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Archive for January, 2011

Passions according to Joshua: Claverack Landing and Helsinki Hudson presents Joshua Rifkin

Appending and interspersing selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book I with the Joplin and Nazareth works was a programmatic suggestion made by a friend of Mr. Rifkin. Thus, there are immediate segues from a Bach prelude or prelude-fugue pair to a (usually) same key Joplin/Nazareth piece.





Juho Pohjonen

Beethoven makes an all-too rare visit to San Francisco: Marek Janowski leads the San Francisco Symphony in the Symphony No. 4 and Piano Concerto No. 3, with Juho Pohjonen

It was good to have Beethoven back, last week at the San Francisco Symphony. Marek Janowski, like Kurt Masur before him, brings the German repertory to San Francisco from an authentic sensibility and a lifetime of devotion. It was a pleasure to hear our orchestra — so vibrant in Mahler, American music and the Russians — snap back into the German sonority on cue and play convincingly the music that most groups once considered their bread and butter.





Life in a Day

Life in a Day, a YouTube user-shot feature video, premiered at Sundance and streamed live in select countries yesterday on YouTube (a theatrical release is planned for later this year). It was produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and assembled by Kevin MacDonald together with a team of editors (headed by Joe Walker) from 81,000 raw video clips shot and submitted on 24 July 2010 by the YouTube Community — potentially anyone with a camera and an internet connection.



Carmen in a Sydney High Summer

If Carmen is a femme fatale, then her opera could play as a kind of hybrid of an Anthony Mann western and film noir. It has the gun runners and even a climactic fight on a rocky crag, but also the weak man haunted by his past, falling in love with the woman he later remembers he doesn’t particularly like. Micaëla would be the innocent girl he really loves, but in trying to protect her from himself, just draws her into his disastrous life. This production, however, is different. Carmen becomes as sympathetic as one could imagine, with no material desires, she loves only freedom but to the point of self-banishment, to paraphrase John Donne. At least, she is sympathetic in contrast with a Don José who is an extreme introvert, more haunted and broken than weak, who eventually succumbs to insanity. Carmen is a rather extreme extrovert which brings its own problems, and the concept of opposites attracting is played convincingly: the pair’s initial mutual fascination and affection becomes binding and they continuously rub each-other the wrong way until they mutually annihilate.





Madama Butterfly at the Sydney Opera House

One could say that Madama Butterfly is a distilled and simplified presentation of the stereotypical opera plot. It is a romance told very straight with spurning, madness leading to the female lead’s suicide with good songs and a bit of exoticism, but it lacks the twists in the plot which Mozart’s operas have (at least Donna Elvira tries to chase down Don Giovanni) to deepen the characters’ relationships. This leaves all the characterization to the music and I don’t think Puccini’s is up to it. Cio-Cio-San is too pathetic and doormat-ish and it’s hard to feel into her character when the music doesn’t sink deeply enough into the listener to help them understand her or link her into the greater universe. Perhaps that is unfair to the music since the libretto and story itself doesn’t give much to go on to divine her motivations, but Puccini did choose the story. Pinkerton too isn’t exactly 4-dimensional. He is a cad with neither redeeming qualities, magnetism nor charm. Having said that, the opera can be enjoyable at some level if, as in this case, the music is well played and sung, making the more dragging parts of Act II bearable, though this enjoyment was marred by a certain noisy leading tenor.





A Singer’s Notes 27: Christmas Past

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a moralizing tale, strictly speaking. It’s one of those that’s mostly tough with the sweetmeats at the end. It’s a story you already know. It is such a good tale structurally that it has proved irresistible to tinkerers of all sorts. The layout works. It has a little bit of everything — ghosts, little children, Christmas stuff, a happy ending. It seems to me the great message of the story is not the happy result of generosity, but something much more private, the promise that there still is time. It is not too late for Scrooge. This is the center of it. Good productions say this clearly. Eric Hill, in the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Unicorn, got this across clearly. This actor has a technique so finished it disappears. At one point wandering around his premises, he made a series of sub-verbal noises — moans, groans — you knew exactly what he meant. He wasn’t a ferocious Scrooge; he just didn’t care – didn’t want to be bothered. This seemed right to me. He didn’t exaggerate his fear when Marley’s ghost appeared, nor did he overdo the high jinks at the end. I see this same economy in his directing, sometimes almost too much so, as in the recent Macbeth. But there is always a center line to what he does, and there is always cohesion. This was a real performance, not a holiday treat.



Steven Dennis Bodner (1975-2011)

In Memoriam Steven Dennis Bodner (1975-2011), Artist-in-Residence, Williams College

Steven was an impassioned artist who always spoke quietly in rehearsal. Indefatigable, his conducting style was something like a smooth shake, a revolving. Precision and passion are not often balanced in a person without effort, but they were in Steven. Steven had something of the hair-shirted prophet about him, especially regarding the music he believed in. He had to endure considerable disappointment on this front. Much of the time his audiences were small. He kept right on going.



Tonu Kalam, Conductor

Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto: another superb performance from Tonu Kalam and the UNC Orchestra with Molly Morkoski, Piano

I’ve known Tonu Kalam’s sensitive and intelligent musicianship for many years, and I’m delighted that some of his performances have started to trickle through on YouTube. Molly Morkoski’s technically impressive and insightful performance is another fine thing, making it a source you will want to come to again and again to enjoy Barber’s superb, but […]