A Singer's Notes, 1: Two Young Singers – Kara Cornell and Devon Guthrie

Two marvelous young singers are appearing in our area. If you want to see what singing acting really is, go see Kara Cornell in Peter Brook’s “The Tragedy of Carmen”, at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York. Voice, face, and body are all one thing. She makes opera a completely believably speech.

In James Levine’s Don Giovanni a couple of weeks ago with the Tanglewood Fellows, I first heard Devon Guthrie (Donna Elvira). She is appearing in our area again in the Bard Music Festival’s 5:30 pm concert on August 23rd at Bard College, singing Eva in excerpts from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. This is a vivid and highly intelligent young artist. I can’t wait to hear her again.

A Singer's Notes, 3: The Slavic Center – of Norman Treigle and The Philadelphia Orchestra

Here I am riding home on a dark, late summer night. The windows are down, crickets are singing. Making this trip is my Russian connection. Rachmaninoff and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Where I just was was where I stood and sang a few feet away from the death throes of Norman Treigle’s Boris. Nobody knows about him now, but he was a singing actor with the singularity of a Chaliapin or a Callas. Or maybe Callas and Chaliapin had the singularity of a Norman Treigle. I cannot be in Saratoga without his memory prompting me. Rachmaninoff once said that early in his career that he composed for the sound of Chaliapin’s voice, and later in his career for the sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Each year when I get to SPAC the orchestra seems younger. This was my chance to hear the Symphonic Dances he wrote for them, played by another great collective, three or four generations away now. I have long admired the intention, the glue that makes this darkest of American orchestras show us a macro kind of phrasing, how weight makes a line as effectively as detail. if the weight leans forward beautifully enough. Would they still have the sound, would they even know the sound? Would it matter if they had the sound? Sure would to me. Their sound through the decades has formed my idea of the Slavic center. A dark space, a hut, a cathedral with a sharp edge of flame. Is it a hearth fire or the apocalypse?

A Singer's Notes 2: Meistersinger Redux

All my performing life Die Meistersinger has been more a polemic than a performance. It goes around the music world as a political document like the John Passion. Performances are sold on the basis of political incorrectness. I have been hearing Meistersinger all the time this summer. I have found myself more moved than ever before by the sad humanity of the work. Maybe it’s being a little older.

The Seattle Ring 2009

I am extremely reluctant to take a position as a Wagnerian traditionalist. Life is hard enough as it is without entering a futile battle against the now generation-old invasion of directorial Goths, who consider all the specifics of Wagner’s poems and especially the stage directions in them to be automatically transferrable to some other set of references entirely different from Wagner’s own mythological cosmos. I’ve also had the luxury of having Otto Schenk’s fine Metropolitan Opera production as my “home” Ring. I’ve also done my best to keep an open mind for the good qualities of more manipulated efforts like the Warner-Lazarides production at the Royal Opera House, which I mostly liked, because it was intelligently conceived and maintained a trackable relation to Wagner’s original…although in retrospect I think I spent an undue amount of time meditating on the meaning of the crashed aeroplane in the first act of Siegfried—which was in itself just as cool as it gets. I’ve referred to the final performances of the Ring as a last call for traditional Rings at major opera houses, but I was wrong. The Seattle Opera, which is most definitely a major opera house, has just presented the third of four iterations of a production, which is recognizable as a traditional production, even more than Schenk’s, although its organizers deny that it is intended as a “traditional” Ring.

The New Rigged Ship: Reinmar Seidler, cello, and Jacqueline Schwab, piano, at PS 21, Chatham, NY

For centuries, Scottish folk music has proven a powerful magnet for musicians of many nationalities and practitioners of many musical genres. Even before the generation of “Ossian” and Robert Burns made Scottish culture an emblem of national character for all of Europe, its musical uniqueness was recognized by foreigners. In the Baroque period, Scottish tunes were lovingly set as sonatas, variations, and songs by esteemed Italian composers such as Geminiani, Barsanti, Corri, and Veracini, while native trained composers like William McGibbon were seeking to imitate Italian masters such as Corelli.

Lucy MacGillis, paintings, at the Hoadley Gallery, Lenox, Ravello Series, July 9 – Aug. 4

Lucy MacGillis grew up not far from Melville’s famous prospect of Mt. Greylock, surrounded by the rolling expanses, hills, and wooded slopes of the Berkshires. Since 2000 she has lived and worked in a small Umbrian town, Monte Castello di Vibio, not far from Todi, painting landscapes and familiar objects around her studio and the simple house where she lives. The distant views and the rooms of the house alike are filled with the clear, warm light of Umbria. As she explained to me, showing me photographs as illustrations, her point of departure is this all-encompassing light and its subtle changes through the course of the day and the seasons. Wherever she goes from there, she is guided by her eye. This visual experience, she says, slows down her painting, reflecting the slow, tranquil life in the town.

Menotti’s The Consul at Glimmerglass Opera

One doesn’t often get the chance to see a fully-staged production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Cold War opera The Consul, a great hit after its debut in 1950. This is an opera of inaction, of waiting. John Sorel (baritone Michael Chioldi) comes home wounded from a meeting of dissidents. He must flee the country. He tells his wife Magda (Melissa Citro) that she must go to the Consulate for a visa so that she, their child, and his mother can join him in exile. At the Consulate, Magda joins a crew of hopeful, then hopeless, supplicants.

The Collector of Worlds: A Novel of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Iliya Troyanov

The fabulously romantic life of Burton has been told in many a novel and many a film—from all of which Iliya Troyanov’s intelligent, vastly entertaining novel differs in crucial respects. Readers may recall the viscerally exciting biographical film Mountains of the Moon (1990) that followed the dangerous voyage in search of the Nile’s source and the bitter quarrels over priority in discovering that source at the Geographical Society of London. What viewers of that movie will not recall are any significantly developed characters from the indigenous peoples (what the Victorians called the natives) among whom the explorers traveled. There were a few servants whose dedication issued in sacrifice; and a few bloodthirsty attackers who executed the servants and wounded the whites—but none of these received serious treatment. Troyanov retells the story from the alternating vantage points of the white principals, above all Burton himself, and the non-English-speaking peoples through whose territories Burton voyages, whose languages he learns with incredible facility. As he seeks to understand them, they quizzically seek to fathom his motives and beliefs. The drama arises not so much from scenery and danger as from the exciting, often droll volleying of blindness and insight between the Englishman and the Asians and Africans whom he at once fascinates and bewilders.

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