Glyndebourne is only a quarter of a gas tank away from London, but a good seat at this swanky summer opera costs as much as four barrels of crude oil. It was a privilege, therefore, that Glyndebourne’s current production of Purcell’s masterpiece from 1692, The Fairy Queen, travelled to the Proms for one night. They couldn’t bring the scenery and the stage mechanisms, which are strange and lavish to judge from photos online, but we got everything else. London reviewers were agape at the marvels of Jonathan Kent’s production, so I was eager to see how an epic chamber opera, for that’s what this is, would translate in the wide open acreage of Albert Hall.
There’s a built-in mystery about psychotherapy that benefits a play like Duet for One. Diving into the unconscious is an exciting, risk-filled exploration that’s bound to uncover hidden demons. Finding out where the bodies are buried never ceases to create a frisson. But on the opposing side, this exploration is mostly of interest to the patient, not to outside observers. Psychotherapy is solipsistic. We have our own diving expeditions to go on, never mind a third party’s. Duet for One needed a bit of extra insurance, and it got it. When Tom Kempinski’s two-character drama first appeared in 1980, a guilty element of voyeurism helped fuel its success. The principal character is a famous musician sidelined by a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. All of England knew that she was a stand-in for the great cellist Jacqueline du Pre, whose career was tragically cut short by the same disease; she succumbed from it in 1987 at the age of forty-two.
Supermodels gone Wilde. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much that would attract a choreographer in The Picture…
Strained relations. Wagner’s Ring cycle was once famously described (by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I believe) as a family quarrel. At least it’s more than that, which might not be true of the plot to Verdi’s troubled, vexing, and beautiful Simon Boccanegra. Like several other operas in the Verdi canon, it comes to us as a late revision of a failed early work. Yet even though the revision called upon the considerable talents of Arrigo Boito, who coaxed the aged composer to write Falstaff and Otello by supplying him with irresistible words, Boccanegra is indecipherable. If your child can solve Rubik’s cube, give him this story to untwist. More of that anon.
Even before this 10-CD commemorative set was issued, I noticed a wash of nostalgia for Eugene Ormandy among baby boomers. He was inescapable for that generation, the progenitor of hundreds of LPs, only a sampling of which are contained here. Ormandy became Leopold Stokowski’s associate conductor at the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1936 and succeeded him two years later, beginning an unparalleled run of 44 years as music director before retiring in 1980, a reign no one will ever duplicate, or would want to. During that time Ormandy led the orchestra between 100 and 180 times a year. That, too, is a staggering statistic given that modern music directors, in their eagerness to spread themselves globally, are essentially long-term guests who drop in to visit their home orchestras for as little as a quarter of the regular season.
Wunderkindfest. Unless you are a stubborn opinionator, performances can confuse you at times. I was flummoxed last night at the Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and his Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, in a concert I was expecting to enjoy, though not to the utmost. The Berlioz Symphonie fantastique wore out its welcome many years ago, and only a brilliant performance can redeem it for me. That Dudamel did not deliver. Sparkling as he is in the bright media limelight, the skyrocketing young Venezuelan has to have the goods, too. In this case, his reading was flat, disjointed, and plodding, with a drawn-out Scene aux champs that lasted long enough for Madame Defarge to knit a quilt. The guillotine movement that followed was coarse and blatty, which is how the whole reading went, either in slow mo with exaggerated emphases or sped up recklessly. Dudamel’s inability to sustain tension in soft passages, one of the most blatant failings in a bad conductor, shocked me.
[Ed’s note. J. R. R. Tolkien detested movies, and he didn’t know what pop culture was, beyond perhaps Ivor Novello…
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.