New York Arts in the Berkshires

The BEMF Chamber Operas 2014: Pergolesi’s La serva padrona and Livietta e Tracollo

Pergolesi’s comic operas sound remarkably modern—which is to say, like Mozart. Recognizably human characters go through recognizable experiences, singing out their feelings very directly, which the music embodies in fluidly changing tempos and moods, stretching of harmony, changes of key and orchestral color. Much is accomplished through musically creative recitative—a half-spoken way of proceeding—as well as through song proper and duets (there are only two singers in each of these operas, though also some designated silent performers, to which this production added a few dancers). It is like Mozart, but sets the procedure for opera ever since, even Verdi’s with their heroic figures, Wagner’s with their gods and goddesses, Berg or Britten with their neurotics. Characters live, feel, and think—and sing—and the music moves quickly and supply and thinks, as it were, with them.

Richard Goode Plays Beethoven’s Last Three Sonatas and Bagatelles, Op. 119 at Jordan Hall, Boston

Richard Goode

This was a great recital—almost. Richard Goode played the last three Beethoven piano Sonatas and a set of late Bagatelles, and was quite convincing, even revelatory, with all the material except the final Sonata, the forbidding Opus 111. This last came off well, it felt meant—and all those difficult notes were well articulated—but the full emotional daring of the piece was not quite there.

The Bard Music Festival at 25: Franz Schubert and his World

A Schubertiade at Josef von Spaun's, by Moritz von Schwind, ca. 1870. Oil on canvas.

My leading thought goes against much of what the Bard Music Festival and my own values, for that matter, stand for. And just read Keith Francis’ provocative series, The Great Composers?, the latest installment of which has just been published. I’ve missed only one Bard Festival since 2006, and I’ve heard great music by Elgar, Prokofiev, and Sibelius. And, well, Saint-Saëns was too gifted to be great, and that really didn’t interest him in any case. Of the composers included in the festival, only Wagner and Stravinsky turn up on common lists of the greatest—not that those stupid lists do anything but harm. Still, during the two weekends devoted to Franz Schubert I felt I was living with the gods, and the lingering impression of those weekends swelled accordingly.

Warm welcome: Andris Nelsons takes charge of the BSO

ndris Nelson conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his ingural concert as music Director, 9/27/14. Photo Chris Lee.

A Gala concert at Symphony Hall marked the first time Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony as its 15th Music Director (at Tanglewood this past summer, he was still Music Director Designate). He of course received a warm welcome from the audience—a standing ovation—as warm as the ovations that greeted Seiji Ozawa and James Levine. Since Levine resigned in 2011 for health reasons, BSO subscribers and attendees have been longing for someone to be in charge.

Living “City”! …at Odyssey Opera, Boston

Frank Kelly, Alan Schneider, Thomas Meglioranza, Jana Baty, and Sara Heaton in the Odyssey Opera production of “Die tote Stadt.” Photo Kathy Wittman.

SOLD OUT! The signs taped to the front doors of Jordan Hall told a rare story for Boston’s classical music scene. Odyssey Opera began its second season with a hit on its hands—the Boston premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), a romantic work now best known for a soaring soprano aria, “Marietta’s Lied,” a favorite of any diva who can sing a high C on pitch (and some who can’t).

Crowned: Opera Odyssey’s June Festival, plus Guerilla Opera and Commonwealth Lyric Theater, and OperaHub

Verdi's Un giorno di regno, ensemble.

For a city that hasn’t seemed very welcoming to opera, Boston has had a lot of opera going on lately. Since Opera Boston closed on January 1, 2012, there’s been only one major opera company left, the Boston Lyric. But last fall, Gil Rose, former music director of Opera Boston, returned as the head of an important new company, Odyssey Opera, leading a rare performance in concert of Wagner’s first opera, the epic Rienzi. It was a critical success, and now, at the intimate BU Theatre, Odyssey has let its other shoe drop with two programs of fully staged smaller-scale but equally unusual repertoire: Verdi’s second opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), the first of his only two comedies and one of the biggest flops of his entire career; and a double bill of Mascagni’s even rarer “lyric scene,” Zanetto, last seen in Boston in 1902, when Mascagni himself brought it on an American tour (and was  thrown into the Charles Street jail for not paying his company), and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s 1910 farce, Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s “secret” being her unladylike addiction to cigarettes).

Handling Handel: Mark Morris’ Acis and Galatea, plus more Handel, Monteverdi, BLO’s I Puritani, the Met’s Cenerentola, and other adventures in opera-land

Portrait of George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner.

The Mark Morris Dance Group was back in Boston with the East Coast premiere of a major new work, Handel’s ravishing pastoral opera Acis and Galatea, under the aegis of the Celebrity Series of Boston, one of the co-commissioners. I loved it. Or to put it more accurately, I’m in love with it, and saw three of its four performances at the Shubert Theatre. Morris has now staged several complete operas and one Handel oratorio. At least two of these are generally regarded as his masterpieces: Purcell’s one-act opera, Dido and Aeneas (1989), in which all the singers are offstage and the dancers play the main characters; and Handel’s L’Allegro,il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1988), in which the singers are also offstage, and there are no charactersBut in Rameau’s delectable Platée (1997) and in Morris’s productions of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (Handel and Haydn Society, 1996; the Metropolitan Opera, 2007), singers played the leading roles and appeared on stage along with the dancers.

Pianissimo: Memorable keyboard art by Russell Sherman and Marc-André Hamelin and chamber music by the Takács and Borromeo String Quartets trigger some personal reminiscences

Lloyd Schwartz, 1988, by Robert Giard

This season marked the 75th Anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, founded by Aaron Richmond, whose widow, Nancy Richmond Winsten, sponsors the piano events and is still a familiar attendee. I have a deep sense of nostalgia about the Celebrity Series. The very first concert I ever attended in Boston was with the Budapest String Quartet (my favorite quartet) in 1962. It was my first year of graduate school (I was a very young grad student) and I was living on a $1500 a year scholarship. I had neither time nor money for anything as frivolous as a chamber music concert. But I had to go. The Jordan Hall box office told me the performance was sold out… unless I was willing to take a cheap stage seat. So there I was, sitting a few feet away from the Budapest Quartet playing Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. It remains one of the greatest concerts I ever heard in my life.

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