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Cecilia Bartoli

Monday, September 26, 2016

getClassical (Ilona Oltuski)

September 3

A Retrospective: MOSTLY MOZART 50 Years – Making the most of Mozart’s genre bending spell

getClassical (Ilona Oltuski) capture by Tony Leonardo Cimino An integral part of the ever mounting – and at times interlacing – culture cycles initiated by Lincoln Center, the festival, now middle-aged, expands its efforts to rejuvenate and expand its communal presence. Exploring the impacts of varied programs and settings in different social contexts, the festival creates diverse concert experiences, with broader accessibility and intimate immersion in music its goals. Keeping with tradition, today’s Mostly Mozart avoids fixating on preconceived definitions or micromanaging its contextual relevance. It’s a continuous balancing act between established repertoire and innovation. Instead, there is Mozart – programs densely packed with featured works across his vast opus of instrumental, choral and operatic works, performed by the festival’s own Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra under its artistic director Louis Langrée, with famed soloists and guest ensembles – and then there is everything else. Over the years the festival has extended its realm from early Baroque to new commissions – 50 presented here by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the dynamic ensemble in residence – with one premiere each year, perhaps to make up for times when contemporary music had no place at Lincoln Center. Many of ICE’s micro-concerts, dispersed throughout the campus and the duration of the festival, set out to engage new audiences with free, public appearances. The festival’s muse transcends genres freely without limiting each experience to a rigid context, casting a vote of confidence for each of its artistic productions and impressive artists. With programs buzzing with fluid formats, its curator, Lincoln Center’s ‘Ehrenkranz Artistic Director’, Jane Moss, often succeeds in engaging with Mozart as trendsetter of an ever-evolving brand. This article by Ilona Oltuski, has been previously published by BLOGCRITICS on 9-2-16 PR for Mozart: souvenir buttons from the library’s collection, courtesy of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Under the title “Mozart Forever,” an exhibit at the Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center accompanied the Mostly Mozart festival’s 50th anniversary, running the length of its five week-long season from July 22 through August 27. Showcasing highlights from the festival’s history, the exhibit attests to its huge popularity and early knack for free-spirited ambiance– always without neckties – since its inaugural inception in 1966 as “Midsummer Serenades: A Mozart Festival” by Lincoln Center’s William W.Lockwood Jr. The festival was coined “Mostly Mozart” in 1970. The goal was to fill the summertime vacancy, attracting new audiences to classical music with concerts held in informal atmospheres, and offering high entertainment value at ticket prices as low as $3. “Air-conditioning had been the ultimate game changer, making concerts during the summer season possible for the first time,” explains Gerard Schwarz, the orchestra’s first director, now director emeritus. “Here was a chance to fill the Philharmonic Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, while its musicians went on tour, performed in parks or took their personal vacation time off.” Harking back to the festival’s initial success, Schwarz added: “Mozart’s symphonic works were not performed much at the time, partially due to the fact that every great guest orchestra that came to town wanted to show off their full orchestra, not required in Mozart. The same was true for season programs of the New York Philharmonic – instead of using only 35-40 players in a Mozart program, they wanted to engage all of their 80-90 players, sometimes even 100 or more in a great Mahler 5th Symphony. So here was a great chance to dive into these neglected works.” Since 1968, works by Haydn (hence the term “mostly”) and then by Handel, Schubert and Beethoven were added to the repertoire to attract more accomplished soloists and visiting guest conductors to the festival. Some of its differing forms of presentation, including popular midnight concerts and pre-concert recitals, were in place early on in the festival’s history. But despite varying presentations and additions, the festival’s repertoire maintained a focus on the wide range of Mozart’s vocal and instrumental oeuvre. Poster ad from the library’s exhibit Entering the Lincoln Center arena as Vice President of programming in 1992, and now Ehrenkranz Artistic Director, Jane Moss relieved Lockwood, the festival’s original founding director, bringing new aspirations along. “She always had an extraordinary vision,” says Schwarz, who had been brought in as the festival orchestra’s first full-time Artistic Director in 1982. For 20 years his mission was to craft for the orchestra a consistent musical point of view. Established in 1973, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra consisted mainly of freelance musicians from the New York Chamber Orchestra. “The musical goal at the time had been to enjoy traditional masterpieces on a high artistic level, not to challenge the status quo,” says Schwarz. “That was what I was hired for, and what’s wrong with a really great performance of a traditional masterpiece? At the time, no one looked for avant-garde, but we did want to expand beyond performing all Mozart concerti and symphonies into performing works by composers who influenced Mozart, like Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian), who wrote the first concerti that Mozart orchestrated, and in turn, show works by artists who had been influenced by his work, like Tchaikovsky in his first concerto.” Under Schwarz’s orchestral leadership, the festival expanded its name recognition and added to its long list of prominent performers, including, according to Schwarz, “Zukerman, Perlman, Mintz, Starker, Bronfman, Ax, Watts, Emerson String Quartet, Joshua Bell, and Cecilia Bartoli,” who “had her debut” at Mostly Mozart. The orchestra’s performance schedule also broadened beyond the summer festival, growing to include visiting tours around the United States and abroad. From the library exhibit: Al Hirschfeld sketch of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra with Gerard Schwarz conducting In Salzburg, the epicenter of everything Mozart, the answer to the quest for contemporary programs required a separate response to the traditional festival spectacle: its contemporary music festival “Dialogues,” initiated in 2006. New Yorkers, by contrast, consistent with the city’s diverse canon, enjoy their Mozart fare in a conglomerate of sundry collectives, old and new. Today, contemporary music does not faze New York’s traditional classical music loyalists; it has been accepted as part of our broad artistic curriculum, begrudgingly by some, but by others with open arms, among them fervent critics and the festival’s curator, Jane Moss. Schwarz, who has worked on Mostly Mozart with Moss for 10 years, describes Moss’s aspirations: “Replacing Lockwood at Mostly Mozart, Moss had a very broad vision and was more interested in cutting-edge new music. She originally had made the case for a new platform, ‘The Lincoln Center Festival,’ at Avery Fisher Hall (renamed in 1976) for its upcoming renovation in 1993.” Instead of executing her vision at the reign of the new festival, though, it was famed critic and arts administrator John Rockwell who took on the new festival’s leadership until 1998, followed by its former executive director Niguel Redden, who built the Lincoln Center Festival into a showcase of diverse performances of international theater, circus, and music, with artists and productions from more than 50 countries. Louis Langrée speaks at “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra” at David Rubinstein Atrium. Photo: Ilona Oltuski Moss, besides curating further themed initiatives like the White Light Festival, which made use of Lincoln Center’s entire complex, and other seasonal and recurring programs like Lincoln Center Outdoors, was left to revitalize Mostly Mozart, steering it towards a new and bolder brand. Following Schwarz as the orchestra’s director was Louis Langrée, who has now served as the Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director for 14 seasons. During the festival’s free public conversation at the David Rubinstein Atrium, “Meet the Musicians of the Mozart Festival Orchestra,” audiences had an interesting opportunity to familiarize themselves with the vision of the festival’s impresario and the orchestra’s tirelessly cheery and engaging leader: “It is here, at Mostly Mozart, so many people have experienced classical music for the first time,” says Langrée, thoughtful in his charming French accent. “That’s a lot of responsibility, and at the same time a great source of delight. One never gets to perform so much of Mozart’s works at once during the concert season calendar, and it allows one to go deeper here and to discover new layers. At the same time Mozart was such a central figure of Western music; his great imagination that transcended through all musical genres made him an inspiration for the next generations.” Moss took those thoughts a step further, claiming, with no resistance, Mozart as the innovator: an ideal fulcrum for exploring new musical horizons. “Mozart was a contemporary composer in his time. He would definitely want us to be looking at the new.” Coming to Lincoln Center from the world of theater, Moss composed a particular coalition of genres, platforms and scenery with dramatic inclinations, each informing the others. Photo: Jane Moss during Meet the Musicians podium discussion by Ilona Oltuski She is not afraid to label productions more for their entertainment value than for highbrow artistic purpose; the arias-potpourri of Mostly Mozart’s opening night gala including selections from Mozart’s operas and entitled “The Illuminated Heart” is a good example. With its great collective of performers and clever incorporation of screened images onto the stage, the gala was an introductory forum into famed Mozart melodies that was welcoming and highly entertaining if abbreviated, hardly allowing for the full, dramatic expansion of any complete version; two examples of Mozart’s fully-staged works, however, were shown during the festival’s season. Opera Arias Potpourri: ‘The Illuminated Heart,’ Photo by llona Oltuski For many soloists who have made their debuts at Mostly Mozart, the festival is known as a springboard for international careers. This season’s free orchestral opening performance at Damrosch Park featured Simone Porter performing Mozart’s serene Violin Concerto No. 3. Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Louis Langrée, conductor, Simone Porter, violin (Mostly Mozart debut) Photographed Friday, July 22, 2016 at 7:30 PM at Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center, New York, NY. Photograph: © 2016 Richard Termine In response to the premise that we are spoiled with star appearances but often unenthused by the anonymity of the great halls, one of Mostly Mozart’s most popular series, the intimate “A Little Night Music,” has lately taken on a sexy magnetism, attracting mostly young and charismatic individual performers to appear at Lincoln Center’s own Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. After having performed Mozart’s clarinet concerto at David Geffen Hall, exciting European clarinet star Martin Fröst, flown in with stellar piano accompanist Roland Pöntinen directly from the Verbier Festival, played for enthralled audiences who were seated cabaret-style, his alluring sounds and lithe, pied piper-like gesticulations entertaining the audience members as they sipped their wine. Photo: Eman Hassan for the New York TImes: Clarinetist Martin Froest and Pianist Roland Pontien at Stanley H.Kaplan Penthouse – A little Night Music Also at the Penthouse, profound Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan, renowned recently as “artist-in-association” with the New York Philharmonic, made use of the attentive if short-spanned concentration of this late night session, presenting his thoughtful “New Suite,” a selection of short pieces ranging from Handel, Bach, Rameau and Couperin to Ravel, Thomas Adès, Ligeti and Barber, played through in a continuous flow during one sitting. The New York Philharmonic recently featured Barnatan, among other artists, in a trendy concert presentation at an intimate downtown venue. Moss’s use of Lincoln Center’s Penthouse as a cool, elegant alternative is a notable, perhaps ingenious tactic for bringing the personal staging and downtown vibe of these salon-style shows home. At the other end of the spectrum, astounding by its sheer size, stands the display of populist egalitarianism in the premiere of David Lang’s “the public domain” for 1,000 voices, performed by an amateur chorus picked from all of New York City’s boroughs. Unlike New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini, who penned a gleaming review of the momentous choral performance, while watching from the balcony above the imposing gathering I failed to pick up on the intensity of this work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. In fact I could hardly hear the choral group’s many murmuring voices emerging through the hazy and steaming hot plaza. Performance of ‘the public domain’ by David Lang. Photo by Ilona Oltuski, with an excerpt of the original score I did, however, find the piece’s context fascinating. According to Lang: “All the texts are internet search engine auto-completions of the sentence ‘One thing we all have is our…’ which gave me a list of sometimes very personal statements, from people all around the world. I didn’t use all of them. I took out those that referred to specific people, that insulted or praised a person or group, that said anything – good or bad – about a particular religion or nationality or gender, that endorsed or disparaged a particular commercial product or activity, that were pornographic. My interest was to make a text that would seem in some way universal, a list of attributes we might all agree on, that could feel in some way universal.” The well-organized spectacle, under the direction of choreographer Annie B. Parson and conductor Simon Halsey, is worth mentioning, as it filled the entire Josie Robertson Plaza in stands around the fountain. The atmosphere was dominated by the emotional excitement of its partaking members and viewers alike. It reminded me of the citywide Make Music events such as Make Music New York, promoting the inclusive spirit inherent in all music making and embodying a sentiment we all seem to crave, a desire to bridge our differences with our common humanity in these volatile times of social and political ambiguity and isolation. Mostly Mozart’s increasingly open-ended curatorial vision and shifting dimensions have raised the bar of its narrative, with the new and old illuminating each other’s perspectives. Programming for multiple tastes also makes the festival easily approachable, and there is something playful about its outstretched musical and physical territorial reach. This year’s events took place in 11 different locations within Lincoln Center’s campus, with some of the events grouped to allow for sequential visits and provide an immersive effect through interrelating spatial and sonic experiences. David Geffen Hall’s more intimate ceiling and thrust stage set up for Mostly Mozart Festival. Photo from Mostly Mozart Festival on Facebook by Ruby Lan Lincoln Center’s setting for the festival’s smaller orchestral lineup at David Geffen Hall was altered in the 2005 season to include a temporary thrust stage over its first 11 rows, giving it a more intimate presence and making it possible for audiences to surround the orchestra. Additionally, while resembling a design feature that may be found at an airport lounge, an added ceiling structure helps to maintain the warmth of the sound, and also provides additional lighting for a softer glow during performances. For the first time, Lincoln Center’s Public Library, under its prolific artistic producer Evan Leslie, collaborated with the festival on three occasions, coming up with fun ways to enlighten audiences. An entertaining and free Pub Quiz of “Mostly Mozart Trivia” was held at the David Rubinstein Atrium in collaboration with ICE, effortlessly engaging audiences in entertaining and educational activity. Members of ICE at David Rubinstein Atrium, Photo by Ilona Oltuski Leslie also hosted an interview with pianist Emanuel Ax at the library. A beloved New York musical figure and a festival fixture for many years, Ax shared excerpts of his favorite playlist ranging from opera to jazz, all drawn from a collection of the library’s treasure trove of recordings. The musical interludes were spiced up with personal anecdotes from Ax’s extensive performance career. One of the musical qualities most revered by the pianist, “the directness in music making,” came through in his own refined performance at David Geffen Hall with the eminent Emerson String Quartet of works by Purcell, Schubert and Dvořák. The festival’s own orchestral ensemble was featured in various collectives during the season, most convincingly in smaller ensembles, but also in a truly tremendous configuration under the baton of Louis Langrée, performing the lively Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D-minor in a remarkable collaboration with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at Alice Tully Hall. Andsnes’s collaboration in Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s “Ricarcar” with a trio of musicians from the orchestra was remarkable. The generally energetic and stylistically convincing performance of the full orchestra, however, varied. In one performance at David Geffen Hall under the baton of guest conductor Matthew Halls, the orchestra’s coherence and tempi, despite joining forces with the velvety singing tone of violinist Joshua Bell, were less successful. The author with violinist Joshua Bell. Photo by Heidi Frederick My personal, selective listening perspective of the season’s vast catalog came to an end with “Mozart Dances” at the David B. Koch Theater. The reprise of a 2007 New York performance of the work, presenting a brilliant fusion of classical and modern dance by choreographer Mark Morris set to three Mozart pieces, had everything one could wish for: expressivity, sarcasm, eccentrics and genuine character; but most of all, the performance showed a requisite sensitivity for the underlying musical structures in Mozart, structures not easy to translate into dance. In a public discussion between the music director and choreographer, it became obvious how the ideal rhythmic interpretation and fluctuations in tempo vary between the contexts of a music ensemble and a dance troupe. Morris used abrupt angles and ornamentations to draw a swift, often humorous aesthetic vernacular from his dancers’ bodies. He often juxtaposed graceful classical ballet movement with anti-classical positions, like en croix demi-pliés, or matched elongated grand battements with abrupt exits in which the performers stomped off the stage. The dancers’ caprice and playfulness was wholly reflected in the music, yet there was also a tangible intimacy to the score which remained inherent in the dance. Langrée adapted the execution of the score in complete coherence with the choreography with radiant support from pianist Garrick Ohlsson in both concerti (No. 11 in F major, K. 413 and No. 27 in B-flat-minor, K. 595), but especially impressive in unison with pianist Inon Barnatan in the majestic Sonata in D major, K. 448 for two pianos, performed in between the concerti. Mark Morris Dance Group in “Mozart Dances.” Photo by Richard Termine Over its 50 years, the Mostly Mozart Festival has built a large following, enjoyed an international reputation and presented A-list performers, all while tending to the shifting expectations of trendy New Yorkers. Under Moss and its current music director Louis Langrée, it genially circumvents the self-imposed restriction of its catchy name. One may insist on the purity of Mozart and balk at the increasing blurring of the festival’s programmatic lines, but one may also argue that Lincoln Center’s curators’ separate visions and means inspire a flow of different, invigorating productions that ultimately benefit audiences by presenting a broad range of work. It’s no secret that the festival’s growth into an internationally renowned urban cultural summit derives from its ability to keep its traditional integrity while freely allowing for conceptual expansion.

Royal Opera House

September 16

Norma musical highlight: ‘Casta diva’

Sonya Yoncheva as Norma in Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Casta diva’ is an aria from Vincenzo Bellini ’s 1831 opera Norma . It takes place in Act I, shortly after the title character’s first entrance. Bellini originally wrote the role for his friend Giuditta Pasta and the part is considered one of the most challenging roles in the repertory – for a variety of reasons, although particularly the music. It requires a flexible voice that also has tremendous power over a wide range. ‘Casta diva’ is a prime example not only of bel canto (the generic term for a style of music popular in early 19th-century Italy, where high importance is placed on vocal beauty), but also of Bellini’s own distinctive style. Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Casta diva’ takes place in Act I scene 3. Before the aria, we have encountered Norma’s father Oroveso and his followers. They’re eager for war, but they have to wait for approval from Norma, who as priestess has the final say. We then meet Norma’s secret lover Pollione, an enemy of her people. We learn that he’s fallen out of love with Norma and wishes to abandon her and their two children. Then comes ‘Casta diva’. In the preceding recitative Norma argues with Oroveso about the need for war; in the aria itself she leads her people in a serene prayer for peace. This calm doesn’t last long, though – soon Pollione’s outrageous behaviour will lead Norma to give the signal for war. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettist Felice Romani ’s original Italian text, created in 2016 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: Recitative: ‘Sediziose voci, voci di guerra’ Norma Sediziose voci, voci di guerra Avvi chi alzarsi attenta Presso all’ara del Dio? V’ha chi presume Dettar responsi alla veggente Norma, E di Roma affrettar il fato arcano? Ei non dipende, no, non dipende Da potere umano.Oroveso E fino a quando oppressi Ne vorrai tu? Contaminate assai Non fur le patrie selve E i templi aviti Dall’aquile latine? Omai di Brenno oziosa Non può starsi la spada.Chorus Si brandisca una volta! Norma E infranta cada. Infranta, sì, se alcun di voi snudarla Anzi tempo pretende. Ancor non sono della nostra vendetta i dì maturi. Delle sicambre scuri Sono i pili romani ancor più forti. Oroveso and Chorus E che t’annunzia il Dio? Parla! Quai sorti? Norma Io ne’ volumi arcani leggo del cielo, In pagine di morte Della superba Roma è scritto il nome. Ella un giorno morrà, Ma non per voi. Morrà pei vizi suoi, Qual consunta morrà. L’ora aspettate, l’ora fatal Che compia il gran decreto. Pace v’intimo E il sacro vischio io mieto. Norma Are there those who would call for rebellion and war at the altar of god? Would some put words into the mouth of the prophetess Norma and hasten Rome’s unknown fate? It does not depend on human might.Oroveso How long would you have us oppressed? Have our woods and the temples of our ancestors not been tainted enough by Roman symbols? The sword of Brennus cannot now lie idle.Chorus Raise it up! Norma And it will shatter and fall. Yes, shatter if any one of you tries to unsheathe it before time. The time of our revenge has yet to come. Roman spears are still more mighty than the axes of the Sicambri Oroveso and Chorus What has god told you? What is our fate? Norma I read the secrets in the stars. Proud Rome’s name is written on the page of death. One day she will die, but not through your doing. She will die eaten away by her own vices. Wait for the fateful hour when this will come to pass I counsel peace, and gather sacred mistletoe. Aria: ‘Casta diva’ Casta diva, che inargenti Queste sacre antiche piante, Al noi volgi il bel sembiante, Senza nube e senza vel!Tempra, o Diva, Tempra tu de’ cori ardenti, Tempra ancora lo zelo audace. Spargi in terra quella pace Che regnar tu fai nel ciel. Chaste goddess, you cast a silver light upon these age-old, sacred trees. Turn your lovely face to us unclouded and unveiled.O goddess, calm the fire that burns in these hearts Calm their fearless zeal. Spread across the earth that same peace that rules the heavens by your power. What makes the music so memorable? Verdi once praised Bellini’s ‘long, long, long melodies; melodies such as no one had written before him’. ‘Casta diva’, along with several other passages from Norma, exemplify this trait. In the aria Norma sings in incredibly long, smooth lines, embellished with the intricate ornamentation that is a distinctive feature of bel canto. The accompanying orchestration is initially quite light, with lilting strings and a flute obbligato in counterpoint to Norma’s voice. Bellini gradually thickens the orchestral sound and adds in a sotto voce chorus, to build the aria in a long crescendo that is a superb intensification of this ardent prayer for peace. Take a look at the full score of ‘Casta diva’ (from p.115 for the recitative, from p.123 for the aria), from IMSLP . Norma’s other musical highlights Norma is one of Bellini’s greatest works and the piece as a whole makes for thrilling drama. The love triangle of Norma, Pollione and Norma’s rival Adalgisa requires three exceptional singers, and Bellini draws on their skills to the full in the intense trio ‘Oh! di qual sei tu vittima’ that ends Act I (an innovation of Bellini’s, replacing the more usual chorus number). Norma and Adalgisa share two wonderful duets ‘Sola, furtiva, al tempio’ and ‘Si, fino all’ore estreme’, their voices entwining in rapturous beauty, while the fiery Norma/Pollione duet ‘In mia man alfin tu sei’ is irresistible in quite a different way. The war-hungry chorus sing a violent hymn in ‘Guerra, guerra! Le galliche selve’, while the long Act II finale ‘Qual cor tradisti’ brings the opera to its overwhelming climax. Classic recordings Maria Callas is Norma’s most famous exponent and made it a signature role. She made numerous recordings but musicologist Roger Parker for Radio 3 selected her recording with Tullio Serafin for La Scala, Milan , as his favourite. Montserrat Caballé is probably the only other 20th-century singer really to challenge Callas’s dominance, but recordings by Joan Sutherland , Shirley Verrett , Beverly Sills , Renata Scotto and Anita Cerquetti also have their merits (and I've probably missed out somebody’s favourite). More recently, Cecilia Bartoli has made the role her own, particularly in an acclaimed recording with Giovanni Antonini and the period-instrument band Orchestra La Scintilla. More to discover If you’ve gobbled up ‘Casta diva’ then other Bellini works will be worth a look, particularly I puritani and I Capuleti e i Montecchi . Other bel canto works that probably influenced Bellini include Spontini ’s La vestale and Donizetti ’s Anna Bolena . The influence of Norma itself stretched far and can be seen in many of Verdi’s operas – difficult to pick just one but you could choose Ernani , Luisa Miller , Stiffelio and the trio of Rigoletto , La traviata and Il trovatore . Even the notoriously picky Wagner was a Norma fan, and that influence can be seen particularly in the early Das Liebesverbot . Into the 20th century ‘Casta diva’ is strikingly quoted in Hans Krása ’s Verlobung im Traum – a superb but sadly overlooked work now available in recording . Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available, and every Friday until Friday 7 October further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.

Royal Opera House (The Guardian)

September 2

Why La Fura’s Norma is playing with fire at Covent Garden

With its chilling nods to druidic practices, Islamic State and hardline Catholicism, La Fura dels Baus’s new production of Bellini’s Norma packs a political punch – but how will it fare with the purists?Bellini operas are like buses. Six months after English National Opera unveiled its first ever production of the composer’s masterpiece Norma, over at Covent Garden, the same work is about to appear for the first time in nearly 30 years. A couple of weeks ago, at the Edinburgh festival, another version was performed. The production starred Cecilia Bartoli, who, despite being incontrovertibly a mezzo, triumphed in one of the toughest soprano roles. In the world of opera, 2016 will be remembered as the year the druidic diva returned.Of these new Normas, the Royal Opera’s reimagining is perhaps the most intriguing. Directed by the renegade Catalan collective La Fura dels Baus, it relocates Bellini’s Roman-occupied Gaul brusquely to the present: druidic robes are replaced by the uniforms of hard-right Christian groups; gloomy temples are abandoned in favour of sleek modern apartments. Outside the opera world, the company, founded in 1979, is still best known for the opening ceremony of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, an awe-inspiring if perplexing spectacle in which 2,000 blue-cape-wearing volunteers impersonated the Mediterranean sea. At Covent Garden, one wonders if the shade of Maria Callas – who made her debut as Norma here in the early 1950s, where it remained her favourite role – knows what she is in for. Related: Norma/ACO at Edinburgh festival review – Cecilia Bartoli set the night ablaze Continue reading...

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

August 21

Stabat Mattered at Tanglewood

Tanglewood veteran and 2016 Koussevitsky Scholar Charles Dutoit began Friday evening’s program with the overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. I’m a sucker for Figaro, though perhaps not to the extent of some writer who called it the supreme achievement of human civilization. Dutoit’s spirited reading served as a welcome corrective to a bad experience I had with a Figaro conducted by James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera House. Since that great conductor’s legacy is in no danger from the likes of me, I can use my bad experience to make a musical point I believe to be of general interest. In 1999, Levine led the Met company through the most glorious Figaro I ever heard, with Bryn Terfel, Cecilia Bartoli, Renée Fleming (aided by the brief, charming, and fully production-integrated appearance of her then young daughter), Susan Denzer, and a startling realization of the Count by Met stalwart Dwayne Croft. A few years later Levine had apparently agreed with the proposal of famous stage director Sir Richard Eyre—who had little previous experience in opera—to do Figaro as an 18th-century romantic comedy, with Mozart’s contributions tinkling away in the background. The spectacle of great singers singing in a subdued way, while also trying to ham up stage business for which they had neither natural nor developed skill was painful throughout. Figaro has not been in continuous production somewhere in the world since Mozart brought it into being because it is an 18th-century romantic comedy. Levine went badly wrong when he subordinated his great talent to Eyre’s opera-insensitive words-first initiative, however much credit is due him for an inner drive to try something new. Tonight, at least for me, Charles Dutoit set things right again. * * * In Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, keyboard icon Menahem Pressler felt underpowered relative to the orchestra most of the time despite Dutoit’s strenuous effort to achieve balance. If at times, in the quieter, slower passages, occasional tentativeness, along with apparent lack of consistent agreement between soloist and conductor about exactly where a beat should be seemed to prevail, those impressions might be traceable to my insensitivity to the subtler nuances of interplay between two great artists. Following a standing ovation that he deserved as richly as any great musician who ever received one, Pressler settled himself once again, this time able to set his own dynamic registers. The sheer magic of his virtuosity in Chopin’s C-sharp Minor Nocturne empowered us to face whatever challenges life may bring us. Was that Chopin’s ghost leaning over to me and saying Was I that good? * * * Wagner wrote a famous and highly derogatory piece about Rossini’s Stabat Mater when it was first performed in 1842. Under cover of a pseudonym, the then young German composer attacked it as a product of popular modishness due to degenerate Italianate taste, and money crassly generated both by Rossini’s spectacular commercial success (from 38 operas before he was 40) and lawsuits concerning the complicated composing history that resulted in the final Stabat Mater. For years, I bought the standard music program between-the-ads-and-appeals-for-donation opinion that Wagner was a major genius and Rossini a minor one, with the soul of a hack, because he quit composing at his peak and spent his next three decades enjoying life before bestowing his “Sins of Old Age” upon us. Now, I think the young Wagner wrote that anti-Rossini diatribe because he was just plain scared that he would never be able to realize in music the idea of suffering as expiation necessary for sublime aspiration as thoroughly as Rossini did in Stabat Mater. I’m pretty sure that such considerations never crossed Rossini’s mind. Early in life, he discovered how to use for personal advantage an inborn skill acquired as all skills are by random gene mixing due to equally random choices made by his parents, and he ran with it. His unprecedented and not yet exceeded success at doing that is just as accidental, but who cares? Charles Dutoit then led 200+ highly talented instrumentalists and singers in a dramatic re-demonstration of musical creativity so extraordinary that it will be celebrated long after our own startled exaltation has died down, and even that will take a lot of time. The choral work that opens the masterpiece (Stabat mater dolorosa) immediately established the high standard that was to prevail throughout the performance. Prepared by guest chorus director James Burton, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus once again displayed the smooth voice blending and comfortable control over a wide dynamic range that Boston audiences came to expect from them during the long tenure of founding director John Oliver. In the first solo section (Cujus animam), Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik quickly served notice that the standard set by the opening chorus was to be maintained. Hearing any tenor for the first time is always a little suspenseful, because quality variations in that voice range are somewhat greater than in the others, even among world-class performers. In his first few bars, Breslik’s solid tone and confident technique assured us that all was going to be well, including the exposed high note near the end, and it was. The third section (Qui est homo) introduced the female soloists, both of whom have superb voices, but also skill at using them together that is not in the technique ensemble of all singers otherwise able to perform at the highest level. Soprano Simone Saturová, also from Slovakia – which on the evidence of this program has discovered some special formula for incubating vocal talent, has a clean, clear, steady tone made to appear effortless by a level of vocal technique that surely was not acquired effortlessly. Sicilian mezzo-soprano Marianna Pizzolato’s tone was equally clear and steady, but round, full, and warm – the angelic mezzo tone rather than the smoky kind so effective in other parts of the vocal repertory. Their passages together were a pure delight. Italian bass Riccardo Zanellato nearly walked away with the evening. His deep, rich sound is inherently capable of such menace independently of word meaning that his Faust-tempting Mephistopheles and murderer-for-hire Sparafucile in Rigoletto must have frightened any children whose parents allowed them to be in the audience for works of that nature. Yet he had turned that menacing quality entirely off for this work’s Pro peccatis – one just knew it was there, available to him any time he wanted it. No other single effect in singing quite matches that of sensing massive resources still in reserve while a great vocal artist fully realizes the expressive potential of a specific passage. Jessie Norman singing gospel is one kind of example. Zanellato’s tender evocation of Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross in the work Tanglewood heard tonight was a supreme one. Charles Dutiot leads 200+ (Hilary Scott photo) From there, the performance moved on at a level of excellence no longer of any concern. By the last note of the Amen, which combined shocking novelty of emphasis—Amen! AMEN (dammit!) —seamlessly with a comforting return to the traditional quiet sort of prayer ending, followed by a final Rossinian flourish, the Tanglewood audience could have been forgiven if it had leaped out of chairs with a might whoop: Composer! Composer!! He’s dead? Well then go out and find more like him! James Prichard, a Yale physician and scientist, occasionally pinch-hits as a music critic. Additional reflections: Every time I sit in the Koussevitzky Shed feels like the first time. I haven’t the slightest memory of what we heard so many years ago when I drove on a Sunday afternoon trip up from New York City with several other Bellevue Hospital interns, then back late the same night so we could all show up on the wards Monday morning, but my memory of the shed itself is unchanged, because it is so simple: Wow! Room for more than 6000 people in more or less comfortable seats under a roof secure against rain if not heat and humidity, but no walls to make reflected sound do funny things. Plus a lawn able to accommodate at least 10,000 more, seated or lying on grass in whatever ways they can manage, while hearing events from the stage over a sound system so technically refined that you don’t realize it’s there. Sic EST gloria mundi. The post Stabat Mattered at Tanglewood appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

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August 17

Pièce de résistance

After enduring a pitiful performance of Verdi’s Aida at one of Italy’s most beautiful opera houses—Napoli’s Teatro San Carlo—in an ugly, mindless production performed in the “any arm you can raise, I can raise higher” style of acting, I was hopeful that my next operatic engagement would offer greater rewards: Norma at the Edinburgh Festival. My first introduction to Bellini’s Norma—or selection thereof—was on a multi-LP collection of operatic scenes and arias. I can’t recall the name of the album (maybe one of Parterre’s illustrious contributors will recall) but among the selections I remember were Sherrill Milnes singing “Nulla silenzio” from Il Tabarro, the final scene of Berg’s Lulu, and Montserrat Caballe singing “Casta diva”. As a teenager in the 70’s I did not always have the funds to buy complete opera LPs, so more often than not my first experience hearing an opera was in the opera house itself. With only Caballe’s “Casta Diva” as a reference I eagerly awaited my first “complete” Norma. That opportunity arrived at the Met on March 28, 1979 with a cast headed by Shirley Verrett, Elena Obratsova and Carlo Cossutta. Or so I thought. Alas, my Mother (who held the car keys) and my brother were not taken with Bellini’s opera and we left at the first intermission. I on the other hand was smitten and could not wait to encounter Norma again. Since that first thwarted attempt I have heard Adelaide Negri (the Scotto cancellation), Olivia Stapp, Jane Eaglen, Marina Mescheriakova (a Papian cancellation), Angela Meade (Caramoor, Washington National Opera and the Met) and Sondra Radvanovsky perform the title role live. To that list I can now add Cecilia Bartoli. Through the kindness of a friend I was given an advance copy of Bartoli’s 2013 recording and found it revelatory. So when the opportunity presented itself to see and hear Bartoli & company in Edinburgh I jumped at the chance. Performing a note-complete version of the critical edition by Maurizio Biondi and Riccardo Minasi -and using the Salzburg Festival production directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier– Bartoli gave one of the most fully-realized and compelling performances I have ever encountered in my 40 years of opera-going. Her performance was of a single piece. Impossible to separate from the staging, every element of her portrayal came from some musical and emotional truth and perfectly calibrated to her current vocal state. I had seen and enjoyed Bartoli’s three role assumptions at the Met –all comedic– but I was unprepared for the dramatic intensity she brought to Bellini’s priestess. Her “Tremi tu?…e perchi” and “Oh non tremare”, were frightening in its intensity. This was my first encounter with a Norma who seemed actually capable of killing her children. But if I were to single out one moment in Bartoli’s performance that will remain with me it would be her “Son io.” Most sopranos treat it as a moment of immense nobility, the three-note phrase sung in a haunting pianissimo. Here instead Bartoli—infuriated that Pollione would not capitulate to her wishes—pounded her chest and hurled the two word phrase at him. But as soon as the words left her mouth, the horror of what she had done and the repercussions her impulsiveness would have on her children were achingly realized. With her truth exposed, “Qual cor tradisti” was staged and sung so intimately I felt like a voyeur. “Deh! Non volerli vittime” (my favorite moment in the opera) heartbreaking in its earnestness. Vocally Bartoli detractors would find much to carp about. The mannerisms that have been part and parcel of her singing throughout her career were fully in evidence, and it was quite clear that she was willing to sacrifice beauty of tone on both extremes of her voice for dramatic effect. But I was spellbound, flaws and all. Perhaps it was opening night nerves or simply pacing but it took some time for the voice to settle in. The recitative to “Casta diva” was clipped and somewhat blunt and she sounded all of her 50 years. But the aria found her on firmer footing and by the cabaletta “Ah! bello a me ritorna” she seemed in complete control. Hers was a performance that grew more vocally secure as the evening progressed. The role of Pollione held no terrors for John Osborn. His opening “Meco all’altar di Venere” and subsequent cabaletta were dispatched with cocky ease –his effortless high notes thrillingly filling the intimate Festival Theater. The melting, hushed seduction he brought to “Vieni in Roma” made Adalgisa’s acquiescence an inevitability. And as staged and performed, his recognition of Norma’s sacrifice and reconciliation in the closing pages of the opera were convincingly and movingly portrayed. As the third person in the complicated threesome, Mexican soprano Rebeca Olvera offered a sensitive and youthful (at times almost child-like) sounding Adalgisa. Olvera does not possess a particularly distinct or luxurious voice, and at first I was unimpressed with her singing, but she ultimately won me over with her honest, deeply felt portrayal. Her duet work with Bartoli and Osborn was particularly effective, and their three voices joined forces for a musically and dramatically electrifying conclusion to the first act. Special mention must be made to the conductor Gianluca Capuano (the chorus master of the Swiss Radio and Television chorus) who stepped in at the last moment to replace the indisposed conductor Diego Fasolis. Considering the blistering tempi and relatively new edition of the opera it was a testament to the orchestra, chorus and soloists that the performance went off without any discernable issues. The staging itself updates the action of the opera to occupied France during WWII. We first meet Norma in a pantomime before the music starts. The curtain opens to reveal a schoolroom in France. Norma is seated at a table with her back to the audience working in a ledger book. Schoolchildren play in a courtyard outside the room. Clothilde calls the school-children in from their playtime and lines them up in formation. They enter their classroom as the orchestra begins the Sinfonia. The curtain closes. As the prelude progresses the curtain again opens. Norma is still seated at her table. The door to the schoolroom opens and Italian/”Roman” officers enter. They head into the classroom and extract Clothilde who is pressed to present her papers. Nervously looking at Norma, who has risen from her seat, they allow her to return to the classroom once her papers appear to be in order. Pollione, who has remained in the doorway during this scene walks toward Norma and kisses her hand. She visibly shudders and loses her balance as he walks out. The curtain closes. When the curtain opens again the classroom has been co-opted as a refuge for French resistance fighters. The opera proper begins. I found the updating quite persuasive in spotlighting the brutal and dangerous situation into which Norma has placed herself more compellingly than any production I have seen. The one major drawback was its inability to fully reconcile the religious aspects so specific to Norma’s character. For traditionalists, the stage direction never veered too far from those one would find in a more conventional production, but the personal exchanges were incredibly well thought out and detailed. These characters were fully formed three-dimensional individuals whose interactions never felt forced or false. Looking back over nearly 800 opera performances I tried to recall other performances that so perfectly combined the vocal and dramatic realization of a role. I was able to summon memories of Teresa Stratas as Jenny and Mimi, Maria Ewing’s Blanche de la Force, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s Dido, Karita Mattila’s first Salome and Peter Mattei’s recent Amfortas. Cecilia Bartoli now joins that company. As I enter my fifth decade of opera-going I find that I prefer to be challenged rather than comforted by friendly and familiar productions. We crazy opera fans put up with many average, mediocre and sometimes dreadful performances with the hope that maybe, just maybe the next one will offer something transcendent. So thank you to Bartoli and company for providing me with such an evening.

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July 21

“Troppo” notte

Thanks to the generosity of a parterre reader, “Trove Thursday” presents a rare recording from the famed Carnegie Hall series curated by Matthew Epstein to commemorate Handel’s tercentenary: Tatiana Troyanos and June Anderson in Ariodante conducted by Raymond Leppard. For more than 60 years, New York City has been fortunate to host organizations dedicated to showcasing prominent singers performing less-often heard operas in concert. From 1950 to 1970, there was the American Opera Society, and right after its demise Eve Queler founded Opera Orchestra of New York. Each season both groups would feature two or three operas, most often chosen according to the availability (and whim) of its featured stars. However, in the mid-1980s Epstein and Carnegie, partnering with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, attempted something different—an annual series of operas-in-concert focused on a single singer or composer—or both. The first season featured Marilyn Horne in three serious Rossini operas: a “pirate” recording of the 1982 opening night La Donna del Lago is still available from its posting here last fall. French operas by Offenbach, Thomas and Massenet starring Frederica von Stade followed, while the fourth and final season spotlighted rarely mounted operas by Richard Strauss. Handel’s 300th birthday fell during 1984-1985, and its three programmed masterpieces (with a bonus of Alessandro imported from Stephen Simon’s Handel Festival in Washington, DC) became among the most eagerly awaited events of the season. Horne’s first-ever Orlando opened the series and a recording of it can be found in a “Trove Thursday” posting from February. The legendary Semele with Kathleen Battle, Horne, Rockwell Blake and Samuel Ramey, presented on February 23rd, the actual birthday, was broadcast live on NPR, so recordings of it have always been easy to find. But this stirring Ariodante seemed to disappear, and until I listened to today’s superb-sounding recording I hadn’t heard it since the concert I attended over 31 years ago. Troyanos first sang the demanding title role written for the great castrato Carestini in 1971, replacing Shirley Verrett during the opening weeks of the Kennedy Center. Her wonderfully fresh and eager portrayal opposite a high-flying Beverly Sills was captured by a “pirate” and has long been easily available. Unfortunately, its much-cut and transposed musical edition makes the entire performance an unsatisfactory representation of this great opera. I recall two jarring aspects of that evening at Carnegie in January 1985, both attributable to Troyanos. Ordinarily when a female singer performs a male role in concert, she appears in a chic pants-suit, but Troyanos grandly entered instead in an elaborate concert gown. And while the rest of the cast sang from memory, she often had her head stuck in the score placed on the music stand in front of her. Even with this aid, she still got lost during one of her duets with Anderson madly flipping through the music to find her place! Ariodante remained in her repertoire for several more years; she sang it in Geneva and then at Santa Fe in 1987. Beginning in the early 1980s Troyanos also took on the title role of Handel’s Giulio Cesare (she had already recorded Cleopatra in that immensely lugubrious Karl Richter set years earlier). She performed Cesare in San Francisco, Geneva and in an ill-starred run at the Met opposite Battle. The last time I heard Troyanos in person was in another trouser role: a concert of Mozart’s Mitridate, Re di Ponto at Alice Tully Hall in the summer of 1992, about a year before her tragically premature death. That sadly off-form Farnace is not how I want to remember her. However, this absolutely note-complete Ariodante is a particularly gratifying souvenir of a fascinating artist. This opera’s rewarding title role, recorded by Janet Baker (also with Leppard), Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Anne-Sofie von Otter, retains its allure for star mezzos. Alice Coote sings it this fall in Toronto in Richard Jones’s Aix production, while Joyce DiDonato who recorded the work in 2010 with the late Alan Curtis returns to it next year for an extended world tour with The English Concert which visits Carnegie Hall in April. And Cecilia Bartoli who has never before sung a Handel hero appears as Ariodante at next June’s Salzburg Pfingsten Festival in a new staging by Christoph Loy. Handel: Ariodante Carnegie Hall 27 January 1985 In-house recording Ginevra: June Anderson Dalinda: Erie Mills Ariodante: Tatiana Troyanos Polinesso: James Bowman Lurcanio: Neil Rosenshein King of Scotland: Dmitri Kavrakos Odoardo: Frank Lopardo Orpheon Chorale Orchestra of St. Luke’s Conductor: Raymond Leppard “Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, this Ariodante, last week’s Leonora and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli (June 4, 1966 in Rome) is an Italian mezzo-soprano opera singer and recitalist. She is best-known for her interpretation of the music of Mozart and Rossini, as well as for her performances of lesser-known Baroque and classical music. She is known for having the versatility to play both soprano and mezzo roles, and is sometimes considered a soprano with a low tessitura. Bartoli's coloratura skill has earned her the title the Queen of Agility.

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