Berkshire Review

Race and Slavery in Mozart Operas: A Letter to the New York Times

Mozart conducting his Entführung aus dem Serail

A most welcome contribution from Ralph P. Locke, Professor Emeritus of  at the Eastman School of Music, an unpublished letter to the editor of the New York Times, directed my attention to a review and an article by Zachary Woolfe concerning recent productions he has seen in France of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Così fan tutte. The content of these articles will be clear enough from Professor Locke’s letter and his own commentary.

Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at Glimmerglass

Greer Grimsley in the title of The Glimmerglass Festival production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is dark, dark musical theatre. A vengeful barber returns to Victorian London, slits the throats of those who have wronged him and with his accomplice turns their bodies into the stuffing of meat pies. Todd’s London is as menacing as he is …

“There’s a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
And it’s filled with people
Who are filled with shit
And the vermin of the world inhabit it …”

Best Concert of the Year?

Andris Nelsons conducts the BSO

Boston has had a very good music season since the first of the year. Notably, Andris Nelsons has established himself ever more fully as leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After a triumphant concert performance of Strauss’s Elektra in the fall, Nelsons came back with especially strong accounts of three large-scale symphonies: the Shostakovich Eighth in March, and the Bruckner Third and Mahler Ninth in April. All were brilliantly played by the orchestra, which seems to have accommodated itself to Nelsons very well.

A Crop Of Recordings VII: Music of Walton, Zemlinsky, Goldmark and Ibert

Jacques Ibert.

It has taken time for Sir William Walton’s Second Symphony to find a secure place in the repertory. But I think this new CD from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony fully confirms its place in the canon and right to be there. Walton is the sort of artist, like Oscar Wilde, who interests sociologists, because he hides depth in the shallows.

The Bard Music Festival and SummerScape Opera 2016: Puccini and his World, with Pietro Mascagni’s Iris

Giacomo Puccini. © Frank C. Bangs, Library of Congress.

The Bard Music Festival, every year since 1990, offers music-lovers a splendid gift in its weekends of immersion in the music of some major composer and others related to him, the intellectual and artistic life of his time, and the legacy that connects us to it all. It equally presents us with a powerful challenge—a challenge to overcome our preconceptions about this partly familiar, partly unfamiliar music, chiefly the product of famous composers. In some cases we discover that a composer’s most popular music is not in fact his best, and our estimation of him rises significantly, as in the case of Sibelius and Prokofiev, or in others, like Schubert, we can become acquainted with genres like the part song, which have fallen out of the repertory because the social context for their performance has become obsolete. Many music-lovers divide Franz Liszt’s output between serious music of high quality and shallow, flashy display pieces. Again, the Bard Festival challenged its audiences to reconsider.

François-Xavier Roth with the BSO in January, with solo turns from Elizabeth Rowe (flute), Jessica Zhou (harp), and Renée Fleming (soprano)

Conductor François-Xavier Roth. Photo Marco Borggreve.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra started the new year well with two programs under the direction of guest conductor François-Xavier Roth, who hails now from Cologne and is very active in Europe, much sought after. Conducting without baton, vigorous and engaged, Roth holds the players’ attention and gets what he wants. Orchestra and audience alike feel caught up in an unusually tense and purposeful address to the music at hand.

True Romance on Screen: Todd Haynes’ Carol…with a Sideglance at the Latest from Spielberg & Hanks

Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird and Rooney Mara as Therese Believe in Todd Haynes' Carol

True Romance. The essence of Carol, a film much lauded but low grossing (which has become the norm for prestige films at Oscar season) is that it is a lesbian love story as Eric Rohmer might have conceived it and Alfred Hitchcock might have photographed it. The plot is slender. At Christmas around 1950 Carol Aird, an unhappy housewife on the verge of divorce (Cate Blanchett), feels an immediate attraction to Therese Belivet, a much younger sales girl in a New York department store (Rooney Mara).  Poised between upper-middle-class privilege of the period, swathed in mink, and her sexual loneliness, Carol initiates a love affair that quickly takes us into literary territory, with the visuals doing much of the poetic writing, in the “camera-pen“ tradition that French critics admired in great American movies.

Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts until March 13, 2016

Rodin in his studio

Auguste Rodin is one of those institutional artists, whose last name has become synonymous with a distinctive​ kind of art, much the same as Donatello or Rembrandt, but Rodin: The Evolution of a Genius, currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, is as remarkable as it is unexpected. While it covers the salient points in Rodin’s oeuvre, the focus here is neither marble nor bronze, but rather the humbler medium of plaster. The underlying thesis is that Rodin was more of a modeler than a carver, a practice reflecting the nature of the art market in his day as well as the sculptor’s natural inclination. Created jointly by the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Montreal, the exhibition showcases two hundred works that emphasize Rodin’s pivotal place in the grand tradition of sculpture, between the worlds of Michelangelo and of Brancusi.

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