Is there a more passionate art form than opera? In what other mode is the uninhibited expression of feeling—tragic or comic—so central? More central than reason. Given the emotional liberation of great music, what can in a mere plot description appear to be absurd (a woman tossing the wrong baby into a fire; a “fallen woman” sacrificing her entire future and the happiness of her lover for the sake of her lover’s respectable sister; a man killing his best friend in a duel because he has flirted with his girlfriend; a nobleman secretly meeting his own wife in disguise—madness, murder, and deception) can become through music profound and moving, Revelation and Catharsis.
Articles by Lloyd Schwartz
I couldn’t have been more eager to hear Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on their return visit to Boston, part of an American tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the “Peaceful Revolution” that began in Leipzig in October 1989 and a month later led to the fall of the Berlin wall. Chailly continues to be one of most significant and enriching conductors of our time, and it was profoundly frustrating that, in January of 2012, heart problems prevented him from making his long overdue BSO debut (conducting, among other things, Stravinsky’s Sacre du printemps). This cancellation also put him out of the running as a possible replacement for James Levine as BSO music director. There was no way the BSO would risk hiring another music director with health problems. And yet, apparently recovered, here he was in Boston.
A Gala concert at Symphony Hall marked the first time Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony as its 15th Music Director (at Tanglewood this past summer, he was still Music Director Designate). He of course received a warm welcome from the audience—a standing ovation—as warm as the ovations that greeted Seiji Ozawa and James Levine. Since Levine resigned in 2011 for health reasons, BSO subscribers and attendees have been longing for someone to be in charge.
SOLD OUT! The signs taped to the front doors of Jordan Hall told a rare story for Boston’s classical music scene. Odyssey Opera began its second season with a hit on its hands—the Boston premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), a romantic work now best known for a soaring soprano aria, “Marietta’s Lied,” a favorite of any diva who can sing a high C on pitch (and some who can’t).
For a city that hasn’t seemed very welcoming to opera, Boston has had a lot of opera going on lately. Since Opera Boston closed on January 1, 2012, there’s been only one major opera company left, the Boston Lyric. But last fall, Gil Rose, former music director of Opera Boston, returned as the head of an important new company, Odyssey Opera, leading a rare performance in concert of Wagner’s first opera, the epic Rienzi. It was a critical success, and now, at the intimate BU Theatre, Odyssey has let its other shoe drop with two programs of fully staged smaller-scale but equally unusual repertoire: Verdi’s second opera, Un giorno di regno (King for a Day), the first of his only two comedies and one of the biggest flops of his entire career; and a double bill of Mascagni’s even rarer “lyric scene,” Zanetto, last seen in Boston in 1902, when Mascagni himself brought it on an American tour (and was thrown into the Charles Street jail for not paying his company), and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s 1910 farce, Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s “secret” being her unladylike addiction to cigarettes).
The most recent piece of bad news in the opera world is that the Metropolitan Opera has succumbed to pressure from several Jewish organizations and cancelled the international Live in HD telecast and radio broadcast of its new production of John Adams’s complex and controversial 1991 opera/oratorio The Death of Klinghoffer—which is about the Palestinian terrorist attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. And because Adams, librettist Alice Goodman, and stage director Peter Sellars had the chutzpah to dramatize the points of view of the terrorists as well as the victims, some people, including Leon Klinghoffer’s two daughters, felt the opera was anti-Semitic.
The Mark Morris Dance Group was back in Boston with the East Coast premiere of a major new work, Handel’s ravishing pastoral opera Acis and Galatea, under the aegis of the Celebrity Series of Boston, one of the co-commissioners. I loved it. Or to put it more accurately, I’m in love with it, and saw three of its four performances at the Shubert Theatre. Morris has now staged several complete operas and one Handel oratorio. At least two of these are generally regarded as his masterpieces: Purcell’s one-act opera, Dido and Aeneas (1989), in which all the singers are offstage and the dancers play the main characters; and Handel’s L’Allegro,il Penseroso ed il Moderato (1988), in which the singers are also offstage, and there are no characters. But in Rameau’s delectable Platée (1997) and in Morris’s productions of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (Handel and Haydn Society, 1996; the Metropolitan Opera, 2007), singers played the leading roles and appeared on stage along with the dancers.
This season marked the 75th Anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, founded by Aaron Richmond, whose widow, Nancy Richmond Winsten, sponsors the piano events and is still a familiar attendee. I have a deep sense of nostalgia about the Celebrity Series. The very first concert I ever attended in Boston was with the Budapest String Quartet (my favorite quartet) in 1962. It was my first year of graduate school (I was a very young grad student) and I was living on a $1500 a year scholarship. I had neither time nor money for anything as frivolous as a chamber music concert. But I had to go. The Jordan Hall box office told me the performance was sold out... unless I was willing to take a cheap stage seat. So there I was, sitting a few feet away from the Budapest Quartet playing Haydn, Mozart, and Schubert. It remains one of the greatest concerts I ever heard in my life.