Monday, March 31, 2008

Why I Read Blogs

If you have a chance you should read Kim Witman's fantastically brilliant blog. This gets it just right, particularly the part about the sofa...why can't I write entries like that?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Tannhauser" makes me sound like a conservative...I'm not, really!!!

Joan Matabosch was good enough to get me into the closed general rehearsal yesterday at Liceu for "Tannhauser". There were some small mishaps and I understand why it was closed, in general things were fairly tight. The production is by Robert Carsen. I am fairly certain this is a premier, the performance scheduled for December in Paris turned into concerts because of a strike. I must admit it is still thrilling for me to see a show as one of the only people in the theater.
Before I can say much about the performance I have to say that Robert Carsen is someone I admire greatly. His work for me is terribly influential and many of his productions rank among my favorites. Among his best, for me, as "Les Boreades", "La traviata", "Rusalka", and especially "Cappricio". Because of this there was a lot of anticipation for this production. "Tannhauser" of course contains much incredible incredibly powerful music and I was looking forward to sitting through the whole thing.

I have to say that I was rather disappointed with the production. Carsen is a wonderfully talented director and he can create stage pictures that are really breathtaking. There is no better word for it. He conceit is what did not work for me. He turned Heinrich from a Meistersinger into a painting and the production became about the struggle of an artist to follow is true and unfettered, uncensored that is, path. What one saw on stage was strong, striking, and always done with controlled flair. The way Carsen manages the balance and formalism is to be greatly admired. The image of pilgrims carrying paintings to Rome and returning with empty frames, cleansed of their "sins" could have been pedantic and rather trite. But the way he depicted it in real space, with masterful lighting, was beautiful enough that one could easily enough forget that the idea is a little too obvious to be compelling. This was repeated time and time again - beautiful images to accompany a rather weak concept. Eventually it wasn't enough for me.

"Tannhauser" is difficult, but this is my most basic take on it. The story itself is troubled. At the least it is not among Wagner's best, at worst it is clumsy. This becomes a bit subjective, but I'm going to write as if it is objective because it is SO true for me. When one listens to Wagner's towering score it is clear that he takes this legend and ennobles it - he makes it about more. The music indicates that it is about the largest of human concepts - the power of faith, the hope of human redemption, the sacrifice and power of forgiveness.

Carsen's concept took out all issues of spirituality. I don't think "Tannhauser" must be approached from a Christian perspective, but it does enter on human spirituality. Making it a work about the struggle for artistic truth trivializes the legend. In other words, I feel Carsen might have been true to the legend, but not to Wagner's score. Wagner indicated something extraordinary and Carsen responded with something unconvincingly ordinary. For me it was summed up by the last scene where, to unimaginably transcendent music, Heinrich instead of finding salvation hangs a painting on the wall. "Anti-climactic" doesn't really go far enough.

Still - the level of production was fantastic. The singers quite good and the orchestra, as always, quite impressive. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I went to see the Robert Carsen new production of "Tannhauser"...I will give a full repot tomorrow, but for now...thought I enjoyed the overall experience, the production was a bit of a disappointment.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Grimey Moon Grimes

[I do realize that this title makes no sense, it is just that this short post will be about Peter Grimes and I always loved that line from "Ballad for the Sad Young Men"]

There has been lots of talk lately about the new production at the MET of Britten's "Peter Grimes". I'm afraid I am going to miss it, but it looks very interesting and I am sorry that this will be the case. It is directed by John Doyle who made waves with his innovative staging of "Sweeny Todd", and later is a new production of "Company". The production, and most notably its set, seem to be getting lots of talk. You can read about it here:

Tomassini's Piece

Maury's Piece One

Maury's Piece Two

Of course the caddy crew doesn't like it, but I don't put too much stock in that...they don't seem to like this incredible and striking piece to start with, and are usually resistant to new ideas, particularly at temple of stagnation like the MET. To me the photos look fantastic and seem to really capture what the piece is about (this might be the problem, sometimes folks find it difficult to understand sceneography that is not a backdrop to narrative, but rather an active player in the interpretation of the work). That said, though it sounds admirable and interesting, the final coup-du-te√Ętre that was quickly removed, presumably by Gelb, does seem like a perhaps miscalculation. It is hard to make what has seemed up to that point like a one layer piece, to all the sudden become a meta-production in the final moments. I applaud the MET for doing this production though, I think Gelb is really trying to move the MET into the last century finally (maybe they will make it into this one some day). Something I notice and wonder about is that the MET tends to hire, with the exception of Mark Morris, cutting edge theater directors when they want to make new productions, apparently forgetting that opera and theater are two different forms and folks with lots of talent and experience in theater are not necessarily prepared to direct opera. This is common all around, but without fail at the MET. Take Mary Zimmerman or Julie Taymor. Hopefully they will realize that there are great innovative opera directors out there. For instance there is the Willie Decker production of "Grimes" that is tremendously riveting and even more adventursome (minus the final scene!) that Mr. Doyles. (Decker also has a fantastic "Boris" and will direct "Death in Venice" soon at Liceu which I hope to catch before returning to the States for Charpentier).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Among Friends

Here is a photo from the recent chamber concerts of Ignoti Dei in Venice at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. On the right is one of our wonderful gambists (and sometimes violonists) Marcy Boelli with her husband Michiel. They have recently moved from Vienna/Venice to Newport Rhode Island, and I am very happy to have them stateside (not least because Marcy can play more often with AOT). Michiel himself is an impresive violinist, but an even more captian of several ships, including their baby the Hollander (got to love that name!). Then a wonderful Rossini tenor Daisuke who live and works in Venice and who some of you will remember from the workshop of "David et Jonathas" in 2005. Then violinist Daniel Boothe, our good Venetian friend and theater-lady Teresa Turrachio, and myself. It was a wonderful concert of German music. Dan played a fantastically beautiful Smeltzer sonata, Marcy played some solo Abel, I played a wonderfully dramatic Froberger suite (a lament on himself...marked "to be played with discretion...far more discretion then my captors showed to me"), and we ended with a Buxtehude trio sonata that is too crazy to portray here. The houses were packed and people seemed to love this rarely played but incredibly vibrant music. Next on Ignoti Dei's schedule is a concert of Spanish violin sonatas in Barcelona, and then Jesuit music in Florence. We hope to do two concerts in Baltimore/Washington next year.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Back in Business

We have returned finally from Venice (where we stayed in friend's fantastic apartment on the grand is a tough life isn't it?) where a series of concerts went well and we even had time to escape to Udina to meet with Emma Kirkby and the fantastic Concerto Pallatino. It was a great trip, great to speak Italian in which I am far more comfortable than in Spanish, and great to be back with friends. Now it is really time to hit D+J hard and at the same time I am completing the last grants for next season.