Monday, August 31, 2015

in einem angenehmen und reizenden Tal

Detail, Queen of the Night costume, Marc Chagall

Six costumes from Marc Chagall's 1967 Met production of Die Zauberflöte are on display at the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown, NY, through the end of the year. Can't help but think displaying them in a lemon-yellow room sort of leaches the muscle out of the colors (or at least what remains of it after nearly 50 years) -- they were, if memory serves, really meant to be lit in red and blue -- but it was pretty cool to see them up close.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

coming down the Pike

Broadcasts of the Monteverdi operas from last June's Boston Early Music Festival take up WCRB's Sunday Night Opera program for three Sundays in September, schedule as follows:

September 13: Orfeo

September 20: Ulisse

September 27: Poppea

I'm guessing those will be about 8pm ET. WCRB's livestream is accessible here.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lost in the woods near Paradox

What’s not to like about The Magic Flute…she asked rhetorically. Yes, the alleged good guys are patriarchy-imposing slave owners. Yes, opera houses will occasionally cut lines from the spoken word segments of the libretto. Yes, opera houses will deliberately mistranslate lines in the supertitles.  “But, but…we must only judge this opera by the standards of 1791!” said the opera nerd white bros of the interwebs, once upon a time.

Well, sure, let’s do that: They were absurd standards in 1791, and they remain so to this very day. There, that’s that dealt with.

You won’t find anything resembling this, um, discussion in the program notes to the Glimmerglass production, of course, because they very cleverly decided to do it in English with their own (ie Kelley Rourke’s) translation. So they could (and did) translate Schikaneder’s issues right out of existence. Can't say this made me cry.

When the overture begins, the curtain rises on Tamino, high-powered executive, in the middle of his high-stress Financial District day, besieged by hordes of suited, Burberried Wall Street denizens. You can see he is destined for a life-change.  The same life-change, in fact, that is sort of cliché in this neck of the woods, that of fleeing New York City for a less stressful life up the valley.

For most people, this means a house in Columbia County festooned with bright flood lights (as it turns out, the City That Never Sleeps makes you afraid of the dark) and a security system sign on the mailbox in place of a name (because apparently the scary locals will come and take all the stuff you brought with you if ever they learn your true name). But Tamino ends up a little farther off the charmingly unimproved path than he intended. Actually, a lot farther. (Troy Hourie’s set, with its ash and birch, and background of swamp-bound fir trees, suggests the heart of the Adirondacks.)
Not the heart of the Adirondacks.

Director Madeleine Sayet sets up a lot without necessarily making any flat-out statements.  Resolved: the problem we face is no longer the Enlightenment’s problem of benightedness vs reason, but our divorce from the natural world. Tamino, child of the vast human superstructure that supports him, his clothes, his briefcase, and his (probably) BMW, is completely lost in these woods.

Then he meets a bird-catcher. You can tell Papageno’s a local by his fashion sense: snow camo with danger-orange button-down and rabbit fur hat. Also he has the coolest socks, which he wears with Teva sandals, which is how you can tell he’s not part of the redneck Carhartt Mafia that Sarastro employs (under pelt-bedecked trapper Monastatos) to look after company property.

Sarastro, like Tamino, is a tall man in a suit and the wrong shoes for a place with no sidewalks, but he and his minions wander their pristine forest landscape in long coats that double as both acolytes’ robes and lab coats, studying the ecosystem with tablets in hand. They’re probably one of those foundations that has hundreds or thousands of acres off some back-country two-lane, with an eye-catching but inscrutable logo on a sign at the road, and beyond that, should you make a wrong turn, security cameras and a guard-house. And Sarastro probably plays golf with Bill Clinton. In short, they are more than a little creepy, in an Xfiles, “What are they doing up there really” kinda way.

The Queen of the Night and her ladies, on the other hand, are all a bit Catskills Wiccan Collective. The Q of N has long, moon-colored hair, and her ladies probably make and dye their own clothes and sell the overage to arty boutiques up in Saratoga. They can manage the woodsprites who plague Tamino. They can manage the bird-catcher Papageno, who bonds with the Q of N’s daughter over childhood enthusiasms of watching tadpoles turn into frogs and finding those cool places in the woods nobody knows about but you…if you were fortunate enough, or left to your own devices enough, to be allowed to wander into them alone from a young age.

Use your Google Glass to spot the invasive species!
Frankly, I know which crowd I’d rather hang out with. But perhaps Sayet, who is Mohegan and hails from four rivers east of here (or five, if you're counting from Glimmerglass), is saying we need both the kind of knowledge that Sarastro represents and the kind of experience the Q of N represents in order to survive. Or perhaps she’s saying we’re going to our doom at the hands of people with the wrong shoes who can’t see the world around them any other way but through high-tech interactive plastic, who knows? The forest floor is open for discussion.

Apart from the promise of the production, soprano Jacqueline Echols was my main draw for seeing this, and she didn’t disappoint as Pamina. You all should watch out for her, she’s got voice and stage presence to burn. Sean Panikkar has been around in smaller roles but key ones (The Death of Klinghoffer, Lost in the Stars). He has a pleasant tenor that was maybe a little stretched here and there, but he conveyed Tamino's cluelessness and determination equally well. Solomon Howard (Sarastro) has one of those de profundis voices, and had all the cool gravitas required of the Man.

All the other roles were filled by Glimmerglass young artists, and they gave us a lot to look forward to. Among the standouts, So Young Park’s Queen of the Night (crazy coloratura arias? not a problem), Ben Edquist’s Papageno, and Rhys Lloyd Talbot’s Speaker.

Conductor Carolyn Huan kept the pace brisk, lyrical, and sensitive to the singers. She wrote in the program notes of coming to this from Mahler, so let's hear more and bigger things from her, O Isis und Osiris. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

this is what we call blowing the curve

Cian Smith is ten, and he's been playing the pipes for only two years, he is incredibly talented and very hard working,...

Posted by David Power on Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sunday, August 9, 2015

while we wait

to see what happens with this sudden lunge into the 19th century, here's Mary-Ellen Nesi (the Penelope of BEMF's Ulisse) with B'Rock at the Proms yesterday.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Some public servant has posted last month's geoblocked Capuleti with JDD to the tubes. Thems as hesitates is lost.