A close look at the notes for this 2-disc set will give one some insight into the splendeurs et misères of the contemporary classical recording industry. A grant from Fond for lyd og bilde, the Norwegian arts organization, and Leif Ove Andsnes' Gilmore Artist Award funded this recording, making it possible for a major commercial label, EMI, to release a recording of comparatively little-known music by a great composer, played by internationally renowned musicians. Mr. Andsnes owns the copyright and has licensed the recording to EMI. Presumably the recording company didn't think that the famous names sufficed to counterbalance the obscurity and dubious reputation of the music, for unfortunately the trios, especially the second and third, were lumped in with the rest of what the older literature considered "bad Schumann," commonly disparaged as unmelodic, difficult, and confused. The rediscovery of these fascinating and very beautiful works has been one of the great pleasures of the past twenty years, once musicians learned how to play them and audiences, still slowly and partially, have learned how to listen to them.
Jonathan Nott has a light touch. The subtlety and clarity he encourages from each instrument, treating each with equal importance, allows in a way the music to speak for itself. He does not try to do too much to put his impression on the piece. His conducting is particularly sublime in the very soft sections of the music where he is not afraid to bring the sound level down to a barely audible level, but still with great clarity and texture. In this way the Violin Concerto, "Lost Art" by Brett Dean is well suited to his style. The Australian composer was commissioned to write the piece in 2007 by the Cologne Philharmonie and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic for Frank Zimmermann to whom the piece is dedicated. It is now heard for the first time in Sydney.
"Modernized Opera" can sound a little scary, especially if implicitly (mis-)associated with the term "upgrade" which came out of Hollywood and Silicon Valley almost simultaneously in the last several years. Perhaps this is why some people are so against it: it sounds as if their changing the notes to modern notes! Or completely reversing the tone of the opera in some sardonic way. Operas should not be modernized because they are old but because it makes sense to do so. The two terms in quotes shouldn't be associated at all: the former is a style, the latter a consumerist slogan and a euphemism for dumbing-down. Bringing the action of the opera into the present either explicitly or in some less realistic or even abstracted way, where there is a motivation, can be a wonderful thing and be high art. When the imagery the designer and director create make poetical and musical sense in the way it unfolds through the piece, with its own internal logic compatible with that of the music, it is a wonderful thing and there is no reason modern images are necessarily excluded from this (there is the problem of literal contradictions in the libretto, references to "pastorella" or "boschi" or "selva" in an opera taken to the modern inner city, but those are a separate matter).
Boston Early Music Festival’s presentation of two Marc-Antoine Charpentier chamber operas took us from the playful, elegant, high baroque world of the court of Louis XIV, into something more serious and grave, and then back out again. First we were given most of La Couronne de Fleurs, a Pastoral probably not meant for full staging, where Flore, goddess of spring—well sung, and acted with spirit, by soprano Mireille Asselin—summons up the season and then proposes to shepherds and shepherdesses a contest to praise Louis XIV’s military triumphs, the winner to receive the crown of flowers of the title. After the conventional tributes are made, the production turns to the short opera La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers, presenting it as a further entry in the poetic contest, though this is done a bit awkwardly, since the piece does not refer to Louis. The Orpheus opera seems not to have been finished by Charpentier, having only two acts instead of the usual three, and stopping with the beginning of Orpheus’s ascent from the Underworld with his lover Euridice rescued from death. We do not get the familiar incident of his prohibited looking back at her and thus permanent loss of her.
There is a lot of talk about long operas these days, in the light of the Boston Early Music Festival's triumphant production of Steffani's Niobe, Regina di Tebe, which, as cut by the directors, lasted about 3 hours 45 minutes; and now an important revival of Rossini's Guillaume Tell is coming up, which also promises to be a long evening, potentially as long a five hours. Huntley Dent has just reviewed Henrik Ibsen's early rarity, Emperor and Galilean, presented by the National Theatre, London, with the play's two parts of four hours each reduced to a single evening of three and a half hours. It seems this goes against the modern grain, although blockbuster movies tend to be long and certain genres of popular novels very long. Yet Francesca Zambello, in her interview with Seth Lachterman for the Review, pointed out her concern to keep the Glimmerglass production of Carmen within temporal bounds that would be acceptable to a wide audience (in actuality 2 hours, 50 minutes, with intermissions, which is pretty well standard), and length is usually the first thing an operatic neophyte complains about.