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Archive for November, 2010

The Institution is Immaterial: Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse

The Musée d’Orsay contains two scale models of the Palais Garnier (1875) which must rank among the greatest of all time. Within the museum the models terminate the former railway station’s main axis, forming a kind of culmination. Along with Paxton’s Crystal Palace (1851), unlikely to be mentioned in a Parisian museum, the Garnier is perhaps the definitive building of its century. The first model, implanted beneath a glass floor, shows the building in its urban context, clearly demonstrating that the great opera house precipitated for its neighborhood the Full Haussmann. The second model, built to a highly detailed scale (perhaps 1:100) for such a large building, is cut through in longitudinal section like a doll’s house, revealing the famously ornate lobby and hall as relatively minuscule inhabited planets orbited by a dark matter cloud of unnamed rooms and fly towers. Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse, a fly on the wall portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet, seems the cinematic equivalent of that sectional model, but it would be more accurate to say that it is simultaneously both models. The film uses its all access backstage pass, its sore toes, sweat and heavy breathing, to achieve the purpose of the contextual model, the definition of an institution within a city.





Persons Auditorium, Marlboro. Photo © 2010 Michael Miller.

Marlboro at 60 – a Look Back, with a Schedule of Touring Concerts 2010-11

This past summer this hour’s drive took me to Marlboro on several occasions, thanks to the generosity of Frank Salomon — an administrator of many years service and great knowledge of everything Marlboro — for a series of public and private concerts: a proper immersion in the school and festival, as they are today, and all seemed right with the world — very much so. Present-day Marlboro, led by Artistic Directors, Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida, is in some ways quite different from the Marlboro of Rudolf Serkin, but the basic principles haven’t changed very little, and the music is fresher than ever.



North American Opera Journal, from OPERA America

Opera America Launches the North American Opera Journal, an online scholarly journal about opera in the Western Hemisphere.

I am quite excited to announce the publication of the inaugual issue of the North American Opera Journal (NAOJ), not least for the purely egocentric reason that it contains an article of my own about concert opera in America, above all, its musical and dramative function in our opera-going lives. It also contains “Porgy and […]



Floria Tosca (soprano Jill Gardner) makes a drastic decision to protect herself and her love from Baron Scarpia (bass-baritone Bradley Garvin). Photo Jeffrey Dunn for Boston Lyric Opera © 2010.

Boston Lyric Opera, Tosca, November 16th, Shubert Theater

It has been interesting to see Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Puccini’s Tosca just a few weeks after seeing Opera Boston’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, just down the street at the Cutler Majestic Theater. The two operas, in their very different ways, invoke a powerful atmosphere of political repression — the world in which everyone lives, the trap that everyone is caught in, the air that everyone breathes — and in both cases a woman at the center of things wreaks havoc with the status quo. Kierkegaard, writing about Mozart’s Don Giovanni, says that music is by nature seductive and thus that Mozart had found the perfect subject — seduction — for music drama to spin out and reflect upon.



Fricka, Freia, and Loge admire the Nibelung treasure in Das Rheingold. Photo Rheingold, Scene 1. Photo © Bayreuther Festspiele GmbH/Enrico Nawrath.

Farewell to Tankred Dorst’s Bayreuth Ring

As much as I might enjoy the paradox in seeking out real situations that recall a work which is for many the ultimate in escapism, I admired Tankred Dorst’s efforts to bring Wagner’s mythology into our own world. Dorst recognizes that mythology and the divine are present everywhere, largely because of the consistency of human behavior.





Michael Francis. Photo: Chris Christodoulou

Michael Francis debuts with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

One of the consolations of living in a successful middle-class society, I think, is to experience the evaporation of self-consciously plug-ugly proletarian art and music. Many of the last century’s early musical compositions seem today unnecessarily obsessed with wheezing ’round the campfire, banging on pots and pans, or otherwise ramming washtub crudities down the listener’s throat. Even where it isn’t that obvious, the blue-collar bias can be detected: “Barefoot Songs” by Tubin. “Hammersmith” by Holst, Milhaud’s “Le Boeuf sur le toit,” and of course, almost everything by Copland. Just under the surface of most music from the 1920s and 30s, you could say, lies a post office mural. And like post office murals, sometimes it is great art, sometimes propaganda, and sometimes just not worthy of restoration.





It’s Twilight Time With the Australian Ballet

The Australian Ballet presents three short recent ballets which would seem at the surface to have nothing in common. In At the Edge of Night, first performed in 1997, but last performed 11 years ago, Stephen Baynes sets an impressionist ballet to seven preludes by Rachmaninov. The choreography, set design and costumes share the sensibility of the music, rolling subtly between nostalgia, longing, pining, contemplation, mild remorse, occasionally melancholy, ambivalence, poignant joy and other emotions only the piano can give a name. The brand new ballet, Halcyon by Tim Harbour, sets the Greek myth of Halcyon and Ceyx to dance with original music by Gerard Brophy. It is a particularly relevant myth about love oppressed by religion. The last ballet is Molto Vivace again by Stephen Baynes, first performed in 2003, but completely different in tone. It sets a light-hearted rococo comedy to Handel. All three are liminal, either touching, delving or diving into where phases change. We meet frontiers either as precise as the sea’s surface, or as blurred as half conscious memories, or as completely black and mysterious as that between life and death and the other.





200 years in a Day: Sydney Open 2010

Sydney Open is one of the best things you can do in this town. Organized by the Historic Houses Trust every two years, the event allows access to more than fifty important Sydney buildings, many of them normally off limits to the public. A City Pass allowed access to dozens of building in downtown Sydney, as well as properties run by the Trust, which are well worth visiting at any time of year. I purchased a City Pass and planned my route carefully, like a marathon runner at a free buffet, to take in as much as possible, from sandstone Georgian to High Tech and beyond. The buildings covered virtually every period of Sydney’s post-1788 history, and present a golden opportunity for a cheap and cheerful romp through the history of the city’s architecture.