Dvořák’s Rare Grand Opera, Dimitrij, Coming Up at Bard Summerscape, beginning July 28 [REVISED]

Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year’s fully-staged production of Dvořák’s rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.

Tamara Hickey and Thomas Brazzle. Photo Stratton McCrady.

A Singer’s Notes 136: Cymbeline at Shakespeare and Company; Elgar at Tanglewood

For me Cymbeline is all about the new Blackfriars Theater, an enclosed space, a place to speak quietly, a place lit by candles, a space that found William Shakespeare buying a house in the vicinity, a space for a riot of inventiveness, revived for us by Tina Packer. Think of the bedroom scene where Iachimo examines the sleeping Imogen. This scene played in The Globe would surely have produced some less than elegant speech from the crowd. Shakespeare and Company’s production chose something of a middle way, a humorous assault on Imogen’s person, which must have played better in the Blackfriars Theater, the audience being genteel, and their number being small.

Arnold Böcklin, Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle, oil on canvas, 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

Youthful Mozart, (Over-)Ripe Mahler from Andris Nelsons and the BSO, Daniel Lozakovich, Violin

here seem to be two kinds of Mahler conductors: those who scrupulously adhere to the composer’s very detailed performing instructions, letting the score speak for itself, and those who add interpretive value to those instructions, prolonging ritards into moments of stasis, dwelling lovingly on details, pulling apart the inner workings of Mahler’s original harmonic language, and ecstatically prolonging climactic moments. To put the matter up front, I am a strong partisan of the first approach, and usually have a negative response to the second.

A Crop of Recordings XVI: Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius and the First and Second Symphonies played by the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim

If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.

A Schubertiade. Moritz von Schwind, watercolor

A Summer Home for Schubert at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood I, hosted by Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax, “curator” of the eight Schubert concerts that will span the Tanglewood summer, put himself in the role of a genial and supportive host for the first offering of the series. The performance felt like a gathering of an extremely talented group of family and party guests on the stage of Ozawa Hall. His own contributions before intermission were to provide modest backgrounds for works that featured singers and instrumentalists, those being the two large-scale scenas “Dir Hirt auf dem Felsen” and “Auf dem Strom” featuring BSO soloists on clarinet (William Hudgins) and horn (James Sommerville) respectively, alongside Tanglewood Music Center student vocalists Alexandra Smither and Christopher Reames.

Amanda Forsythe, Douglas Williams, and Carlos Fittante in Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona. Photo Kathy Wittman.

A Singer’s Notes 134: BEMF intertwines two Pergolesi farces and sublime singing from Dominique Labelle at Aston Magna.

This performance was a frolic. It displayed a combination of two quite different buffo operas, and yes, it worked. Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Livietta e Tracollo combined, found a zany success. I had my doubts at first, but was laughing my head off soon enough. The better-known of the two, La Serva Padrona, revolves around the character Uberto, a pomposo, energetically sung by Douglas Williams. Sad Tracollo was sung winningly by Jesse Blumberg.

A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.

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