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Archive for October, 2010

Le Nozze di Figaro in Sydney

I usually don’t like to pick favourites, but of the Mozart operas it’s hard to deny Le Nozze di Figaro. As such it has become familiar without become at all tired, and has probably sublimated a rather particular image of itself in my mind’s eye and ear. The story of love giving way to jealousy, and then despair, and finally forgiveness, under the roof of an aristo ripe for Revolution, is bound to develop a thin farcical crust, but it never seemed a straight comedy, let alone a farce, to me. The characters are so genuine, even the myriad of supporting roles are so strong, that it’s easy to sympathise with their harrowing trials. I see the opera more as the Orpheus and Eurydice story with a happy ending which makes sense. It also lovingly portrays the noble and logical humanist belief that (to paraphrase John F. Kennedy) it is not impossible for human beings to solve problems that they themselves created. No parts for any God or gods nor even Cupid here. This production, directed by Neil Armfield perhaps wasn’t exactly my idea of Figaro or quite sat on my sense of humour, but it did try some new things. Armfield does try to play it for laughs by filling the opera with over-the-top physical comedy, but he often risks hamminess. It is hard to keep up that kind of farce for over three hours and he doesn’t always succeed in creating dark comedy in putting a fluff of laughter on violent, frightening or dark situations. He never ruins the comedy intrinsic to the libretto or the music, in fact at his best moments he even compliments this by adding detail to the scene with subtler acting in the background.

Christopher Innvar and Kim Stauffer in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Photo Kevin Sprague.

A Singer’s Notes 25: He That Hath Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear

In The Crucible, the Proctors sit at their plain table with John’s brief failing between them. He is a good man. He makes every situation better, more reasonable. He is a natural man. The land is his, and he is the land’s. Everything is in the quietness. She is the quietness. Christopher Innvar with a voice which lurches sadly, breaks the silence. Kim Stauffer, with a face barren and wide, makes cautious answer, and holds the distance between them in her hands.

Yehudi Wyner in his Workspace. Photo Michael Miller 2010.

An Interview with Yehudi Wyner

Yehudi Wyner, whose career as a composer and a performing musician goes back some sixty years, finds himself entirely focused on the present at the moment, and very positively so. For one thing Bridge Records, who have issued the most substantial body of his work on CD, have released his collected sacred music, and Mr. Wyner is very pleased to have it all together in one place. Secondly, he is anticipating the premiere of a new work, a secular cantata called Give Thanks for All Things.

Brasserie Jo Boston Back in Form Again. Highly Recommended!

Years ago it was pretty much unthinkable to dine after an evening concert in Symphony Hall, unless you happened to find a Hayes Bickford that was open all night. It’s still not easy to find a place where you could relax and converse for a couple of hours without feeling rushed, much less being surrounded by floor sweeping, the overturning of chairs, and a glaring waiter. I do know a few places in the neighborhood that are open late, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Brasserie Jo, however, is one restaurant—a five minute walk away—where I’d feel comfortable settling in after a concert. The main menu remains available until 11 pm Monday through Saturday, and a bar menu takes over until 1.30 am. It’s also worth noting that lunch is served until 3 pm—a small blessing for us tardy folk and busy guests in the Colonnade Hotel.

William Walton

Semyon Bychkov and Kirill Gerstein with the SF Symphony in Ravel, Rachmaninoff, and Walton

This week’s concerts at Davies Hall marked a welcome return to the podium of Semyon Bychkov, who has become a favorite with San Francisco audiences in recent seasons. Mr. Bychkov has entered the admirable ranks of unattached guest conductors who travel the world conducting only the music they love, and the happy results are palpable. This year, his passion is the Walton First Symphony, and our audience is all the richer for what his advocacy has found in the music.

René Pape in the title role in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Photo Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

A New Boris Godunov at the Met

Today science fiction seems to have replaced history as the field in which the great truths of our inner and social lives are reflected, and historicism, as it evolved in the nineteenth century, is no longer a tangible part of our world. This is not to say that the discipline has died out or even declined, but the historical perspective which for a century or so stood as the foundation of people’s perception of their world, became a branch of philosophy, and permeated fiction, poetry, and theatre is no longer so essential to us. And this, in turn, is not to say that great history is no longer being written, or that people don’t reach for historical books with some urgency, or that historical fiction is no longer popular. Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov is a powerful case in point. It even stands apart from the rest of nineteenth century historical opera in the seriousness of the composer-librettist’s faith in history as a potent subject in itself.

Starla Benford, Jessica Griffin and Fletcher McTaggart in the Crucible. Photo Kevin Sprague.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible directed by Julianne Boyd – a Triumph for the Barrington Stage Company

The Barrington Stage Company excels in several different areas — modern classics, musicals, and brainy little contemporary plays — and is plagued only by one persistent flaw, the policy of using excessive amplification even in the diminutive Stage 2 theatre. Fortunately, that was absent in this performance, and all I have to talk about is theatre.

A Grand Tour, Part 1: The Digital Flâneur

Like cats chasing tails, all that is urgent in contemporary discussions of the city circles around the topic of density. While this makes it easy to define the shape of the boxing ring, it doesn’t set the rules of the fight, and boy oh boy is density ever a fight. Here in Sydney urban planning discourse feels like a nightmare dreamed in a fever, a chase scene in which it is impossible not to run in circles, slowly. As someone who cares deeply about Sydney’s future, it was a sweet relief to leave Smug City for a few weeks to see how they make cities in Europe.