“Words, words, words,” intoned My Fair Lady’s Henry Higgins. If words are not your thing, this production is not for you. However, if you love language, humor and magnificent intelligence, don’t miss it.
Bard Summerscape visitors have much to look forward to in this year's fully-staged production of Dvořák's rarely performed grand opera, Dimitrij. For this ambitious work Dvořák set a Russian subject, the unhappy fate of the false pretender, Dimitrij, who appeared after the death of Boris Godunov, presenting himself as the son of Ivan the Terrible. The libretto was by Marie Červinková-Riegrová, one of the preeminent Czech librettists of the time, the deeply educated daughter of leading Czech politician František Ladislav Rieger, and a granddaughter of the famous historian František Palacký. In her libretto, which advisedly took liberties with historical accuracy, Dimitrij was a young Russian serf who was taken up by Poles and brought up to believe that he was in fact the son of Ivan. Hence in this opera, he is the innocent victim of ruthless Poles, eager to destabilize Russia. He is unhappily married the the Polish Princess Marina, who is merely interested in using him for her own national and personal ends.
If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.
Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.
At some point, as I savored my memories of Soulpepper's musical, Spoon River, I succumbed to the temptation to give this review the title you see above. As I began to put words together on my screen, I thought with regret of TFANA's close-to-perfect Measure for Measure over in Brooklyn. But somehow this banal phrase, which does Soulpepper's brilliant creation sincere but unworthy honor, jumped out of its hole, and I can't chase it away. I hope I can do Soulpepper true justice below.
The desert blooms in wondrous ways with all manner of flora and fauna in Momix’ Opus Cactus, conceived by Moses Pendleton. The company members, self-described as “illusionists” are as athletic as Olympians. During the performance they appear as giant saguaros, tumbleweeds, fire dancers and a four-person, slithering Gila monster, with all these figures emerging from an ingenious use of costumes, lighting, and the human body. Mostly it’s about the suppleness of the dancers (though some argue that this isn’t exactly dance) and their staggering physicality. Very creative costumes and lighting also contribute.
One of the gratifying trends in recent piano recitals has been the interest in Debussy's most ambitious piano compositions, above all Book II of his Préludes. In the past few years I've reviewed penetrating, deeply considered realizations of these subtle and complex sound-poems by Ian Hobson and Stephen Porter, which were among the most significant piano recitals I heard at the time. Marc-André Hamelin also included a characteristically brilliant and subtlety tinted and shaded reading of Images, Book I. It was a rich season for Debussy.
I don't know how many in the audience had ever heard anything like it, a symphony dragging itself to a conclusion like a wounded beast over shrieking strings, bass drum rolls gone mad, brass, cymbals and tam tam flashing like jaws and teeth. And then, there was that set of hall-flattening final chords, like crates dropped on the stage, followed by silence for five seconds, broken only by a quiet "Jesus!" under someone's breath. Welcome to the Rachmaninoff First Symphony!