MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Alice Goodman: New York Times Profile

21ALICE5-master768

Alice Goodman in Fulbourn, England. Credit Nadine Ijewere for “The New York Times”

My New York Times story on the poet and librettist Alice Goodman is now online:

When “Nixon in China” had its premiere at Houston Grand Opera on Oct. 22, 1987, there had never been anything quite like it. No previous American opera — perhaps no opera, ever — had so boldly dealt with recent political history…

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Filed under: Alice Goodman, American literature, American opera, John Adams, librettists, New York Times, Peter Sellars, Uncategorized

Le Grand Macabre directed by Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars’s production of Ligeti’s <i>Le Grand Macabre</i> is being live-streamed on the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall today.

Filed under: Berlin Philharmonic, Ligeti, Peter Sellars

Reactions to LA Master Chorale’s Lasso

img_5830The opening weekend of the new Los Angeles Master Chorale season was devoted to Orlando di Lasso’s late masterpiece Lagrime di San Pietro. I’m still working through the extraordinary effect the performance had on me — and I know I’m far from alone.

Overall, I was left with an experience I associate with late Beethoven and Parsifal. It was genuinely that special. I’m fascinated by the line of development in Peter Sellars’s work from his stagings of the Bach Passions through John Adams’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary (also with the Master Chorale) and Kaija Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone. And of course his work on Stravinsky. James F. Ingalls’s lighting design added a rich layer, yet another strand of counterpoint.

The rehearsals — a record total of 26 to bring this to the stage — were reportedly grueling: a combination of boot camp and spiritual retreat. And the incredible technical challenge of committing so much of this music along with the choreography and gestures was taken for granted. Not that this was an “effortless” performance — far from it, the strain and exhaustion entailed in bringing this music and its message to life added to the powerful impact.

Mark Swed’s review I found especially incisive:

Normally, we turn to death-invoking music for its transformative powers. The final great works of Beethoven (the late string quartets), Mozart (the unfinished Requiem) or Mahler (the Ninth Symphony’s probe of dying embers) help us transcend despair.  Di Lasso’s “Lagrime,” however, is by a deeply depressed composer in the days before meds, someone who only wants his misery to end. It did in 1594, three weeks after finishing the score.

[…]

“Lagrime” is a major accomplishment for the Master Chorale, which sang and acted brilliantly. It is also a major accomplishment for music history. The company hopes to keep this production alive, touring it, and if the music business chooses to honor the just, that will be a saint’s compensation.

Remarking on the austerity and challenge of Lagrime that make it an improbable choice for a season-opener, Richard S. Ginell gave this assessment: “[T]he Master Chorale sounded glorious — rich, accurate, seemingly unaffected by all of the physical contortions Sellars put them through, even when singing face-down on the stage muffled their voices.”

Filed under: early music, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars

Lagrime di San Pietro

Overwhelmed by this late Renaissance masterpiece from the end of Orlando di Lasso’s life: Grant Gershon will lead the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a performance to open their season next month — in a new staging by the brilliant Peter Sellars.

A teaser, from an interview I just conducted with Sellars:

Lagrime is one of the most magnificent pieces in the history of music: vivid and complex and yet an incredibly humble last work .

Orlando at this point in his life — just 30 years after the death of Michelangelo — does not need to prove anything to anyone. He is writing because this is something he has to get off his chest to purify his own soul as he leaves the world. It’s private, devotional act of writing, but these thoughts are now shared by a community — by people singing to and for each other…”

Filed under: Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Peter Sellars, Renaissance music, Uncategorized

Courageous Women, Transcendent Visions

JuliaBullock

soprano Julia Bullock

My feature on this year’s Ojai at Berkeley Festival curated by Peter Sellars has now been posted:

This year’s Ojai at Berkeley festival focuses on the artistry and impact of powerful, visionary women—not only as creators and performers but as the subjects of the artworks themselves.

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Filed under: Ojai Festival, Peter Sellars, Saariaho

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