Last weekend the San Francisco Symphony, surely unbeknownst, gave me a Valentine's Day card masquerading as a pair of tickets! I don't honestly recall a concert in recent years I've enjoyed more than this one. I've known and loved Paul Dukas' ballet score La Peri for more than fifty years without ever hearing it live, and as a dedicated Francophile in music, I am always delighted to hear again Camille Saint-Saëns' iconic and fascinatingly structured Organ Symphony. Add to this the fact that I grew up in the wilds of Latin America and learned to tango just about when couples abandoned cutting a rug with each other on the dance floor in favor of wriggling in place, and you can imagine how a piano concerto based on Tango would evoke a special warmth and affection in someone like me. So I am writing more as a fan than as a critic this time.
In Sir Richard Eyre's complex production, which premiered on opening night, September 2014, Rob Howell's rotating set looms oppressively over the Almavivas and their household, as it reaches up towards the catwalks like a cross between a spire of La Sagrada Família and a decaying oil tank. I don't say this in disparagement. The set is highly effective. Rotating as it does, it can present small rooms, like the one intended for Susanna and Figaro, larger rooms, like the Countess' bedroom, and very large spaces like the great hall, dividing the expanse of the Met's stage into a central and flanking areas, as well as some space above, when called for. We can also see from one space into another, allowing us to get glimpses of the goings-on in other parts of the building—daily life in a noblman's country residence. Its ornament suggests the Moorish, with hints more implied than defined of the Gothic and Baroque, and leans more to Lorenzo da Ponte's original indication, "il castello del Conte Almaviva"[1. sometimes replaced, as the libretto is reprinted, by Beaumarchais' "le château d'Aguas Frescas à trois lieues de Séville," accordingly translated.] than "an elegant Spanish villa." And the set tells its story...a story of decay.
No sooner was Eugene Goossens knighted by the Queen of England for service to Australian music, than he wound up benighted and foolish in the hands of the immigration police. Arrested at Sydney airport for pornography in his luggage, Goossens found his international reputation shattered and life soon to end from a major fall from grace. At the time of his arrest in 1956, he was known throughout the world as a conductor, orchestra builder and composer. In a long career, starting out as a protege of Sir Thomas Beecham, Goossens had put the Rochester Philharmonic on the map, taken the Cincinnati Symphony to new heights, and made his mark as the most important performing musician in Australia, stewarding the Sydney Symphony to international prominence after the Second World War.
From the projections of flying swans to the tragic/heroic end, this production is thrilling, unsettling, comedic and beautiful, sometimes all at once.
Ever wanted to hear a Wagner opera performed with smooth singing: little or no barking, effortful huffing, or slow wobbling? Sure, there have been individual singers who have managed the trick, such as Plácido Domingo in Giuseppe Sinopoli’s famous Tannhäuser recording. But I mean the whole cast, from the biggest roles right down to the smallest. Well, here’s your chance: a complete Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg that is a near-constant pleasure to the ears. The only problem is that it’s sung in Italian: hence I maestri cantori di Norimbega. But don’t let that you put you off. Opera houses in many countries have developed their own national traditions of Wagner singing in the vernacular. Opera enthusiasts cherish certain recorded Wagner excerpts sung magnificently in French by soprano Germaine Lubin or tenor Georges Thill.
Wagner’s Ring Cycle, aka Der Ring des Nibelungen, is a complicated, four-opera series dealing with the struggles to acquire a ring that provides the power to dominate the world. Characters including a human hero, demigod woman, King of the Gods, nasty dwarf and many others are part of the action. The entire opus lasts fifteen hours and has been the source of numerous parodies.
It is both a sign of my respect and admiration for Mr. McLean's work and a bracing perspective that I should be singing the Fellowship's praises from a production I found problematic. Paradise Lost, described as "a fast-paced, witty and accessible modern retelling of John Milton’s classic story of humanity’s fall from grace written by Tom Dulack." One should also note the ambiguous phrase "inspired by John Milton." All the excellences of a Fellowship production were in full evidence—an impressive set, balancing cost-effective, but handsome material elements with gorgeous projections, and a superb cast who brought each turn, each phrase of the script into full life under Michael Parva's expert direction.
The play is a study in contrasts with the blindingly white stage vs. ripping, visceral emotions, a Medea for our time in which Jason is Lucas, who makes designer pharmaceuticals, and Medea is Anna, once a physician and successful head of the lab where both worked. Anna has been driven mad by rage, sparked by her husband’s infidelity. Rage and instability take over until she ends up destroying herself and everyone around her.