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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Verdi: The Best of the Galley Years

Erroll Flynn rows the boat in The Sea Hawk.
© 1940 Warner Bros. Pictures
A Look at Five Great Early Verdi Operas.
Giuseppe Verdi was one of the most prolific and influential composers of Italian opera in the 19th century. In the course of a long career, he made advances in drama and orchestration that changed his chosen art form forever.

Verdi called the period from 1842 (the premiere of Nabucco) to 1851 (the premiere of Rigoletto) his 'galley years'. In that period, the composer cranked out fourteen operas. He had to satisfy a hungry public, a wide range of singers, and the capricious, difficult censors who tried to force the composer from Busetto to radically alter his work.

Here's the top five operas from Verdi's galley years. Chronological order.

1842: Nabucco (premiered Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
Verdi's third opera (and first real success) retold the story of Babylonian Captivity as a blood-and-thunder story. The plight of the captured Jews resonated with the Italian people, and the chorus "Va, pensiero" became a de facto anthem of Italian nationalism. Nabucodonosor became a beloved opera, affectionately known by its diminuitive.
1846 Ernani (premiered La Fenice, Venice)
Early Verdi operas feature a lot of bandits, from the philosophical robbers of I Masnadieri ("The Bandits") to the romantic pirate of Il Corsaro. The most famous is Ernani, created by Victor Hugo and so honorable that he commits suicide rather than marry the leading lady in the last act. But it is also a great opera with a firebrand tenor part that points the way towards the great things to come in Verdi's mature period. Without Ernani, there would be no Trovatore.
1846 Attila (premiered La Fenice, Venice)
One of the few Italian operas with a bass lead, Attila is known for the swaggering sex appeal of its title character. The barbarian invader is presented as a sympathetic anti-hero brought down by the treachery of a rapidly falling Roman Empire. The line "Take all the world, but leave Italy for me" (actually sung by a Roman general negotiating for his life) became a battle cry as Italy moved toward unification and independence.
1847 Macbeth (premiered Teatro della Pergola, Florence. Revised version premiered 1865 in Paris.)
Verdi's version of the "Scottish play" is always known by its English title. That oddity aside, this is a straight-up adaptation of the tragedy of an ambitious Scottish laird who embarks on a murderous march to the throne. Macbeth's leading Lady is one of the composer's most memorable creations: bloody-minded at the start of the opera she is ultimately destroyed by her own harrowing guilt. "Va, il tico maladetto!"
1851 Rigoletto (premiered La Fenice, Venice)
Most Verdi scholars put this story of a hunchbacked jester at the start of the composer's 'mature' period. It could be argued that Rigoletto is transitional, owing much to the operas that came before. The opening features an onstage banda (small orchestra), playing the lilting rhythm that was an early Verdi trademark. The innovative storm scene (with its humming chorus) and the dark climax owe something to I Masnadieri and Macbeth. Rigoletto sums up and ends Verdi's early period, and is the first peak of his genius.

Baritone Brings Down House

Giovanni Jones signs for an admiring young opera lover.
Image from Long-Haired Hare © 1948 Warner Brothers.
The concert debut of acclaimed baritone Giovanni Jones ended in surprising fashion when the ceiling of the arena collapsed. No one was injured, and Mr. Jones emerged from the rubble to take a bow.

Mr. Jones had become a fixture on the Los Angeles opera scene since singing the role of Ambrogio in a small San Pedro production of Rossini's L'inutile precauzione, with tenor Michele Maltese and bass Carlo Jonzio.

A powerful baritone singer with a half-octave range, Giovanni Jones drew acclaim for his performance as Gunther in the Christoph von Dohnanyi recording of Wagner's Götterdämmerung. The singer is also a leading candidate for inclusion in the forthcoming BariHunks 2012 calendar.

The singer was offering a recital focusing on the repertory of Rossini, including the aria "Largo al factotum." But his attempt to hit the high note at the end of the aria caused the concrete ceiling overhead to crack and shatter.

Conductor Leopold Lapin, who stepped in at the last minute for Hans Haasenpfeffer, could not be reached for comment. The maestro was on his way to an appearance at the carrot festival in Pismo Beach, but had taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Concert Review: An Early Exit in a Hurricane's Path

Mostly Mozart ends with unfinished music.
The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, led by conductor Louis Langrée.
Image courtesy Lincoln Center © 2010 Mostly Mozart/Lincoln Center.
The 2011 Mostly Mozart festival came to a premature end on Friday night. Due to the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend, Saturday night's concert was cancelled. With the audiences from both nights combined at the last minute, a capacity crowd was on hand to hear the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra offer a program of Stravinsky, Schubert, and Mozart's last work, the Requiem. Louis Langrée conducted.

The packed house meant some unusual seating arrangements. My seat was on the stage, in one of the jury-box like arrangements that recall Wieland Wagner's 1961 production of Tannhäuser. Also, I could sight-read the double bass part over the musicians' shoulders during the Schubert "Unfinished" Symphony. For the Mozart Requiem I divided my attention between the choristers, the sheet music and conductor Louis Lortie.

The concert opened with Stravinsky's In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, a dirge-like setting of the poet's "Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night." The work has an unusual chamber orchestration: four string players and four trombones. Tenor Joseph Kaisersang the complex vocal part (which belongs to Stravinsky's difficult, late style with fervent emotion and beauty of tone. As Hurricane Irene whirled slowly toward the city, the poem seemed an appropriate message for the assembled audience.

Schubert's Unfinished Symphony (his Eighth) remains a giant question mark in his career. Unlike Bruckner and Mahler (who also left incomplete symphonies) Schubert lived for several years after stopping work on this piece after only two movements. Those movements were played with sure beauty by the Festival Orchestra, coloring in the complicated woodwind parts and the rolling, eloquent main theme in the 'cellos. The second movement loped with easy grace, and the horns played with firm, ringing tone.

A great deal of myth swirls around Mozart's Requiem. Here's the truth: the work was commissioned by an eccentric nobleman: Count Franz Walsegg-Stupach who planned to pass it off as his own work.Mozart died having only completed the first movement. But he wrote out vocal sketches for the work up to the beginning of the Lacrimosa, the final section of the Dies Irae.. His widow Constanze hired composer Franz Xavier Süssmayer to finish the piece and meet the commission.

Unlike later Requiem masses by Berlioz and Verdi, Mozart eschews clock-you-on-the-head orchestration, relying on the power of the human voice to convey the message of the Latin text. This is most apparent in the Tuba mirum, where the Last Trumpet is announced by a ringing bass voice with brass accompaniment. Morris Robinson delivered this unearthly message with power and warmth. Soprano Julia Lezhneva, in her American debut, was impressive in the work's lyric passages, as was mezzo Kelley O'Connor.

The second half of the Requiem was written by Süssmayer. Strong choral contributions from the Concert Chorale of New York were prominent here, particularly in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The final passages of the work sound forth in a triumphal shout, quoting the very beginning of the mass. This might not be the most imaginative ending, but one can only imagine how Mozart would have done it.

Free Mahler Concert Marks September 11

New York Philharmonic Announces Ticket Distribution Details for Free Concert
Alan Gilbert leads the New York Philharmonic.
Photo by Chris Lee © 2010 New York Philharmonic
Details are available for the New York Philharmonic's upcoming FREE concert in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The concert, which takes place the day before the tenth anniversary of the attacks, will be held at Avery Fisher Hall on Sept. 10 at 7:30pm.

The program: Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, subtitled the Resurrection. Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert will conduct. Featured artists are soprano Dorothea Roschmann, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and the New York Choral Artists.


In a statement, Mr. Gilbert said:
"Mahler‘s Second Symphony, Resurrection, powerfully and profoundly explores the range of emotions provoked by the memories of 9/11. This great masterpiece has a very special place in the history and psyche of the New York Philharmonic, but its message of renewal and rebirth is universal. We offer it as a tribute to those lost ten years ago."

Tickets for the free concert will be distributed starting at 4pm at Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center on Saturday, September 10, the day of the concert. Tickets are first-come, first-serve with a ticket limit of two per person.

Additionally, the Philharmonic is offering priority ticket access to the families of 9/11 victims, first responders and survivors; members of this community may request a pair of tickets in advance by e-mailing concertfornewyork@nyphil.org by September 1, 2011.

Mahler's Resurrection Symphony has pride of place in the New York Philharmonic's history. Mahler himself served as music director of the orchestra from 1909-1911, and conducted the work (which requires a large orchestra and chorus in addition to vocal soloists) on several occasions during his tenure.

Leonard Bernstein, who did much to improve the stature of Mahler's music over the course of his long career, made the Resurrection a regular part of his repertory. He also recorded the work twice with the New York Philharmonic, once as part of a complete cycle of Mahler symphonies for CBS, and again for DG in 1987.

The concert will be broadcast on PBS on September 11 as part of the Great Performances series. A CD and DVD release is planned for October. The New York Philharmonic will also feature encore performances of the Resurrection Symphony as part of their regular subscription season. For more information and to order tickets, visit the orchestra's official website at NyPhil.Org.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Top Five Storm Scenes in Opera

Something to read during Hurricane Irene!

Storm effects have always been an integral part of opera composition. Whether adding the effect of wind by a hand-turned drum or thunder with strategically placed metal sheets, the storm is a standard element of many dramatic works, and even comedies.


5) Britten: Second Sea Interlude from Peter Grimes
Benjamin Britten's opera about a misanthropic fisherman living in perpetual exile from a small English fishing village swims with powerful imagery of the vast oceans. The storm's fury is unleashed in the Second Interlude, which depicts the hero's struggle to reach his fishing hut during a ferocious storm.

4) Rossini: Temporale from Act II of Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Rossini worked storms into a number of his operas, including a memorable one in the overture to William TellBarbiere has one of his best comic tempests, starting with little stabs and drips in the strings before unleashing the full fury of the heavens (and the orchestra.) Although it can be played by a small orchestra, Rossini's brilliant writing packs a mean meteorological wallop. And like most summer rainstorms, it is over before it begins. 

3) Gluck: Introduction and Chorus from Act I of Iphigénie en Tauride
The great operatic reformer Christophe Willibald Gluck created the model for an orchestral tempest with the powerful overture of his second opera based on the tragic story of Iphigenia. The opera has no overture (another innovation) drawing the listener in with a few string chords that swell like clouds about to burst. When the storm breaks, the leading lady and her priestesses sing an evocation against soaring, chugging strings and rolls on the timpani, an effect later borrowed by Verdi for the opening scene of his Otello.
2) Wagner: Prelude to Act I of Die Walküre
The Ring has its share of stormy moments. But nothing is more impressive than this scene which depicts Wotan's conjured tempest chasing poor hapless Siegmund into the hut of his enemy. The heavy, descending figure carries the weight of the raindrops, and the Wagner tubas ring out with Donner's "He-da! He-da! He-do!" theme, which last appeared when the thunder god let out a bolt of lightning at the end of Das Rheingold. An perfect operatic storm.

1) Verdi: "Bella figlia dell'amore" (Quartet and Storm) from Act III of Rigoletto.
The third act of Rigoletto is the full flowering of the mature Verdi's genius. He creates a mighty storm with the simplest effect: a group of choristers in the orchestra pit, humming a wordless melody to create the effect of oncoming thunder and rising, gale-force winds. The storm serves as background to the great quartet (sung by the Duke, Maddalena, Sparafucile and Gilda) which ends in the leading lady's death at the hands of the assassin.



Daniel Barenboim conducts the Prelude to Act I of Die Walküre.
© 2010 La Scala.

Blog You Like a Hurricane

First: a Hurricane Irene update.


Although I'm not really sure why you should be getting your hurricane news from a classical music site, I can tell you that the onset of Hurricane Irene has put a damper (pun intended) on music activities this weekend in New York City.
  • Tomorrow night's season-ending performance of the Mozart Requiem has been cancelled, which makes tonight's show the last of a highly successful festival. Review to follow.
  • Also axed: the first two nights of the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD Festival which would have featured showings of last year's Don Pasquale and a 2010 Simon Boccanegra with Plácido Domingo. The Festival will (hopefully) open on Monday with the scheduled showing of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride starring Susan Graham.

Live Webcast Review: Shine a Light

Berlin Philharmonic opens with Mahler's Seventh.
Sir Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic. Photo by Mark Allan.
Today, the Berlin Philharmonic opened their Digital Concert Hall to the world, offering a free pass to view the orchestra's season-opening performance of Mahler's Seventh Symphony, under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. The concert, broadcast live from the Philharmonie, the ensemble's pentagon-shaped main concert hall, marked the start of the orchestra's 2011-2012 season.

The Seventh is one of Mahler's most challenging symphonies, the bane of even the most experienced conductor. It is the last of an informal trilogy of all-instrumental symphonies with the Fifth and Sixth. Its content: four "nocturnal" movements in a row, against a fifth which is bathed in brash, arrogant daylight. Nobody is really sure what Mahler meant by that contrast, and it is that uncertainty that sinks most attempts to interpret this symphony.

Sir Simon led the orchestra in a first movement that climbed from the melancholy horn melody that opens the work (played here on a tenor Wagner tuba) to a dizzying height. The five horns contrasted the movement's heroic theme against a lush background of strings. The famous "Star Trek" trumpet solo soared forth against hushed, mysterious chords. The coda had the Berliners playing with an eloquence one normally associates with the Viennese, a quality of laughing and weeping at once that is central to Mahler.


The second movement is the first of two to be labeled Nachtmusik, a mysterious journey through the woods. Sir Simon took this trip at a fast walk, losing none of the eloquence of the horn lines and percussive detail (cowbells, col legno strings) along the way. The tempo gave a sense of urgency to the music, as if the mysterious night-time mission required stealth, speed, and care.

The third movement (marked schattenhaft ("shadow-like")) is treacherous, with its "off" rhythms and whirling figures muttered and growled in the low winds and strings. The Berliners sounded like a calliope that couldn't quite get started. Trombones, cellos and double basses played this trip-wire music with such precision that it sounded almost random in its execution, terrifying in its portent.

The massive ensemble appeared to reduce itself for the fourth movement, another Nachtmusik. This is an elegant throwback with tributes to the slow movements of Haydn, Mozart and Boccherini. The oboes, cellos and horn made eloquent contributions, and the presence of guitar and mandolin lent color to the work. In the central secton, Mahler inserts a rising melody (carried by the oboe and the violin) that offers hints for the finale.

The brass fanfare that opens the fifth movement sets the tone for the entirety of what follows. Some conductors play it a drunken village band. Others favor a more stately, orderly approach to the theme, making it sound almost like the overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger. Sir Simon Rattle fell between the two stools offering an energetic reading of the movement but presenting the noble tones of his excellent brass section.

Low strings took up the bustling main theme of the Rondo, interrupted periodically by the brass fanfare. In the final bars, the melancholy theme of the opening movement returned, transformed by the sunnier orchestral backdrop into a solemn hymn of life. Sir Simon Rattle brought the whole to a triumphant close, shining much-needed light on this deserving and misunderstood Mahler symphony.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Fall of the Tower Scene--UPDATE

Condemned man's aria restored Anna Bolena.
Giovanni Battista Rubini, the tenor who
created the role of Percy in Anna Bolena.
UPDATE: According to a news item from our friends at Parterre Box, the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Anna Bolena will no longer be subject to a serious cut in its final act.

The aria is "Vivi tu," sung by Riccardo Percy while he is imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting execution. Met press representative Peter Clarke told parterre that the decision to cut the number was made for "dramatic reasons." The aria was to be sung by tenor Stephen Costello.

With its sweet melodies and soaring high notes, "Vivi tu" is a highlight of the score, allowing the tenor (who has a relatively small part in the opera) his chance to bring the house down. It was sung in New York in 2010, at the Dell'Arte Ensemble's "black box" production of Anna Bolena. But the aria is also one of the most challenging in the entire bel canto repertory, including a sky-scraping high E♭ above the stave.

Donizetti wrote the aria for Giovanni Battisti Rubini, the 18th century super-tenor who created the leading roles in many bel canto operas, including Lord Arturo Talbo in  Bellini's I puritani. The high E♭ note is so difficult that most singers choose to simply transpose the aria down a couple of steps, to make it a nice, safe high C.


The aria was cut for "dramatic purposes" but restored on Aug. 31.

Anna Bolena will open the Met's 2011-2012 season. The opera stars Anna Netrebko in the title role of the doomed English queen who falls out of favor with her husband, the capricious Henry VIII. The production (by David McVicar) is the first staging of the opera by the Met. It will be part of the Met's Live in HD schedule in the coming months.

According to Brad Wilber's (now defunct) Metropolitan Opera Futures page, the run of Anna is to be followed in the coming decade by Donizetti's other two "Queen" operas, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux. These operas have not been heard at Lincoln Center since the 1970s, when soprano Beverly Sills made the "Three Queens" a central part of her repertory.

The Super-Conductor Opera Preview Part II: The Pooh-Bah Edition

Brought to you by the Lord High Everything Else.
The Lord High Everything Else

Yes, we already published the annual Metropolitan Opera Preview.

It's in that box over there to the right, where we break down the coming season of high drama and music drama at the big limestone skyscraper-on-its-side on what used to be W. 64th St and Amsterdam Ave.

Here, we break down the rest of the coming opera season, from the New York City Opera on down to smaller (but beloved) regional companies in the outer boroughs. This schedule is not complete, and links go to the websites of the respective opera companies and venues.

Anyway, there's some really good stuff coming. Here we go!

September 2011:
  • The opera season gets off to an early start with a run of Francesco Cavalli's Giasone at Le Poisson Rouge in the first week of September. 
  • Les Arts Florissants revives their staging of Atys by Jean-Baptiste Lully, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, starting Sept. 18. William Christie conducts.

October:
  • BAM starts the month off with a run of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. Also, Tosca opens the 30th anniversary season of the Dicapo Opera, a charming "jewel box" house on the Upper East Side.
  • The Amore Opera continues the tradition of chamber opera in the East Village with a "Fall Figaro Fest": Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and the U.S. premiere of Mercadente's Il due Figaro, an unauthorized continuation of the adventures of the Almaviva clan, written in 1826.

Peter Maxwell-Davies.
November:
  • Two exciting premieres this month: Juilliard launches their 2011 opera season with the U.S. premiere of Kommiltonen! by composer Peter Maxwell-Davies. 
  • This month also features world premiere of Nico Muhly's opera Dark Sisters by the Gotham Chamber Opera. The new work will run for 10 performances at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College for Criminal Justice. 
  • Angela Gheorghiu makes her one New York appearance of the season, as the Opera Orchestra of New York presents Adriana Lecouvrer at Carnegie Hall.
  • Chelsea Opera offers Menotti's The Medium, and Brooklyn's Regina Opera presents Madama Butterfly.

December:

  • Yale in New York mounts an annual concert series at Carnegie Hall. In the downstairs Zankel Hall, the company will perform William Walton's rarely played one-act opera The Bear. 
  • The Dicapo Opera mounts Tchaikovsky's Iolanta

January 2012
  • Wagnerians are already excited at the OONY's plans to mount a concert version of Rienzi at Avery Fisher Hall. Eve Queler conducts. Nice to have Wagner without spinning planks.
  • Opera Lafayette, a period ensemble from Washington D.C. makes its annual visit with Le Roi et le Fermier by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny. 
  • Another Menotti opera. This time, it's The Consul, presented by the Dicapo Opera.
  • The Bronx Opera presents a rare work by Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Poisoned Kiss. All performances are at Lehman College.
The death of vinyl: Janis Kelly in the Manchester premiere of Prima Donna.
Photo by Tristram Kenton.
February
  • Claiming "all of New York" as its stage, the revamped New York City Opera opens at...BAM. The company will offer a Jonathan Miller staging of La Traviata (from their old partners at Glimmerglass Opera.) Also, the eagerly anticipated U.S. premiere of singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright's anticipated opera Prima Donna.
  • The Met and Juilliard present a co-production of Armide featuring promising young Juilliard artists. This is a follow-up to last year's The Bartered Bride. Gluck's opera will be conducted by Jane Glover. This may be a tough ticket, as it is (probably) a sneak preview for an upcoming Met production.
Not Rigoletto: Charles Laughton (left) as Quasimodo
with Maureen O'Hara in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
© 1939 RKO Radio Pictures.
March
  • City Opera moves again, to the Lynch Theater for a new production of Mozart's Così fan tutte. On a happier note, Dicapo Opera presents The Most Happy Fella, and the Regina Opera offers Cavalleria Rusticana, paired with a short concert. 
  • Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra present a concert performance of Franz Schmidt's Notre-Dame, a rare setting of Victor Hugo's story of a love-struck hunchback. (Not Rigoletto. The other one.)
  • Finally, OONY offers a TBA opera with Placído Domingo. Betting books will open before the announcement is made. Well, not really.

April
  • As the Met's Ring creaks into high gear, Gotham Chamber Opera will present a rare Mozart work: Il Sogno di Scipione. At the Lynch Theater at John Jay.
  • Dicapo pits their Violetta against the Met's with their own production of La Traviata. (No Ikea furniture is involved.) 
  • Also, the Juilliard School mounts another staging of Don Giovanni. This one is by Stephen Wadsworth.
May
  • In their final migration of the season, New York City Opera presents Telemann's Orpheus at El Museo de Barrio on the Upper East Side.
  • The Bronx Opera winds down their season with Hansel und Gretel at Lehman College.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb?

Tenor Cancels Japan Tour for Medical Check.

UPDATE: Tenor Jonas Kaufmann has cancelled his commitment to sing in an upcoming tour of Japan with the Bavarian State Opera, but will meet New York commitments including Faust and Die Walküre.
Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund.
Photo by Ken Howard.
© 2010 The Metropolitan Opera.

In a statement, the tenor wrote:

I need to have an operation to remove a node in my thoracic area. I do not wish anyone to become alarmed reading this, but my physicians have ordered me to have the surgery as soon as possible. This will take place after my appearance in Stockholm on September 2. I am pretty sure that the results of the histological examination will come up "benign" but as I said, this procedure could not be further delayed.


Mr. Kaufmann was scheduled to sing the role of Don José, and the title role in Lohengrin. He will be replaced in the latter by South African tenor Johan Botha.

Mr. Kaufmann is scheduled to sing the title role in the Metropolitan Opera's new staging of Faust, which premieres on Nov. 29. This new staging is by Jersey Boys director Dez McAnuff and was first presented at the English National Opera.

 Mr. McAnuff updates Gounod's opera to the 20th century and the birth of the atomic bomb. already seen one cancellation: Angela Gheorghiu nixed her commitment to it earlier this year, citing "artistic differences."

The tenor burned up the stage in 2011 in the role of Siegmund in the company's new production of Die Walküre. Mr. Kaufmann is currently signed to reprise the role of Siegmund in three performances of Walküre, part of the company's complete staging of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.

We here at Superconductor would like to wish Mr. Kaufmann a speedy recovery, and we hope that his prognosis is good.

Concert Review: Youths Gone Wild

French pianist, conductor debut at Mostly Mozart.
Debut artist: French pianist Bertrand Chamayou.
Photo by Laura Vaconi for Naïve Classics
One of the joys of attending Mostly Mozart concerts is the opportunity to hear new talent.  Tuesday night's Mostly Mozart concert featured French pianist Bertrand Chamayou in his U.S. debut and conductor Jérémie Rhor, leading his first New York concert. 

Mr. Chamayou opened the evening with a lovely prelude recital that paired Haydn's Variations in f minor with Mendelssohn's Varitions sérieuses. The elegant Haydn spooled forth with a liquid ease. Mr. Chamayou played softly before the small audience, using legato and relaxed fingers to convey the composer's warmth and good humor. The Mendelssohn is made of sterner stuff, but Mr. Chamayou used the same approach. By placing emphasis on Mendelssohn's melodic invention he made a good case for including more music by this composer in future Mostly Mozart programs.

The concert opened with Haydn's Symphony No. 21. Nicknamed "The Philosopher" for its stately, considered opening movement, this is an atypical example of Haydn in his Esterhazy period. The work's unique sound comes from the pairing of two English horns (instead of the usual oboes) with two French horns in the orchestra, creating a dark atmosphere. The effect (and the general tone of the movement) was borrowed by Mozart for Act II of Die Zauberflöte: specifically the scene with the Two Men in Armor.

The Haydn was played with crisp efficiency. But the same cannot be said for the Mozart piano concerto (No. 12 in A Major) in  that followed. Mr. Rhor jumped the gun, leading off the first movement before Mr. Chamayou was ready to play. This did damage the overall performance, as one felt that the young pianist was working hard to play catch-up to his countryman. Mr. Chamayou played the solo parts with a fleet, elegant touch with Mozart's own cadenzas, an early example of the composer's brilliant writing for that instrument.

Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in Symphony stands at the beginning of the composer's mature period, showing the way forward to the great symphonies that came in the last years of his life. Mr. Rhor conducted the work with vigor, charging into the elegant main theme with enthusiasm, if little grace.

The challenging horn parts of the first movement that provided thrills. But the two horn players had intonation problems in the finale, making ugly noises when graceful playing was needed. Mr. Rhor again seemed eager, racing through the staccato passages of the minuet and the tricky finale.

Finding Maria Callas...in Brooklyn

An operatic treasure in Park Slope.
Sweet, innocent, and a viper: Maria Callas as Rosina.
Photo © 1958 EMI Classics
Last Saturday afternoon, following brunch, I found myself at Brooklyn Record and Tape, an old, somewhat beaten-up, but interesting record store in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Tony's shop is a living throwback, a record store crammed with vinyl, CDs, cassettes and VHS. He may even have 8-tracks--I've never asked.

And there, on top of a wooden CD crate of hip-hop CDs, it sat. The 1997 EMI reissue (on two CDs) of the 1958 La Scala recording of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. I looked at the prices for the small classical CD collection. $4 a disc. $8 for two. I bought it immediately.

Taking my new purchase home on the B63 bus, I wanted to yell and shout, to exult that I had scored Maria Callas in Park Slope. But nobody would have understood what that meant, and it was better to just take my new-found treasure home quietly.

Needless to say, I've been listening to the Callas Barbiere steadily for the last two days. It is a brisk, professional affair, graced with the presence of La Divina as the ingenious Rosina. Ms. Callas accents the viperish nature and worldly wisdom of Dr. Bartolo's young ward. Her "Una voce poco fa" is lovely, complete with a hair-raising high note in the final bars.

"Dunque Io Sono", Rosina's duet with Figaro, is the highlight of this first act, matching Maria with her longtime onstage sparring partner Tito Gobbi. Mr. Gobbi is a great comic barber, brash and arrogant during "Largo al factotum." He and Luigi Alva soar together in "All' idea di quell metallo" and "Numero quindice. It feels like the conductor Alcero Galliera, is hurrying to keep up with his singers.


This recording features Luigi Alva, early in the role that became the trademark of his career. The bel canto tenor is in good comic form, displaying the comic chops needed for Almaviva's disguised entries into Dr. Bartolo's household. "Pace gioia" elicits real laughter, as Alva puts on an irritating, nasal voice and an air of piety. Fritz Ollendorf is a harsh-toned Bartolo, but surmounts the tongue-tripping challenges of "Un dottor della mia sorta", an aria so difficult that it was left out of the opera for almost a century.

Although this is a studio recording, the nature of Barbiere allows the listener to hear Callas working in ensembles, particularly the big sextet and chorus that rings down the curtain on Act I. She uses the lower range of her instrument to create a mezzo Rosina, as the composer originally intended. And yes, there is a special thrill when her distinctive voice cuts through the texture of the other singers. How often to you get to hear a goddess do comedy?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Angela Gheorghiu vs. Maria Callas

Technology pits Romanian soprano against La Divina.
"Devo veramente a cantare con lei?"
Maria Callas in Cherubini's Medea.
Photo © EMI Classics/La Scala archive.

Like the late diva Emilia Marty, soprano Angela Gheorghiu has made a bid for immortality with her forthcoming CD release: Homage to Maria Callas.

The disc features the Romanian soprano singing some of Callas' favorite repertory in the verismo genre, including arias from Puccini's La bohème, Catalani's La Wally and "La Mamma Morta", the aria from Giordano's Andrea Chenier made famous in the movie Philadelphia.

But the most controversial addition to the disc is a digitally built duet between La Gheorghiu and the late Maria Callas. The two sopranos, one living, one very dead, will sing "L'amour c'est l'oiseaux rebelle", the Habañera from Act I of Bizet's Carmen.

According to a press release (received today from EMI Classics) the new "duet" was created from the original master tape of Callas' 1961 recording of the aria. The engineers chose this over the '63 recording of the complete opera, because it lacked the usual choral accompaniment.

In the engineering booth, the original orchestra (the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française under the baton of George Prêtre) was scrubbed out. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Marco Armiliato re-recorded the music, with the players using a special click track to match the original. Ms. Gheorghiu also chose to learn Callas' particular sense of rhythm and meter, enabling the two divas to warble together, or seperately.


Leaving aside obvious reservations (the biggest one being that the Habañera is intended for one singer!) the new disc will hit New York's few remaining record shops in October, shortly before Ms. Gheorghiu's scheduled appearance with the Opera Orchestra of New York. In the OONY performance, she will sing the title role in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvrer.

Ms. Gheorghiu has a history of recent cancellations and controversies at the Metropolitan Opera. In an interview this weekend with the Los Angeles Times, conductor Leonard Slatkin blamed the diva for his exit from a disastrous 2009 revival of Verdi's La Traviata.

Earlier this year, the singer dropped out of the company's new production of Faust. Scheduled to sing Marguerite opposite Jonas Kaufmann, Ms. Gheorghiu cited "creative differences" with the new production, which updates the German legend to the 20th centiry and makes Faust into Robert Oppenheimer. Perhaps she will use her free time to prepare another tribute, this time to Catalan soprano Victoria de los Ángeles.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pandora's Metal Box

Metallica and Lou Reed Create New Lulu.
The boys in the band: Metallica pose with Lou Reed (center)
L.R.: James Hetfield, Rob Trujillo, Reed, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett.
Photo by Anton Corbijn, © 2011 Metallica and Lou Reed from LouReedMetallica.com
New York songwriter Lou Reed has teamed with Bay area thrashers Metallica to create Lulu, the artists' first collaboration together. Reports indicate that the album, Metallica's tenth studio effort, is complete.


Based on information on the project's official website, Lulu is scheduled for an international release on Oct. 31 and an American release on Nov. 1. Song titles listed include "Junior Dad", "Mistress Dread" and "Pumping Blood". The album, completed at the band's Marin County headquarters, could be Metallica's first concept album or rock opera.

Metallica and Lou Reed first played together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert in 2008. The quartet backed up performances of "Sweet Jane" and "White Light, White Heat" as part of the marathon show at Madison Square Garden.

Based on the Franz Wiedekind plays Erdgeist and Pandora's Box, Lulu retells the story of a femme fatale who commits murder, adultery and other deadly sins as she leaves a trail of destruction . Ultimately, Lulu becomes a prostitute and meets her fate at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

The two plays inspired Alban Berg to set Lulu as his second opera in 1929. Berg died in 1935, leaving the opera unfinished. In 1976, following the death of the composer's widow Helene Berg, the third act was completed by composer Friedrich Cerha from Berg's sketches.

The band is scheduled to appear in New York on Sept. 14 at Yankee Stadium, as the headlining act in the heavy metal festival known as The Big Four. There is no word as to whether Mr. Reed, a Brooklyn native, will join them onstage again.


Watch Lou Reed perform "Sweet Jane" with Metallica.

Concert Review: Grief, Joy, but no Mozart

New world elegance: pianist Nelson Freire.
The composer whose name adorns the festival was absent from Mostly Mozart on Friday night, as the Festival Orchestra offered a program pairing Stravinsky's Symphony in C with Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Nelson Freire made his Festival debut as the featured soloist in the latter work.

Igor Stravinsky's neo-classical period saw the composer turn away from programmatic ballets in an effort to write pure music. But the wartime Symphony in C has autobiographical elements, with its relentless opening and melancholy writing for the wind section. Small wonder: Stravinsky had begun his wartime exile from Europe.

The mournful Larghetto may reference the deaths of his wife and daughter from tuberculosis. Mr. Langree led an eloquent reading of this underperformed work, with superb playing from the bassoons, oboe and English horn. The grim Largo that ends the work in a series of hushed, mysterious chords that never quite climax, created a spellbinding effect.

The Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire played Beethoven's Fourth piano concerto with Old World elegance. Subtly accompanied by Mr. Langree, Mr. Freire played the arpeggiated runs and figures with a sweet, almost joyful tone, offering an almost pastoral tour through the opening movement. This was pianism of a high order, gracious but with a restrained power underneath.

The slow movement of this concerto bears some resemblance to the composer's Waldstein sonata, in that it serves as a lead-up to a dazzling finale. Again, Mr. Freire spoke with his fingers, winding out the lazy melodies with ease. But there was nothing languid about the finale, a joyful storm up and down the keyboard with Mr. Freire's sure technique leading the charge.

Mr. Freire added to the work's challenges by playing the cadenzas of composer/pianist Ferrucio Busoni. Busoni, one of the most underperformed and challenging composers of the early 20th century, elaborated and expanded Beethoven's original work as part of his own concert repertory. The cadenzas are challenging: of such complexity that they amount to works in themselves.

The short concert was followed by an enthusiastic reception. Mr. Freire's first encore was a transcription from Gluck's opera Orfeo et Euridice, played with elegance and warmth. The second piece, a searching work that fell between impressionism and modal jazz, was from the 20th century and probably penned in Mr. Freire's native Brazil. It might have been by Villa-Lobos.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Lady Gaga Fugue

Too awesome not share here.


This is a performance of 'Bad Romance' by Lady Gaga, arranged for a three-voice fugue by Giovanni Dettori. Played on a 250-year old organ by organist Matthias Rascher, who first posted this on YouTube.

According to Mr. Rascher's YouTube page, this organ was built in 1756 by Johann Philipp Seuffert, an organ-builder based in Wurzburg. The organ is located in the Pilgrimage Church in Maria Limbach in lower Franconia.

Opera Review: Ariadne on E. 13th St.

dell'Arte Opera Ensemble takes Strauss downtown.
Creative Team: Hugo von Hoffmannsthal (l.) and Richard Strauss
Photo © 195 Archives of the Salzburg Festval.
Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos is set onstage and backstage at a private theater belonging to "The Richest Man in Vienna." On Thursday night, the Dell'Arte Opera ensemble mounted the opera in the Little 13th Street Theater as part of their 2011 Standard Repertory Project. Though the surroundings were less opulent, the magic of this unique opera came through.


A collaboration between Strauss and his frequent librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, Ariadne juxtaposes a high-flown opera seria with a burlesque troupe. Thanks to the whims of their patron, the two theater groups are forced to share the stage, to "liven up" the desolate island of Naxos. The work straddles three centuries, fusing the comic writing of Mozart, the majesty of Wagner and Strauss' own particular genius for the theater.

As Ariadne, Jane Shivick displayed a powerful instrument that was almost too big for the tiny theater. Her best moment was the low note ("Totenreich!") in "Er gibt ein reich", though she sang majestically in the final scene with Bacchus. Kevin Courtemanche did well with Bacchus' murderous, high tessitura, an example of Strauss' unkind writing for the tenor voice.


The high-strung Composer dominates the Prologue. Juli Borst has good acting ability and a resonant mezzo, especially in "O der Esel! Die Freud'! Du allmächtiger Gott." But Ms. Borst's voice hardened under pressure, expressing panic at the backstage creative crisis. In a final touch, the Composer returned to gaze proudly at the united Bacchus and Ariadne. Also notable: a strong spoken performance from Erik Kramer as the Haushofmeister, and Jack White as the Music Master who tries to keep the Composer from flying off the handle.

Zerbinetta is the star of the aforementioned comedians, and one of the most challenging parts for a high coloratura soprano. Jennifer Rossetti met the challenges of the ten-minute "Grossmachtige Prinzessin", including the high F notes called for on the fioratura passages. More importantly, she imbued the part with an easy sexuality and had good chemistry with the four players in the troupe. Their following quintet was more than an anti-climax: it was a highlight of the show.

This is the favorite opera of dell'Arte music director Christopher Fecteau. Leading a stripped-down 11-piece band (with a synthesizer adding to the orchestra and providing the timpani) Mr. Fecteau brought out the wit and humor of the Prologue. His little band changed idioms repeatedly, accompanying the comedy troupe with grace, switching to sweeping and sweeping lyricism for the plight of the stranded princess. Best of all, the conductor became involved with the performance, occasionally meeting the eyes of a harlequin player appealing for help from the small pit. But even conductors cannot sway a princess or a Zerbinetta.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Good, The Bad and La Forza

Verdi's opera meets (and inspires) the "spaghetti" Western.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
L.-R.: Il buono (Clint Eastwood), il brutto, (Eli Wallach) il cattivo (Lee Van Cleef)
© 1966 United Artists Pictures.
Last night, very late, I was watching The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, Sergio Leone's masterpiece and the third movie of the trilogy starring Clint Eastwood as "The Man With No Name." About an hour in, just as a random cannonball demolished the second story of the hotel where Tuco (Eli Wallach) had Clint at gunpoint, I started thinking about Verdi--specifically his 1862 opera La Forza del Destino.


Forza (as it's known to opera lovers) is the bastard child among Verdi's mature works, held as either the highest level of genius or a mishappen mess. It is frequently criticized for a total lack of Aristotelian unities, a plot held together by happenstance. A century later, Leone's so-called "spaghetti" Westerns faced the same criticism, mostly from American critics.

A quick recap: Don Alvaro, eloping with Leonora di Vargas when they are confronted by her dad. Alvaro surrenders his weapon. It goes off, killing Vargas. Carlo di Vargas (the son) swears vendetta. Leonora becomes a hermit. Alvaro enlists, only to find Carlo in his regiment. Returning to Spain, Alvaro becomes a priest. Carlo shows up. They duel. Alvaro mortally wounds Carlo. Leonora is killed by a dying Carlo and dies in Alvaro's arms.

Part of what makes Forza remarkable (if bewildering) to newcomers is its reliance on supporting characters in addition to the main trio. Part of that is because Verdi conflated two sources for the libretto: Rivas' play Don Alvaro and Schiller's Wallensteins Lager, which contributed the battle scenes in Act III. This is Verdi's war opera, and he fills its battlefields with memorable figures: the Mayor of Hornachuelos, the gypsy turned military recruiter Preziosilla, the muleteer Trabuco. This vast canvas of humanity serves as comic relief and much-needed contrast to the drama of the three leads.

Breaking Down Valhalla

The Madness of the Met's New Ring Schedule.

Gary Lehman as Siegfried: waking the cast for an 11am curtain?
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera
In the last few decades, attending Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera House was a simple, if expensive affair.

The options were:

A) Four matinee performances on Saturday afternoons (timed to coincide with the live broadcasts.)
B) All four operas the way Wagner intended: in the course of a week.
Monday: Rheingold at 8pm. Tuesday: Walküre at 7. Thursday: Siegfried at 6:30.
Saturday Götterdämmerung starting at 6pm.
The operas ended at midnight. It was all very civilized, and felt like Bayreuth...on the Hudson.

The production was good, too.

Well, this year's schedule changes all that. Three cycles are offered, and the scheduling options are bizarre.

Cycle I starts on April 7th with a Saturday night Das Rheingold that goes curtain-up at 9pm. (So much for earlier start times!)
Die Walküre has its season premiere on the following Friday (the 13th) at 6:30pm Good scheduling for a production that had two onstage accidents (with singers falling off the "Machine" set) last spring.
Siegfried (with Gary Lehman) is a matinee on April 21st, starting at 11am. Tickets should be easy to get for non-subscribers, if they decide to get up that early.
Finally, Götterdämmerung (with Stephen Gould as Siegfried and Katerina Dalayman as Brunnhilde) starts on Tuesday night at 6pm, which means that opera-goers with jobs (the only ones who can afford the doubled ticket prices) will be leaving work early and racing to the opera house. Considering that the first act is two and a half hours long, expect List Hall and the downstairs viewing lounges to be jammed.

The other cycles are a little better. Cycle II opens with an 8:30 Rheingold on April 26. Die Walküre is April 28, again a "rehearsal schedule matinee" at 11am. Siegfried is Monday night at 6pm, and Götterdämmerung is Thursday, May 3 at 6. Ms. Dalayman sings Brünnhilde.

Cycle III is similar. Das Rheingold bows on May 5, a Saturday night performance at 8:30pm. Die Walküre is Monday, May 7 at 6:30pm. Siegfried is Wednesday at 6pm. The final Götterdämmerung is at 11am on Saturday, May 12. The last cycle pairs Ms. Voigt with Mr. Gould.

To order tickets to this year's performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen, visit the official subscription page at the official site of the Metropolitan Opera.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Concert Review: The Emersons' Endgame

At Mostly Mozart: Final quartets from four composers.
String theory: Philip Setzer, Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton and David Finckel.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Emerson String Quartet. Photo from their website.
The Emerson String Quartet has reigned for three decades as one of the premium string quartets in chamber music. On Monday night at Alice Tully Hall, they cemented that reputation with a concert surveying the final string quartets by Haydn, Bartók and Schubert.


The ensemble also offered a pre-concert recital which deferred to the theme of the Mostly Mozart Festival. As a taster for a coming concert this fall, the Emersons played the third (and last) of Mozart's "Prussian" quartets. Although this piece was written in Mozart's last, difficult years, the writing sparkles with warmth and humanity. Part of this was because Mozart himself enjoyed playing the second violin or even viola, and thus wrote rich accompaniments to the upper melodic line.

Mozart's works in the genre are unparalleled for their warmth and invention. But when it comes to innovation, Haydn is the father of the string quartet. His 68th and last work in the genre is just two incomplete movements. It proved to be a good pairing with Bartók's last quartet, the Sixth. Pairing Haydn and Bartók is in vogue this year, and the Emersons made the most of the former's good humor and the latter's gloomy depths.


Written in the composer's difficult New York years, Bartók's last quartet is less spiky and dissonant than his earlier examples in the genre. But he still calls for unusual effects from the players: hard-plucked pizzicati, col legno (playing with the back of the bow) and guitar-like strumming from the violist. Each movement starts with a Mestó, a sad melody. The finale works out all of these lugubrious themes, ending in a heart-rending cry.

The formal program concluded with Schubert's 15th and last quartet. The Emersons played with an eye towards Schubert's expansive melodic ideas, particularly in the opening movement. (This theme might be familiar to Woody Allen fans: the director used in Crimes and Misdemeanors.)

The march-like adagio featured skilled glissando playing from the violins, and the fleet scherzo was taken at a scintillating pace. The Emersons dug into the descending main theme of the final movement with ith precision and rhythmic drive, showing almost telepathic communication as the navigated the rolling series of arpeggios.

The concert ended on a lovely note: the third of Dvořák's Cypresses, a series of songs that the composer transcribed for string quartet. Messrs. Finckel, Drucker, Dutton and Setzer played this last with longing and sweetness of tone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Opera Review: The Rodents and the Swan

The rats run amok in a surreal Bayreuth Lohengrin.
Lohengrin, Elsa, and long-nosed friends.
Photo by Enrico Nawrath © 2011 Bayreuth Festival.
A bizarre, claustrophobic environment--an asylum or experimental farm overrun with life-sized rats. That's the first impression from this fascinating Bayreuth Lohengrin (from director Hans
Neuenfels) which was broadcast live today from the Festspielhaus.

The live-cast was a pay event from Siemens, (I'm writing about the three or so hours of excerpts as posted on YouTube) part of the efforts by new festival directors Katherina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier to open the Green Hill to the world and bring the traditions of Bayreuth kicking and screaming into a new century.

Mr. Neuenfels' production, which premiered last year, moves the opera to a white-walled laboratory (or an asylum) where the Brabantines are giant white, black and pink rats with red eyes. They are trapped in some kind of experiment until freed by Lohengrin, and allowed to wear human attire. Fair enough. But if the would-be warriors of Brabant are bad-assed gun-toting ninja rats, then what is Lohengrin's purpose there?

Some clues emerge with the arrival of Elsa (Annette Dasch.) She enters in a white double-breasted trenchcoat stuck with white arrows (think Christian Dior meets Saint. Sebastian) guarded by bow-wielding rodents. As she sings the dream aria, Elsa slowly unsticks the suction cup arrows from
her chest, healing through her visions. Ms. Dasch then lies prone as she sings the second part of the aria, opening up her instrument for the climactic phrases--no mean feat.

This is the start of a strong performance that gets better as the opera continues and the character develops. Ms. Dasch is the heart of this performance, lifting the opera to the next level through her singing and compelling acting. And in Act II, we learn that she is pathologically afraid of...rats. Lohengrin's job is to save her from the rodents.

When Lohengrin finally enters the action, he brings humanity and redemption to this weird world. (He also takes the remaining arrows out of Elsa.) Part of this is because of Klaus Florian Vogt's golden tenor, a sweet instrument ideally suited for the role of the Grail knight turned rat-catcher. Mr. Vogt has a strong three acts, using his instrument to float Lohengrin's long high lines right up with Wagner's divided strings. (He just nails "Heil dir, Elsa" in Act II.) Best of all, the tenor has good chemistry with Ms. Dasch, something that no strange directorial concept can hide. You believe their love is real, at least until she pops the Forbidden Question.


Friedrich (Jukka Rasalainen) and Ortrud (Petra Lang) are paranoid, fascist types in trench coats left over from an old Harry Kupfer production. At the start of Act II, they are loading cash into a briefcase and getting in a (presumably) rat-drawn hansom cab (to get out of the rat race?) Whatever. Their duet is searing, as is Ms. Lang's powerhouse evocation of the Norse gods. King Henry (Georg Zeppenfeld) is another lunatic with a soft cloth crown, a first cousin to Amfortas. Mr. Zeppenfeld is a good actor, but vocally is out of his depth.

In Act III, everything is wedded bliss between Mr. Vogt and Ms. Dasch. The two singers have wonderful chemistry in the often chilly bridal scene, something that does not change even when Lohengrin kills Friedrich (clearly self-defense in this version) and faces up to his deed. Mr. Vogt's "In fernem Land" takes the listener back to the core of the opera, going beyond the gun-toting ninja rats to the essential core of this work.

And then the ending: the swan as a giant egg, and Gottfried, Elsa's brother, the final experiment of this strange laboratory. The future schützer is presented to all from within a white Ovalia "egg" chair: as a half-developed fetus who looks hypoxiated. But the strange zombie baby rises, and walks forth behind Lohengrin: either in horror or terror--I'm not sure which. It's a weird ending, but it fails to ruin a fascinating Lohengrin, one which I'll be seeing again when it is issued on DVD.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Concert Review: Ludwig Takes Over

All-Beethoven program rocks Mostly Mozart
Beethoven, walking to Lincoln Center. Well, not really.
Mozart was entirely absent from Friday night's Mostly Mozart concert, as Louis Langrée led the Festival Orchestra in an exploration of the music of Beethoven. The program featured soloist Jeremy Denk playing the Second Piano Concerto, Christine Brewer singing an excerpt from Fidelio and the Eighth Symphony.

The evening opened with Leonore No. 2, one of four attempts by Beethoven to write an overture for the opera that eventually became Fidelio. Mr. Langrée captured the drama of this exciting work, with its offstage trumpet solo and hard, slashing chords that evoke the opera's harsh prison setting.

Mr. Denk joined the orchestra for Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto, from the composer's early period when the composer gained fame as a concert pianist. Using Beethoven's own cadenzas, Mr. Denk presented the joyful face of Beethoven, using his technical skill to express the good humor of this music. Playing the quick keyboard runs and trills with a light, fluid touch, Mr. Denk took pleasure in the technically difficult solos as Mr. Langrée offered expert accompaniment.

Mr. Denk also appeared at the pre-concert recital. Although the pianist had planned to play Phrygian Gates, the first composition by American minimalist John Adams, he confessed to the audience that he did not feel prepared to play the work. Instead, he offered a warm, lyric reading of Beethoven's 32nd and final piano sonata. There were no complaints.

Christine Brewer took the stage after the intermission, performing "Abscheulicher! Wo ist du hin!", the heroine's soliloquy/aria from Fidelio. Although the soprano's big voice soared through most of the material, the two big high notes that serve as a double climax to the aria did not bloom fully. It should be said that it is more challenging to sing this aria "cold" instead of where Beethoven intended it: 40 minutes into the opera's first act.

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony has always struggled for acknowledgement. Wedged between the mighty Seventh and the famous Ninth, this is one of Beethoven's most light-hearted symphonies. It's also structurally unique. Each of the first three movements ends on a musical question mark, unresolved until the final bars.

Mr. Langrée led a performance that was rapid in its pace and clear in orchestral detail. The boisterous opening theme sprang forth with energy and coiled power, giving way to a main melody that embraced and uplifted. The second movement, Beethoven's musical tribute to that 1815 invention, the Metronome was played with tight, ticking precision. The boisterous finale answered all the questions of the three movements that came before, an exuberant performance that ended the concert on a cheerful note.

Tomato Pasting

Current Thoughts on New York City Opera

So I'm at Lincoln Center tonight. We were attending the mostly Beethoven concert at Mostly Mozart--review to follow. Anyway it's about 6:15 in the evening and we're sitting under the trees at the newly built "zen" plaza next to the Metropolitan Opera. I'm looking across the plaza at the former New York State Theater and I notice something interesting.

The sign on the building currently reads:

David H. K___ Theater
New York City Ballet. New York City Opera.

After the tumultuous off-season City Opera has been through, engaging in a George Steel-imposed exodus from its Lincoln Center home, I can't help but find it odd that their name is still adorning the building that they have purportedly abandoned.

Even odder was an article in today's New York Times, a candid interview with NYCO general manager George Steel, the mastermind behind the move. Mr. Steel, who is currently locked in a labor negotiation with AGMA and Local 802, the unions representing choristers and orchestra members respectively, has recast the once-proud opera company as a hit-and-run opera company, doing four or five operas in the spring.

The article revealed that Mr. Steel's offices are still in the basement of the once (and future) State Theater despite his repeated statements that the company is packing up what's left of its caravan and going on a campaign to bring opera to five two boroughs.

But for sheer strangeness, nothing will top part of the last two paragraphs, reproduced below:
“In my role as a producer, I spend a lot of time in the future,” Mr. Steel said, “and it makes me happy to live there. But an important part of my job is returning to the present and leading people forward, and in one sense people are living in the past."

"I manage for the future. If I have to take tomatoes from here to there, I can live with that."

Tomatoes, Mr. Steel? Really?

Another George, a Mr. George Costanza, once said that the tomato "never really caught on as a hand fruit."

At the rate things appear to be going, the "New New York City Opera" may not catch on either.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.