Saturday, August 1, 2015


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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Wreckers at Annandale

Sitting in the audience for Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers at Bard's Fisher Center this afternoon, it required more discipline than I possess not to think about Peter Grimes. A lot. Because it begs the question: if, in the 20th century, you were going to write an opera about a coastal village in England a hundred+ years before, is it a given that it will be an exploration of insularity and alienation? I suppose the odds are pretty good, but still...

Wreckers weather at Fisher Ctr
The Wreckers is about a hardscrabble 18th century village on the rockbound coast of Cornwall that has figured out this racket where, during storms, they extinguish the light in the lighthouse, thus vastly improving the odds that ships at sea will be driven onto the rocks. They let nature take its course, and gather up whatever washes ashore for resale. They also routinely snuff survivors. They do this with enthusiasm, and justify the whole enterprise by inventing a fairly broad interpretation of Christian religious doctrine, mostly based on the Old Testament and the whole Chosen People thing. I doubt Jesus would have approved, but they seem to have lost those chapters, so Pillar of Fire it is. Except when it gives us away, then snuff that too.

The drama revs up when a local fisherman decides he objects, and starts lighting bonfires on the shore at inconvenient times. In the judgement of the Village this is tantamount to starving their children, and they have a point there. But he also falls in love with the wife of the village parson -- whose theological off-roading is the raison d'etre for the whole thing -- and she with him, being like-mindedly uncomfortable with profiting by tragedy, much less helping it along.  They nearly run off together, possibly to America or southern Africa, where they probably imagine nobody ever heard of the Chosen People scam, but instead they end up [SPOILER ALERT] dying in a cave at high tide. It's their punishment for not getting with the program. Kind of like Aida, if Aida happened in a place with tides.

Katharine Goeldner, as Thirza the Parson's Wife, and Neal Cooper, as Mark the Village Rejectionist, have some fairly Brunnhilde/Siegfried-esque music to sing, and they managed the power and intensity required just fine. Louis Otey, as Pascoe, the village parson firm in his theological convictions but not quite so firm on the moral backbone part, was conflicted where he needed to be -- hitting up the lighthousekeeper's daughter; deciding he'd rather not have his wife tied to a post in a cave and drowned. Mr. Otey was singing under the weather, but you couldn't tell. He has a tree-trunk baritone that served the role well, and the bearing to match. Sky Ingram, as Avis, the flame-haired, jealousy-driven lighthousekeeper's daughter, has a bright soprano, and she fielded the lyric passages she's given beautifully and the more tonally complex passages with equal skill.

As in Peter Grimes, the chorus has a lot to do, both together as the collective Village, and separating out (again as in Grimes) into individual voices/characters or factions as the drama required. And this was a big chorus, about 50 strong. They had a big, full-bodied sound to match, and were well-balanced throughout, and they were fully engaged dramatically.

And more power to them, because that set can't have been easy to move around on, comprised as it is of a tumble-down ziggurat of shipping crates, interspersed by the odd loose plank. (There's a net over the orchestra in case any of these go rogue.) Set designer Erhard Rom has left the singers literally no flat, open space to work with, so there's a lot of concentration spent in minding footing. In a way this works -- characters pick their way over uneven ground in the same way you'd pick your way among algae-slick rocks at the sea shore -- and I suppose it works as metaphor as well. Still, it looks like hard labor.

Smyth's librettist, Henry Brewster, didn't leave much more than a thumbnail to hang an opera on -- you get the feeling there's a lot of detail gone missing in these characters' relationships, and a lot gets left for the audience to take as read. Director Thaddeus Strassberger fills in as best he can in the personenregie, but I'm not sure it's enough to make compelling drama of the whole. What saves it is Smyth's music, which inhabits this interesting late-Romantic space, with big crunchy orchestration, finely-detailed post-Wagnerian lyricism, and the occasional flash of similarity to her English contemporaries. (Although it's interesting that she eschewed the Cecil Sharpe route, and opted to write (if I'm not mistaken) her own traditional songs to put in her characters' mouths.)

As he often does, conductor and festival director Leon Botstein is making a case for a neglected work. There are three more performances through August 2nd. It's worth hearing him out.


During intermission, standing in the lobby of the Richard B Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, I got a text from the Envoy telling me our uncle died this morning. He and my aunt (who died in 2005) gave financial support to the Fisher Center project in its early stages, though neither of them were ever able to experience the finished product. So I suppose it was the best of all possible places to learn of his passing. Safe home, Uncle David.

The Richard B Fisher Center for the Performing Arts

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mrs Pankhurst pwns your number

I'm supposed to be at Glimmerglass right now, but the bug that kept me out of Old Songs back in June has devolved into an annoyingly persistent cough and so, yeah, no. So yay the 'Glass for being willing to do a ticket swap. Now it's off to the Medical/Industrial Complex to see if I can ditch this thing, because

is next on the agenda. Apart from the obvious attractions of the work, I confess I'm really interested to see how Leon threads the needle on this one, because remember that panel discussion a few years back when he argued that women writers in the 19th century didn't suffer discrimination in publishing because, look, Mary Wollstonecraft! Jane Austen! George Eliot! and one was all like Um...? So either Dame Ethel has afforded him a Come to Jesus moment, so to speak, on the Woman Question (i.e. that there actually was one) or I've (more likely) missed some nuance of his argument all along. Panel discussion! Bring it on!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Saturday, July 18, 2015

mezzo alert

Sarah Connolly fans and others not enjoying the beautiful weather and its attendant mosquitoes this evening at Tanglewood can access the live feed of tonight's All-Mozart program here at 8:30 ET. Program details here, and yes some La Clemenza di Tito is involved.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

there is nothin' like a dome

That thing when there's an awesome wav file in your inbox of some choral groups having fun with architecture, and you'd really like to share it, but the people who made it would get upset with you for posting it even though it's really amazing and they should just let everybody distribute the link with abandon.

In return for our restraint the Noise Ministry would like a commercial release on CD, please. Don't forget the pix and liner notes.

Monday, July 6, 2015

scattershot funfacts of wiki

"The Lady of the Lake is a narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1810. ...Its influence is indirect: Schubert's Ellens Dritter Gesang (later adapted to use the full lyrics of the Latin Ave Maria), Rossini's La Donna del Lago (1819), the Ku Klux Klan custom of cross burning, the last name of the U.S. abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the song "Hail to the Chief", were all inspired by the poem."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

betwixt & between

So the Thirdfloorian Delegation was supposed to be at Old Songs this weekend, taking in all that trad stuff in the cold and the wet (Oh the dreadful wind and rain indeed...). But the flu had other plans, so instead I've been minding the Old Songs Twitter feed from the Old Songs Twitter Feed Subterranean Command Center deep inside a heap of blankets and cats. While I do that and think up more things to say about BEMF, here's what some Boston Early people have been getting up to in their off hours. Props to soprano Catherine Webster for knowing how to sing these things.

Friday, June 26, 2015

BEMF Friday, bit the second

A Boston vignette: Meeting up with the Music Librarian after Buxtehude, and hanging out in the sanctuary of Emmanuel for a bit because she's a Music Librarian on a Mission and has a Mozart score she's supposed to be handing off to a Fortepianist in Need on our way to have lunch at another Thai place with Librarian's SO the Bass Trombonist. Delivery of score made on sidewalk, followed by all too brief discussion of what it's like living with five period keyboard instruments in your apartment plus cats. There's a lot of music in this town.

Lounging & Talking About Music, ep 2: Also talking about cats. And social media's effect on arts presenting. And cats. And the absurdity of the Boston Olympics bid. And music.

Then to First Church, admittedly late for Seattle Historical Arts for Kids' production (slightly adapted) of Alcina, which I knew about not from the BEMF Fringe program but from Twitter (cf reference above to social media convo), where this happened

and then this happened

When I sit down next to the Envoy in the back row, she hands me a note that says Amanda Forsythe is sitting with her kids in the front row. No pressure!

It doesn't seem to faze them. I've come in at Questo il cielo. There's a bunch of extra characters, of whom we've already mentioned Bradamante's lady knight sidekick. Lady Forsizia is particularly eye-catching as she's in full bloom a couple of months out of season. Handel and Ariosto seem engaged in a somewhat Straussian power struggle between opera stage adaptation and source material -- swords are drawn, but we know from the last BEMF (the Almira festival) that Handel had special body armor made from opera scores, so Ariosto's scrappy Italian Renaissance street-fighting ninja skills notwithstanding, I think this eventually ends in a draw.

Working with an orchestra of two violins, cello, theorbo, and harpsichord, the cast gets to sing in both English and Italian, and the English translations actually work well with the music -- "She's a liar, / she'll make you a plant!" sings Oronte. Straightforward but snappy.

This being a production having at its center various manifestations of Girl Power -- Bradamante is also designated as a Lady Knight in the program book, and Oronte, in this version, keeps his disparaging remarks specific to Alcina, thus failing to cast aspersions on all women -- the venue has a certain resonance as well.