Locke’s List for 2020: Major Discoveries and Pleasant Diversions in Operatic and Other Vocal Music (Plus a Ballet to a Scenario by Arthur Schnitzler)

What a strange, scary, and remarkable year 2020 has been, in all our lives! The social isolation that I have carried out pretty consistently has led me to look to music even more than usual for solace, enlightenment, and pleasant distraction. I gather that many music lovers have traveled a somewhat similar path since mid-March.

My penchant for opera, and for vocal music and for the theatre generally, has led me to get to know a number of recent CD releases, many of which I have reviewed for American Record Guide or for various online magazines.

Colin Balzer as Ulisse in BEMF's production of Monteverdi's "Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria." Photo Frank Siteman.

Opera Boom: Lots of opera in Boston, but how much was really good?

I need more than two hands to count the number of operas I’ve attended in Boston so far this year. Two productions by the Boston Lyric Opera, our leading company; nine (four fully staged) by our newest company, Odyssey Opera; a brilliant concert version by the BSO of Szymanowski’s disturbing and mesmerizing King Rogerall three of Monteverdi’s surviving operas presented by the Boston Early Music Festival, performed in repertory for possibly the very first time; a rarely produced Mozart masterpiece, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, in a solid and often eloquently sung concert version by Emmanuel Music; the world premiere of Crossing25-year-old Matthew Aucoin’s one-act opera about Whitman in the Civil War, presented by A.R.T.; and the first local production of Hulak-Artemovsky’s Cossack Beyond the Danube, the Ukrainian national opera, by Commonwealth Lyric Theatre (imaginatively staged and magnificently sung). Not to mention several smaller production I couldn’t actually get to—including an adventurous new work, Per Bloland’s Pedr Solis, by the heroic Guerrilla Opera, which I got to watch only on-line, and Boston Opera Collaborative’s Ned Rorem Our Town (music I’m not crazy about, but friends I trust liked the production).

A lot of opera! But how full is the cup?

Percy Grainger (1882-1961), 1922

Proms 2011 – a personal preview by Gabriel Kellett: Royal Albert Hall et. al., 15 July – 10 September, 2011

I’m in two minds about the Proms tradition of always allotting significant programming space to composers with major anniversaries. It’s transparently a fairly arbitrary device to make the programmers’ jobs much easier and minimise the thorny problem of personal taste entering the decision-making process; on the other hand, without it we would never get three concerts this year featuring one of my favourites, Percy Grainger (died 50 years ago). In particular, the late night Prom on 2 August including Kathryn Tickell and June Tabor, celebrating the folk music Grainger was inspired by, is to me one of the most interesting this year.

Lars Vogt plays Janáček, Schubert, and Beethoven Op. 111 at Wigmore Hall

Worldly wise. I have enough concerts at Wigmore Hall under my belt to qualify as a Wiggie (not that I could ever vote Tory), if it’s not too cheeky to nickname the knowing regulars at this, the best hall in London. The seating capacity is only 540, a minnow that would disappear in the maw of Albert Hall, so the stars who appear here do it for love, not to mention the warm, enveloping acoustic—this must be the closest that a Pollini or Tetzlaff comes to singing in the shower. We are just a week past Pollini’s recital in Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, but the chills and tingles he failed to supply, sadly, came with a rush at Wigmore last night.

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