If advance gossip is any indicator, this year's Bard Festival, devoted to Giacomo Puccini and his World, was one of the most controversial. "Puccini! Controversial!" You say, "There's not really enough in him to have a controversy about, is there? Those sappy tear-jerkers speak for themselves." In fact there was a lot of grumbling. Some festival regulars stayed away, or dragged themselves to only one concert, the one that included pieces by Dallapiccola, Pizzetti, and Petrassi. Even with these absentees the Festival sold out, or came close to selling out. Most of the concerts and the panel discussions were packed.
Huntley Dent’s recent review of Bernstein’s Mahler and now his lucid evaluation of several recordings of Tristan und Isolde put me in mind not so much of operatic traditions as those of the concert hall, since Wagner’s music drama is so deeply rooted in the orchestra and the conductor who leads it. The modern symphony orchestra and the concert halls in which they play evolved as a substantially bourgeois institution over the course of the nineteenth century.