2013

Art

Houghton Revisited: The Walpole Masterpieces from Catherine the Great’s Hermitage, at Houghton Hall, Kings Lynn, Norfolk, 17 May to 24 November 2013

One of the great country houses and emblematic of Palladian architecture, Houghton Hall will figure in any survey of the history of English taste. It was built between 1722-1735 and represents an inflection point in the evolution of stately homes, away from the aggravated grandeur of the Baroque towards a more restrained, Neo-classical style. More palatial than the typical country “seat”, Houghton’s fame is linked to that of its first owner, Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), who was also the first prime minister of England in the modern sense of the term, as well as the former home of a fabled picture collection. Sir Robert intended that his collection be an inalienable part of Houghton, but the extravagance of the Walpole family meant that it was sold to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great in 1779. The sale caused an outcry in England, but the paintings became the cornerstone of the great Russian institution known as the State Hermitage Museum. Now, almost miraculously, some sixty paintings from this historic collection have returned to Houghton for six months, enabling visitors to see the interiors as Sir Robert Walpole intended.
Berkshire Review

Zauber-less Flute: the Boston Lyric Opera’s late Mozart

I’ve always thought it was a terrible idea to stage opera overtures. The music is there to help set the mood for what’s to follow, to allow you to open the magic casements of your imagination and picture for yourself what’s going to happen later—and for the only time to concentrate completely on the music itself. But these days, it’s almost impossible to see any opera performance that doesn’t have a staged overture, and all too often the staging has nothing to do with the music we’re hearing (last season’s Boston Lyric Opera Flying Dutchman was one of the worst offenders in this regard). But it turns out there’s something even worse than staging an overture, and it happened at the Lyric’s new production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, at the Shubert Theatre, closed October 13).
Music

Pablo Heras-Casado Conducts the San Francisco Symphony in Lully, Adès and Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, Leila Josefowicz plays the Stravinsky Concerto

In the rather too large historical canon of unnecessary musical deaths, I've always been sorry that Jean-Baptiste Lully stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting staff during a concert. He was at the height of his powers, and the resulting infection killed him. Lully's music conveys an innate danceable grace that most Baroque music lacks — and a very human sense of sentiment — a sweet nostalgia rather like Mendelssohn's, in fact. Pablo Heras-Casado's program last Friday at the SFS was deliberately laid out as a neoclassic feast.
Opera

Anna Nicole Blows Brooklyn! New York City Opera Production of Turnage Opera at BAM

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.
Coming Up and Of Note

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Berkshire Review

The Cantata Singers Open their 50th Season

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.
Berkshire Review

Rienzi, non piano

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).
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