Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Ordinary people pass by, a homeless woman lingers by the subway, a girl carrying a violin case asks for directions, the wind massacres an umbrella, a woman looks out her balcony. But while we vaguely wonder what this has to do with Rusalka (well, there’s water, and the bar is called the “Lunatic”), we begin to notice something else: the events are repeating themselves. A woman slips in a puddle again, violin girl asks for directions again, the woman goes out onto her balcony again.
It’s simultaneously enchanting and estranging. The details are meticulously crafted, but you aren’t drifting off, you’re thinking. Where’s Dvořák, where’s the pond, and didn’t I just see this same thing happen a second ago? And that’s just the first five minutes. You’re about to get a fascinating psychological thriller.
I wrote about Sunday’s premiere of Luc Bondy’s serviceable but mediocre Rigoletto for Bachtrack, and you can read the review here.
This production will be seen at La Scala and at the Met, reportedly in New York during the 2012/13 season. After Luc Bondy’s roaring success with Tosca, it’s something of a surprise he will be back at all (possibly the contract was signed long ago, and the La Scala connection is due to Stéphane Lissner, intendant in Milan and music director of the Festwochen). This production is rather better than the Tosca, and hovers around the weak average level of Met new productions. I would put it on a par with Bartlett Sher’s Hoffmann, a production it somewhat resembles in its dark, vague, slightly surreal ladies-in-underwear circus look. (The first thing that always happens when things get surreal is that women take their clothes off. Funny how that works.)
Basically, this is a traditional Rigoletto with an updated grimy look. George Gagnidze in the title role is the best part of the production, but he is generally working the usual Rigoletto clichés. I tried to find a little more in Bondy's work in the Bachtrack review above, but I may have been reaching. Its combination of static sections, completely conventional moments, and a few added details already resemble the third or fourth revival of a once-interesting production.
But it’s still got stuff to piss off traditionalists. Let’s take a look at what! Also, more pictures.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been boycotting the Philharmoniker for the past few months due to their sexism and general distastefulness, but the proceeds of this concert went to earthquake relief in Japan, so I made an exception.
Based on this performance, in which Daniele Gatti conducted the Symphony No. 9, the Philharmoniker didn’t care much about this event either. If they rehearsed for this concert, it didn’t do much good. This was disastrously sloppy playing with terrible ensemble, lots of intonation problems, and more wrong notes than you could shake a Wunderhorn at. (I’m looking at you, hornist in the second movement. BLAH bum bum bum Bum Bum. And you, flutist who got lost in the development in the first movement.) The brass and woodwinds (and out of tune chimes) were the primary culprits, but even the usually invincible strings sounded scrappy.
Gatti is an eccentric conductor, and the oddness of his stretched-out climaxes, dramatic pauses, lack of contrast, and strange balances only made things worse, losing any sense of shape in the first movement. The attempt at a thrilling accelerando at the end of the third movement fell apart in missed notes and poor ensemble. The strings came into better focus in the last movement, where Gatti alternated loud and full playing with intimate sections, but the ending was rather shaky. Total running time was around 90 minutes, on the slower side but not extreme. I assure you that this was not Gatti-is-weird interpretive peculiarity but objectively poor playing. I know this is an orchestra incapable of feeling shame, but I was actually shocked that they couldn’t do a little better for the Mahler memorial concert.** Silly me.
If this concert gets good notices in the press, I may scream. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer recently, I really want to write positive reviews, but that requires good performances.
If you want to watch Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s less geographically apt but probably infinitely less embarrassing memorial concert instead (with the Adagio from the Symphony No. 10 and Das Lied von der Erde), you can do so here.
*We were told all about this at an inane pre-concert lecture by dilettante Gilbert Kaplan, along with every other of the Top 20 Mahler Clichés. “Every emotion possible appears in Mahler’s music,” you know that?
**Conspiracy theories: a) since they weren't being paid, were they stingy with rehearsals? b) Two women in woodwinds suggest presence of some ringers (yes this is pathetic but there are no women in the wind section on the roster). c) This symphony was originally scheduled for last fall but canceled due to a conductor change, and was not given a planned rehearsal workout then.
Gustav-Mahler-Gedenkkonzert (Symphony No. 9). Wiener Philharmoniker at the Wiener Staatsoper, 5/18/2011. Daniele Gatti, conductor.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
I really like this orchestra, with their dry sound and vaguely Russian brass, but I wasn’t as blown away this time as I was by their Konzerthaus concert last September. But they are still a very good orchestra indeed. If only this program had come together a little better. The Bartók Dance Suite was new in title to me, though I’ve heard some parts of it before in other Bartók pieces. It was an unusual choice to open the program, because the orchestra is treated quite sectionally and it was hard to get a good sense of their general sound. However, the playing was very fine, with wonderful transparency between sections.
(I prefer writing positive reviews, I really like liking things, but I understand why people bash performances so much. It is so much easier to write. I think it is richly deserved in this case.)
It could only get better after that. And it did. The Chaikovsky Symphony no. 5 was very good, a good completion for my Jansons No. 4 and Barenboim No. 6 earlier this season. Fischer had his eye on the trajectory of the entire piece, starting off restrained and somber in the first movement. The horn solo in the second movement was a bit disappointingly blank, but the movement built up to a very impressive and clearly planned climax, even though the movement itself feels like leftovers from the Symphony No. 4 (fate motive? check. pizzicati? check.) plus some of the better bits of the Swan Lake finale. The third movement was quiet, played as a soft interlude between the outpourings of the second and fourth, and the staccato passages in the strings could have used more lightness. The fourth movement turned very gaudy, with the bright brass pretty much blasting everyone else out of the water. The ending was taken at an impressive clip, perhaps to disguise that it is about 4 minutes of straight V -- I alternations.
A mixed bag but mostly redeemed by the Chaik.
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer, conductor. Musikverein, 5/11/2011. Program: Bartók, Dance Suite for Orchestra Sz 77; Pagaini, Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major; Chaikovsky/Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 in e minor.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Some rough edges were still showing at Monday’s first performance at the Staatsoper this season, but the cast of Angela Denoke, Agnes Baltsa, and co. is good, the production simple and effective, and the conducting promising, so: worth seeing. Well, it’s Janáček, so of course it’s worth seeing. But that’s just my opinion.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
“A ring of invisibility found in a giant fish. A voyeuristic king. A fisherman’s burning house and unfaithful wife. Alexander Zemlinsky’s Der König Kandaules is an exceptionally strange opera. Based on André Gide’s 1899 play of the same title, it is a heady mix of sex, violence, and remarkably beautiful music. In the Volksoper’s remarkable revival, its allusiveness alternately fascinates and alienates, drawing the viewer in only to reward them with yet more mysteries.”
Read my review of Der König Kandaules at Bachtrack.
Note how most people writing about this opera conspicuously avoid trying to say what it’s about. I don’t like evasion and just admitted that I have no real idea. Maybe I like certainty too much, but the libretto of this opera had a higher ratio of the cryptic to the significant than I can find that satisfying. There are glimmerings of significance--and Neuenfels’s production does a good job in replicating and extending the text’s ambiguity--but the whole thing just slips from your grasp in a way that I ultimately found a little unfulfilling. It’s not that I need things to be spelled out, but it’s blatantly allegorical without a referant in sight. But the score is beautiful and the performance is quite good, and maybe you’ll be less desperate for a moral than I am. And who knows when you’ll get the chance to see it again. So go!
(I do admit I was longing for Kent Nagano and the Bayerisches Staatsorchester through the whole thing, after hearing their Zwerg in March.)
Regie fans may be interested to know that the design, in which an allegorical figure of Zemlinsky appears and Gyges and Kandaules appear as doubles, is by Christian Schmidt, who has previously used both of these devices in his design work with Claus Guth.
Remaining performances are May 8, 12, 17, 23, and 26.