Classical Music, Opera, Theatre, Photography, Art, Books, Travel, Food & Drink – the View from Western New England

The End of Madama Butterfly at the Berkshire Opera Festival. Photo Ken Howard.

The Berkshire Opera Festival triumphs in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (Comments Off)

Sep 8, 2016 • Commentary, Opera

Musically, this summer in the Berkshires, there was one event that was truly exciting, in the sense of something important that was entirely new…or almost, as the people behind it made entirely clear. Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the two impressive and engaging founders of the Berkshire Opera Festival, Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman, who promised to “bring fully-staged opera back to the Berkshires.” And this they have just fulfilled with a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, that was in a way as perfect as an opera performance can get, considering that opera is the quintessence of imperfection among art forms—or perhaps that should be said of art itself. Musical and theatrical ability that was both solid and brilliant, imagination, good taste, and deep knowledge and understanding of the work and its authors flowed together with all the concentration and energy aroused by a new, make-or-break enterprise to create a performance that can only be described as an object lesson in how to perform opera—and a thrilling and moving one newcomers, casual opera-goers, and opera-makers alike can appreciate. The Berkshire Opera Festival has, within less than a week, made itself indispensible.

A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler»

A Singer’s Notes 128: Alexina Jones leaves Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre; Two Gentlemen and Henry VI at Shakespeare and Company (Comments Off)

Alexina Jones

A singular departure this year at summer’s end. Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre (of Cambridge, New York), the dream-child of Alexina Jones, has lost its creator and mentor. She goes on to a position with Saratoga Arts. This young women is an intrepid creator. She built a company from nothing, fit it into the seasonal circumstances of Hubbard Hall, and with the help of her husband, Jason Dolmetsch, plodded through hundreds of hours of planning, auditioning, fund-raising. The Company started out in a modest way—a few instruments, mostly local singers. One of the first of these singers, Kara Cornell, turned in a Carmen that was utterly believable. Watching an opera of this sort in a small hall requires detailed specific acting; the grand gestures seem absurd.






Architecture - Urban Design»

Six Degrees, Six Degrees: Sydney Architecture in 2012 (Comments Off)

Darling Harbour with Philip Cox's Exhibition Centre to the right of the freeway. Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.

The other day I installed new brake rotors on my mountain bike [1]. They are beautiful; every scrap of stainless steel not required to withstand structural stress and the build up of heat has been removed. A laciness which could be mistaken for decoration is no more or no less than the result of form following function. As a chain is a chain and a tire inexorably a tire, so the rotors would cease to be themselves were they square or triangular, made of concrete or glass.

Architecture is not like this.






Art»

Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, formerly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Opens at The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem May 16, 2016 (Comments Off)

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Auguste Rodin is one of those institutional artists, whose last name has become synonymous with a distinctive​ kind of art, much the same as Donatello or Rembrandt, but Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, is as remarkable as it is unexpected. While it covers the salient points in Rodin’s oeuvre, the focus here is neither marble nor bronze, but rather the humbler medium of plaster. The underlying thesis is that Rodin was more of a modeler than a carver, a practice reflecting the nature of the art market in his day as well as the sculptor’s natural inclination. Created jointly by the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Montreal, the exhibition showcases two hundred works that emphasize Rodin’s pivotal place in the grand tradition of sculpture, between the worlds of Michelangelo and of Brancusi.






At the Bayreuth Festival»

Richard Wagner, Parsifal, directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Daniele Gatti, Bayreuther Festspiele (2010 Performance Reviewed) (Comments Off)

Parsifal (Christopher Ventris) and Amfortas (Detlef Roth) before the Bundestag in Act III. Photo Enrico Nawrath.

Ritual is everywhere in Wagner’s operas and music dramas. He even has his way of transforming crucial events in his stories into quasi-rituals through symbolism. Ritual is even more pervasive in his final work, his Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, which is in itself a ritual. The highly ritualized routines of the Grail knights connect their lives and the events of the drama with the continuum of the Grail’s history, back to the Last Supper. Their actions are highly deliberate, replete with the significance of faith and tradition. This creates a quasi-monastic environment in which life unfolds slowly, largely ceremonially, on the structure of a time-honored schedule, in which history and precedent are always present. The narrative unfolds with notable simplicity in terms of what occurs on stage, while beneath it, the backstory related in monologues seethes with incident, conflict, and misfortune. In addition to this dramatic foreground purified of trivialities, there is the pure transparency of Wagner’s score, consisting of simple thematic material set with surpassing clarity, delicacy, and harmonic subtlety. In this way Parsifal lives up to what we have been conditioned to expect from the late work of a great artist, and this is what we see and hear on the stage, if Wagner’s stage directions are observed.






Literature»

The Gore Vidal memorial at the Schoenfeld Theatre, New York, as I saw it… (Comments Off)

Elizabeth Ashley, Chris Ebersole (left) and Candice Bergen, Angelica Houston (right) read famous Gore Vidal one-liners at a noon-time tribute to the writer at the Schoenfeld Theatre today. Vidal died July 31 in Los Angeles at 86.

Most writers fall in love with their words. They greet changes to the text, particularly of a published work, with the blank astonishment of a mother confronted with criticism of her first-born child. This cannot be said of Gore Vidal, who died in Los Angeles at 86 on July 31st. I remember sitting in early rehearsals of the 2000 Broadway production of The Best Man and Vidal asking Jeffrey Richards, the lead producer, “Should I update the international references? Make them more contemporary?” He expected changes in his play and embraced them, but, in fact, there were very few in this production. Prickly references to China were as relevant in 2000 as they were when the play was set in the early ‘60s.






Commentary»

The Berkshire Opera Festival triumphs in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (Comments Off)

The End of Madama Butterfly at the Berkshire Opera Festival. Photo Ken Howard.

Musically, this summer in the Berkshires, there was one event that was truly exciting, in the sense of something important that was entirely new…or almost, as the people behind it made entirely clear. Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the two impressive and engaging founders of the Berkshire Opera Festival, Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman, who promised to “bring fully-staged opera back to the Berkshires.” And this they have just fulfilled with a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, that was in a way as perfect as an opera performance can get, considering that opera is the quintessence of imperfection among art forms—or perhaps that should be said of art itself. Musical and theatrical ability that was both solid and brilliant, imagination, good taste, and deep knowledge and understanding of the work and its authors flowed together with all the concentration and energy aroused by a new, make-or-break enterprise to create a performance that can only be described as an object lesson in how to perform opera—and a thrilling and moving one newcomers, casual opera-goers, and opera-makers alike can appreciate. The Berkshire Opera Festival has, within less than a week, made itself indispensible.






Dance»

Mark Morris’s Staging of Britten’s Curlew River and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Tanglewood (Comments Off)

TMC Fellows perform Curlew River at Tanglewood 7.31.13 (Hilary Scott)6

Tanglewood produced many of the summer’s memorable outings, but with pieces which somehow seem easier for a big Symphony to bring across to a big audience in the summer and in the country; music, like every other living thing in New England, can be highly seasonal and very much of its own place and niche. Many of the programs drew from the theater — ballet music and concert opera especially, or from the church — and extremely fine and satisfying performances of Debussy’s Danses: sacré et profane, l’Après-midi d’un faune, Jeux, Charles Dutoit’s of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloë and Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, and one of Britten’s church parables Curlew River, to leave out many others, seem stick with me for a long time.






Film»

True Romance on Screen: Todd Haynes’ Carol…with a Sideglance at the Latest from Spielberg & Hanks (Comments Off)

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True Romance. The essence of Carol, a film much lauded but low grossing (which has become the norm for prestige films at Oscar season) is that it is a lesbian love story as Eric Rohmer might have conceived it and Alfred Hitchcock might have photographed it. The plot is slender. At Christmas around 1950 Carol Aird, an unhappy housewife on the verge of divorce (Cate Blanchett), feels an immediate attraction to Therese Belivet, a much younger sales girl in a New York department store (Rooney Mara).  Poised between upper-middle-class privilege of the period, swathed in mink, and her sexual loneliness, Carol initiates a love affair that quickly takes us into literary territory, with the visuals doing much of the poetic writing, in the “camera-pen“ tradition that French critics admired in great American movies.






Food & Drink»

With summer gone…Lagrein, Madiran, Garnacha, Cabernet…Chinon! (Comments Off)

September Tomatoes, Caretaker Farm, Williamstown, MA. Photo © 2005 Michael Miller.

With summer fading into the past, one compensation for earlier nightfalls and chillier water temperatures that limit swims to only intensely sunny midday outings is the pumped-up output happily spilling out of the vegetable garden. The squash vines have wound out into improbable places, and, if one pokes around under those umbrella-like leaves, there are plenty of butternut and spaghetti squashes playing hide and seek. Every day tomatoes are dropping off their stems. And suddenly there are lots of reasons for searching out some ripe, dense, maybe even rustic red wines to accompany all there is to eat.






Music»

Nelsons at Tanglewood 2016, One Weekend (Comments Off)

Andris Nelsons conudcts the Mahler Ninth at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scatt.

Perhaps it is unduly portentous to say that the still new Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is enigmatic, but his uneven performances and inconsistent approaches to interpretation and orchestral sound have been somewhat puzzling. These two recent concerts, now, have impressed on me that he has finally hit his stride with the orchestra, although he has already achieved some important successes over the past two years—above all, the concert performances of Strauss’s Salome and Elektra—and there has been a lot to like in his Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Brahms. These Tanglewood concerts are in fact not the first which I thought showed that he had developed in the orchestra a new style of playing together as a group—one very different from that so painstakingly developed by James Levine and insouciantly left to tend itself by Seiji Ozawa.






Opera»

The Bard Music Festival and SummerScape Opera 2016: Puccini and his World, with Pietro Mascagni’s Iris (Comments Off)

Poster_Turandot

The Bard Music Festival, every year since 1990, offers music-lovers a splendid gift in its weekends of immersion in the music of some major composer and others related to him, the intellectual and artistic life of his time, and the legacy that connects us to it all. It equally presents us with a powerful challenge—a challenge to overcome our preconceptions about this partly familiar, partly unfamiliar music, chiefly the product of famous composers. In some cases we discover that a composer’s most popular music is not in fact his best, and our estimation of him rises significantly, as in the case of Sibelius and Prokofiev, or in others, like Schubert, we can become acquainted with genres like the part song, which have fallen out of the repertory because the social context for their performance has become obsolete. Many music-lovers divide Franz Liszt’s output between serious music of high quality and shallow, flashy display pieces. Again, the Bard Festival challenged its audiences to reconsider.






Photography»

W. B. Yeats and Ireland: Photographs, Music, and a Reading, with Dorien Staljanssens, James Cleveland, and Lloyd Schwartz—a Christmas Gift from The Berkshire Review (Comments Off)

Portrait of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) by John Butler Yeats (1839-1922). National Gallery of Ireland.

In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas as a time for quiet reflection and a turning inwards, we’d like to offer a gift of a recording of New York Arts‘s second performance event, held on June 1, 2013, at 7 pm, in connection with my own exhibition of photographs of Western Ireland at the Centerpoint Gallery in New York City: a reading/concert in which the acclaimed poet, Lloyd Schwartz, Senior Classical Music Editor of New York Arts, read poems by W. B. Yeats with interludes of traditional Irish music played by Dorien Staljanssens, flute, and James Cleveland, fiddle.






Places»

Seven Ways to Improve the Tour de France (Comments Off)

Cycling fans watch the opening time trial of Paris-Nice in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, 3 March 2012. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

I wouldn’t go so far as the three-time world-champion Óscar Friere, who reckons that the Tour de France is “the most boring race of the year” — has he ever watched the Tour of Qatar? — but this year’s race did make me wonder how many more like it the old institution can take. Institutionalization is the Tour’s great burden, or at least its double-edged sword. For the casual fan it is the ‘race of record,’ cycling itself. Those who follow the sport more closely understand that while the Tour is undeniably the most competitive, and therefore the most prestigious, among the three Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain, it often not the most interesting.






Podcasts»

Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director of Apollo’s Fire: The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, talks to Michael Miller (Comments Off)

Jeannette Sorrell. Photo Roger Mastroianni.

Just yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director of Apollo’s Fire, the highly acclaimed period orchestra based in Cleveland, where she founded it twenty-three years ago. Today, rather like the venerable Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire tours extensively in North America and Europe, bringing Ms. Sorrell’s warm, expressive vision of Baroque playing to both seasoned and neophyte audiences. Tomorrow, July 2, she will lead them at Tanglewood in a program called “Bach’s Coffee House,” referring to the Café Zimmermann in Leipzig, where first Georg Phillipp Telemann and later Johann Sebastian Bach organised free public concerts. The program will include excerpts from Telemann’s incidental music to Don Quixote, Bach’s Fourth and Fifth Brandenburgs, and short pieces by Handel and Vivaldi.






Richard Wagner»

Un Vaisseau fantôme inoubliable à Montréal…mais comment tuer Senta? (Comments Off)

Senta et le Hollandais à L'Opéra de Montreál. Photo Gary Beechey.

Le but principal de cet article et de louer jusqu’au cieux une représentation tout à fait remarquable—inoubliable, dirais-je—du premier oeuvre canonique de Wagner, mais c’est bien une mise-en-scène contemporaine—une mise-en-scène laquelle rend justice aussi bien à la problématique sociale de 1840 qu’a celle de nos jours—surtout à propos de la rôle des femmes dans la famille, le mariage, les moeurs bourgeois, et l’argent. Dans ce contexte le problème qui me frappe d’abord est celui de la mort de Senta, parce qu’il semble que les metteurs en scène de nos jours se sentent fort mal à leur aise avec sa mort telle que Wagner l’avait conçue, où elle se jette dans les flots tourbillants nordiques. S’agit-il de la vraisemblance, du goût, ou bien des frais toujours montants de l’assurance qui découragent la saute d’une soprano importante même d’une distance de deux mètres? Voyons.






Theater»

The Consul, the Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart, by John Morogiello, at the Oldcastle Theatre Company, Bennington (Comments Off)

Elizabeth Aspenlieder and David Joseph in The Consul, The Tramp, and America's Sweetheart at the Oldcastle Theatre Company.

The Oldcastle Theatre Company is one of the most appealing in the Berkshires, which, culturally, extends from northwestern Connecticut to Dorset and Weston, Vermont. Downtown Bennington has a unique feeling to it—small-town in the best sense—and is home to a respectable array of bars and restaurants for audiences to enjoy anticipation or a cool-down before or after the show. Keith Kibler has been chronicling and enjoying—very much—Oldcastle’s productions for some years on our site, and I was happy finally to catch a show myself.