By now the word is that Anna Nicole, by Mark-Antony Turnage and librettist Richard Thomas, is likely to be the New York City Opera’s last production. If the City Opera is dying, it is going out magnificently, with its greatly reduced season setting a model for opera houses in the US and around the world. The 2013-14 season, if it takes place, includes the important contemporary opera discussed here, a 2011 commission by the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, followed by a long-forgotten setting of Metastasio’s Endimione by Johann Christian Bach, a staged performance of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, and finally one staple of the standard operatic repertory, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the final instalment in Christopher Alden’s innovative staging of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas. The schedule is small, but every opera has a vital reason to be in it.
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The Cantata Singers, one of Boston’s most cherished musical organizations, opened its 50th season September 20th at Jordan Hall with a presentation of its very first program from all those years ago: three Bach cantatas. The audience was large, and people were issued ribbons of various colors to indicate how many years one went back with the organization. Many loyal audience members were present, former singers and musicians with the group, and people otherwise involved in its support and management. There was a feeling of love in the air.
For Bostonians, getting to hear a live performance of Wagner’s ambitious third opera, Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen (“Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes”) was surely a once in a lifetime experience, which is what Odyssey Opera, Boston’s newest opera company, must surely have been counting on. Too bad that even in Wagner’s bicentennial year, and for the landmark inauguration of a new company, only some 600 of Jordan Hall’s 1013 seats were filled (the top ticket price was $200) for Rienzi’s Boston premiere, in a complete concert version. But those present certainly got their money’s worth (and probably so did the local restaurants, which filled up during the two-hour dinner break in between the two parts of the five-hour opera).
Detroit, a play by Lisa D’Amour, which opened last Sunday at Woolly Mammoth in Washington, DC, is not really about Detroit, except as a potent symbol of the fading of the America dream. The play is set in suburbia, any suburban area around any major America city, where the promise of the good life with picnics and Saturday night dances and well-scrubbed children is harder to achieve in the current economic malaise and intrusion of violence into quiet, middle class neighborhoods everywhere.
Along with the retirement of the Tokyo String Quartet, the departure of David Finckel from the Emerson Quartet has been one of the most discussed events in the world of chamber music over the past eighteen months or so. As people who have heard their concerts know, both David Finckel and the Emerson Quartet, now with the British cellist, Paul Watkins, in place, are as rich as ever in their contributions to our well-being as humans. Wu Han and David Finckel spoke with me just today about their new post-Emerson life, which allows David to travel and play more regularly with Wu Han as a duo and as a trio with Emerson violinist Philip Setzer, who will join them at the venerable South Mountain Concerts on Sunday, September 29, 2013. They will play Beethoven Op. 1, No. 2, Shostakovich's Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67, and Dvořák's Trio in E Minor, Op. 90, the "Dumky." I hope you enjoy our conversation about their past, present, and future as much as I did.
Last Friday evening dusked warm and sensuous—a rarity in this city. And at the San Francisco Symphony: one of those electric occasions to match, where everything comes together with inspiration, and the audience goes away feeling alive and happy. I don't think I have ever seen Michael Tilson Thomas so rested and intuitively joyous at the podium—American music is his specialty—and nobody since Bernstein does it so well. Thomas has a reputation for programming what amounts to narrated musical lesson-plans. Let him grab a microphone, and the dowagers in the audience get nervous.
What is le Corsaire? Is it a ballet? Is it entertainment — mere divertissement? Is there any difference? I believe intuitively that there is. Ballet defines itself on telling a story (even if there are exceptions) rather than presenting divertissements in vignettes, it is not a sort of artistic form of gymnastics. One more often encounters le Corsaire nowadays, at least in the west, as the extraordinary virtuoso pas de deux on its own, with its impossible leaps and lifts and turns for the man and the ballerina, and so this is what the ballet is known for, now associated especially with male virtuosity, thanks to Baryshnikov’s dancing, but the ballet presented as a whole is still a working piece of theatre.