This past year, I was privileged to get to review a flood of wonderful CD releases of little-known operas. I summarize my impressions of fifteen of these in a separate article here. But I feel that two of these unfamiliar works deserve special discussion because the quality of the music—and its dramatic applicability—so surprised me: the recent adaptation of the beloved novel Jane Eyre, by a composer I had never heard of, John Joubert; and, the work discussed below: Bellini’s first opera, composed during his last year as a conservatory student and already showing remarkable mastery. Indeed, there were not one but two big discoveries for me in this CD recording: Bellini’s first opera (here receiving its first fully adequate recording) but also and Enea Scala (seen at left in the photo above), a splendid, heroic high tenor who can perform the extensive coloratura fluently.
The Canadian-American conductor and concert organist, Justin Bischof, whose performances of Beethoven's Seventh and Ninth Symphonies impressed me greatly last year, has returned to New York City after several years working in Westchester County, where he successfully designed and funded a splendid mid-sized organ at the Church of St. James the Less in Scarsdale and led numerous concerts with the Canadian Chamber Orchestra of New York. Recently he conducted an outstanding concert with William Byrd's Mass in Four Voices and Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. Now, he moves to the 20th century with two of its greatest works for chamber orchestra, Richard Strauss's Metamorphoses for 23 solo strings and Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, which is in fact Rudolf Barshai's arrangement of the composer's String Quartet No. 8.
Czech-born choreographer Dušan Týnek founded his eponymous company in 2003 and has received numerous accolades for his intelligent craftsmanship and striking imagination. Both talents and more were on view at the world premiere of Anna, inspired by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, rendered as an expression of the novel and not a literal re-telling. An evening-length work, the story is a springboard to an examination of impressions of love, infidelity and gender norms within narrow social conventions.
One could wait a lifetime for this concert! I nearly did. And while Herbert Blomstedt is in his 90s now, you can only suppose—lucky man to be Swedish—he didn't spend as many years wondering what the Stenhammar Second Symphony would sound like in concert. Wilhelm Stenhammar is Sweden's greatest composer, after all, not without honor in his own country, like Vaughan Williams in England or Martinů in the Czech Republic. But it has taken time in the modern era to recognize which quieter and deeper voices from a nation's immediate past are the ones we will take to heart internationally. I can only thank Blomstedt profoundly for carrying this symphony on his guest-conducting rounds. Senior conductors can be influential that way. Erich Leinsdorf adopted the Martinů Fourth Symphony in his later years, and the work is now well established in concert halls far and wide. One hopes for a similar outcome here.
The Boys from Syracuse originally opened in 1938 and has since been revived numerous times. This version resets the musical, which has one of the best scores ever with gems including Falling in Love with Love, Sing for Your Supper and This Can’t Be Love, in a gay, campy world with an almost all-male cast plus one, lone woman.
The title of Optimists, choreographed by Gemma Bond of American Ballet Theater, didn’t tell me anything but the dancing, by Amanda Treiber and Erez Milatin, did. The piece is exciting and filled with action with the pair swooping and diving to Piano Sonata no.8 Opus 84 by Prokofiev. Elegant and spare with powerful bodies they move with confidence, Treiber and Miltatin have made this exhilarating piece their own and it was a joy to watch.
Whether one reads W. B. Yeats' The Only Jealousy of Emer as a closet drama or sees it in a convincing (indeed outstanding) production like the one mounted by Torn Page Apartment 929 this winter, one gets a strong feeling that the action and speech are unfolding on two levels: the mythic and the experiential, i.e. biographical, in relation to Yeats. As stated in the program note, "Yeats is a poet as much of fact as of feeling. Every work of his has a source—whether from folklore, legend, mythology, the occult, or history: each a source that for him had a definite objective reality. The demands of this world and of that other world of Yeatsian spiritual reality often conflict. His verse play The Only Jealousy of Emer, particularly in its early drafts, offers a vivid portrayal of such a struggle."
What was supposed to be a three-work evening turned into two as an injury forced cancellation of the intended middle piece, The Bind. The two works on view, presented by different choreographers, were so entirely different from each other—in mood, feel, point of view and music—it made for a slightly jarring combination.