July 2013 - Posts
The world famous Wagner festival at the otherwise sleepy northern Bavariian town of Bayreuth has just opened , celelbrating the bicentennial of the birth of the mighty musical genius Richard Wagner . The festival has been going on with intermittant hiatuses since 1876 , several yers after Wagner quixotically chose this modest,undistinguished town in order to build a special opera house there to perform his stage works and nothing else . After closing for the second world war , the festival opened in 1951 under the management of Wagner's two grandsons , Wieland and Wolfgang , and has occurred every year since .
Now Wagner's great grandduaghters are running it , and the sets , costumes and stagings have changed far beyond anything he could ever have imagined .although the music itself has not changed . The festival features a much-anticipated and even dreaded production of Wagner's colossal four part operatic epic "The Ring Of The Nibelungen " directed by a controversial German director for the legitimate stage by the name of Frank Castorf , who had no previous experience directing operas .
Mix a director known for staging wildly revisionist versions of plays with the de rigeur policy of revisionist stagings of the Wagner canon at Bayreuth , and something outrageous is inevitable . Of course, such revisionist Eurotrash productions of opera are the norm all over Europe and to a lesser extrent in America . Perversely, it would be sacrilege to do a production which actually presented what Wagner had in mind , a mythical teutonic world of Germanic and Scandinavian gods, godesses, superheroes, water nixies, valkyries, dwarves who live inside the earth , giants , and assorted magical parapernalia .
What do we get in the new production at Bayreuth ? Well, for one thing, it's set mostly in America among ruthless oil dealers , and the nixies of the Rhine are hookers hanging around a sleazy motel out west . And instead of the mighty Rhine, they're in a swimming pool ! ! ! A photo of one of the sets reveals a hiideously ugly communist equivalent of Mount Rushmore , with Karl Marx , Stalin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro ! Marx was an almost exact contemporary of Wagner ,and the two died in the same year ,1883 , but Mao was born ten years later . Wotan, ruler of the gods , is a greedy oil tycoon ! Sheesh !
Wagner isn't spinning in his grave , he's shooting out of it like a rocket ! The last productions to present the Ring in a manner Wagner would have recognized as what he conceived have been at the Metropolitan opera ; one dating from the 1980s and which was disliked by many critics but very popular with audiences , and the current and highly controversial one which uses a massive unit set of metal planks which constantly move around the stage combined with complex and sophisticated computer -generated lighting effects .
Criitical reaction so far ,both in Europe and America has been reserved but not angry . You can read a review of the opening night of "Das Rheingold ", the first part of the tetralogy ,in the New York Times by going to their website . It will probbly come out on DVD soon . But a better bet is to get the DVDs of both Met productions , available from Deutsche Grammophon records , complete with English subtitles , which will be a great help to you in comprehending this vast and awesome work . If you would actually like to go to Bayreuth , be warned that there is a ten year waiting period for tickets ! It's easier to get an audience with the Pope ! There are opera tours which go to Bayreuth and which have specially reserved tickets, but these are very expensive .
Classical music festivals all over Europe, America and elsewhere are getting started now , and the rich and varied offerings prove that Classical Music is very much alive and kicking despite the gloom and doom reports and the numerous orchestras and opera companies wordlwide which have either folded or are at imminent risking of doing so .
There is classical music for all tastes . Old music , new music , beloved staples of the repertoire and revivals of long neglected but intriguing works of all kinds , operatic , orchestral , chamber music , you name it . As usual , many of the world's foremost conductors , instrumentalists and opera singers will be there , as well as the world's greatest orchestras .
In every corner of Europe and America . In Europe , there are the grand ,venerable and long established festivals such as those in Mozart's birthplace Salzburg in Austria , the Wagner festival at Bayreuth ,Germany , this year celelbrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Wagner , the opera festival at the elegant country estate in Glyndebourne , England , as well as ones in such great Europeans cities as Vienna, Berlin, Munich , Amsterdam , Paris , Munich , Aix-En-Provence in the south of France , Dresden , Moscow, St. Petersburg , Graz, Austria, and many other locations .
In America , there are the great Tanglewood festival in rural Massachusetts, longtime Summer home of the Boston symphony orchestra , the Aspen festival in Colorado , the Blossom festival in Ohio, Summer home of the Cleveland orchestra , the Ravinia festival outside of Chicago , Summer home of the Chicago symphony orchestra , the Hollwood bowl in Los Angeles with its resident orchestra the Los Angeles Philharmonic , the Ojaj festival of contemporary music in California , the Summer opera festival in Cincinnati , the opera Festival at Santa Fe New Mexico with its unique open air opera house , and many,many others .
The annual festival at Bard college just north of New York city is the Summer home of Leon Botstein's American symphony orchestra , and will present the U.S. premiere of the obscure but great Russian opera "The Oresteia " by Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915 ) ,part of it songoing series of revivals of important but long neglected operas , and the Glimmerglass opera festival in upstate New York will also present interesting operatic rarities .
The ever popular Mostly Mozart festival will present a wide variety of works by Mozart and his contemporaries with its festival orchestra made up of some of New York's finest freelance musicians . For information , simply go to the websites of any of these festivals by googling them , and the New York Times also offers listing of these events . The Summer classical music festival scene is an embarassment of riches !
Today would have been the 84th birthday of the great conductor Carlos Kleiber , the son of another great conductor , Austrian Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) . He was born in Berlin in 1930 when his father Erich was music director of the Berlin State opera ,but grew up in Buenos Aires Argentina because his father had taken over as chief conductor of the remowned Teatro Colon opera house there after leaving Europe to escape the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria which he detested .
Carlos showed marked musical talent in his youth , but his father was opposed to his son becoming a conductor initially , so the younger Kleiber studied Chemistry in Zurich . But he managed to work his way up through the ranks of various German opera houses as a rehearsal pianist and coach to singers , and his career as a conductor began after his father died in 1956 .
Carlos never wanted to become music director of a major opera house or orchestra because he wanted to be free to conduct on a free lance basis , without the onerous tasks of dealing with the administration of these organizations . The great Herbert von karajan wanted Kleiber to be his successor as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , and although he had great admiration for the elder maestro , he declined this great honor and Claudio Abbado, who cellebrated his 80th birthday last week , took over in 1989 when Karajan passed away at the age of 81 .
Kleiber was a regular with the opera companies of Stuttgart and Dusseldorf in Germany , and later with the prestigious Bavarian State opera in Munich , and his fame grew all over Europe . His first recording , and one of the commerical ones he made was for Deutsche Grammophon records in the early 1970s : Carl Maria von Weber's renowned opera "Der Freischutrz " (the free shooter) , with the great Dresden State orhestra , then in East Germany and a cast of leading German opera singers , and is still considered the finest recording of the opera by many critics and fans .
The only other commercial recordings Kleiber made were acclaimed ones of the 5th and 7th symphonies of Beethoven , the Brahms 4th and Schubert's "Unfinished " symphony and 3rd , Verdi's La Traviata and Die Fledermaus of Johann Strauss with the Bavarian State opera , and Wagner's Tristan & Isolde , again with the Dresden State opera , all for Deutsche Grammophon , and for EMI records, the Dvorak piano concerto with the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter . There is a live recording on Sony Classical of a Johann Strauss New Year's day concert with the Vienna Philharmonic .
Kleiber became known as a quirky personality who conducted rarely and only when he found the rehearsal conditions right . He demanded much more rehearsal time than was normally granted for conductors even though he was conducting works which the orchestral musicians and opera singers had perfomed numerous times . All the world's foremost orchestras and opera companies vied for his presence on the podium , but he was very particular about when and where he would conduct .
He also became notorious for cancelling conducting engagements if he became displeased with anything , such as not having enough rehearsal time , not having the same musicians in the orchestra for every rehearsal and performance of a particular opera etc. Each Kleiber performance became ot be a gala event . He appeared sporadicaly with the Bavarian State opera in Munich , the Vienna State opera, La Scala Milan , the Royla opera in London , finally making his long-awaited debut at the Metropolitna opera in 1088 , where he conducted performances of La Traviata, La Boheme, and Der Rosenkavalier in the course of three seasons . He also conducted the Chicago symphony on a few occaisions . These were his only appearances in America .
Unlike his father Erich , Carlos restricted himself to a very small repertoire of orchestral works and operas . His operatic repertoire consisted of basically , such repertoire staples as Carmen, La Traviata, Otello , La Boheme, Tristan &Isolde, which he conducted with great acclaim at Bayreuth for several seasons , Der Rosenkavalier and on a few occaisions Elektra by Richard Strauss , plus orchestral favorites by Beethoven, Schubert , and Brahms . He was certainly familiar with a much wider range of works, but for some reason he could not bring himself to conduct a wider repertoire, which is our loss .
Carlos Kleiber's performances were rneowned for their brilliance and apparent improvisatory freedom and spontaneity despite the lavish reharsal time he demanded , and rarely received a negative review ,unlike most prominent conductors .
There are a number of pirated recordings on smaller record labels of his performances , but they do not have the luxury of the first-rate sonics of Deutsche grammophon, and some of his performances can also be seen on DVD , such as Der Rosenkavalier and Carmen . Kleiber lived a quiet and modest life in his Munich home with his Slovenian wife and two children and pretty muhc avoided the limelight .
By the late 1990s he conducted less and less , finally succumbing to cancer in 2004 . All in all, Kleiber conducted far fewer performances in his career than most leading conductors , who are usually constantly on the road , or preoccupied with a particular orchestra or opera house . Orchestral musicians and opera singers adored him , but rarely had the chance to work with him . There are several interesting documentaries about this strange and fascinating maestro which you can se eon youtube . Deutsche Grammophon recently issued a box set of all the recordings he made for them . Carlos Kleiber was a one of a kind maestro .