCCINI, “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca, JOSEPH CALLEJA, Tenor.  This piece is very short.

JULES MASSENET, “Esprits de l’air” from Esclarmonde, ANGELA MEADE, Soprano; JENNIFER JOHNSON CANO, Mezzo-soprano, chorus.  Angela is the only former prize holder to appear on the program.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART, “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, INGEBORG GILLEBO, Mezzo-soprano, ILDAR ABDRAZAKOV, Bass.

UMBERTO GIORDANO, “Nemico della patria” from Andrea Chénier, ŽELJKO LUČIĆ, Baritone.

JULES MASSENET, “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Werther, JOSEPH CALLEJA, Tenor.

JULES MASSENET, “Toi! Vous!…N’est-ce plus ma main” from Manon, JOYCE EL-KHOURY, Soprano, MICHAEL FABIANO, Tenor.

GIUSEPPE VERDI “Pace, pace” from La forza del destino ANGELA MEADE, Soprano.

PIETRO MASCAGNI, “Regina Coeli…Inneggiamo” from Cavalleria rusticana, ELENA BOCHEROVA, mezzo-soprano, NEW YORK CHORAL SOCIETY.  There needs to be some serious complaining on this item.  The large chorus covered the mezzo most of the time.  Normally the choir is offstage here, if I remember correctly, so you are going to have to tone them down.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN, “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story/ PRETTY YENDE, Soprano.  Pretty singing a song about being pretty.  Very cute.  The conductor burst in with what sounded like prompting toward the end.  What was that about?

GAETANO DONIZETTI, Finale of Act II from Lucia di Lammermoor, ANGELA MEADE, Soprano, JENNIFER JOHNSON CANO, Mezzo-soprano, MICHAEL FABIANO, Tenor, ANDREW STENSON, Tenor, NICHOLAS PALLESEN, Baritone, ILDAR ABDRAZAKOV, Bass, NEW YORK CHORAL SOCIETY

Michael Fabiano put on an excellent showing here.  He held his own against big stars of the opera world and exceeded most of them in the passion department.  Michael isn't one of those American opera singers who put all their energy into correct singing.  He gets down.  Bravo.  I expect to see a lot more of him.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Acis and Galatea

 Corey Jamason (seated), Kyle Stegall (our Acis) and Nola Richardson (our Galatea)

Conductor:  Jeffrey Thomas

Galatea:  Nola Richardson
Acis:  Kyle Stegall
Damon:  Zachary Wilder
Polyphemus:  Mischa Bouvier

Handel's Acis [ACE-iss] and Galatea was originally devised as a one-act masque which premiered in 1718 [some of these words borrowed from Wikipedia].  I decided to use the Wikipedia description of this work because it is a bit difficult to pin down.  It isn't an opera.  Why?  In that period opera was in Italian.  The text here is in English by John Gay before he became famous for The Beggars Opera.  It's completely outside of Handel's oratorio period.  So we're going with masque, a popular form during the life of Henry Purcell whose work this somewhat resembles.  There is Purcell-like text painting, for instance.  There is no dancing.  Never mind.

I went last night to hear the American Bach Soloists perform Handel's Acis and Galatea.  For me they are the best classical group that appears anywhere near Sacramento.

And what a wonderful piece.  Who knew Handel could compose such fun, frolicking music?  The finale of Act I says, "Happy we!  What joys we feel!  What charms we see!" and a celesta suddenly appears to accompany the chorus.  This number was encored at the end.  Have I ever seen an encore at an orchestral concert in America?  They do it all the time in Italy.

Even the monster Polyphemus who appears in Act II to produce the sad ending is strangely charming.  Mischa Bouvier is one of my special favorites.  Why don't we see him in more places?  He sings, "Die, presumptuous Acis, die!" in a rather adorably savage way.  No, I can't explain it.  It's a love triangle.  I'm not sure what the character Damon is for.  He's like the voice of your mother in your ear telling you not to do bad things.


As a kind of prelude, Bach's Brandenburg Concert 4 was performed, with solos by Elizabeth Blumenstock (above) on violin, and Judith Linsenberg and Debra Nagy on recorders.

Everything they do is fabulous.  And Mary Wilson received a mention in Opera News best of 2014 in Laudate Pueri Dominum with American Bach Soloists (ABS).

Three Mezzos


And they are Christa Ludwig, Joyce DiDonato and Susan Graham at the Opera News Awards 2014.  What a fabulous picture.

I imagine Joyce and Susan to be singing, "Reverenza!"

Monday, January 26, 2015

Streetcar


Conductor:   Ryan Murray
Production Design: Provided by New Orleans Opera Association

Blanche DuBois: Carrie Hennessey, soprano
Stanley Kowalski: Dan Kempson, baritone
Stella Kowalski: Kiera Duffy, soprano
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell: James Callon, tenor
Eunice Hubbel: Sharmay Musacchio, contralto
Steve Hubbel: Robert Norman, tenor

A Streetcar Named Desire by Andre Previn has to be the definitive barihunk opera.  The first thing Stanley does when he enters is take off his shirt.  He believes in being comfortable.  Dan Kempson is definitely gorgeous without his shirt.  He even shouts a mean "Steeellllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

Previn complained that the estate of Tennessee Williams would only allow an opera to be written on this play if the text of the play was followed exactly.  He wasn't allow to drop any text or change anything.  The pace of text as it flows through an opera is much slower than it would be in a play.  The resulting opera is a normal length for an opera, but lacks completely the types of extensions, repetitions and insertions that become the arias and interludes.  Wagner solved this problem by extending everything, but this resulted in operas that lasted 5 hours.  His reasons weren't legal--he just liked the sound of his own voice.

Seeing it again, I sympathize with Previn.  It could have been a great opera, but perhaps it isn't his fault that it isn't.  Perhaps Monteverdi could have written it.  Perhaps not.  After seeing Orfeo, one can't help wondering.  The result is a play that is only incidentally sung and requires acting on the level of the original play.  But, you see, in an opera it is the music that carries the emotions.

The deep south is really more like England than it is like the other parts of the United States, and it is this particular culture that is Williams' subject.  In the south the class divisions were almost as sharp as they were with the British.  The upper classes clung to their customs and traditions.  Blanche and Stella were raised in this atmosphere, taught to cling to their status as property owners in spite of all that changes around them.  The bemoaned loss of Belle Reve, the family mansion, is felt intensely by Blanche in a way that merely saying it cannot convey.

Maybe a British director used to Downton Abbey could manage it.  What we are seeing is class warfare, and the lower class wins.  I felt that to work properly Blanche must be seen to be trying to hold up the standards of the upper class even in her reduced circumstances.  Stella will have adapted to her life with the obviously lower class Stanley. 

There was one bit I especially liked.  When the two women are going out together, they bring along their white gloves.  Every woman had her white gloves.  Perhaps Stella wants to show Blanche that she has not forgotten everything.

I'm not sure I should keep trying with this opera.  The sets from New Orleans were very functional.  When they are supposed to be outside, the back of the stage is darkened.  I've seen this quite a lot lately.  The story flowed smoothly.  All of the singing was good.  I didn't like the costuming for Blanche.  The fancy clothes they pull out of her trunk would have been somewhat more suitable.  "Pretentious gentility," even shabby pretentious gentility is the desired effect.

It's nice to go to Modesto.  The Townsend Opera company recommends local restaurants and allows people to meet with the singers afterward in one of them.  I liked this idea.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

L'Orfeo



Conductor: Christopher Moulds
Orchestra: Early Opera Company
Production:   Michael Boyd and Tom Piper
New English Translation:   Don Paterson

Orfeo: Gyula Orendt
Euridice: Mary Bevan
Proserpina: Rachel Kelly
Charon: James Platt
Pluto:  Callum Thorpe
Messenger: Susan Bickley

Today I streamed part of a performance in London by the Early Opera Company of Montreverdi's Orfeo.  I want to sing or maybe even shout its praises.

It was translated into English, and the translation was beautiful and poetic.  Subtitles were provided which doesn't always happen with a live stream.  I saw this work previously at ENO and Glimmerglass, so I have probably never seen it in Italian.

I studied all about this.  These guys got together and "invented opera."  What they actually invented was recitative since all the other parts would have already existed.  There are videos of their operas, but they do not prepare you for this incredible work.  Monteverdi's later operas, Poppea and Il Ritorno, are composed for the new commercial theater in Venice and don't create the same effect at all.

It is like nothing else.  The other all recitative operas by Peri and Caccini are never performed, so it is impossible for the style to become trite.  The music shows no hints of the contrapuntal style of the late Renaissance, nor has it progressed to the later fascination with tonality of the Baroque.  It is simply expressive melody.  Monteverdi has simply grasped in his great musical genius the infinite possibilities of this new idea of recitative.  He knows that music is first of all for the soul.

The subject is music, fate, love and death--Orfeo and his Euridice the framework.  He brings us their passion as if it came directly from their hearts.

The music was especially well done and lost absolutely nothing from translation.  The staging was effective:  a bit dark for my computer screen but very theatrical and dramatically clear. The movement was somewhat extreme, but not confusing of the drama.  The singing was beautiful and the diction very fine.

On his arrival in hell Orfeo sings a long, for our ears very unusual aria filled with the ornaments of this long ago era, accompanied mostly by what seems to be his lyre but includes at least 2 theorbos.  Why should this strange music be so deeply moving?  The extreme beauty of this performance goes greatly to Gyula Orendt, an intense singer with a beautiful presence.

This version of the story seems to be missing the usual scene of Orfeo leading Euridice out of hell.  They meet and immediately start talking to each other.  The gods are angry and throw him out.

I recommend finding a place in you life to contain this unique opera.  Of my three Orfeos this is by far the best.

Here is a link.

Your Chance to Vote



With or without the beard?  These pictures are both supposed to come from Andrea Chénier, rehearsal and performance, performances at the Royal Opera.

Sort of a post script:



The only track on this recording I can say I truly love.  I can believe that Vienna was the greatest place on earth before the politicians ruined it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Merry Widow in HD


CONDUCTOR Sir Andrew Davis
PRODUCTION Susan Stroman

LIVE IN HD HOST Joyce DiDonato

BARON MIRKO ZETA Sir Thomas Allen (baritone)
VALENCIENNE Kelli O’Hara (soprano)
CAMILLE DE ROSILLON Alek Shrader (tenor)
NJEGUS Carson Elrod (spoken)
HANNA GLAWARI Renée Fleming (soprano)
COUNT DANILO DANILOVITCH Nathan Gunn (tenor or lyric baritone)

Today, of course, was Lehar's The Merry Widow in HD from the Metropolitan Opera.  Why would you want The Merry Widow?  For the music.  And after that the music. 

So why doesn't this one work?  Ploddy, clumsy, not the tiniest bit Viennese conducting would be reason number one.  Ugly, almost repulsive words would be number two.  Tin ears.  I only liked one line:  Hanna says to Danilo, "I never forget a snore."

The costumes were nice.  The singers were fine.  Kelli O'Hara stood out, and Alek Shrader was a good idea.  He's very presentable in HD.  The dancing was wonderful.  Njegus should have been a lot funnier.  Meh.

I still don't like it.  Who cares whether people get married or not.  Now an operetta about dirty tricks and mistaken identities, that would be for me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pictures from the Zeiss Calendar

And no I don't have one.  You have to buy a watch for that.







Does it seem to you that she's having more fun?  It turns out they are not merely being photographed together but will perform together next December at the Barbican in London.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 2015-16 Season of the San Francisco Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller opens the fall season in a new production



This stars three wonderful American singers:   soprano Leah Crocetto [seen most spectacularly at Santa Fe in Maometto II only a couple of years ago] as Luisa Miller, tenor Michael Fabiano as her beloved Rodolfo, and baritone Vitaliy Bilyy as Luisa’s father.  Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts.  Michael recently made his Met La Boheme debut after singing the same role here.  They too are finding out what a fabulous singer he is.  Leah is also a popular favorite and will appear later this season as Liu in TurandotHere is an interview.  This will be a new production by Francesca Zambello.

Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A Musical Thriller

Am I ready for more Sondheim so soon?  The cast is marvelous:  bass-baritone Gerald Finley as Todd and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who is known to walk on water, as his partner in crime.  If anyone can pull this off, they can.  Patrick Summers will conduct.  The production directed by Lee Blakeley and designed by Tanya McCallin is from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.  This will be the first time this Broadway musical will be presented at the San Francisco Opera, which means it has to be a new production

Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in a new production

Piotr Beczala (Edgardo). Photo by Ken Howard.

This is the most star-studded of this season with soprano Diana Damrau as Lucia and tenor Piotr Beczala as Edgardo with conductor Nicola Luisotti.  This will be a new production, though I wasn't tired of the old one yet, by the same team who did Susannah.

 
Mozart's The Magic Flute


Albina Shagimuratova (The Queen of the Night). Photo by Cory Weaver.

In the same production as last time Albina Shagimuratova will be back to sing her Queen of the Night, with soprano Nadine Sierra as Pamina and bass baritone Philippe Sly [while still an Adler Fellow, he appeared in major roles in Cosi and Partenope] as Papageno.  Lawrence Foster will conduct.  Too soon for me.   


Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in a new production

Greer Grimsley (Hans Sachs). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley returns to San Francisco Opera in his role debut as Hans Sachs. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich, is Walther von Stolzing. Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Eva.  Mark Elder will conduct.  The production is by David McVicar and comes from Glyndebourne.
 
Rossini's The Barber of Seville 


 Daniela Mack (Rosina). Photo by Cory Weaver.

This production is a repeat from a couple of years and stars Daniela Mack as Rosina, the ardent René Barbera as the count and Lucas Meachem in the title role. Giuseppe Finzi, also a repeat, will conduct.  Also too soon for me, though the cast is excellent.
 
A Double Bill: Getty's Usher House and Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher, both new


Welsh National Opera production. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey.

This is all based on the horror story by Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher.   Featuring imaginative video projections, David Pountney’s production evokes the intense atmosphere of Poe’s prose. Brian Mulligan stars in this spine-tingling U.S. production premiere under the baton of renowned conductor Lawrence Foster

A new opera by Debussy you ask?  From Debussy come only sketches, but in 2004 the opera was reconstructed and orchestrated by Robert Orledge.  This reconstruction has already been performed several times.  How much is Debussy and how much is Orledge you will have to judge for yourself.

Bizet's Carmen in a new production


English National Opera production. Photo by Alastair Muir.
 

The production is by Calixto Bieito, a Spanish theater director who is considered somewhat outrageous.  If you are old enough, it may remind you of the film American Graffiti.  The photos make this look fascinating.  The opera is double cast:  One stars the captivating Irene Roberts as the impassioned Gypsy, Brian Jagde as the lovesick soldier, Nadine Sierra as the innocent Micaëla and Zachary Nelson as the dashing bullfighter. The other is headed by Ginger Costa-Jackson, Riccardo Massi, Erika Grimaldi and Michael Sumuel. Carlo Montanaro conducts.  I don't know which to pick.  I'll look into this.

Verdi's Don Carlo

 Michael Fabiano (Don Carlo). Photo by Ken Howard.
 

Michael Fabiano is back in the title role with Ana María Martínez as his Elisabetta.  She replaces  Verdi soprano Krassimira Stoyanova who is having health problems.  Also starring are Mariusz Kwiecień as Rodrigo and powerful bass René Pape as King Philip.  Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts.  That's two Verdi roles in a season for Michael who is admired by people in the know, and is the current holder of the Richard Tucker Prize.

Janáček's Jenůfa in a new production


Metropolitan Opera production. Photo by Beatriz Schiller.  

An original production by Frank Philipp Schlössmann from Hamburgische Staatsoper, this will be conducted by Jiri Belohlavek.  Jenůfa is sung by Malin Byström, Kostelnička will be sung by the great Karita Mattila and Laca is William Burden.

The mounting of new productions is handled in a very mysterious way which I have tried to clarify.

I am excited about Michael Fabiano in two Verdi operas, about the fascinating modern version of Carmen, about Diana Damrau, Piotr Beczala and Krassimira Stoyanova, and about a new opera by Debussy which attempts to be as creepy as Poe.  If I left out your favorite, I apologize.

We are going to miss Gockley when he's gone.  We can only hope his successor continues to use the new crop of American singers with an equal amount of success.

____________________
Altered to reflect casting changes.

Top Discs for 2014

Recommendations for discs are coming in at this time of year.  We start with recital discs:

Opera News:

The Year’s Top Twelve Recital Discs

  • Ildar Abdrazakov, Power Players (Delos) 
  • Cecilia Bartoli, St. Petersburg (Decca) 
  • Nicole Cabell, Chanson d’Avril (Delos) 
  • Max Emanuel Cencic, Rokoko (Decca) 
  • Alice Coote, Handel Arias (Hyperion) 
  • Sabine Devieilhe, Le Grand Théâtre de L’Amour (Erato) 
  • Vittorio Grigòlo, The Romantic Hero (Sony) 
  • Thomas Hampson, Notturno (DG) 
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky, The Bells of Dawn (Ondine) 
  • Jonas Kaufmann, You Mean the World to Me (Sony) 
  • Olga Peretyatko, Arabesque (Sony) 
  • Anna Prohaska, Behind the Lines (DG) 

Classical Grammys:

  • Douce France Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit) Label: Naïve 
  • Porpora: Arias Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato 
  • Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist Label: Onyx 
  • Stella Di Napoli Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L'Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L'Opéra National De Lyon) Label: Erato/Warner Classics 
  • Virtuoso Rossini Arias Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kansas City Symphony Orchestra) Label: Delos 
BBC Music has its own awards:

  • Strauss, Fauré, Debussy, Strauss: Die erwachte Rose; Mädchenblumen Op. 22; other lieder Christiane Karg (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) Wigmore Hall Live WHLive 0062 
  • An die Geliebte Songs by Beethoven, Strauss, Weber and Wolf Julian Prégardien (tenor), Christoph Schnackertz (piano) Myrios MYR012 
  • Stella di Napoli Arias by Puccini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante, etc Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano); Orchestre et Choeur de L’Opéra de Lyon/Riccardo Minasi Erato 2564636562


In addition are suggestions for opera DVDs

Opera News:

  • BACH: Johannes-Passion (Peter Sellars, Berliner Philharmoniker; Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings) 
  • GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice (Ondřej Havelka, Baroque Theatre of Český Krumlov Castle; Arthaus Musik) 
  • MOZART: Die Zauberflöte (Robert Carsen, Festspiele Baden-Baden; Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings) 
  • R. STRAUSS: Elektra (Patrice Chéreau, Aix-en-Provence; BelAir Classiques) 
  • WAGNER: Parsifal (François Girard, Metropolitan Opera; Sony) 

The Opera Awards:

  • David et Jonathas (Charpentier), c. William Christie, p. Andreas Homoki (Bel Air Classiques) 
  • The Gambler (Prokofiev), c. Valery Gergiev, p. Temur Chkheidze (Mariinsky) 
  • Médée (Cherubini), c. Christophe Rousset, p. Krzysztof Warlikowski (Bel Air Classiques) 
  • Moby-Dick (Heggie), c. Patrick Summers, p. Leonard Foglia (Euroarts) 
  • Pelléas et Mélisande (Debussy), c. Stefan Soltesz, p. Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Arthaus) 
  • The Rape of Lucretia (Britten), c. Paul Daniel, p. David McVicar (Opus Arte) 
  • The Tempest (Adès), c. Thomas Adès, p. Robert Lepage (DG) 

It is interesting the complete lack of overlap in these lists, except for Stella di Napoli.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

News from Two in Tune

A letter from Two in Tune, the umbrella organization for the Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic, dated December 12, 2014, has fallen into my hands.

They want us to know that, "Despite the difficulties, good news lies ahead.  Our organization is now developing an aggressive turnaround plan to finally bring long-term stability and return first-rate orchestral music and opera, to Sacramento.  The turnaround process is well underway, allowing us to look to 2015 with confidence and optimism."

They are building connections to other performing arts organizations.  Finding out what other people are doing and engaging their help seems a wise direction.  They call this "a consortium of distinguished partners from across the country - veterans who have excelled in developing and implementing recovery plans for performing arts organizations.  Members of this dream team of executives have worked successfully with clients located coast to coast:  New York to California; Detroit to Tallahassee; Winston-Salem to Phoenix."

All I can say is cheers.  There is supposed to be an announcement soon.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Into the Woods


I was going around the circle at Curves the other day, and the attendant was complaining about the new movie Into the Woods.  For her it had two endings:  the expected fairytale ending and the second dark one.  She also was surprised that there were musical numbers.  I tried to explain that this was a film adaptation of a classic musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim.  Who?

There has been a wide range of reactions to this film.  I imagine the range would depend on whether you had ever seen it as a musical.  It was done live here in Sacramento a couple of years ago, so nothing really surprised me when I saw it today.  I thought as film adaptations go, this one was excellent.

How could you want a better witch than Meryl Streep?  Or a better wolf than Johnny Depp?  I was especially impressed with the diction.  Every one of Sondheim's words could be clearly understood.  I think the movie's flaws are the musical's flaws.  I think Sondheim couldn't bear to write a fairytale ending.

Anything can happen in the woods.

P.S.  I've never really been a fan of Sondheim, except as a lyricist.  His first big project was writing the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957), possibly the best of all American musicals.  These are truly great songs. Sondheim, it seems, thinks they're too poetic.

He's been very busy since then.  He's done a lot of shows that I've never seen, and people seem to like to sing his songs.  But a string of songs by Sondheim generally makes me cringe.  I can only tolerate Judi Dench singing "Bring in the Clowns," for instance.

Early in the blog I wrote:  "While I was in London, I tried to see Sunday in the Park with George, mainly because I've never seen a Stephen Sondheim musical. Unless Sweeney Todd is Sondheim."  I went on to say,  "Sondheim is short choppy phrases of three to six syllables with tunes played on the black keys. All the tunes sound exactly the same. How does he do that? Perhaps it's a minimalist musical."

But then I kind of liked Sunday in the Park with George when I saw it on Broadway.  Still no hit tunes, but I kind of liked the content.  With Sondheim it's more words over music.  Ideas over execution.

And then this year came the marvelous Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson, a truly great event.  Their gigantic personalities raised it above itself.

I can only shrug.  He's too significant to simply ignore, but musically he never grabs me. I'm now going to retire Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd.  Enough.