Marek Janowski

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer: the beginning of Marek Janowski’s Historic Series of Concert Performances of the Ten Mature Operas and Music Dramas

Since his renowned 1980-83 recording of Wagner’s Ring with the Dresdener Staatskapelle, Marek Janowski has acquired a cult following, especially in Wagner, not unlike Jascha Horenstein or Reginald Goodall. His steady, active tempi and decisive phrasing evoke an older performance style which goes back, it is thought, to the days of Richter, Seidl, and Mottl. Janowski, when asked if he studied historical performances of Wagner expressed his devotion to Wilhelm Furtwängler and an admiration for the Bayreuth performances of Hans Knappertsbusch, which, he points out, are not at all as slow as is generally thought. Janowski’s own mentor in conducting was Wolfgang Sawallisch, who left an easily noticeable mark on Janowski’s mature style as a conductor, with his restraint and and constant vigilance over orchestral balances, as well as the balance of dramatic flow and structure. In fact, there is a good deal in common that one can hear in the performance under consideration and Sawallisch’s 1961 Bayreuth performance. “Ein guter Meister…”

Neuenfels; Lohengrin at Bayreuth. Photo © Bayreuther Festspiele GmbH / Jörg Schulze.

Neuenfels’ Lohengrin at Bayreuth – 2010 / 2011: a (P)review

I was no less fascinated than any writer by the troops of rats Hans Neuenfels mustered for his production of Lohengrin, which premiered last year (2010). It isn’t fair or even intelligent to focus on the most obvious twist in his Neuenfels’ vision of Wagner’s first grail opera, but Neuenfels turned the rodents loose on us as bait, and in the world of theater, it is only right to jump on it with all the alacrity of one of the rats, when he or she sniffs some appetizingly ripe garbage—or bacon, as Herr Neuenfels has said. And I don’t mention this to demean the rats, Neuenfels clearly did not intend them as red herrings, but as an intellectually nutritious and tasty Vorspeise.

The San Francisco Ring, 2011 – Donald Runnicles, Conductor, Francesca Zambello, Stage Director

When any object is taken apart and reformed, does its substance remain what it was in the beginning? Nothung, Siegmund and Siegfried’s magical sword, proves stronger for having been shattered and forged anew. Does the Rhinegold itself acquire new properties through being the fatal, world-dominating ring, or when the Rhinemaidens receive it at the end of Götterdämmerung, has it the same intrinsic properties it did when Alberich stole it “twenty hours ago,” as Anna Russell clocked it?

Director Francesca Zambello, in her Americanized Ring Cycle, three-quarters of which were co-produced by Washington Opera, forged something new and wondrous from Wagner’s tremendous and often toxic masterwork. Not every bit of Wagner’s original symbolism reintegrates seamlessly into the newly fashioned work, and occasional cognitive dissonance results. Frankly, Wagner’s own sprawling cosmology—one part German myth, one part creative genius, one part tortured personal psychology—leaves many questions unanswered and any number of unresolved contradictions and loose ends. In San Francisco, the director and her designer colleagues shaped a remarkable production that transcended its occasional awkward moments and that touched the heart in ways I’ve never known this uniquely ambitious epic work to do before. The striking and varied stage pictures are the work of Michael Yeargan, the always illuminating costumes are by Catherine Zuber, the colorful, refreshing, and often exquisite lighting is by Mark McCullough. The many projections, used as backdrops and show curtain, were created by Jan Hartley. I didn’t find every element equally successful, but I left the theatre believing that this production had the mystical power to make the world a better place. The staging is that good.

Thoughts on Schumann and the 2nd Symphony

I yearn for the day when a thoroughly sympathetic view of Schumann emerges, one supplanting the lingering idea, passed on from biographer to musician to music-lover and back, insinuating that his music, while selectively inspired, was hampered by enough contrapuntal inexperience, unevenness in motivic invention, formal insecurity, and outright incompetence in orchestration that it should not be considered in the same sphere with Chopin’s, Liszt’s, or even Brahms’s.

Wagner Bash: Bard’s Triumphant Solution to the Wagner Problem

After days of wonderful song recitals, chamber works, choral works either by Wagner’s adversaries, or his own jejune works, nothing prepared us for the Dropping of the Ring on August 22. A mere week before, we were blown away by Schumann’s great piano quintet; the utter grandeur of Brahms’s F-Minor Sonata for Two Pianos was still vivid from the night before. But when the nuclear event occurred, none of us were the same; nothing was the same.

Richard Wagner, Das Liebesverbot, after Shakespeare, Glimmerglass Opera

From the sprightly start of the overture, you know this is not Bayreuth’s Wagner. The Glimmerglass Opera, as part of its Shakespeare-themed season, presents the North American fully-staged premiere of Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love), Wagner’s own topsy-turvy adaptation of Measure for Measure. It was only his second full-length piece (the first was Die Feen—the Fairies—another rarity), initially staged in 1836. The overture sets up the quarrel to follow between somber ascetic and antic carnivalesque impulses. If you know Shakespeare’s play you think you know who wins, but Wagner makes some significant alterations.

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