MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Some New/Upcoming Streams of Note

–The American Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with Marcus Roberts and the Modern Jazz Generation in United We Play, a short film presenting three world premieres of works for strings, jazz instrumentals, and piano composed by Roberts and commissioned by the ASO: America Has the Blues, Seeking Peace, and United We Play. It streams here for free through 21 February 2021.

United We Play was “inspired by the current turbulent times, and the belief that strength comes through adversity—where there is divide, there is also community. The project [presents] a musical, visual, and narrative digital experience that speaks to the future in a positive and hopeful way.”

As musicians, we have learned to depend on and trust one another in order to create something greater than any one of us could create alone. I believe that every time we listen to someone else’s voice we become stronger and better people. Given the current state of the world, I hope that the great musical collaboration we built with the ASO for United We Play will be used as a vehicle to encourage and demonstrate that strength.—Marcus Roberts

Benjamin Britten’s other Henry James-inspired opera, Owen Wingrave, is part of Grange Park Opera’s interim season and is now being streamed here.

Filmed over five September days, director Stephen Medcalf explains: “A minimal crew maintained distancing in intimate domestic interiors and COVID restrictions required the cast to costume themselves. I’ve given full rein to the satirical, often blackly comic aspects of the opera. Alongside that there are three serious themes: the pressure from society to conform; the courage it takes to stand up for who we really are; the destructive love of family.”

In the words of Henry James: “A piece of ingenuity pure and simple, of cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those not easily caught.”

The opera is presented with the kind collaboration of Faber Music and The Britten Estate.

Britten did not own a TV when the work was broadcast on BBC2 on 16 May 1971. However, Decca presented him with a set two years later.

The work is an expression of Britten’s own pacifism, and was partly a response to the Vietnam War.

Oregon Bach Festival available here: world premiere of An American Mosaic, composed by Richard Danielpour. The commission commemorates segments of the American population that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Simone Dinnerstein performs the 15 piano miniatures and an array of accompanying Bach works.

–An all-Rihm concert from the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, streaming here. Stanley Dodds conducts this program:

Wolfgang Rihm
Sphäre nach Studie für 6 Instrumentalisten (1993/2002)

Wolfgang Rihm
Stabat Mater für Bariton und Viola

Wolfgang Rihm
Male über Male 2 für Klarinette und 9 Instrumentalisten (2000/2008)

 11 December Alexandre Bloch conducting the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker in Stravinsky/”Dumbarton Oaks”; Wagner/Siegfried Idyll; Poulenc/Sinfonietta, available here.

13 December Wagner/Lohengrin at the Staatsoper Berlin here. Cast:

–14 December  Hans Werner Henze/Das verratene Meer at Wiener Staatsoper, streaming here at 19:00 CET.

Musik Hans Werner Henze
Text Hans­-Ulrich Treichel nach Yukio Mishima
Musikalische Leitung Simone Young
Inszenierung Jossi Wieler & Sergio Morabito
Bühne und Kostüme Anna Viebrock
Licht Phoenix
Mit Boecker, Skovhus, Lovell, Van Heyningen, Kim, Astakhov, Häßler

Filed under: Hans Werner Henze, Live-Streamed Performance, Marcus Roberts, Wagner, Wolfgang Rihm

Parsifal at the Met

I had meant to post a link to my program essay (starts on Ins2) for the Met’s recent Wagner Week, which culminated in François Girard’s darkly visionary production from 2013, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Katarina Dalayman, Peter Matei, René Pape, and Evgeny Nikitin, with Daniele Gatti conducting.

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Wagner

Rethinking Romanticism: Early Music’s Latest Adventures in Time Travel

The fall edition of Early Music America’s magazine carries my new article on encounters between historically informed performance and Romanticism:

 Revolutions have a way of coming full circle. As the HIP movement began spreading more than half a century ago, its bracing challenge to conventional interpretations echoed the rebellious spirit of the 1960s…

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Kent Nagano on his collaboration with Concerto Köln to prepare for a HIP Ring

Filed under: early music, Early Music America, Romanticism, Schumann, Wagner

Ring Stream from Oper Frankfurt

On its YouTube channel, Oper Frankfurt is now streaming archival performances of its Ring cycle directed by Vera Nemirova — “the first production of Wagner’s Ring staged by a woman to achieve commercial distribution.” This Ring has been part of the company’s repertoire since the production was first completely introduced in 2012. Frankfurt’s general music director Sebastian Weigle conducts. The streams will be available until 31 May, along with a “Making-of” presentation on 26 May and a talk (in German) on the Ring on 28 May.

If that’s not sufficient for you Wagner fix, Opera North is also streaming its Ring — a concert presentation using video projections and conducted by Richard Farnes. Opera North offers this “Ring in a nutshell” guide.

Filed under: Frankfurt Oper, Wagner

Tonight’s Met Stream: Parsifal

Here’s a link to Parsifal, the seasonally appropriate streaming from the Metropolitan Opera for the next 24 hours. This performance, directed by François Girard and with Danile Gatti conducting, was transmitted live on March 2, 2013.

A pdf of the program is here, with my program note starting on p. 2 of the insert.

Cast IN ORDER OF VOCAL APPEARANCE:
Gurnemanz: René Pape
Second Knight of the Grail: Ryan Speedo Green*
Second Sentry: Lauren McNeese
First Sentry: Jennifer Forni
First Knight of the Grail: Mark Schowalter
Kundry: Katarina Dalayman
Amfortas: Peter Mattei
Third Sentry: Andrew Stenson*
Fourth Sentry: Mario Chang*
Parsifal: Jonas Kaufmann
Titurel: Rúni Brattaberg
A Voice: Maria Zifchak
Klingsor: Evgeny Nikitin
Flower Maidens:
Kiera Duffy
Lei Xu*
Irene Roberts
Haeran Hong
Katherine Whyte
Heather Johnson
* Member of the Lindemann Young ArtistDevelopment Program

Filed under: Metropolitan Opera, Wagner

Opera in San Francisco

H&G-SFO-1

Act III of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” with Heidi Stober as Gretel and Sasha Cooke as Hansel, production by Antony McDonald; photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The last few weeks have been so busy I forgot to post my coverage of a trip last month to the Bay Area. Here are links to my reviews for Musical America of two productions at San Francisco Opera (Hansel and Gretel and Manon Lescaut) and of a concert performance of the first act of Die Walküre by San Francisco Symphony.

Filed under: Engelbert Humperdinck, Musical America, Puccini, review, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, Wagner

Guest Review: An Unusual but Successful Meistersinger in London

Fulham-Opera-Meistersinger

Fulham Opera, Die Meistersinger
image: Matthew Coughlan

Guest review by Tom Luce of Die Meistersinger at the London-based Fulham Opera:

Wagner’s epic comedy is one of the longest and largest pieces in the operatic repertoire. Sixteen solo roles, the semi-chorus of apprentices, and big chorus and orchestra requirements combine with its up to five hours’ duration to make Die Meistersinger one of the most daunting artistic and financial challenges opera managements can face.

Outside Germany and Austria, where some houses do it every year, it is difficult to find performances. I have been lucky this year to see it twice, in Berlin and then London.

In April, the Berlin Staatsoper staged Die Meistersinger with a distinguished and experienced cast, the world-class Berliner Staatskappelle in the pit, and Daniel Barenboim, one of our epoch’s most outstanding musicians, on the podium. It was every bit as powerful and inspiring as one would expect. Andrea Moses’ production presented Nuremberg as a center of global capitalism, with its Mastersingers as major corporate figures. Not everyone appreciated this approach, but the director did interestingly convey the crowd’s response to Hans Sachs’s concluding monologue as a commitment to art rather than nationalism.

The forces involved in the London performance around a month ago could not have been more different. The Fulham Opera is a small fairly new undertaking of the type often characterized as “fringe.” It presented this most challenging of operas without cuts but with a chorus totaling only 23 (including the apprentices). There were 19 musicians in the pit: 9 winds, 9 strings, and a lutenist for Beckmesser. They played Jonathan Finney’s reduced version of the score.

One might think that an ensemble on so small a scale would guarantee failure to deliver Wagner’s expansive epic. But the actual event undermined such prejudgments.

There were indeed some elements not wholly successful — the overture sounded thin and unbalanced, and the brawl at the end of the second act did not fully come off. But other big moments were successful. The third-act prelude was warmly and beautifully delivered, and the great “Wach Auf” Chorus came across powerfully. Throughout, the staging, acting, singing, and playing gave a real sense of the lyrical flow and the interactions between characters that are essential to the piece.

The limited scenery concentrated more on furniture than on the Nuremberg setting but did provide plenty of scope for the comic interactions between the apprentices and their leader David and the Mastersingers in Paul Higgins’ effective and enjoyable staging. All the soloists sang and acted convincingly and were matched by skillful and committed playing in the pit under the fluent and sympathetic musical direction of Ben Woodward.

Rather, I must confess, to my own surprise, l left the Fulham Opera performance with the wonders of Wagner’s great masterpiece resonating not all that much less than I had left the Berlin performance.

The success of this daring enterprise shows that there are a large number of very gifted singing actors in the operatic profession without — at least for the present — the celebrity status expected by big opera company audiences. It also shows that elaborate scenery is not necessary for an effective staging.

This prompts an interesting question. Die Meistersinger has been performed by London’s two big established companies twice in the last decade. Seattle Opera’s last performance was in 1989. Do the glitzy expectations of big companies’ audiences and supporters inhibit their managements from considering less infrequent and more affordable presentations of this astounding and essential masterpiece?
–Tom Luce

Filed under: Wagner

Bayreuth’s Free-Willing Tannhäuser

Here are the most perceptive reviews I’ve encountered so far of the controversial new Bayreuth “Venus-goes-to-Burger-King” Tannhäuser that recently opened the 2019 season.

In [Tobias] Kratzer’s rollicking production — intelligent and surprisingly wrenching, though not quite fully formed — the Venusberg is not the libretto’s mythical pleasure realm so much as a lifestyle of young, brash artistry.

Some confusion aside, Mr. Kratzer’s reading of the opera is both novel and clever. … The idea is that our interpretations of Wagner are ever-evolving; that’s why directors are hired for several years, to tweak their productions with each revival.

Joshua Barone in The New York Times

Kratzer and his team simply refused to let themselves by intimidated by tradition, by the overwhelming aura of this historic theater, and by the ever-virulent orthodoxy of the Wagner cult. They instead choose to tell the narrative-romantic saga of the inner human conflict between love and lust, between conformity and rebellion, using sassy, fresh images. And for all their irony, they avoid the trap of playing with it in a way that degrades the work. The opera’s lofty pathos has always provoked parody, but Kratzer does it better: he does it brilliantly.

Christian Wildhagen in Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German)

The real trick [of Kratzer’s staging] is that the jokes are not all at the expense of the work. Kratzer doesn’t aim to mock Wagner but to humanize his mythically enraptured figures … Most of all, he shows two forms of art clashing with each other. On the one hand, the world of canonical masterpieces … on the other, the sensual, spontaneous world of performance and counterculture. Wagner himself contained both: the anarchic revolutionary who became a classic during his life. Kratzer doesn’t glorify either side in the process. Venus’s subversive gang is shown to be not only violent but also venal and selfish.

Bernhard Neuhoff for BR-Klassik (in German)

A shared observation: despite the excellent cast and stimulating (while problematic) staging (especially in the third act), Valery Gergiev was less than satisfactory in the pit.

And here’s an interview with director Tobias Kratzer from Deutsche Welle:

DW: How do you tell the story of Tannhäuser in 2019?

Tobias Kratzer: For me, the biographical context behind the creation of Wagner’s Tannhäuser is important. If you take that into account, the opera appears more up-to-date and contemporary. Wagner developed his play during a phase in which he didn’t really know where his life was going; whether he’d go down in history as a revolutionary and anarchist, or as a composer. That was a really interesting insight for me.

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Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, music news, Wagner

Festival Season, Opera Style

The wonderfully provocative new production of Tannhäuser directed by Tobias Kratzer (responsible for a first-rate Der Zwerg this spring) was streamed live and is currently available from BR-Klassik (configure your VPN as needed); the audio is at the moment available here.

Elsewhere in Bavaria, Barrie Kosky has applied his stage genius to Handel’s Agrippina, with Ivor Bolton conducting. You can watch it on Bayerische Staatsoper TV here (available 29 July-12 August).

There’s lots of information about Salzburg Festival’s new Idomeneo here, including interviews with director Peter Sellars and music director Teodor Currentzis.

Here’s another piece on the season-opening production from ORF’s Kultur Heute program.

At 19:00 EST on 28 July 2019, the concert performance of the complete Die Walküre with the Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, led by Andris Nelsons and taped over two days, will be broadcast via WMNR Radio. Marc Mandel’s program notes here.

For more Mozart, Glyndebourne Festival’s new Barbe & Doucet production of The Magic Flute will be streamed live on Sunday 4 August and remain available for seven days.

Filed under: Bayreuth Festival, Mozart, Salzburg Festival, Wagner

Deutsche Oper Offers Two Back-to-Back Rarities: Der Zwerg and Rienzi

Mick Morris Mehnert and David Butt Philip-Monika Ritterhaus

Mick Morris Mehnert and David Butt Philip as the title character in Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg (c)Monika Ritterhaus

For Musical America, I reviewed two productions of rarities appearing this month at Deutsche Oper: Alexander Zemlinsky’s moving and powerful Der Zwerg and Rienzi, Richard Wagner’s early appropriation of French grand opera.

BERLIN — Deutsche Oper presented a pair of rarely seen operas in rotation over the past few weeks: Alexander Zemlinsky’s unfairly neglected Der Zwerg (“The Dwarf”) and Richard Wagner’s grandiose early breakthrough, Rienzi — a work understandably overshadowed by what came after it.

Zemlinsky tends to show up as little more than a footnote in discussions of Schoenberg (his student) and Mahler (his sexual rival) — both of whose work he championed. But this compelling production of his one-act opera (which premiered in 1922) left no doubt that Zemlinsky is long overdue for a proper and sustained revival…

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Filed under: Alexander Zemlinksy, Deutsche Oper, Donald Runnicles, Musical America, review, Wagner

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