MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

New Take on Old Favorite: La traviata at Seattle Opera

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La traviata director Mika Blauensteiner, in rehearsal at Seattle Opera

This familiar story of Violetta, her love, and death is the world’s most-performed opera. With new staging that marks the North American debut of the German director Peter Konwitschny, Seattle Opera hopes to shed fresh light on Verdi’s 1853 masterpiece.

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Filed under: directors, Seattle Opera, Seattle Times, Verdi

New from Los Angeles Master Chorale and Peter Sellars

At the end of the month the Los Angeles Master Chorale and artistic director Grant Gershon will open their season with a brand-new staging by Peter Sellars of Lagrime di San Pietro. This is the cycle of “spiritual madrigals”Orlando di Lasso composed at the very end of his life in 1594. Here’s my essay for the program:

A SAINT’S REMORSE: LASSO’S HIGH RENAISSANCE MASTERPIECE

What’s the correct way to refer to one of the most extraordinary musical minds in history: Orlande/Orlando/Roland de Lassus/di Lasso? There’s a Franco-Flemish form and an Italianized one; sometimes the two get mixed together. There’s even a Latin option intended to standardize the situation. The very profusion of variants points to the internationalism and cross-pollination across borders that marked the era of the High Renaissance in Europe.

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Filed under: choral music, directors, essay, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Richard III, Rock Star

I was very fortunate finally to have a chance to catch up with Thomas Ostermeier’s acclaimed production of Richard III the Schaubühne — not in Berlin, but at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Much has been made of Ostermeier’s highly original direction as a saturated, intensified portrait — a Machiavellian mirror — of the title anti-hero. That of course has been facilitated by the exciting, controversial translation/adaptation/condensation of the German text prepared by company dramaturg Marius von Mayenburg.

One of the most brilliantly effective choices — apparently a spontaneous decision arrived at during the course of rehearsal, according to Ostermeier — was to streamline the litany of climactic battles into a sequence of Richard fighting with himself, up to his inglorious demise.

This portrait approach was also made possible only through the weird, cultish charisma and electrifying stage presence of Lars Eidinger as a maniac-depressively embittered Richard. Not an “evil” character, according to Ostermeier, so much as one who makes the workings of power and its aggrandizement theatrically  transparent, naked.

“The play is not about evil as such,” says Ostermeier, “but about participation in power, the exclusion of an outsider and the manipulation of others’ antipathies. In this respect it does have significant political implications.” 

Eidinger’s matchless account requires intense physical acting, stamina, singing, and clownish, stand-up improv with the audience — the humor was particularly well-pointed, not a cop out (with a delightful exchange accusing a prematurely exiting patron of being rude when he claimed he was heading “to the toilet”).

But that’s not to shortchange the contributions of the rest of a stupendous ensemble cast. Percussionist Nils Ostendorf  contributed an excellent, live-wire score, which interpolated some fascinating touches (like an intensely repeated loop that segued in and out of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”).

 

 

 

 

Filed under: directors, Schaubühne, Shakespeare

What Use Is Religion? Bayreuth’s New Parsifal

“…where Religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for Art to save the spirit of religion by recognizing the figurative value of the mythic symbols which the former would have us believe in their literal sense, and revealing their deep and hidden truth through an ideal presentation.” –Richard Wagner (Kunst und Religion)

The 2016 edition of the Bayreuth Festival began today with a new production of Parsifal, staged by Uwe Eric Laufenberg (Intendant of the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden) and conducted by Hartmut Haenchen (following the controversial withdrawal of Andris Nelsons).

Laufenberg on the relevance of Wagner’s final stage work for an era beset by religious fundamentalism:

This piece basically focuses on the religion of Christianity. On one hand, the grail knights in “Parsifal” inhabit a realm of charity, empathy and sympathy, and they come to the aid of the needy. Then there’s the other side: a crucified God, blood rituals and military symbolism.

I believe that Wagner wanted to bring out the factors of benevolence and mystery in this work. Not to openly criticize religion, but to enable one to experience it. That’s interesting in our own times of widespread religious fundamentalism – but also in times of a Pope Francis, who has been de-emphasizing the institutional side of the Catholic Church and stressing the factors of mercy, grace and benevolence.

It’s always been pertinent to ask: What are religions doing, and are they allowing themselves to be abused for ideological purposes? What do they really stand for?

Laufenberg on setting Parsifal in the Middle East:

Wenn es um ein Stück ginge, das in Syrien oder Saudi-Arabien spielt, würde ich mich keineswegs um eine Auseinandersetzung mit dem Islam drücken. Wagner hat den „Parsifal“ in den Pyrenäen verortet, wir bringen ihn in den Nahen Osten, Richtung Syrien, Irak oder vielleicht Jerusalem, wo die monotheistischen Religionen einen Wahnsinnskampf gegeneinander führen. Im „Parsifal geht es aber um die Frage: Was ist uns die Religion wirklich wert? Wo berührt uns die Religion eigentlich noch? Was bedeutet das Mysterium des gekreuzigten Gottes?“

Hartmut Haenchen on conducting Parsifal:

BR-KLASSIK: Sie haben in einem Gespräch in Bezug auf “Parsifal” gesagt: Man muss erzählen und nicht zelebrieren. Was heißt es konkret?

Hartmut Haenchen: Wagner hat das Werk ja auch nicht “Oper” genannt – aus gutem Grund. Die Handlung des Stückes ist vor allem im ersten Akt beschränkt. Es wird erst Mal 45 Minuten lang erzählt. Und wenn ich das zelebriere, dass die Texte auseinander fallen, dass man die Textzusammenhänge nicht mehr verstehen kann, weil man Tempi wählt, die Textverständlichkeit unmöglich machen – dann wird es zelebriert, aber nicht erzählt. Und ich lege großen Wert drauf – und da stützte ich mich natürlich auf die Quellen – dass die Geschichte erzählt werden muss. “Der Fluss der Sprache bestimmt das Tempo”, – das hat Wagner selbst gesagt. Und dem muss man sich grundsätzlich unterordnen.

From a 1906 lecture by Rudolf Steiner:

Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote an epic on “Parsifal.” It was inartistic, but it sufficed for his time; for there were in those days men who had a measure of clairvoyance and could accordingly understand Wolfram. In the Nineteenth Century it was not possible to make clear to man the deep meaning of that great process of initiation in a drama. There is, however, a medium through which man’s understanding can be reached, even without words, without concepts or ideas. This medium is music. Wagner’s music holds within it all the truths that are contained in the Parsifal story.

 Complete cast list from Bayreuther Festspiele

Complete libretto (German/English)

More background on Parsifal

Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, conductors, directors, Wagner

SF Opera Carmen: Bieito’s U.S. Debut as Gockley’s Swansong

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Irene Roberts (Carmen) and Brian Jagde (Don José) ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

My review of Calixto Bieito’s Carmen — his official U.S. opera debut, in a production revived at San Francisco Opera — has now been posted on Musical America (behind paywall):

SAN FRANCISCO—An icon of iconoclasm, Calixto Bieito has been alternately demonized and deified for the challenges his stagings pose to business as usual. Kudos to San Francisco Opera, in this final hurrah from outgoing general director David Gockley, for becoming the first North American company to give the Catalan director’s work a platform. “Carmen,” which both opened and will close SFO’s 2016 summer season (with a free “opera at the ballpark” live simulcast on July 2), marks Bieito’s absurdly belated U.S. opera debut — a dozen years after his Abduction From the Seraglio at the Komische Oper Berlin sparked outrage and international headlines.

 

Filed under: Calixto Bieito, directors, review, San Francisco Opera

Gluck’s Revolution: Orphée in Seattle

sheehanphoto: tenor Aaron Sheehan, who sings the role of Orphée (credit: Kevin Day)

Here’s my story for The Seattle Times on the new production of Gluck’s French version of his epochal Orpheus opera, which Stephen Stubbs and Pacific MusicWorks are performing this weekend.

In May of 1774, 15 years before the French Revolution, the 18-year-old Marie Antoinette ascended the throne as queen of France. Less than a month before that, German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, her former music teacher — and the son of a gamekeeper — made his debut in Paris with his opera “Iphigénie en Aulide.”

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Filed under: directors, Gluck, Pacific MusicWorks, Seattle Times, Stephen Stubbs

Flying Dutchman at Seattle Opera

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© Philip Newton

My review of Wagner’s Dutchman at Seattle Opera has been posted on Bachtrack:

Though the legend of a seaman doomed to sail forever was already hackneyed by the time he took it up, it was through his idiosyncratic treatment of this material that Richard Wagner first found his authentic voice. “Do you fear a song, a picture?” sings the heroine Senta in her first confrontation with Erik, her hapless suitor.

But Wagner was well aware of the dangerous potential art possesses when the goal is no longer escapist entertainment. So is director Christopher Alden, whose production (originally created for Canadian Opera Company two decades ago) mirrors the young composer’s sense of thrilling new horizons beyond routine and convention.

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Filed under: directors, review, Seattle Opera, Wagner

Hidden Handel

Director Trevore Ross on staging Handel’s oratorios for the LA Master Chorale. First in their five-season-long project is Alexander’s Feast.

Filed under: choral music, directors, Handel, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Maria Stuarda at Seattle Opera: Donizetti Fever Rages on from Coast to Coast

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Joyce El-Khoury in the title role of Maria Stuarda; image credit: Jacob Lucas

My review of Maria Stuarda at Seattle Opera — where soprano Joyce El-Khoury has made a spectacular company debut — is now posted on Bachtrack:

Tudormania continues its invasion of America. Later this month at the Met, Sondra Radvanovsky will have added the third and final jewel to her Donizetti crown when she sings Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux. And across the continent, Seattle Opera has been presenting its company debut of Maria Stuarda (1835).

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Filed under: bel canto, directors, Donizetti, review, Seattle Opera

Feurig and Fiery

I can’t get enough of Barrie Kosky:

Filed under: Bayerische Staatsoper, directors, Prokofiev

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