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May 2012 - Posts

May Opera News Magazine - Summer Festivals

  The May issue of Opera News  has extensive information on the many Summer music festivals all over Europe, many of which feature performances of opera . These include such prestigious  festivals  as  Salzburg, Austria, the annual Wagner festival in Bayreith , the Glyndebourne opera festival in England at a picturesque estate in the country ,  the Maggio Musicale in Florence,  and others in such cities as Munich,Dresden, Prague, Vienna ,  Edinburgh and elsewhere . 

   Operas,  familiar  and infamiliar, will be presented ranging from the 17th century  to the present day with many of the greatest  singers ,conductors  and directors  of our time and the great orchestras of Berlin,Vienna,Munich,  Amsterdam, Prague, Dresden  etc . 

   American soprano Laura Aikin , who has  achieved international renown  for her compelling portrayals of a wide variety of roles including extremely demanding ones by  such 20th century composers as Olivier Messiaen, Bernd Alois Zimmermann and others is on the cover and is interviewed by  classical music critic and blogger Jessica Duchen .  Frequent Opera News contributor Matthew Gurewitsch  interviews  arts administrator Alexander Perreira , artistic  director of the world-famous Salzburg festival and discusses his plans  for the future . 

    Contributor William R. Braun interviews the noted American conductor  David Robertson, music director of the Saint Louis symphony and  newly appointed music director of the Sydney symphony in Australia  about his many  activities in both  symphonic music  and opera , and  Opera News Milan correspondant  discusses the interestingly varied operatic repertoire of  the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence as well as its plans for the future . 

   Various Opera News correspondants discuss the opera houses of  Brussels, Bordeau , and Parma and their  rich histories and traditions .  Other correspondants review recent performances from the Met, New York City opera , Chicago ,  Denver, London , Paris ,Zurich and Munich .

   CD reviews include a new recording of the legendary opera Treemonisha by Scott Joplin of  Ragtime fame ,  Massenet's opera Don Quichotte from St.etersburg conducted by Valery Gergiev,  Debussy's Pelleas &Melisande by the English national opera sung in English ,  Renee Fleming singing  vocal works by Messiaen ,  Ravel and Henri Dutilleaux ,  and  live recordings from the Met form the 1960s of operas by Donizetti and Verdi .

   DVD reviews of live performances  include  Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress from the Glyndebourne festival ,  the rarely performed Richard Strauss opera  Die Liebe der Danae(The love of Danae) from Berlin ,  Verdi's La Forza Del Destino from the Vienna State opera ,  and Salome by Richard Strauss, also from Berlin.  As well as a DVD documentary  about the late, great Luciano Pavarotti .

   There are book reviews of a new biography of the late great conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930 - 2004 ) ,  and a new book  which juxtaposes the lives,careers and influence of  Verdi and Wagner by Peter Conrad .  An uninteresting  issue of Opera News  would be unimaginable !

Posted: May 31 2012, 09:26 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Less Snooty And More Hooty ?

  I read an interesting if rather annoying article the other day at the classical music website, which features articles from various newspapers and other publications on classical music, as well as news of openings in orchestras and positions teaching music etc.  The article comes from Australia's . 

   It concerns a young classically trained Australian musician who has founded an ensemble of fourteen musicians called the "Raga Dolls Salon Orchestrra ", which uses such instruments as violin, bass, accordion , harmonica and guitar to play arrangements of certain classical pieces .  This musician studied music in Canberra, the Australian capitol, but rebelled against conventioal training , dropped out, and started his own ensemble . Well and good so far .

   However, this young man states how much he hates the classical music establishement, despite his great love for the music itself. In the article, he trots out all the usual cliches and myths about classical music concerts , and how supposeldy staid and boring these events are . His group makes concerts fun, supposedly , and  avoids all the stuffiness .  He calls these standard concerts and recitals a "quasi-religious experience", and claims that these musical events "place the performer on a pedestal" , "playing down to the audience". 

   His ensembe's performances are more like "rock shows".  Really ?  He can easily get away with making such ridiculous statements. But suppose some one started a rock band and declared that he wanted to make rock concerts more like classical ones.  He would make this statement : Rock concerts should be more formal and serious than they are. They should be quiet,dignified affairs where the audience applauds only after songs, and every one dresses formally,including the musicians, and  behaves in a dignified manner . 

   If this happened, rock fans and critics would instantly  attack him furioulsy, and accuse him of betraying  rock music and making a travesty of it .  This just goes to show you that you cannot judge classical music by the standards of other musics .  All the premises of this musician's claims are patently false .  Audiences for classical music would not attend concerts and recitals if the performances were the kind of "dreary and "snooty" affairs he claims they are . 

   I have nothing against this young man . He certainly has the right to give performances with his ensemble, and if audiences enjoy them, fine . But to make such a blanket dismissal of  standard concerts is not only unfair, but ludicrous . Furthermore, what he is presenting are basically watered down  arrangements of  classical works and he is in fact, dumbing classical music down .  This is NOT what classical music needs to flourish . 

Posted: May 22 2012, 08:57 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Great German Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Has Died

  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau , one of the greatest classical singers of the 20th century , has died at the age of 86 at his home in Bavaria shortly before his 87th birthday .  Fischer-Dieskau was one of the most acclaimed singers of German art songs, or lieder , by such great composers as Schubert,Schumann, Brahms , Hugo Wolf  and others , as well as  an acclaimed  opera singer . 

  He was an amazingly versatile singer who was at home in music by composers ranging from Bach to contemporary , not only in his native German, but Italian, French , English and even Russian .  In his long and distinguished career , he is said to have made more recordings than any singer in hisory !  Unfortunately, he never sang opera in America , which is our loss .  Fischer-Dieskau collaborated with virtually all the greatest conductors of the 20th century ; Leonard Bernstein., Sir Georg Solti, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Otto Klemperer, Karl Bohm, Daniel Barenboim, Rafael Kubelik, Eugen Jochum, Wolfgang Sawallisch , Herbert von Karajan , to name only some , and made recoridngs with them of operas and oratorios .

   He also collaborated on song repertoire with such great pianists as Sviatoslav Richter, Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim and others , and especially the great English song accompanist Gerald Moore .  His recordings of the songs of Schubert, Schiumann, Brahms,  Hugo Wolf and other famous song composers have long been considered classics . 

   Fischer-Dieskau also sang and recorded  a remarkably wide range of operatic roles in the operas of Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Giuseppe Verdi , Paul Hindemith , Ferrucio Busoni, to name only some .  He retired from singing opera  in 1978 but continued to sing  song recitals and other works until  1993 when he retired .  Many of his operatic roles have been recorded .

   In addition to singing , Fischer-Dieskau was active as a conductor , and led concerts with many of Europe's leading orchestras .  He was also the teacher of many  singers who have gone on to make important careers of their own and  led master classes until shortly before his passing .  He also wrote several books on  the lieder repertoire and  othe rmusical topics . 

   Fischer-Dieskau had a  warm, velvety baritone voice  which he was able to use to express  an infinitely  wide variety of vocal shadings and colors .  He was never content merely to pour out a generalized stream of beautiful  sounds, but always sought to  sing as expressively as possible .  He could express  any emotion ;  tenderness , rage, irony,  humor, love, hatred,  fear, joy, grandeur , anything .  And you can hear all of these emotions in his portrayals of such  great operatic characters as  Mozart's Don Giovanni, Wagner's Hans Sachs,  the Flying Dutchman, John the Baptist in Salome by Richard Strauss, Verdi's Rigoletto, Falstaff,  Wozzeck by Alban Berg,  Busoni's Doktor Faust , Mathis the painter by Paul Hindemith , and other baritone roles . 

   The same range of nuances can be heard in the countless  recordings of art songs which he made .  Fischer-Dieskau enjoyed international acclaim for decades and  the deep admiration of audiences, fellow singers, conductors , and critics  wherever he appeared .  He will go down in the history of  classical music as one of the greatest singers of all time . 



Posted: May 19 2012, 08:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Stupid Things people Say About Classical Music

  Ever since starting my blog here at, I've been trying to debunk myths about classical music .  Here is a recap of  some of these myths , half-truths and canards .  Some of these are myths about classical music which people who know little or nothing about it  accept blindly , and others are  myths  spread by the so-called experts  who really have an agenda of their own or are simply deluded .

   Classical music is "stuffy, boring and  elitist ".  Some people assume that  concerts and opera etc are "stuffy" merely because  classical musicians  tend to dress formally at concerts .  By no means all do ;  there has been a growing trend for  solo performers and  conductors to  wear their own  style clothes  and for men to avoid using  black or white ties , although male  orchestra members still tend to use  these ties .  So what ?  It's the music that counts . People don't go to concerts to  see what the musicians are wearing, but to enjoy the music .

   Concerts and opera performances are "boring " ?   The music itself is "boring"?   Then why the heck do so many people faithfully attend these classical performances ?   If you go to  performances , the chances are that the audience will be applauding and cheering the  musicians , not sleeping .  The fact is that  clasiscal and opera fans are every bit as passionate  and  enthusiastic as sports fans .  They cheer their home orchestras or visiting ones  just as enthusiastically as sports fans cheer their favorite team .  However, unlike sports fans in stadiums,,   they don't trash  te concert halls or opera houses after performances . 

   They argue about their favorite conductors, pianists, violinists, cellists and opera singers the way sports fans argue over   Michael  Jordan vs  Magic Johnson  or this or that quarterback , pitcher or   goalie .  They also argue over whether Beethoven or Mozart is the greater composer ,or whether Verdi or Wagner is the greater opera composer . 

 Is classical music "elitist ?"  The term elitist  applied to this kind of music implies that  orchestras and opera companies  are trying to exclude people who are not rich  and white .  Wrong !   On the contrary , they very much want to increase the audience for classical music , and to reach people whether  they are black,white or  purple . 

   Another myth : You have to be wealthy to attend the opera .  Not at all .  Of course , tickets aren't exactly cheap ,  and  ones at the Metropolitan opera can run up to $250 or more .  But you can get perfectly good ones there and elsewhere for much less .  These tickets are expensive because it costs a lot of money to produce world-class opera , and there are so many people involved in the enterprise eyond the singers ; the orchestra,chorus,  stagehands,  production staff , musical staff ,  people who work on costumes and lighting etc .  And remember - tickets to  see your favorite pop stars  or to see Broadway musicals can be just as expensive . Most  opera goers are in fact  middle-class people who go  because they love opera .  You don't have to dress formally at all ; many people gp  to the opera straight from work .  Some people dress formally on opening nights of the season at the Metropolitna opera, but  opening nights are special gala events .

   You can also see live performances from the Met  in your local movie theater for only about twenty dollars , as well as  on the internet , or see them on PBS  stations and listen to Saturday matinee performances on the radio . 

   Classical music isn't "relevant" . It's all just  musty and moldy music from the distant past .  It doesn't have anything to offer  people today . Well, relevant is a loaded term, because what is relevant to one person is not necessarily relevant to another .  Every kind of music is relevant to those who are devotees of it , and classical is no exception . 

   Yes, music from the past is a major part of classical , but there is absolutely no lack of  new or recent music by a wide variety of  living or recently deceased ocmposers .  Hans Werner Henze is a German composer just as Beethoven was , and he is one of today's leading composers , but his music co-exists with Beethoven's.  It may  may not be played as much as Beethoven is now, but  in the future he might be as famous  as Beethoven is today .  People still read the novels of  Dostoyevsky,  Tolstoy, and Jane Austen today , but they also read those of today's  leading novelists .  Where is there a conflict between old and new ?

   Here is a  misconception about classical music spread by the so-called experts .  " There's something wrong with classical music today because most of the music performed is from the past .  In past centuries classical music was a much more vital and healthy art form, because most music was new ."  Well, this is a half truth .  When Mozart and Haydn were alive  ,composing and  performing int he 18th century , the symphony orchestra as we know it was a new thing .  It had only been in existnece for a brief time, and they simply did not have the huge acumulation of repertoire we have today .  

   They had no orchestral music  from past centuries ot draw on.  In addition ,  there were only a tiny fraction of the symphony orchestras and opera ocmpanies which exist today , and  concerts were pretty much sporadic, ad hoc affairs .  America  did not  get its first  permanent orchestra until  the New York Philharmonic was founded in 1842 , and  for its first decades ,it played only a handful of concerts a year . The musicians were  free lancers and amateurs  and  could not earn a living from the orchestra alone .

   Now there are hundreds  of orchestras in America ,  in all 50 states .  There are also an enormous number in Europe, and more and more in  Asia and elsewhere .   Today ,orchestras play not only music by beethoven,Mozart, and Haydn  , but works by  who knows how many different composers  from different centuries  and  who  are not only "Dead White European Males " , but  women ,Asians, Americans ,  and  Latin Americans etc .

   Many people  assume that  people who attend concerts and opera are "snobs " . This may be true of some of them, but on the whole, they are no more snobbish  than  fans of other kinds of music . 

   For all its problems  today ,  classical music  is still very much alive and kicking , and one of the greatest glories of humanity .



Posted: May 09 2012, 09:50 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Rage Against The Machine - No, Not That Machine

  This post has nothing to do with the famous Rock band , but rather the controversial  production of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen by the Metropolitan opera which has recently been presenting  in full after the gradual unveiling of the four part operatic marathon beginning last season .

  The so-called "machine" is the production's enormous unit set, which consists largely of massive metal planks which constantly shift shape across the stage to represent  the different lanscapes of the action , and which combine with  computer-generated  images onstage ,enabling  the stage to portray the many  extravagant special effects which the composer Richard Wagner imagined but was never able to realize adequately with the promitive scenic technology of the 19th century , and which are difficult enough to realize in the present day .

  Such fanciful images include the flying horses which the Valkyries, or daughters of the god Wotan  use to carry the bodies of slain heroes to Valhalla,  a huge dragon which the evil giant Fafner has become after using a magic helmet to transform himself into in order to guard the magic gold of the Rhine,  and so forth .  Such special effects could best be realized on film , as in  the Lord of the Rings saga , which superficially resembles Wagner's  magnum opus .

   The director is the renowned French Canadian director Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil , yet his production has come in for an unusual amount of critical drubbing by most of the New York critics who have reviewed as well as many from out of town .  Some have dismissed the multi-million dollar production as the worst they have ever seen of the mighty Ring, and  deplore it as a massive waste of money , calling for it to be scrapped as soon as possible .

  Even the usually benign  Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times jas had serious reservatipons about the whole affair, and the Met's general manager Peter  Gelb has  become highly defensive , even  trying to  censor some of the critical  snark  on the Met's website and  WQXR, New York's only  surviving classical radio station .

   There have been complaints about the noisiness of the massive metal planks as they move around the Met's enormoyus stage , largest of any opera house in the world ,  and accusations that Lepage has failed to do dramatic justice to the huge operatic cycle and a lack of any real dramatic concept .  There have also been a number of technical glitches during performances , causing certain dramatic effects to fall flat . Bu taccording to reports from the Met's administration, these glitches have been largely worked out .

   Not having seen the production yet, I will have to withhold judgement, and more than a few audience members have been much more favorabey disposed to it .  However, as far as I can tell, it does not seem to be anywhere near as perverse and wrong-headed as any of the so-called "Eurotrash" productions of the Ring and other Wagner operas which are currently th enorm in Europe , and which are full of all manner of ridiculous arbitrary gimmicks and anachronistic sets and costumes .  The recent Ring by the San Francosco opera sets the action in the 19th century American wild west ! 

   Typically, you will see the supreme Teutonic god Wotan dressed in modern day clothing yet still carrying the spear which he does throughout the Ring , as well as the  other gods , the superheroes Siegmund and his son Siegried , and the Valkiries .  The first part of the Ring, Das Rheingold, or the Rhine gold, opens in the river Rhine where you find the Rhine maidens ,who guard the magic gold of the Rhine cavorting . Yet the  Bayreuth centennial production of the Ring in 1976 and which is regarded as the granddaddy of Europtrash Wagner productions, had the curtain opening on a  hydro-electric  dam  instead of the Rhine, and the Rhine maidens were dressed as hookers ! 

   More recent Rings in Europe have gone far beyond  this in ourtrageousness .  The Met's previous Ring , which set the action in Wagner's own  mythical Germanic  world  and which  was premiered in the mid 1980s, was also  sneered at by many critics ,  yet  audiences loved it on the whole .  No gimmicks, no pretrentiousness at all . 

    All this just go to show you that so many of the critics who review the Met's productions are extremely captious carpers who never seem to be satisfied by any production there .  They hate the lavish realistic sets and costumes of operas by Verdi and Puccini at the Met by the renowned  Franco Zeffirelli , such as Tosca, la Boheme and La Traviata .  Yet, a couplle of years ago, when the Met replaced the  sumptuous realiistic Zeffirellli Tosca, an opera set in Rome at actual Roman locations, and which represents those locations  exactly  with a  much more austere and drab-looking  production, they hated it  too . 

   They complained about the austere -looking sets of the Met's recent production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn ) . Yet if the production had been  sumptous and elaborate, they would have hated it also .  Let's face it ; the Met is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't .  Like it or not, the "machine" seems here to stay for quite a while .

Posted: May 08 2012, 08:07 PM by the horn | with no comments
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