Mozart, Don Giovanni, Boston Lyric Opera, April 26th, 2009

Is Don Giovanni the greatest of all operas? Many have said so. It is highly arguable. I myself would agree with the proposition. The opera presents a large cast of characters, all subject to intense feelings and conflict of feeling, or conflict between feeling and ideas or values. The characters go through changes, or at least dramatic ups and downs. Everything is rendered into highly expressive music, constantly inventive, finding new forms. Some of the many wonderful ensembles (three to six singers) stop time for lyrical outpouring and meditation, but others develop ongoing human interaction and characters’ changes of heart. Sonata form, with exposition and development of themes, embodies human experience in time. As in Shakespeare, comedy gives some perspective on the high drama, here a drama of seduction, rape, jealousy, self-hatred, civilized oblivion to others’ feelings, class conflict, and the easy resort to violence. The title character’s comic servant, Leporello, gives us some space to breathe, commenting on and making light of events — but he is very disturbing in his acceptance and resignation: this is how things are, how things must be.

Tannery Pond Concerts Season Opening: Carter Brey cello and Christopher O’Riley piano

The Tannery Pond Concerts always start early, and, as I walk across the Darrow School lawns on a Sunday afternoon, encounter friends I haven’t seen for months and greet others I see all the time, I feel that the summer season has really begun. Even Nikolai the Sealyham Terrier war scurrying about the entrance to the old Shaker Tannery, checking out the concert-goers. He knows most of them—both by sight and by smell. I could imagine myself in a scene from Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu. With this particular concert, the season began in earnest, with a brilliantly assembled program and playing of the highest order, but I don’t mean earnest in the sense of “heavy.”

Shakespeare and Company, Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare and Company are responding to the economic downturn and their own drastically reduced budget with a blaze of activity. This year’s season will be longer and more packed than ever. It will also mark the transition from one artistic director to another: Tony Simotes will replace founder Tina Packer, who will be concentrating on directing and long-term goals for the company. The summer season has begun early with Romeo and Juliet, performed primarily by a cast of seven young actors who have not yet finished their training, in a production designed specifically for teens and pre-teens. Under the direction of Jonathan Croy, who has worked with high school and middle school children for many years, these actors have spent the winter months touring New England and New York. Now they finally get to play before adults back at the home base.

After Bomarzo…

Just as the last major events of the spring season approached, including the final performances of Otto Schenk’s production of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at the Met, I realized that if I did not travel to Italy for an important family visit—no, it was not a junket to cover the grand opening of Angels and Demons—I would not be able to do it for months. I felt much better when I found that two extraordinary people were available to take my place: Rebecca Kim, a brilliant recent Ph.D. from Columbia, who wrote her dissertation on John Cage, had just completed one of the Met’s Ring Cycles and was willing to take my seat for a second traversal, and Roza Tulyaganova, who has delighted audiences with her Fiordiligi in Così and her Countess in Figaro, and is equally well-prepared to analyze performances through her work as a candidate for a doctorate in musical arts at Stony Brook.

Lully’s Psyché by the Boston Early Music Festival, 2007, now on CD

Below you will find my review of the Boston Early Music Festival’s magnificent performance of Lully’s Psyché on June 24, 2007 at the Mahaiwe Arts Center in Great Barrington. As the 2009 festival approaches, it seems appropriate to transfer it to our new site with a few remarks about the recording of the performance which was nominated for a Grammy award for best opera. This vivid and colorful recording, made in Jordan Hall, Boston, provides an accurate, clear, and beautifully balanced record of the performance reviewed below. You will hear the splendid singing and original instruments in sparkling presence and full resonance, not to mention the liveliness of the singers interchanges. Bravi tutti!

The Hudson River Valley Photographed, Two Views: Greg Miller and Stan Lichens

You will find absolutely no scarcity of books about the Hudson River these days: guide books, history books, ecological books, picture books. My purpose here is to discuss two examples of the last category, Scenic Hudson’s panoramic Rizzoli volume with photographs by Greg Miller and Stanley Lichens’ intimate book of hand-colored black and white photographs. These are by no means the only photographic collections of the Hudson on the market, but they have come to my attention in their own ways, and they illustrate two radically different modes of seeing this familiar, but, as Henry James said, “perpetually interesting” river—especially interesting today, as its hard-won cleanup progresses, restoring somewhat the Hudson that James, and even earlier, proto-industrial visitors knew, if still a far cry from the Hudson of Washington Irving.

Boston Early Music Festival Presents Two One-Act Chamber Operas: John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s, Actéon

This past Friday and Saturday I attended two operatic performances, one at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the other at Boston’s New England Conservatory, which began decorously enough, but both ended in an uproar one might have expected to find at a major prize fight. Both audiences were absolutely thrilled by what they saw and heard. I didn’t count the curtain calls, but the audience’s response to Tristan und Isolde under Daniel Barenboim conjured up legendary evenings of many years past, and the baroque and early music enthusiasts who packed Jordan Hall to attend the Boston Early Music Festival’s first annual production of baroque chamber operas was no less uninhibited in their cheers, whoops, and clapping, expressing their well-deserved appreciation of a brilliant start to an important new series. Although my account of Tristan will appear separately below, I wish to present them together, because of what they tell us about opera and its current state.

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