My weekend has been dominated by children, their thoughts, and my thoughts about them. Charles Dickens, a passionate admirer of little ones, finds his most searing location for them in his beloved A Christmas Carol. Even the death of Little Dorrit lacks the resonance that this short novella has shown. The attachment with Christmas is clearly one reason, but the theatrical bent of the writing, reflecting Dickens’ passionate interest in acting, begs for a physical realization. Version after version has hardened us to the difficulty of undertaking such a task. Prose on the page is very different from words on the stage. Dickens cushions speech in each of his novels with plenty of before and after richness, passionate in its empathy for their plight.
Pergolesi’s comic operas sound remarkably modern—which is to say, like Mozart. Recognizably human characters go through recognizable experiences, singing out their feelings very directly, which the music embodies in fluidly changing tempos and moods, stretching of harmony, changes of key and orchestral color. Much is accomplished through musically creative recitative—a half-spoken way of proceeding—as well as through song proper and duets (there are only two singers in each of these operas, though also some designated silent performers, to which this production added a few dancers). It is like Mozart, but sets the procedure for opera ever since, even Verdi’s with their heroic figures, Wagner’s with their gods and goddesses, Berg or Britten with their neurotics. Characters live, feel, and think—and sing—and the music moves quickly and supply and thinks, as it were, with them.
I couldn’t have been more eager to hear Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on their return visit to Boston, part of an American tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Peaceful Revolution” that began in Leipzig in October 1989 and a month later led to the fall of the Berlin wall. Chailly continues to be one of most significant and enriching conductors of our time, and it was profoundly frustrating that, in January of 2012, heart problems prevented him from making his long overdue BSO debut (conducting, among other things, Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps). This cancellation also put him out of the running as a possible replacement for James Levine as BSO music director. There was no way the BSO would risk hiring another music director with health problems. And yet, apparently recovered, here he was in Boston.
A good while ago now, I stepped into an ancient school bus, left a tiny hamlet in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and traveled to the glittering metropolis of Johnstown, New York. There, The Tempest was being played by a traveling troupe, and somehow our country school got us there. The play was The Tempest. When I walked into the dull brown everywhere auditorium, I saw marvelous things. There were great gauze curtains, aquamarine and pure blue, folding back and forth upon themselves, prompted by some invisible wind. This itself was enough to make the trip a rare event in my life!