Tag Archive: Mozart

MTT conducts the SF Symphony in Cowell, Mozart (with Gil Shaham), and John Adams’ Harmonielehre

Last week’s program at the San Francisco Symphony carried a sense of celebration with it. John Adams was in attendance, giving luster to the orchestra’s new performance and recording of his “Harmonielehre” under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. (Edo De Waart taped the piece in his final year as Music Director, when Adams was composer-in-residence.) There has always been a tendency to rally around the orchestra in San Francisco — cultural boosterism being one of the old-fashioned charms of this now rather important city, which sometimes still thinks of itself as a town and behaves like one in its enthusiasms — and John Adams is a local hero in the orchestra’s history. But the spontaneous applause I heard on Saturday seemed to go beyond these boundaries. It is a though, from the standpoint of an audience, Adams were being hailed for having rescued contemporary music — and indeed, he just may have.

Le Nozze di Figaro in Sydney

I usually don’t like to pick favourites, but of the Mozart operas it’s hard to deny Le Nozze di Figaro. As such it has become familiar without become at all tired, and has probably sublimated a rather particular image of itself in my mind’s eye and ear. The story of love giving way to jealousy, and then despair, and finally forgiveness, under the roof of an aristo ripe for Revolution, is bound to develop a thin farcical crust, but it never seemed a straight comedy, let alone a farce, to me. The characters are so genuine, even the myriad of supporting roles are so strong, that it’s easy to sympathise with their harrowing trials. I see the opera more as the Orpheus and Eurydice story with a happy ending which makes sense. It also lovingly portrays the noble and logical humanist belief that (to paraphrase John F. Kennedy) it is not impossible for human beings to solve problems that they themselves created. No parts for any God or gods nor even Cupid here. This production, directed by Neil Armfield perhaps wasn’t exactly my idea of Figaro or quite sat on my sense of humour, but it did try some new things. Armfield does try to play it for laughs by filling the opera with over-the-top physical comedy, but he often risks hamminess. It is hard to keep up that kind of farce for over three hours and he doesn’t always succeed in creating dark comedy in putting a fluff of laughter on violent, frightening or dark situations. He never ruins the comedy intrinsic to the libretto or the music, in fact at his best moments he even compliments this by adding detail to the scene with subtler acting in the background.

Mozart’s Idomeneo with Sir Roger Norrington and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Edinburgh International Festival

Certainly one of the happiest events in the expansion of the classical repertoire in the later twentieth century has been the discovery of Mozart’s first operatic masterpiece, Idomeneo, rè di Creta. Often I think it may be my favorite…until I really start thinking seriously about Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, but I can say that I feel a special passion for Idomeneo. When one reads about the conductors who have brought it into its still admittedly somewhat intermittent place in the repertory of major opera houses — first among whom is Sir Colin Davis, their passion for the work is always in the foreground. The opera itself is passionate. Mozart clearly responded strongly to the libretto, and this passion is infectious.

Mozart’s Idomeneo at the English National Opera

Virtue rampant. It’s something of a drawback when an opera has no characters, but this wasn’t always so. At the height of the 18th century’s classical style, an emblem would suffice, or a slightly animated statue. In Mozart’s Idomeneo something like the ideal is achieved. No one is really flesh and blood but rather personified virtues: Nobility caught between Filial Devotion and conflicted love from Chaste Constancy and Heartfelt Passion. Or as the playbill has it, Idomeneo, king of Crete, is trapped by a vow to Poseidon to sacrifice his son, Idamante, while two women pine longingly, Ilia, a captured princess of Troy, and the infamous Electra, daughter of Agamemnon. These pawns on the Greek chessboard were available to any dramatist or poet of Mozart’s day, to be shuffled through the paces of opera seria, the musical equivalent of high tragedy.

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Le Nozze di Figaro at the Bayerische Staatsoper

Many of my most memorable early operatic experiences came from the Bayerische Staatsoper, either from when I was a student or a somewhat underoccupied summer intern in public relations. It’s been all too long since my last visit, not to mention my last look at the Aigina pediments or the great Dürers in the Alte Pinakothek. In operatic terms the work of the Staatsoper is very much on this level. Hence, I’ll not soon forget this three-day orgy, which began with a fine Nozze di Figaro, continued with Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux with none other than Edita Gruberova as Elisabetta, and concluded with an important premiere, Peter Eötvös’ and Albert Ostermaier’s Die Tragödie des Teufels, an impeccable performance in a spectacular staging.

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Mozart and Bruckner

There appears to be something of a tug-of-war going on in the world of Mozart performances.

In the ascendancy these days, self-confident revisionist scholars, seeking to sweep away Victorian accretion, place before the public spiky, twangy and fiercely rhythmical works for small forces of original instruments. Traditional Mozart conductors, on the political defensive and seemingly chastened as romantics, come to audience rescue with slightly more refined, slightly less detuned, slightly more softly sprung music for slightly larger forces. Scarcely anyone anymore, (perhaps Barenboim), will stand before 100 players and lead a symphony by Mozart or Haydn in the manner of a Bruno Walter, an Otto Klemperer, a Herbert Von Karajan or a George Szell.

Don Giovanni at the Met x 2

Metropolitan Opera House Don Giovanni Mozart-Da Ponte Conductor – Louis Langrée Continuo: Dennis Giauque, Harpsichord David Heiss, Cello Mandolin Solo: Joyce Rasmussen Balint Production – Marthe Keller Set Designer – Michael Yeargan Costume Designer – Christine Rabot-Pinson Lighting Designer –…
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