7.17.24 Yuja Wang performs a solo recital at Tanglewood Photo: Hilary Scott

Yuja Wang at Tanglewood – Shostakovich, Barber and Chopin

Prelude and Fugue in A-minor, Op.87/2
Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op.34/12
Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.34/10
Prelude in F-sharp minor, Op.87/8
Prelude in D-minor, Op.34/24
Prelude in D, Op.34/5
Prelude in B-flat minor, Op.34/16
Prelude and Fugue in D-flat, Op.87/15

Piano Sonata in E-flat minor, Op.26

The Four Ballades

Yuja Wang (piano)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 17 July, 2024
Venue: Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

Yuja Wang began with eight selections from Shostakovich’s cycles Opuses 34 & 87 blended into a continuous whole, creating dreamy auras, sweet melodies, dance-like passages, and a march, all decorated with shimmering figures, trills and dazzling passagework. Interposed among the Opus 34 choices, a Prelude from Opus 87 (without its Fugue) exemplified the composer’s wit, pairing a propulsive theme with persistent left-hand beats and galloping dissonant chords. Wang concluded with the fifteenth Prelude and Fugue from Opus 87, the Prelude featuring swirling figures ornamenting the left-hand’s forceful melodic line, a soft, rather metronomic interlude, and a dance-like ending. The Fugue was brilliant, its multiple percussive voices interacting in incredibly rapid succession.

Next came a marvelously idiomatic performance of Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which successfully blends classical forms with mid-twentieth-century harmonies and rhythms. In the first movement, Wang sustained the persistent initial motif as it underwent Barber’s fascinating array of harmonic, dynamic and rhythmic variations. The Allegro vivace was a short but merry scherzo, with Wang’s delicately rollicking figures dancing above the triple-meter bass line provided by her left hand. In the emotionally impactful Adagio, Wang allowed the opening theme to emerge slowly, build up with gradually strengthening chords, and ultimately complete its arc with soft and deep tones. The concluding fugue was a tour de force, as Wang took its jazzy syncopated theme through Barber’s intricate counterpoint, maintaining a fine balance between bass chords and rapid figurations above, finally returning to the Sonata’s home tonality in a sparkling coda.

Following intermission, Wang’s playing of Chopin’s Four Ballades ranged from powerful to tenderly delicate, contrasting dramatic passages with sweet melodies, and even a few charming dance episodes. She took a narrative approach to the G-minor No.1, introducing, varying and reprising its principal melancholic theme. Along the way, Wang played glimmering runs at the top of the keyboard as she adroitly wove in a second motif and offered a brief waltz before building up to the rapturous coda.

The second and third pieces are in major keys, with the Second, in F, believed to have been intended by Chopin to correspond to the mythological story in a poem by Adam Mickiewicz. Wang expressively traced a narrative arc from a gentle opening melody through a turbulent central section, with a second subject marked by dark, dense harmonies before the return of the first theme’s lighter vein. She dashed off strong, rapid-fire figurations until, with both hands converging from opposite ends of the keyboard, she softened the volume suddenly for the final pianissimo restatement of the opening theme. The A-flat Third Ballade is brighter in mood than the others, pairing a singing opening tune with a syncopated dance melody. Wang carried off brilliantly the Ballade’s trills, sparkling runs and harmonic modulations, with great power in the concluding bars.

The F-minor Fourth is on an even larger scale. Its gently poetic opening matches a slow, steady beat with a simple melody that soon undergoes odd harmonic modulations as well as changes in dynamics, rhythm and tempo that cast it into several different guises. Wang superbly navigated these transformations, providing scintillating decorative figurations, some near the extremes of the instrument’s range, and she lovingly shaped a soft second subject. Her melodic line was spectacularly underpinned by persistent rapid left-hand runs and arpeggios, leading to a momentary pause and a slow sequence of staccato chords that erupted suddenly into the dazzling passagework of the coda and a triumphant final cadence.

Wang concluded with five encores, the first a seamless blending of Luciano Berio’s Wasserklavier into Philip Glass’s Étude No.6, which ends suddenly without a harmonic resolution. Next came her own adaptation of Samuil Feinberg’s transcription of the Scherzo from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ Symphony, and then Rachmaninov’s transcription of the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Leticia Gómez-Tagle’s transcription of Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No.2 was quite charming, and in the final encore, Toccatina (Op.40/3) by Nikolai Kapustin, Wang’s fingers flew over the keyboard with as much energy as at the start of her recital!

Yuja Wang at Tanglewood – Shostakovich, Barber and Chopin Read More »

7.5.24 Gil Shaham and Andris Nelsons bow after Tanglewood performance. Photo: Hilary Scott

Boston Symphony Orchestra – Andris Nelsons conducts Opening Night at Tanglewood – Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and the Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham

Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.3 in E-flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Gil Shaham (violin)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 5 July, 2024
Venue: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra launched their 2024 Tanglewood Season with two works from a crucial period that not only marked a transition in Beethoven’s development but a watershed moment for music.

Gil Shaham gave a lustrous performance of the Violin Concerto on his 1699 “Countess Polignac” Stradivarius. Even before his instrument’s entry, he was visibly involved, swaying and smiling as Daniel Bauch’s four timpani strokes initiated the Concerto and Nelsons and the BSO introduced the opening movement’s majestic themes. Shaham’s playing emphasized the music’s lyricism as well as showing off his virtuosity in florid passages. Nelsons was a fine partner, bringing out colors while managing balances that allowed the violin through. Shaham was brilliant in his traversals of Kreisler’s cadenzas – adapted here to add the timpani that Beethoven included in the cadenza for his Piano Concerto adaptation of the work. Shaham’s final voicing of the principal theme as the cadenza ended was particularly poignant.

The Larghetto was glorious, with solos by Thomas Martin on clarinet and Richard Ranti on bassoon introducing and complementing Shaham’s sublimely singing instrument. Another virtuosic cadenza (again with timpani) marked the transition to the Finale, in which the interplay between soloist and orchestra was delightful and humorous, and exuded joy as violin and orchestra alternated in a mad dash to the finish.

Following intermission, Nelsons began the ‘Eroica’ with slashing gestures that emphasized the music’s power, and the players responded with driving energy. The movement’s scale and intricacies were unprecedented, so it is hard to imagine what its first audiences would have made of the lengthy development section and coda, both filled with clever harmonic and melodic twists and turns.

The ‘Funeral March’ was also monumental, its persistent pace maintained steadily and with powerful emotional impact. Fine solos, and an extended fugal passage, were among the focal points. The Scherzo – the first symphony movement to be given that title – was appropriately rollicking, with the horn threesome especially resonant in the Trio. In the Finale, Beethoven reused a  theme (from his Prometheus music) for a set of variations, brought stirringly to life by Nelsons and the Bostonians. Fugal passages were again highlighted, as was the march-like episode between them. The woodwinds’ lovely chorale provided a respite from the agitated music, and the Symphony ended with a dashing coda.

Boston Symphony Orchestra – Andris Nelsons conducts Opening Night at Tanglewood – Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, and the Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham Read More »

Photo: Ali Wright

Opera Holland Park 2024 – Puccini’s Edgar – with Peter Auty, Anne Sophie Duprels & Gweneth Ann Rand; directed by Ruth Knight; conducted by Naomi Woo

Edgar [1905 version, performed in an orchestral reduction by Tony Burke] – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by Ferdinando Fontana after Alfred Musset’s La Coupe et les lèvres [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Edgar – Peter Auty
Fidelia – Anne Sophie Duprels
Tigrana – Gweneth Ann Rand
Frank – Julien Van Mellaerts
Gualtiero – James Cleverton
Young Edgar – Edward Courquin
Young Fidelia – Anhelina Rubanets
Young Tigrana – Hermona Zeleke

Opera Holland Park Chorus, and Children from the Pimlico Musical Foundation and Tiffin School

City of London Sinfonia
Naomi Woo

Ruth Knight – Director
Mark Jonathan – Lighting
Haruka Kuroda – Fight director

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 2 July, 2024
Venue: Opera Holland Park, Kensington, London

Edgar, the second of Puccini’s operas, is probably the least encountered of the thirteen that he wrote, though New Sussex Opera brought it to the Cadogan Hall in its earlier four-Act version in 2012. Since then, however, even the first, Le Villi, has had more of a look-in, having been produced by Opera Holland Park in 2022, and receiving a concert performance by Opera Rara at the Royal Festival Hall in 2018. The opera finds the composer still developing his voice, though various passages do certainly hint at his mature style – but that probably arises from the fact that he revised it on several occasions between its premiere in 1889 and 1905 when he finally gave up on it – by which time he had scored huge successes with La boheme and Tosca and had become a much more assured composer.

The story of the eponymous mediaeval knight, torn between a pure, devoted love, and a more debauched one, rather resembles Tannhäuser, although Puccini’s drama is as much about Tigrana (the figure corresponding to Wagner’s Venus) and her confrontations with Edgar and the disapproving villagers, as she has a significantly larger role to play in the opera than the virtuous Fidelia. Given Edgar’s self-indulgent use and eventual despatch of Tigrana when he goes to join the army, the music tends to underscore the sympathy we might have for her. The conventional moral is only made at the end: Edgar stages his own death but, in disguise, denounces his character and reputation, to see who will remain faithful to his memory. Only Fidelia does, after Tigrana is prevailed upon to accuse him falsely as a betrayer of his country, having been bribed to do so by her former lover, Frank, and the disguised Edgar. Her motivation is understandable in light of his earlier rejection of her. Tigrana has the parting shot however – literally – as she assassinates Fidelia in a fit of jealous rage, when the latter and Edgar are reunited once he has revealed himself.

Ruth Knight’s production for OHP moves the action from early 14th-century Flanders to late Victorian Britain – the women in crinolines, Frank clad in red as British army officer – which points up well its theme of social respectability and puritanical paranoia about sexual impropriety. During the Prelude, youthful actors mime the backstory of Edgar, Fidelia and Tigrana as children, forging a more poignantly innocent friendship when the latter is abandoned by her parents in the remote village where the other two are also growing up, but destined to remain an outsider. Although billed as a semi-staging, it’s fully choreographed and the solo cast are costumed. Only the chorus wear impersonal black trousers and T-shirts – though the choir of children are fitted out in cassocks and surplices for Edgar’s feigned funeral scene – but their musical vigour proves that they are fully committed dramatically.

In the title role, Peter Auty is less strained and sustains his vocal lines more fluidly than on the occasion I last heard him, by coincidence in another opera with a Flemish setting, Korngold’s Die tote Stadt at Longborough, although the part of Paul does tend to lie higher. He exudes a deliberately more raw, nasal quality when adopting the guise of the friar (reinterpreted here as an Anglican curate) and denounces Edgar for his supposed shortcomings. Julien Van Mellaerts achieves a more typically Italianate lyricism and passion as Frank, especially in his Act One aria in which he turns from fury to regret as he reflects on his unrequited feelings for Tigrana in music very characteristic of Puccini. On stage Gweneth Ann Rand is generally a forbearing, sorrowing Tigrana, but vocally she cultivates a broad vibrato to denote a certain degree of exoticism and allure, resulting in a more developed character than a stereotypical femme fatale. Anne Sophie Duprels makes the most of the relatively small amount of music given to Fidelia – if there’s a slight tendency to a hard edge in her voice and to swoop, that emboldens the character, rather than making her simply a meekly virtuous woman. James Cleverton is quietly resolute as Gualtiero, the father of Fidelia and Frank. 

Naomi Woo leads the City of London Sinfonia in a steady account of the score. Sometimes it could surge with more ardour, and the orchestra’s fairly small numbers mean that some lapses in intonation or ensemble are exposed. But they are attentive to the various shades of instrumental colour, for instance the heroic horns which accompany Edgar and Tigrana’s escape from the villagers’ curse at the end of Act One, or the sombre introduction to the next Act for the strings, as Edgar laments the ‘illusions’ of his life with Tigrana. Despite the composer’s misgivings about the opera, this rare outing makes a good case for its merits, especially in the hectically dramatic first Act, as well as a fascinating insight into Puccini’s musical development.

Opera Holland Park 2024 – Puccini’s Edgar – with Peter Auty, Anne Sophie Duprels & Gweneth Ann Rand; directed by Ruth Knight; conducted by Naomi Woo Read More »

Photo: Nicholas V. Hall

Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Bernard Labadie & Augustin Hadelich at Zankel Hall – Avison, Geminiani, Bach & Pachelbel

Concerto Grosso No.5 in D-minor

Concerto Grosso, Op.5/12 (La Follia)

S. Bach
Fantasia in G, BWV572 [arr. Labadie]

Concerto for Violin in G-minor, BWV1056R [edited Wilfried Fischer]

Chaconne in E-minor

Concerto Grosso in F, Op.5/10

S. Bach
Concerto for Violin in D-minor, BWV1052R [edited Wilfried Fischer]

Augustin Hadelich (violin)

Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Bernard Labadie

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 June, 2024
Venue: Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City

Augustin Hadelich joined the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Bernard Labadie for this OSL Bach Festival 2024 program showcasing 18th-century concertos in alternate versions.

The evening began with an elegant reading of Charles Avison’s D-minor Concerto Grosso, one of a set of twelve adapted from Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas. A gracefully flowing Largo was followed by an urgent Allegro, another slow movement, and a second rapid Allegro.

Next up was Concerto Grosso, Opus 5/12, the last work in Francisco Geminiani’s re-working of Twelve Violin Sonatas in tribute to his teacher Corelli. Dubbed ‘La Follia’ after a 15th-century Portuguese dance that becomes wilder and faster. Labadie and OSL dispatched a robust and lively traversal of its 23 variations, highlighted by Hadelich’s stunning playing.

Originally composed for organ, Bach’s Fantasia in G, BWV572, for which transcriptions abound, exhibits his command of harmonic maneuvering. The OSL delivered a transparent account of Labadie’s arrangement, full of character and verve. 

The Violin Concerto in G-minor, in Wilfried Fischer’s reconstruction from a harpsichord concerto, sounded wonderfully vibrant, the outer movements were distinguished by Hadelich’s spirited embellishments, but the highlight was his passionate and joyful playing in the rhapsodic Largo.

The second half began with Pachelbel – not his Canon, but the Chaconne in E-minor, from a collection of sixwritten for organ, here in Labadie’s arrangement for strings and continuo. Concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney served as the superbly accomplished soloist in a lovely performance of its 22 variations. 

Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso, Opus 5/10, is a suite of elaborate dances: a majestic Adagio prelude preceded a vivacious Allemande followed by a slow and stately Sarabande and a cheerful Gavotta before an exhilarating Giga.

Hadelich returned for the final item: a dazzling interpretation of Bach’s reconstituted Violin Concerto in D-minor. He displayed remarkable command of his instrument as he progressed through the intricacies of the ardent Allegro, the arching melodic lines of the reflective Adagio, and the vibrant final Allegro, all topped off with a breathtaking quasi-cadenza before a final flourish by the OSL. For an encore Hadelich gave a gorgeous rendition of the poignant Andante from Bach’s A-minor Sonata, BWV1003.

Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Bernard Labadie & Augustin Hadelich at Zankel Hall – Avison, Geminiani, Bach & Pachelbel Read More »

Photo: Evan Zimmerman.

The Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall – Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Wagner & Debussy; Elīna Garanča & Christian Van Horn perform Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Der fliegende Holländer – Overture

Pelléas et Mélisande – Suite [arr. Leinsdorf]

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle – Opera in one Act to a libretto by Béla Balázs [sung in Hungarian, with English surtitles]

Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano) & Christian Van Horn (bass-baritone)

Met Orchestra
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 14 June, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

For its final concert of the season, the Met Orchestra arrived at Carnegie Hall in full force for music from three masterpieces of the mid-19th and early-20th-centuries operatic repertoire opening with an exhilarating account of the overture to Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, the legend of a captain destined to sail the seas until he can find redemption through the selfless love of a faithful woman. In addition to evoking oceanic tempest, the prelude serves as an effective summary of the narrative through leitmotifs: the menacing brass theme for the cursed captain; the fluctuating strings representing the turbulent waves; the gentle woodwind melody associated with Senta, the woman who saves the Dutchman. Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a brisk paced, transparent rendition of the powerful piece: the bright brassy flourishes at the opening, the strings’ whispered pianissimo passages, and the sprightly played spinning theme.

Next up was Erich Leinsdorf’s 1946 suite from Pelléas et Mélisande – Debussy’s revolutionary opera based on Maeterlinck’s 1893 symbolist drama of ill-starred love, the Frenchman a master at juxtaposing musical motifs with emotional expression over depiction of action. Leinsdorf’s arrangement features music from all five acts, drawn mainly from the interludes. Nézet-Séguin captured the sweep of the score while conjuring up the internal and emotive elements at the heart of the drama.

After intermission came a superb concert presentation of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s only opera, with a libretto influenced by Maeterlinck and an orchestral palette drawing on DebussyBased on a French folk-tale as told by the 17th-century author Charles Perrault the single Act chronicles Bluebeard and his new bride, Judith, who insists on opening the seven doors within his gloomy castle, each of which reveals a grisly secret. This performance began with a recorded version of the spoken prologue which invites the audience – in wonderfully aristocratic Hungarian – to ponder whether the stage action is happening in the real world or within our minds. Christian Van Horn and Elīna Garanča offered commanding portrayals, neither singer having trouble projecting over the orchestra. Van Horn’s dark and alluring bass-baritone proved perfectly suited to the enigmatic titular character. Seductive as well as frightening, he complemented his wife’s fluctuating emotions with ominous resignation as each of his gruesome secrets was unveiled. Garanča sang the wide-ranging, rhythmically challenging role of Judith with dramatic intensity, her bright mezzo and attractive lower range creatingan intriguing blend of inquisitiveness and apprehension. Nézet-Séguin led a taut and gripping reading while conveying the score’s volatile emotions.

The Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall – Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Wagner & Debussy; Elīna Garanča & Christian Van Horn perform Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle Read More »

Photo: Chris Lee

New York Philharmonic – Jaap van Zweden conducts Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)

Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano) & Ekaterina Gubanova (mezzo-soprano)

New York Philharmonic Chorus

New York Philharmonic
Jaap van Zweden

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 6 June, 2024
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

For his final concert program as New York Philharmonic Music Director, Jaap van Zweden led a sturdy, accurate and well-balanced reading of Mahler’s Symphony No.2, customarily referred to (though not by the composer) as the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. This was the orchestra’s first performance of the work since one led by Alan Gilbert in September 2011 in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Scored for vocal soloists, choir, two offstage bands, church-style bells, organ, and the largest brass section in Mahler’s oeuvre, the psychophysical punch of the complex composition renders it especially difficult to conduct. Van Zweden, however, abstained from expressive indulgence and elicited an aptly dramatic account that highlighted the inherent optimism of the opus and its many moments of heavenly lyricism.

From the ominous violin tremolo in the opening movement and the voicing of the main theme by oboes and English horn, the sound was robust and full-bodied. The high strings in the heart-rending second theme, lovely but restrained in its introduction, fully blossomed on its reprise. The high point of the ensuing movement was the closing section, with its whispered restatement of the graceful minuet melody by pizzicato strings. The bumptious and waddling third movement flew by, enhanced by superb woodwind playing, especially Anthony McGill’s bright and piquant contributions on the clarinet. But the music really took off in the fourth movement, Ekaterina Gubanova displaying her rich mezzo in the sensitively delivered ‘Urlicht’ (Primal Light), admirably sustaining Mahler’s setting of folk poetry from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

In the apocalyptic final movement, the hundred-strong New York Philharmonic Chorus, scrupulously prepared by Director Malcolm J. Merriweather, delivered its ultra-pianissimo entry with heart-stirring intensity and meticulous intonation before making its final proclamation of triumphant rebirth and eternal life in a tsunami of glorious sound. Hanna-Elisabeth Müller’s radiant soprano floated freely and then blended with Gubanova’s deeper sound as the music climbed toward its breathtaking conclusion and van Zweden seamlessly managed the contrasting elements. Through it all, the playing was exceptional, in particular percussion and brass, who furnished all the requisite brilliance and spectacle in the majestic coda.

New York Philharmonic – Jaap van Zweden conducts Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony Read More »

Photo: Steve J. Sherman

Evgeny Kissin at Carnegie Hall – Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms & Prokofiev

Piano Sonata No.27 in E-minor, Op.90

Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op.48/2
Fantasy in F minor, Op.49

Four Ballades, Op.10

Piano Sonata No.2 in D-minor, Op.14

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 24 May, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Focused and confident from the start, Evgeny Kissin took a quick, perfunctory bow, and launched into an intriguing interpretation of Beethoven’s E-minor Sonata. After sounding the opening chords of the capricious and elusive first movement with strong conviction and dynamic control, he maintained the rigor of the music, producing a louder, more resonant sound, filled with feeling and expression. The lyrical rendering of the evocative second and final movement was masterful in its intensity and command of structure, full of elegance and restraint.

Kissin’s fine performance of Chopin’s bittersweet Nocturne in F-sharp minor began with a  gentle and dreamlike ethereality, building up tension before leading into a stylishly ornamented repeat of the opening music and then fading away in a gracefully executed series of trills and arpeggios. The expressive and vigorous traversal of the more emotionally complex Fantasy was very much in a grand, virtuosic style – suitably bold, appropriately anguished, and totally magical, the melodies floating along on waves of feeling and imagination.

After intermission, Kissin’s playing became even more intense and impressive. Brahms’s Four Ballades were delivered somewhat slowly but with great strength and an engaging sense of atmosphere. The first, nicknamed ‘Edward’ after the Scottish ballad that inspired it, evoked a grim and mysterious past, while the complimentary second, in D-major, was more vibrant. The impulsive No.3 contrasted effectively with the dreamy and lyrical No.4 enhanced by wonderfully blended tone and mellow sonority.     

But Kissin was at his very best in his dynamic account of Prokofiev’s Sonata No.2, where his bravura technique was on full display as he moved freely between the work’s extremes of mood, texture and tonality, playing with panache, enormous concentration and control. As radiant as the other readings were, the palette of coloristic effects he elicited here was broader, and his balancing techniques were more supple.

Three encores were offered. A lively Chopin Mazurka in A-minor, Op.68/4, followed by more Prokofiev – the ‘March’ from The Love for Three Oranges, and then further Brahms – a refined and elegant rendition of the Waltz in A-flat, Op.39/15.

Evgeny Kissin at Carnegie Hall – Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms & Prokofiev Read More »

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Glyndebourne Festival 2024 – Bizet’s Carmen – Rihab Chaien, Dmytro Popov, Sofia Fomina & Dmitry Cheblykov; directed by Diane Paulus; conducted by Robin Ticciati

Carmen – Opéra-comique in four acts to a libretto by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy after the novella by Prosper Mérimée [Sung in French with English surtitles]

Carmen – Rihab Chaieb
Don José – Dmytro Popov
Escamillo – Dmitry Cheblykov
Micaëla – Sofia Fomina
Moralès – Alex Otterburn
Zuniga – Dingle Yandell
Frasquita – Elisabeth Boudreault
Mercédès – Kezia Bienek
Dancaïre – Loïc Félix
Remendado – François Piolino
Lillas Pastia – Esteban Lecoq
Guide – John Mackenzie-Lavansch

Glyndebourne Chorus, Glyndebourne Youth Opera & Trinity Boys Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Robin Ticciati

Diane Paulus – Director
Riccardo Hernández – Set Designer
Evie Gurney – Costume Designer
Malcom Rippeth – Lighting
Jasmin Vardimon – Choreographer
Bret Yount – Fight Director

Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers

Reviewed: 19 May, 2024
Venue: Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, East Sussex, England

For her new production of Carmen for Glyndebourne, Diane Paulus indicates that she aims to concentrate on Don José’s psychology and backstory. But as is increasingly the case with productions of the opera, it does so by focusing just as much on the outward political or social system in which the central protagonists find themselves caught up in as victims – perhaps somewhat curiously since, although Bizet’s opera so masterfully evokes a sense of place (Seville) in his music, the libretto itself is almost entirely devoid of politics. Despite mentioning the recent protests for greater women’s rights in Iran, Paulus says she avoids ‘zeroing in on any particular political situation or country’, though the graffiti in Spanish and menacing military presence in Act One strongly suggest a Latin American junta. There are tantalising incursions into this tyranny from an apparently freer world beyond, when two oikish Western tourists briefly pass by, no doubt seeking a voyeuristic glimpse of an otherwise closed off, pariah state; and Micaëla is a Red Cross worker. Elsewhere the settings are more general: Lillas Pastia’s bar is a dingy underground nightclub that could be some shabby chic establishment in Shoreditch or Dalston as much as any favela, and the bare stand and corrugated tin walls constitute a rather makeshift bullring at the end, all suggestive of poverty.

After Act One the politics generally recede into the background, though a small girl is the first to appear from the bullring to see Carmen’s murdered body, just as some children are menaced by the soldiers in the very first scene, making a sociological comment on the perpetuating cycle of violence, fear, and tyranny in this community, out of which Carmen came and failed to escape. Against such a backdrop, the taunting, obsessive relationship between her and Don José comes to the fore instead, quite precisely and consistently observed to make the production far more engaging at that personal level, and more effective than the recent new production by Damiano Michieletto for the Royal Opera House, whose aims and ethos are very similar. (Aigul Akhmetshina from that cast will appear as the alternate Carmen for Glyndebourne’s performances in August.)

Certainly Carmen exercises as much agency – with the means she knows best – as is possible within this oppressive system, and also pointedly gestures in defence of, or hope for, ‘la liberté’. But arguably it limits the wider agency of what the idea of Carmen’s character represents – her emotional and sexual autonomy – by instrumentalising her role in a more utilitarian way as some freedom fighter, acting under political or social duress, as though her flighty and capricious nature might be dampened down once the revolution is finished. After all, she seems entirely willing to perform a dance privately for Don José, even after he has been demoted from the already low status of corporal and she has demonstrated what erotic hold she can have over him, without having to prove herself to him, her factory colleagues or the other soldiers again.

Despite Carmen’s sassy behaviour, Rihab Chaieb’s singing has a conventional, understated attraction, bordering on anonymity, a few striking climaxes aside. Passion – both romantically charged and desperately manic – is left to Dmytro Popov’s persuasive Don José with his Italianate, eloquent tenor. Dmitry Cheblykov is a darkly charismatic Escamillo, when his tuning settles down from its initial imprecision on his excitable first appearance at the nightclub, where he is conceived more as a boxer, or even as a drug baron or pimp with his bared tattooed chest and gold chains. Sofia Fomina evinces a freshly minted charm as the dutiful Micaëla, compared with which Elisabeth Boudreault and Kezia Bienek are cheekily vivacious as Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercédès. Loïc Félix and François Piolino also make characterful contributions as the smugglers Dancaïre and Remendado.

Robin Ticciati tends to draw bold colours and contrasts from the London Philharmonic, even if the depiction of dawn in the entr’acte before Act Three is lacklustre. Although some inner instrumental details are eccentrically emphasised, the music generally rescues any sagging tension that the performance falls into on account of using a version of the score with spoken dialogue instead of sung recitatives. If the production succeeds in placing the central relationship within an emotionally and socially intelligible setting, it does so at the cost of flattening out Carmen’s luridly wayward character, who in Bizet’s original conception is genuinely free, transcending any political or social confinements, rather than troubling herself with the inconvenience of campaigning within one system to find herself within another.

Further performances to June 17, and then between August 1 & 24 with an alternative cast & conductor.

Glyndebourne Festival 2024 – Bizet’s Carmen – Rihab Chaien, Dmytro Popov, Sofia Fomina & Dmitry Cheblykov; directed by Diane Paulus; conducted by Robin Ticciati Read More »

Photo: Chris Lee

New York Philharmonic – Constantine Kitsopoulos conducts John Williams’s score for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

John Williams
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Mary – Dee Wallace
Elliott – Henry Thomas
Keys – Peter Coyote
Michael – Robert MacNaughton
Gertie – Drew Barrymore

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography by Allen Daviau
Edited by Carol Littleton
Production design by Jim Bissell
Costumes by Deborah Scott
Screenplay by Melissa Mathison

New York Philharmonic
Constantine Kitsopoulos

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 18 May, 2024
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

The New York Philharmonic concluded this season’s ‘The Art of the Score’ series with a screening of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Watching the heartwarming story of the gentle lost alien and Elliott, the troubled 10-year-old boy who befriends him, play out on a huge, high-definition screen while simultaneously hearing the one-hundred plus members of the New York Philharmonic bring the soundtrack to life, live and uncut, made one more aware than usual of the crucial role played by John Williams’s  Academy- and Grammy-winning  score as a story-telling device.

Williams’s collaboration with Spielberg dates from The Sugarland Express (1974) and includes Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, and Schindler’s List.  Four of Williams’s five Academy Awards are for Spielberg-directed movie,, and few soundtracks characterize this era of Hollywood music-making as well as the one he composed for E.T.

Led with polish and precision by Constantine Kitsopoulos, the Philharmonic delivered a sparkling performance that did justice to the music, enhancing both the drama and wide-eyed wonder. From the flute’s quiet introduction of the main theme to the cataclysmic conclusion, the orchestra seamlessly delivered nearly three hours of mood-enhancing sounds, exponentially elevating the experience and allowing one to appreciate details that might otherwise go unnoticed – the polytonal sequences that emphasize the alien nature of the extra-terrestrials;  the comic sounds from the trombones as E.T., drunk, bumbles his way around the kitchen; the lyric swell of the gorgeous ‘flying’ theme as Elliott and E.T. pedal their bicycle across the sky; the graceful gestures of the harpist that underline the empathy between E.T. and Elliott; the belligerentbrass  and sweeping strings as the kids fly their bikes through the town and away from danger; the crashing cymbals and menacing timpani in the most climactic moments; the poignant woodwinds and strings in the scene where the anguished Elliott tells E.T. that he loves him.

As for the film itself, seeing it again, forty-two years after its 1982 debut, it came across as funnier, more sentimental and more frightening than remembered. For a relatively low-budget effort, it has aged  exceptionally well. Some special effects – such as the blue screen that lights up the sky when E.T and Elliott fly across the moon – may seem rather obvious, but Williams’s stirring music makes the scene so beautiful that it doesn’t really matter. Spielberg’s genius for telling a story through film – from his imaginative deployment of the grandest of scenic displays to a glimpse at the tinniest wince of a protagonist – is in a class of its own. And when you have the combination of fine actors, screenplay, cinematography, editing, and music that are at work here, the spell of this cinematic fable is completely cast.

New York Philharmonic – Constantine Kitsopoulos conducts John Williams’s score for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Read More »

Photo: Jennifer Taylor

Seong-Jin Cho at Carnegie Hall – Haydn, Ravel, Liszt

Sonata in E-minor, Hob.XVI:34

Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn
Le tombeau de Couperin

Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année: Italie

Seong-Jin Cho (piano)

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 17 May, 2024
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Four months after his Carnegie Hall appearance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seong-Jin Cho returned, opening with one of Haydn’s few Sonatas in a minor key. After the impatiently insistent opening came a suitably sprightly delivery of the extraordinarily passionate Presto first movement. The tenderly rendered Adagio, its flowery filigree brimming with light, moved seamlessly via a passage of operatic-like recitative into a bouncy and bracing Finale.

Although in a more modern mode, much of Ravel’s oeuvre draws on styles and composers of the past. Cho delivered a wistful version of the short Minuet written to commemorate the 1909 centenary of Haydn’s death, a bittersweet piece in which the first five notes of the recurring theme form a musical anagram of the Viennese master’s name. Dedicated to friends who lost their lives in World War I, the six-part Le tombeau de Couperin evokes a 17th-century dance suite. Among the many delights in Cho’s performance were the distinctive textures in the opening ‘Prélude’ and ensuing ‘Fugue’, the crisp articulation in the ‘Forlane’,  the polished approach to the snappy ‘Rigaudon’, the refined clarity of the heartfelt ‘Menuet’, and the electrifying intensity of the concluding ‘Toccata’.

The second half was taken up by the seven pieces in the second volume of Années de pèlerinage, a musical album resulting from Liszt’s travels in Italy in the 1830s. A rapturous rendering of the intensely spiritual ‘Sposalizio’, inspired by Raphael’s painting ‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ in Milan, was followed by a dirge-like account of ‘Il penseroso’. After a charmingly rhythmic treatmentof the jaunty ‘Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa’, based on a 17th-century song by Giovanni Bononcini, came ingeniously varied characterizations of three ‘Sonneti del Petrarca’, the ballad-like No.123, with its iridescent chromatic runs coming off as the most chimerical. Cho’s most dynamic and powerful playing came in the final piece, ‘Après une lecture du Dante; Fantasia quasi sonata’, also known as the ‘Dante Sonata’, a lengthy reflection on the trials of Paolo and Francesca, the damned lovers in Dante’s Inferno

There were two encores: ‘Traumerei’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen,and a virtuosic account of Chopin’s ‘Heroic’ Polonaise in A-flat.

Seong-Jin Cho at Carnegie Hall – Haydn, Ravel, Liszt Read More »

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