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.

Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde and James Rutherford as Wotan with Andris Nelsons and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in 'Die Walküre' July 28 at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Wagner’s Die Walküre and Verdi’s Requiem under Andris Nelsons at Tanglewood

Opera has been a significant presence at Tanglewood since the 1940s, whether in concert performances at the Koussevitzky Music Shed or fully-staged in the Theater—among the first structures to be built at Tanglewood, but disused since the Levine years—and I’ll confess a certain fondness for it, in spite of its spartan grimness, uncomfortable seats, and less-than-ideal acoustics. There, TMC Vocal Fellows and the TMC Orchestra could flex their muscles with sets and costumes, often producing superb results, above all in Mozart. The high points of opera at Tanglewood include performances of rarities under Leinsdorf and Ozawa, and I should mention Dutoit’s superb performance of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in the Shed, as well as Szymanowski’s great Król Roger in Symphony Hall. Verdi’s Don Carlo and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, both with the TMC Orchestra were also outstanding events at Tanglewood.

Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman talk to Michael Miller and Roza Tulyaganova about The Berkshire Opera Festival’s third season opera, Verdi’s Rigoletto

Without a doubt the most encouraging cultural development in the Berkshires in 2016 was the first season of the Berkshire Opera Festival, founded by Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman. The quality of the first production, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, proved the promise of the endeavor to be solid reality.

Andris Nelson conducts the BSO at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Two Weekends in the Country: The BSO and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, the new Clark, Mass MoCA, and Boston Midsummer Opera’s Bartered Bride

As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).

Henri Dutilleux in 1993. Photo © Ulf / Gamma

Who to Direct the BSO? And Reviews of Recent Concerts: Alan Gilbert Conducts Dutilleux, Stravinsky, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Daniele Gatti conducts Verdi’s Requiem and Paul Lewis in Recital at Jordan Hall Plays Schubert’s Last Three Sonatas

The Boston Symphony Orchestra is up and running and sounding very good after its holiday time off. New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert opened the winter season with a concert series beginning January 10th. Best of all was the opening work, Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles of 1965, a piece in five movements played without pause for large orchestra, with much brass and percussion, harp and celesta. The piece is listenable and attractive, rich and serious, and full of musical wit. It asks and rewards an audience’s focus and concentration, which came about well on this occasion. The presentation made a case for what has often occurred to me, that challenging or relatively new work often goes over best when placed first on a program — people tend to be fresh and attentive and open. Métaboles proceeds by constant change and transformation of basic material, and one finds oneself every few minutes, taken unawares, as it were, in quite new territory — a new realm of orchestral color, of breadth of phrase, of rhythm — all of which has grown seamlessly out of what proceeded. The music sounds at moments like Messiaen or Stravinsky, but moves with the mercurial quality of Elliott Carter, or Mozart. Gilbert and the orchestra put the work across with freshness and commitment.

The Glimmerglass Festival's Alice Busch Opera Theater. Photo Claire McAdams.

2012 Retrospective: Reflections on the 2012 Glimmerglass Opera Festival

At first, music and baseball might seem to have little in common. But don’t tell that to sports diehards and opera buffs in upper New York State. At least not in July and August, when a multitudinous group of fans from across the US converge at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. This year’s annual induction ceremonies were held July 20–23. Meanwhile, just a few miles down the road, devotees of vocal aspirants flocked to the Glimmerglass Opera to hear and see them “play ball.”

L to R: Glimmerglass Festival Artistic & General Director Francesca Zambello, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Glimmerglass Festival Managing Director Linda Jackson. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Crusading for Reason in an Age of Anger: Redefining Opera’s Role — Glimmerglass Festival 2012 and a Social-Centric Agenda

Should Art be merely an escape or refuge from the realities of our difficult times? In the 1940s, the debate heated and divided artists, musicians and scholars. In Wallace Stevens’s essay “The Noble Rider and The Sound of Words,” the twain are resolved in the idea that art, even “abstract” art can assume the role of social commentary only through innate and ineffable transformations of reality rather than by any explicit agenda dogmatically imposed by the creator. Great art could not be manhandled ideologically. How this solution might apply to opera of the past becomes the task of the director and musicians in balancing the surprisingly diverse elements of the music’s intent, the libretto’s intent, the historical context, and, yes, the composer’s objectives, if any. It is not surprising that Stevens regarded that an artistic creation had its own life apart from the creator’s wishes. Thus, we have the license for interpretation and deconstruction that has become the hallmark of Regietheater in our times.

Attila Prologue of Attila. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Verdi’s Attila at the San Francisco Opera

The pleasures to be had from a performance of Verdi’s Attila are a unique blend: one third Macbeth, one third Nabucco, and one third summer-camp hayride. The staging of San Francisco Opera’s ultimately satisfying revival occasionally reaches ill-advisedly towards something more sophisticated. When it does (i.e. all of Act III), um…er… one must close one’s eyes and think of Italy, because the visual results are mind-bogglingly annoying and meaningless. Happily, the exhilaration of this early Verdian work — led with commitment and panache by SFO music director Nicola Luisotti — transcends the needless awkwardness of the staging. Attila isn’t the most memorable score in the world, but it is pure, if unrefined, Italian opera. It allows singers to strut their stuff, to sing and emote with extravagance, and it makes for a great “coming attractions” reel for the masterpieces Verdi had yet to compose.

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