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Richard Strauss

Friday, September 30, 2016


The Boston Musical Intelligencer

September 27

BSO Opens with Lang Lang and Russians

The Boston Musical IntelligencerA glass of wine and assorted small-bite-eats prepped the capacity crowd Saturday for the opening concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 136th season (its 117th in Symphony Hall, and their third under Music Director Andris Nelsons. The all-Russian extravaganza was chock full of crowd pleasers: Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Op. 96, Serge Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (featuring superstar soloist Lang Lang), and Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the orchestration by Maurice Ravel. One naturally expected sonic spectaculars, but I had not anticipated the various ways that the brass section of the orchestra would create ravishing and intoxicating sounds. Dmitri Shostakovich completed his Festive Overture in A Major in 1954, the year after Stalin’s death, and in the wake of his cathartic Tenth Symphony. It is one of the first unalloyed, lighthearted works in Shostakovich’s output since 1936 when his opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, ran him afoul of Stalin’s censors. The overture’s light, high-spirited tone, free of the sardonic irony of the wartime works, has made it a staple of Pops orchestras around the world. Nelsons and the BSO gave the overture an opulent reading. The opening segment featured a brass choir that was stunningly attuned to each other, matching breath, vibrato, and tone to generate a heady mix of overtones and partials, particularly from the lush middle and lower brass instruments. There were other pleasures to be sure, like the spiky insouciance with which the three clarinets presented a troika-like theme, the flavorful color and bloom of the strings’ pizzicato playing. and the subtle slow-down to a reprise, ending the overture with the same glorious brass that began it. Serge Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is the most popular and widely performed of his five creations in this form. There are moments of gentle lyricism in the work, but it’s most beloved for the spiky rhythms and orchestra writing, and the kind of punchy solo writing that reminded the world that the pianoforte is a percussion instrument at heart. It’s an ideal vehicle for the flamboyant showman and one-man industry that is the pianist Lang Lang, last heard in a solo recital last October (reviewed here ). The first movement had plenty of Lang’s characteristic high-velocity, impeccably clean playing, accompanied by dramatic hand flares and the fingers of one hand darting between those of the other, though without the half-body twists and contortions of the solo recital. The orchestra provided beautifully shaped support. In the louder passages, they drowned out the pianist (though at least one video that I have seen, balances sounded better, so this may have reflected my vantage point in the first balcony left). A passage with low growling trombones near the end of the movement offered another chance to hear the BSO brass in its full glory. In the theme-and-variations slow movement, Lang showed more interpretive range, here with a breezy blueness, there with an evocation of a twisted children’s faerie tale, even a nocturne which seemed to owe a debt to Rachmaninov. The final movement offered more stunning instrumental interludes, but a blazing Lang-led fusillade of octaves and scales brought the concerto to a thrilling conclusion and brought the audience to its feet. After several ovations, Lang returned to the keyboard for an encore. He chose to transition from the sardonic frenetics of the Prokofiev to the melancholic sentimentality of Mexican composer Manuel Ponce’s Intermezzo No.1 (1909). It struck me as strange that he chose this piece in an all-Russian program, and even stranger that this was also the first encore at his solo recital last October. I’m not sure if the choice reflects a deep abiding obsession with Ponce’s piano writing, or a lack of creativity and range in encore choices. Modest Mussorgsky created the knuckle-busting piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874, as a tribute to his friend, the artist Victor Hartmann, who died the year before at age 39. A posthumous exhibition of Hartmann’s work inspired Mussorgsky to transmogrify/translate/interpret his friend’s work from paint to piano. The surviving Hartmann images that inspired this work can be seen here . The fiendish difficulties of the piano piece led it to languish in obscurity until Serge Koussevitzky commissioned an orchestration from the French master, Maurice Ravel, whose orchestration adds a dizzying range of orchestral colors to the piano work; he plays with tempos, making some faster and some much slower than those of the original. It offers a chance for an orchestra to show off, and Nelsons and the Boston Symphony didn’t disappoint. The piece begins with a meandering Promenade, which becomes a recurring motif, summoning the image of an art lover strolling through a gallery looking at a sequence of paintings and tying the work together. Each of the other movements is a tone poem evoking one of Hartmann’s artworks from his posthumous exhibition. The opening Promenade is a high, exposed trumpet solo, dispatched with character and aplomb by principal trumpet Thomas Rolfe. The rest of the trumpets, trombones, and tuba joined in, and rendered the well-known tune with a gorgeously blended and tuned sound. Subsequent repeats of the Promenade showed off the glories of the BSO wind section (led in the first reprise by principal horn James Sommerville), a beautiful matching of sound and give-and-take between wind choir and lower strings, and a stunning blend of brass and winds in the final reprise. To create each individual painting, Nelsons and the BSO worked hard to render Ravel’s distinctive and varied orchestral colors with precision and specificity. They created vivid sonic depictions of each of the images in a way that would be very difficult to achieve on solo piano. Thus “The Old Castle” disclosed a tight, flavorful ensemble with alto saxophonist, two bassoons, and English horn alternating with dreamy hushed strings. “Cattle” depicted an ox-drawn wagon, with cellos and double basses lumbering with a rustic, slightly irregular rhythmic refrain backing up a soulful and exposed tuba solo by Mike Roylance. For the “Ballet of Chicks in their Shells,” the harps, oboes, flutes, and clarinets offered a chorus of amusingly hyperactive, cheeping chirps. The fiercely articulated unison string playing in “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” gave way to a high-wire act of muted high repeated notes from first trumpet Rolfe. In “Catacombs,” the lower brass played ravishing, overtone-laden chords with all kinds of dynamic shading, and “Among the dead in the language of the dead” stunned with hushed wind and string tremolos. “The Hut on Chicken’s Legs” (Baba Yaga’s Hut) possessed a Harry Potter-esque magical sweep to it, and the concluding “Great Gate of Kiev” ended grandly with an eardrum-splitting but controlled and balanced aural explosion that brought an appreciative crowd to its feet. Andris Nelsons conduct Lang Lang and the BSO (michael Blanchard photo) Over the last few years, I’ve been excited to hear the members of the Boston Symphony play with increasing commitment as an increasingly tight ensemble under Nelsons. Of the many memorable sonic glories in this opening gala, though, that intoxicating brass most intensely lingers. It gave this self-confessed overtone junkie a healthy fix. A shortened version of the opening program, with only the Shostakovich and Mussorgsky, will repeat at 8 p.m. in this week’s “Casual Fridays” offering. Nelsons will remain in town for the next two weeks, offering a concert version of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier featuring Renée Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian on September 29th and October 1st. and Jörg Widmann’s Trauermarsch (Funeral March) for piano and orchestra with Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem on the weekend starting Thursday, October 6th. James C.S. Liu is a physician by day and a baritone and music enthusiast by night. He lives with his wife and daughters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The post BSO Opens with Lang Lang and Russians appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

My Classical Notes

September 25

Christiane Karg Sings Strauss

I love the voice of soprano Christiane Karg. She has great diction, amazing sensitivity, and great expression in her singing. Oh, yes… And certainly a wonderful voice. Ms. Karg was born in Bavaria. She studied singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum where she was awarded the Lilli Lehmann Medal, and also at the Music Conservatory in Verona. In 2009 she was named Young Performer of the Year by Opernwelt magazine, and the following year was awarded the prestigious Echo Klassik prize for her first Lied CD recording. Here is Ms. Karg in the song “Die Nacht” (the night) by Richard Strauss:




Royal Opera House

September 15

Aiming high: 10 of the most challenging soprano roles

Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, The Royal Opera © ROH/Mike Hoban, 2013 Is there any limit to what a great soprano can do? There’s a host of roles that astonish and delight us: true showcases of extraordinary musical and dramatic talent from across the history of opera. We’ve gathered together some of our favourites, starting with… The Queen of the Night – Mozart ’s Die Zauberflöte Mozart wrote the role of the Queen in The Magic Flute for his sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, who was famous for her outstanding vocal technique and high notes. The Queen of the Night’s two dramatic arias are accordingly packed with fiendish coloratura, taking the soprano voice to amazing heights, particularly in the Act II aria ‘Die Hölle Rache’. Elena – Rossini ’s La donna del lago Elena is one of several roles that Rossini wrote for his first wife Isabella Colbran. Colbran had an exceptionally wide vocal range and the writing for Elena spans the gamut. The opera culminates in one of Rossini’s greatest showpieces for the female voice: Elena’s virtuoso Act II aria ‘Tanti affetti’. Norma – Bellini ’s Norma Norma requires immense stamina, vocal agility and (particularly for the aria ‘Casta diva’) lyricism and beauty of tone. But the challenges don’t stop there: the singer also has to convey the varied and intense emotions of a heroine torn between religious devotion and jealousy, romantic passion and maternal love. Lucia – Donizetti ’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is another role that makes huge demands on a soprano’s stamina: she has to retain enough energy through the demands of Acts I and II in order to carry off Act III’s famous mad scene – a breathtaking display containing a stratospheric virtuoso cadenza accompanied by glass harmonica . Abigaille – Verdi ’s Nabucco Abigaille is a notoriously difficult part: it calls for a singer with a powerful, very agile voice who can move from the bottom to the very top of her range at great speed. Even the most lyrical of Abigaille’s arias, ‘Anch’io dischiuso un giorno’, includes a thrilling two-octave leap. Brünnhilde – Wagner ’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Brünnhilde is often seen as a dramatic soprano’s ultimate challenge. She must sound equally comfortable in the high notes of her opening war cry in Die Walküre and in the low-lying passages that punctuate Götterdämmerung . She must be heroic and tender, vengeful and noble. And above all, she must have the stamina to sing in three operas, each more than five hours long! Olympia – Offenbach ’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann Olympia the doll is only on stage for about half an hour, and for much of that time simply says ‘oui’. But her one aria ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’ is a virtuoso tour de force, each verse adorned with ever more elaborate coloratura. The part also calls for comic acting: Olympia’s mechanics periodically run down and stop her mid-flow. Elektra – Richard Strauss ’s Elektra At 90 minutes, Elektra is relatively short role – but it’s fiercely difficult. The singer has to project over a vast, intricately-scored orchestra and sing some of the most dramatic, declamatory music ever written for soprano, while also conveying lyrical tenderness in her reunion scene with Orest. She also needs to retain enough physical energy for the dance which brings the opera to its devastating close. Turandot – Puccini ’s Turandot Like Elektra, Turandot requires a powerful high voice and a singer able to execute very declamatory vocal writing with ease. The role also poses dramatic challenges: how can a soprano make this murderous princess sympathetic enough to convince us she deserves a happy ending? Lulu – Berg’s Lulu This near-impossible part requires a singer with a three-octave range who can shift from intense lyricism to flamboyant high coloratura to speech – sometimes within the space of one aria. The character is also dramatically deeply enigmatic, and is onstage for every scene of this four-hour opera. Ariel – Adès ’s The Tempest Possibly the highest role ever written for soprano, Adès’s ‘airy spirit’ enters The Tempest singing 17 full-voiced Es two and a bit octaves above middle C – and continues in a similar range for most of the opera. The high notes aren’t limited to coloratura either: many of them are in slow and sustained passages, which is fiendishly challenging. Which fiendishly difficult roles would you include? Let us know in the comments below. Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs 7 November–3 December 2016. Tickets are still available . Turandot runs 5–16 July 2017. Tickets go on General Sale on 28 March 2017.



Tribuna musical

September 15

Mozart´s controversial comedy “Così fan tutte” at the Argentino

The quirky opera season at the Argentino offers only four titles and just two are repertoire: Puccini´s "La Boheme" and Mozart´s "Così fan tutte", currently on stage. The other two are Andriessen´s "De materie", not an opera (reviewed on the Herald), and Benjamin and Crimp´s "Written on skin", to be premièred in October. This reflects the tastes of Martín Bauer, the new Director (who programmes Colón Contemporáneo), but has little to do with the Argentino´s tradition. "Così fan tutte" was presented with two valuable casts; though I had to choose the second due to collisions with important events in Buenos Aires, I feel that both are on a very professional level. But before I go on to analyze this latest revival, it is important to know that, unlike the other Da Ponte librettos made into operas, "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni", "Così fan tutte" was strongly controversial for more than a century and was gradually appreciated only in the Twentieth Century, thanks to Mahler, Richard Strauss (both as conductors) and Fritz Busch, who with his Glyndebourne Festival revival produced by Carl Ebert finally launched the success that had been elusive for so long. And it was this combination (Busch-Ebert) that finally brought it to the Colón in 1934. The story of why this opera came into being is paradoxical, for it was the Emperor Josef II who indicated the subject to Da Ponte, hoping that the cynical comedy would have some influence on what he considered to be the promiscuous Viennese girls. It wasn´t Mozart´s choice, but the music he composed is wonderful and its sharp characterisation completely agrees with the details of the plot. Unfortunately, the opera was premièred in January 1790 just a week before the Emperor´s death; the ensuing Court Mourning cut off all performances. This is still a Rococo entertainment, but six months before the French Revolution had begun when the Bastille was taken: as Hans Redlich wrote, "audiences began to crave for lofty sentiments, political ideals and romantic moods". The key character is Don Alfonso, an old skeptical philosopher who doesn´t believe in fidelity and challenges two officers (Ferrando and Guglielmo) that in just 24 hours their paramours Fiordiligi and Dorabella will be unfaithful: the officers must maskerade as Albanian gentlemen who, seconded by Don Alfonso and the libertine maid Despina, will try to seduce the ladies (who are Ferrarese but live in Naples). Sure enough, it eventually happens, the masks fall down, the ladies repent and all ends happily. The main problem of the staging is the suspension of disbelief: the officers must be made up in such a way that they won´t be recognisable; and the most buffo problem is that Despina disguises herself as a Doctor and a Notary, and there´s no way to make it believable. So this opera must be taken by the audience as an unrealistic farce and a strong attack on fidelity. As our society has plenty of free love practitioners, "Così fan tutte" is even mild nowadays. It tollerates much better than the two other Mozart-Da Ponte works the transposition to another time, though it can be done very well according to the original libretto: I have seen about 17 different stagings and most of them respected the late 18th century indications. For even in cynical terms, some aspects can´t be changed. But at least, a coffee bar, a room and a garden are easily modernised. Producer Rubén Schuchmacher put the action in the 1950s. The best thing was the stage design of Jorge Ferrari; functional and pleasant, in seconds it changed from room to garden. He also did the costumes: the girls´ were alright, but the presumed Albanian gentlemen looked like punks. The disguised men were very recognisable, their faces hardly changed. Schuchmacher did a grievous mistake: he added ridiculous lateral hip movements in many scenes, not only gross but completely crashing with Mozart´s refinement. But the singers were agilely moved. Reasonable lighting by Gonzalo Córdova. The musical side was very good. Rubén Dubrovsky is an Argentine that is having a brilliant career in Vienna, particularly in the Baroque repertoire, though he is equally at home in Classicism. It was a positive decision to bring him over as conductor of this "Così...". He showed positive command, good tempi and taste; the Orchestra played well for him, except some horn mistakes in Fiordiligi´s Rondo "Per pietà". However, I question the total inclusion of the recitatives; I have always heard them with some cuts, even in recordings, for some of the stuff isn´t necessary for the narration and it lengthens the opera with uninteresting music. On the other hand, he included for the first time in my experience the charming "duettino" of the officers "Al fato dan legge". The two sisters were admirable: Daniela Tabernig (Fiordiligi) and Florencia Machado (Dorabella) sang their duets in perfect blend and their arias with fine vocality and style. Cecilia Pastawski was a pert and accurate Despina. The men were also satisfactory. Santiago Bürgi sang Ferrando with a firm line, including the rarely done "Tradito, schernito". Alejandro Spies, who has generally sung premières of old and new operas, this time was given the chance to do Mozart, and he did so with accomplishment. And Luciano Miotto again proved to be a master of buffo style. All acted well. For Buenos Aires Herald

The Well-Tempered Ear

September 15

Classical music: UW-Madison opera students are on display at a concert this Sunday afternoon along with guest professional and UW opera graduate Lindsay Metzger

By Jacob Stockinger The Ear has received the following announcement from UW Opera Props, the support organization for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music . We invite you to attend a benefit concert showcasing the University of Wisconsin-Madison opera program’s talented students, along with special guest artist, distinguished alumna and mezzo-soprano, Lindsay Metzger (below top) who will be accompanied by pianist Daniel Fung (below bottom). Please join us for a program of songs and arias, followed by a reception. Enjoy conversation with the singers, faculty and other musical friends, along with light refreshments including artisanal cheeses, fruit, wine, juices and chocolatier Gail Ambrosius’s delicious creations. The concert is this Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. followed by light refreshments and conversation. Sorry, no word about the composers or works to be sung. The concert will take place in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison Admission is a contribution of $25 in advance ($30 at the door), and $10 for students. All proceeds go to UW Opera student scholarships. For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1838139499750385 http://www.uwoperaprops.org/uw-opera-props-student-showcase-concert/ Lindsay Metzger (below) hails from Mundelein, Illinois. She spent two summers as an apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and was a studio artist in 2014-15 with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera (Gannett in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore). Among her other recent portrayals have been Daphne/Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers (Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company), Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy), Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (DuPage Opera Theatre ), the title role in Handel’s Ariodante, Béatrice in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, and Beppe in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (all at the University of Wisconsin-Madison). With Lyric Unlimited’s community-engagement program “Opera in the Neighborhoods,” Metzger was heard in the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola. A soloist featured frequently in numerous Chicago-area venues, Metzger debuted with the Grant Park Symphony singing the soprano solo in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. She was awarded the Paul Collins Fellowship from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Virginia Cooper Meier Award from the Musicians’ Club of Women, and an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions. Metzger is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul University . Last season at Lyric she was featured in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (debut) and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. In the 2016-17 season the mezzo-soprano will perform in Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Bizet’s Carmen. Tagged: accompany , aria , Arts , Berlioz , Bizet , Carmen , cheese , Chicago , chocolate , Classical music , Daniel Fung , DePaul University , Der Rosenkavalier , Des Moines , Donizetti , Early music , faculty , Faure , First Unitarian Society of Madison , Florentine Opera , Frank Lloyd Wright , fruit , Gail Ambrosius , George Frideric Handel , Grant Park , Haymarket Opera , Jacob Stockinger , juice , Lindsay Metzger , Lyric Opera of Chicago , Marc-Antoine Charpentier , Marriage of Figaro , Mascagni , Massenet , Met , Metropolitan Opera , Milwaukee , Mozart , Music , opera , Opera Props , Piano , Puccini , Requiem , Richard Strauss , singer , song , United States , University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music , University of Wisconsin–Madison , University Opera , vocal music , Wine , Wisconsin , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Richard Strauss
(1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.



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