September 2011

Food & Drink

First Cittaslow badge in North America goes to Cowichan Bay.

The slow food movement is on the move with the branding of Canada's Cowichan Bay as the first "Cittaslow" community in North America. The Italian organisers, with scores of locations badged in Europe, intend to authorise the brand in many more places on this side of the Atlantic. The quaint fishing village on Vancouver Island at the confluence of the salmon-bearing Koksilah and Cowichan rivers has all the required ingredients: a convivial community in a pleasing setting, with behind it an array of small farms producing everything from wine to organic bread grains. Could your community be next? (1) In Cowichan Bay village local residents crowded into Bruce Stewart's picturesque True Grain organic bakery to sign up for the slow-food movement and give the branding application a rousing send-off. Back in Orvieto, north of Rome, the sages examined the evidence, weighed up the issues, and granted Cittaslow status. So now, you can add to famous names like Lucca (Cittaslow Tuscany) and Alassio (Cittaslow Liguria) the name of Cowichan Bay.
New York Arts in Italy

Riccardo III by William Shakespeare, directed by Marco Carniti – until September 18, Silvano Toti Globe Theatre, Rome

The Empire has gone Elizabethan. Built in 2003, the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre threatens to trump even the Baths of Caracalla (the city’s open-air opera house) as the cultural center point of Rome in the sweltering summer months. This season, the company cooked up an ambitious program including La tempesta (The Tempest), Pene d’amor perdute (Love’s Labour’s Lost), Sogno di una notte di mezza estate (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Dodicesima notte (Twelfth Night), and now closing with Riccardo III (Richard III). Don’t be scared by the foreign language. Even if you’ve read the play only once or twice, you’ll have no problem following the action (though rudimentary Italian will help). In fact, maximal accuracy was not the overriding concern for translator Enrico Groppali and director Marco Carniti. They rather aimed for superb drama and a strict fidelity to the plot. The result is an authentic, barely abridged Richard III (running over four hours) showing greater erudition and ingenuity than many productions in the original English.
At the Bayreuth Festival

Richard Wagner, Parsifal, directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Daniele Gatti, Bayreuther Festspiele (2010 Performance Reviewed)

Ritual is everywhere in Wagner's operas and music dramas. He even has his way of transforming crucial events in his stories into quasi-rituals through symbolism. Ritual is even more pervasive in his final work, his Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, which is in itself a ritual. The highly ritualized routines of the Grail knights connect their lives and the events of the drama with the continuum of the Grail's history, back to the Last Supper. Their actions are highly deliberate, replete with the significance of faith and tradition. This creates a quasi-monastic environment in which life unfolds slowly, largely ceremonially, on the structure of a time-honored schedule, in which history and precedent are always present. The narrative unfolds with notable simplicity in terms of what occurs on stage, while beneath it, the backstory related in monologues seethes with incident, conflict, and misfortune. In addition to this dramatic foreground purified of trivialities, there is the pure transparency of Wagner's score, consisting of simple thematic material set with surpassing clarity, delicacy, and harmonic subtlety. In this way Parsifal lives up to what we have been conditioned to expect from the late work of a great artist, and this is what we see and hear on the stage, if Wagner's stage directions are observed.
Coming Up and Of Note

Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Artistic Director: 2012 Season Preview and Concert Schedule (*REVISED WITH CONCERT SCHEDULE*)

It was good news that Vladimir Ashkenazy renewed his contract as artistic director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra through 2013. 2012 will be his fourth season with the SSO and the orchestra's 80th anniversary. The Maestro will spend four months in Sydney conducting the orchestra himself in the summers at either end of the year, opening in February with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and ending in December with a concert performance of Tchaikovsky's opera Queen of Spades. In his Mahler cycle especially, ending this year, Ashkenazy has shown how he is as excellent an interpreter of symphonies as of piano music, with an attention to detail and rapport with the musicians which brings out their best and an approach to the music which is genuine and strongly felt yet restrained, coming from a deep respect for and empathy with the composer. As a master pianist, he has a natural talent for choosing soloists — especially pianists — not least including 2011 invitees and collaborators Jean Efflam-Bavouzet and Stephen Osborne. As a complement to his good judgement, the Sydney Symphony's expansion into organizer of international soloists' recitals was an excellent idea, giving us concert goers a chance to hear the soloists on their own, after their concerti with Ashkenazy. These recitals brought some wonderful and seldom heard music to Sydney in 2011, though there is some repetition in 2012's programs of certain pieces by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

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