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

Dvořák’s Rare Grand Opera, Dimitrij, Coming Up at Bard Summerscape, beginning July 28 (Comments Off)

Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year’s fully-staged production of Dvořák’s rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.

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»

Patrick Dougherty’s Stickworks Augments the Experience of Fall in Massachusetts (Comments Off)

Patrick Dougherty has been making popular installations over a 30-year career in the tradition of Earthworks. Raised and educated in North Carolina (he resides in Chapel Hill), he began with a hand-crafted house in the 1970’s and a decade later was showing human stick figures positioned or standing in chairs. His first works were displayed in art galleries and at art centers before he became engaged with architectural follies that are often massive structures that leap from tree to tree, cover facades of buildings, or stand as independent houses or similarly monumental forms. His output in the past decade numbers nine to ten installations a year—each occupying about three weeks of uninterrupted effort. As well as the hundreds of sculptures in the United States, his work has been enthusiastically received internationally in almost every country in Western Europe as well as Japan and South Korea.






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»

Dvořák’s Rare Grand Opera, Dimitrij, Coming Up at Bard Summerscape, beginning July 28 (Comments Off)

Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year’s fully-staged production of Dvořák’s rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.






Dance»

Two Weekends in the Country: The BSO and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, the new Clark, Mass MoCA, and Boston Midsummer Opera’s Bartered Bride (Comments Off)

Andris Nelson conducts the BSO at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).






Film»

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

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»

Rascals, an Inspired Restaurant and Performance Space in the Crossgates Mall, Albany (Comments Off)

In cooking, as in any art, you have to know the rules—the more profoundly the better—to break them. While en route, appropriately enough, to Albany, I heard a radio interview with the manager and the chef of a new restaurant near the University of Albany. As I threaded my way through the rolling hills and forests that separate the capital of New York State from the Berkshires, slowing in all the notorious speed traps, I found this interview unusually absorbing. The chef, Nicholas Armstrong, was impressively articulate about the science of cooking






Music»

Youthful Mozart, (Over-)Ripe Mahler from Andris Nelsons and the BSO, Daniel Lozakovich, Violin (0)

Arnold Böcklin, Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle, oil on canvas, 1872, Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

here seem to be two kinds of Mahler conductors: those who scrupulously adhere to the composer’s very detailed performing instructions, letting the score speak for itself, and those who add interpretive value to those instructions, prolonging ritards into moments of stasis, dwelling lovingly on details, pulling apart the inner workings of Mahler’s original harmonic language, and ecstatically prolonging climactic moments. To put the matter up front, I am a strong partisan of the first approach, and usually have a negative response to the second.






Opera»

2016 in retrospect — The Bard Music Festival: Giacomo Puccini and his World (Comments Off)

If advance gossip is any indicator, this year’s Bard Festival, devoted to Giacomo Puccini and his World, was one of the most controversial. “Puccini! Controversial!” You say, “There’s not really enough in him to have a controversy about, is there? Those sappy tear-jerkers speak for themselves.” In fact there was a lot of grumbling. Some festival regulars stayed away, or dragged themselves to only one concert, the one that included pieces by Dallapiccola, Pizzetti, and Petrassi. Even with these absentees the Festival sold out, or came close to selling out. Most of the concerts and the panel discussions were packed.






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»

The Berkshire Opera Festival: an Important New Cultural Resource to Make its Debut in Late August. Its Co-Founders, Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman Tell Michael Miller All About It. (Comments Off)

Jonathon Loy

Two seasoned, enterprising professionals in the opera world has recognized this serious gap in our cultural life and have set in motion an ambitious plan to fill it: The Berkshire Opera Festival, which will present its first season in late August and early Spetember of this year. Jonathon Loy, General Director and Co-Founder is a Guest Director on the staging staff at The Metropolitan Opera and a 2002 OPERA America Fellowship winner. Brian Garman, Artistic Director and Co-Founder, is a distinguished conductor, who worked at the Seattle Opera between 2009 and 2014 in the pit and as Music Director of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program. As you will learn in this podcast, both know the aesthetics, mechanics, and business of opera from top to bottom, and show every sign of creating and institution that will endure and be highly appreciated in the Berkshires.






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»

Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County, directed by Omar Sangare, at Williams College (Comments Off)

Every spring for some years now the brilliant Polish actor-director-playwright-poet Omar Sangare has created extraordinary productions at the ‘62 Center for the Performing Arts with his acting students at Williams College, and they keep on getting better. All of them have been highly unusual. There was a double-cast A Streetcar Named Desire: by that I mean that it was performed by two separate casts almost, but not quite simultaneously. Far from an weird distraction, the device emphasized the universality of the play…and gave the many interested student actors a chance to perform.