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July 2011 - Posts

At The Wagner Festival In Bayreuth, Germany , The Inmates Are Running The Asylum
  The world-famous Bayreuth festival in the otherwise sleepy town of Bayreuth (buy-royt) in northern Bavaria has just opened , now under the administration of the great grand daughters of the great Richard Wagner .
The festival ,which was founded by Wagner in 1876 to perform his magnificent but highly controversial operas in a special festival theater built just for these works ,has long been a hotbed of controversy ,both artistic and political . 
   Adolf Hitler, who idolized Wagner and his music but for the wrong reasons , was a regular visitor there at the festival during his horrendous reign of terror ,and this has tainted it .  In recent years , the set designs for the
productions there and the stagings by the opera directors who direct the productions have been truly bizarre ,
flying in the face of the composer's original intentions to an often appalling degree . However, this has been the trend in opera stagings all over Europe ,not only of Wagner, but almost every opera . 

   Wagner's operas ,which take place either in medieval or renaissance Germany or a mythical  Germany ruled by Teutonic Gods ,among other places , have recently been set in the present day or in locations completely different from the original ones, with all manner of ridiculously arbitrary gimmicks of both direction, set design and costumes . 

   The German God Wotan has been dressed as a prosperous 19th century businessman ,yet still carries his  spear !   The Rhine maidens, the water nixies in the Ring of the Nibelungern , who guard the magic gold of the Rhine , have been dressed as prostitutes, and the Rhine was not a river ,but a hyro-electric dam ,for example !  And those are some of the tamer conceptions ! 

   The festival opened this Monday with a new production of Wagner's Tannhauser (Tann- hoy-zer) ,which is a drama set in medieval Germany among the German equivalent of the French troubadors .  Tannhauser is a minstrel knight who is caught between his love of the Goddess Venus, who lures men into her cave ,including Tannhauser, to enjoy the sensual delights which the supposedly chaste minstrel knights, who sing of chaste love from afar, are supposed to avoid at all costs . 

   But the director of the production , and the designer, who shall remain nameless here , have set the opera in a futuristic organic waste recycling plant !  This was supposed the grotto where Venus holds her orgies !  In addition, Venus is pregnant, which was certainly never Wagner's intention ,  and she is inside a cage surrounded by giant tadpoles and  furry ape-like creatures instead of her retinue of nymphs ! 

   In addition, the entire opera is set in this  bizarre plant !   The second act takes place in a medieval German castle in  the region of Thuringia which still exists ,  and the final act takes place outside it ! 
   What would Wagner have thought of this bizarre conception ?   And done under the administration of his own descendants !   No doubt he is not merely spinning in his grave ,which you can visit at the festival ,  but shooting out of it like a rocket !   

   At last year's festival ,  the then new production of  Lohengrin ,which was written several years after Tannhauser in the late 1840s,  and which takes place in what is now Belgium about a thousand years
ago,  had  the male members of the chorus dressed in rat costumes , for no apparent  reason, at least one which rational people could fathom !   Yes, the inmates are truly running the asylum at the venerable Bayreuth festival . In case you're curious , DVDs of these productions may be coming out soon .  There are already a number of them from earlier Bayreuth festivals ,including the one where the Rhine is a hydro electric dam ! 

Posted: Jul 28 2011, 05:31 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Carnegie Hall To Celebrate Its 120th Season
   Beginning this Fall ,  Carnegie Hall ,perhaps the most famous concert hall in the world,
will present a  gala celebration of its 120 th  season , with  a galaxy of the world's greatest
conductors ,orchestras , solo instrumentalists and singers , from all corners of the globe .

   Some of the world's greatest orchestras  under such eminent conductors as Lorin Maazel ,
  Sir Simon Rattle , Charles Dutoit ,  Michael Tilson Thomas , Franz Welser- Most ,
  Valery Gergiev , Vladiimir  Ashkenazy ,  Sir Roger Norrington , Sir John Eliot Gardiner and others
  will   perfrm concerts of a wide variety of orchestral works ranging from  the 18th century to the
  present day . 

  These great orchestras include  the Berlin Philharmonic , the Vienna Philharmonic ,
  The Philadelphia orchestra , the Cleveland orchestra ,  the San Francisco symphony,
  St. Louis symphony ,  the London Philharmonic , the orchestra of  the Mariinsky  Theater
  of St. Petersburg, Russia ,  the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique ,
  and the Boston symphony .  The New York Philharmonic will make one of its rare visits to
  its former home under its music director Alan Gilbert .  If his health permits , James Levine
   will conduct concerts of the Boston symphony ,which he is unfortunately soon due to
   step down from .

     Great pianists include Maurizio Pollini ,  Richard Goode , Andras Schiff , and Yefim
    Bronfman , and violinists  Joshua Bell  and leonidas Kavakos ,  Mitsuko Uchida, Evgeny
    Kissin , Leif Ove Andsnes and Christian Zacharias .
    There will be chamber ensembles such as the Takacs quartet ,  the Kalichstein-
    Laredo- Robinson trio ,  the Ensemble ACJW , and the Borromeo and Pavel Haas
    string quartets .

       The renowned Finnish soprano Karita Mattila ,  Russian soprano Anna Netrebko ,
   the English tenor Ian Bostridge and  German bartone Matthias Goerne will  give recitals,  
    as well as mezzo-soprano Susan Graham .

       There will also be concerts of  music of the Baroque period by such leading  period
    ensembles as  The English Concert ,  Tafelmusik  of Toronto , Les Violins du Roy
    and  Europa Galante .

      The American Composer's orchestra , which specializes American composers as its
      name  indicates , will  give concerts under  Dennis Russell Davies and
      George manahan .

      The San Francisco symphony under its music director Michael Tilson Thomas will
      present a festival   called "American Mavericks " ,  featuring the  highly original
      and iconoclastic music of such American composers as Henry Cowell , John Cage,
      Charles Ives ,  Carl Ruggles , Morton Feldman ,  and the Frenchman  Edgard Varese,
     who lived most of his life in America .

         There is something for all tastes in classical music , and for more information on
     tickets and schedules , you can contact  the website  if you plan to
     visit New York  and are interested .


Posted: Jul 08 2011, 06:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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William Tell - It's Much More Than An Overture !
   Every one has heard jokes about the world-famous William Tell overture - da da bum da da bum da da bum bum bum .  The use of the overture by Rossini in the Lone Ranger series on television  has made it forever associated with Hi Ho Silver, and  Kemo Sabe .  A joke goes "How can you recognize a cultured person ?  That's some one who doesn't think of the Lone Ranger when he hears the overture ."
  In fact , the overture is just the opening of a  four hour long opera based on the life of a legendary 14th century figure in Swiss history , Wilhelm Tell ,  who organized the Swiss Cantons
in a rebellion against the oppressive rule of Austria , and who supposedly shot an apple off his son's head at the order of the Austrian tyrant Gessler , a character in the opera .

   Guillaume Tell , to use the French title as the opera was written for the Paris opera in  the  late 1820s , is a monumental  operatic masterpiece which is more talked about than performed , because of its great length and the difficulty in finding singers up to the great demands of the leading roles , and was Rossini's last opera  out of  no fewer than 39 .  It is almost always performed with sme cuts because of its great length and difficulty .

   Rossini, who was born in Pesaro, Italy in 1792 and died in Paris in 1868 , was the most successful opera composer of  his day until the arrival of Giuseepe Verdi , and is best known for his zany and melodious comic opera The Barber of Seville .  But he also wrote serious operas ,  among them William Tell . 

   Rossini  abandoned writing operas before the age of 40 ,  but continued to compose a variety of other works ,such as piano pieces  and  choral works .  He had become very wealthy , and lived the life of  what we would now call a playboy for many years until his death .  He was a true bon-vivant and a  great wit , and  loved to entertain distinguished  dinner  guests lavishly at his home in Paris . 

   The exact reason for his abandoning opera is still  debated among musicologists and  opera buffs .  Had he written  himself out?  Was he be bored with turning out one opera after another , often at great speed and under great pressure ?  We will probably never know .

   On  July 9th , there will be a rare concert performance of Guillaume Tell  at the Caramoor festival  in Katonah, New York  , about 50 miles north of New York City , which is
said to be a delightful place for Summer music , at the elegant estate which used to be owned by a wealthy  businessman and his wife .  The festival features chamber music of all kinds and concerts by its resident orchestra , the orchestra of St. Luke's in New York , as well as Jazz and world music concerts . 

   The conductor and scholar Will Crutchfield , one of the foremost experts on 19th century Italian opera ,will  be on the podium , with a cast of up-and -coming young opera singers .
   Rossini's music for this  operatic rarity  is very different from his  zany and  effervescent
comic operas , and  is both dramatc and majestic , as well as  featuring  charming pastoral music evoking  rural Switzerland .  

   The opera is sometimes performed in Italian as Guglielmo Tell , as in the DVD  from  the La Scala  opera in Milan  conducted by Riccardo Muti , which I recommend highly .
There is also a  recording in the original French  on the EMI  label  conducted by the late Lamberto Gardelli  , and  that label will soon issue a new recording conducted by  the noted conductor Antonio Pappano . 

   The Metropolitan opera  has not performed Tell for some 80  years , but  there have been a coup;le of concert performances in Carnegie hall by  by  Eve Queler and the Opera orchestra of New York .   For more information , contact  the festival  at their website .  There is also an interesting article in the Sunday New York Times arts and lesure section of July 3  on the opera .
Posted: Jul 04 2011, 05:35 PM by the horn | with no comments
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