Monday, August 4, 2014

La bohème by Opera Theater of Connecticut in Clinton

Maksim Ivanov as Marcello, Lisa Williamson as Musetta, 
Shannon Kessler Dooley as Mimi, and Joshua Kohl as Rodolfo
photo by Alan Casavant 

Nothing is more refreshing than snow in August--even when that snow is made by machine during Act III of La bohème. The opportunity to hear this ever-popular Puccini masterpiece given by a trustworthy local opera company is at hand for all within commuting distance of Clinton, Connecticut this week. The opera will be given on Tuesday, August 5, Thursday, August 7 and Saturday, August 9 at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 10 at 6pm at the Andrews Memorial Theater on 54 East Main Street.

I had the opportunity to hear the dress rehearsal on Sunday evening. It was a pleasure to attend this event, where so much came together and where refinements were made on the fly. One cannot review a dress rehearsal because there is still time for changes prior to opening night. But a few words will serve in anticipation.  

General Director Kate Ford, and Opera Theater of Connecticut’s artistic team of Production Director Alan Mann and Music Director Kyle Swann have put together a very effective cast ensemble, and they are on display in an extremely fluid second act. The chorus and children's chorus were both impressive and well-balanced, and the stage action was detailed and entertaining throughout the entire act. 

Lisa Williamson impressed as Musetta. She delivered lines with rhythmically precise diction and created a wide range of expression within the part. Shannon Kessler Dooley as Mimì, and Joshua Kohl as Rodolfo both had big voices that could soar over the orchestra and were at their best when they were able to plant and let their sound resonate. Their duet at the close of Act I was amazing.

The cast also featured Maksìm Ivanov as Marcello, Ryan Burns as Schaunard, and Aaron Sorensen as Colline who sang a darkly warm "Vecchia zimarra." Laurentiu Rotaru was clever and entertaining in both roles he covered: Benoît the landlord and Alcindoro the unfortunate lover of Musetta who gets stuck with the bill for act II.

Conductor Kyle Swann had the orchestra sounding quite good, and this production is sure to please on opening night.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Oboist Albrecht Mayer appears on Prelude & Food

 Sarah Willis, Albrecht Mayer, and Markus Becker playing Herzogenberg

The latest episode of "Prelude & Food" hosted by Sarah Willis has just been released for viewing on the finkernagel & lück medienproduktion website. This episode is centered on oboist Albrecht Mayer who teaches the way toward a delicious looking Lamb ragôut while also giving us fascinating, and at times quite powerful insights, into this musician who contributes so much to the sound of the modern Berliner Philharmoniker. 

The concept of this series is clever. Standard interview contexts often produce standard interview dialog. Cooking with a small group of friends is a chamber music of its own, and Willis can listen, interact, and respond with great spontaneity while never losing focus on the larger progressions.

As you watch this episode (which lasts about an hour) notice how the pacing shifts, and how the feeling of relaxed intimacy develops. Mayer has a complex high-energy personality, and its richness opens throughout the episode.

While the food appeared to be good, the musical selections were particularly tasty. At [40:00] listen for the excerpt from the second movement presto of the Horn Trio in D major, Op. 61 written in 1889 by Heinrich von Herzogenberg. Herzogenberg was connected to Brahms, but was better known as a champion of the music of Bach.

At [52:50] Mayer and Becker play the "Liebesruf eines Faun" for English horn & Piano by Hans Steinmetz (1901-1975). Both musical works appear on Mayer's 2012 Decca CD called "Song of the Reeds."

But the most touching moment is Mayer's confession that he considers himself an "insecure person." If you watch the scene unfold from [42:00] you will discover how the conversation developed. As a child he stuttered [45:37] and found that by channeling his energy through the oboe that he was able to overcome this significant challenge. His ability to communicate, both verbally and musical, is so fluent that one would never imagine that he had these particular challenges. That he felt comfortable enough to share this kind of information reveals inner strength and its own kind of confidence.

Of the four episodes currently available for viewing this one is my favorite. Please share information about this series and let's hope that there are many more episodes to follow!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Variations on Knightly Character with Bychkov in the Digital Concert Hall

Delepelaire taking cue from Bychkov

"Fantastic Variation on a Theme of Knightly Character." This elaborate subtitle was a way for Richard Strauss to indicate that there was more going on in his tone poem called Don Quixote than an ear-movie based on Cervantes.

He could have subtitled the work "a really challenging piece for cello soloist." But that would not seem to hold true for the amazing young cellist Bruno Delepelaire, who joined the Berliner Philharmoniker as a resident cello soloist last November. Delepelaire made it look easy. But more importantly made the music sound graceful, charming, and believable. In a part filled with color and interaction with all corners of the orchestra, Delepelaire sought and found a meditative element in this depiction of a doomed idealist. Máté Szűcs impressed with the viola solo which he played while also leading the viola section. Szűcs resonated the wit and humor of his lines and blazed with the fluidity of his passagework. 

Commentators often talk about plot concept in this work, but the personality of motives and lines as they combine and transform are even more vivid. In the Berliner Philharmoniker, the musical personality of each soloist is so distinct that when Albrect Mayer play the G major "Dulcinea" line, or when Andreas Ottensamer leaned on the highest notes of the cadential gesture led by the clarinet, it sounded as authentic personality articulating authentic personality.

Conductor Semyon Bychkov inspired a "concerto for orchestra" concept.The interplay between chamber music intimacy and large ensemble sound was effective and insightful in this performance. A great place to study this elaborate layering was the music in F-sharp major in variation 3, where the orchestral weight suddenly leaned to reveal entwined  lines played by solo cello and oboe. During this variation there was also a carefully placed camera angle that caught the tambourine trill.

There are many colorful nuances in this score: places where only two desks of violins play divided. We could have used some additional wide-angle camera shots to help us contextualize these moments. The wide-angle camera views during Variation 7 and 10 were effective in this regard.

If you are new to this work, you cannot do better than to listen to the interval talk with Sarah Willis interviewing Delepelaire and Szűcs. Willis focused important details of the work while keeping things relaxed. In this work about personality we learned something of the personality of these musicians.

Don Quixote has one of the great quiet endings in the orchestral literature. Bychkov held onto the silence after the final notes had dimmed. The Don dies at the close of the work, and the peaceful sense of the music should make us wonder. Bychkov is great at articulating strangeness in music, and he caught this one perfectly.

It was a sense of strangeness that most stood out in this performance of Schubert's Great Symphony in C major. The terrifying moment when the second movement comes unhinged was also given a long pause by Bychkov. The pause made the cello line that followed seem like a Don Quixote moment of realization in Schubert.

Bychkov framed this central crisis by emphasizing the final gesture of the second theme group on either side of it. The hovering quality of these passages resonated and connected.

To listen for when this performance comes into the archive: Bychkov chose very clever tempo relationships not only within the first movement in the shift from the andante into the allegro non troppo, but also between movements. The entire symphony seemed made from variations developed from a root tempo.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Regrets from the Met; an Explanation of Yesterday's Silence

According to a statement posted on the Met website, the audio outage in yesterday's transmission of Werther was caused by "a technical problem with the satellite carrying the audio feed." The problem impacted "the majority of U. S. Theaters."

They have posted the final scene so that viewers who were short-changed yesterday can at least hear what they missed. But this final scene needs to be felt in the immediate context of what came before. This offering only reheats yesterday's meal.

I don't think the Met owes us anything. Yes, the drama of placement was about as extreme as one can imagine, but this was the first widespread problem during a live transmission of the HD series. We need to be patient with challenges in return for the amazing insights that the series gives us on a regular basis.

The Met does owe more than a simple apology to its theaters. This blip was the kind of mistake that can happen in an individual theater, especially in multiplex operations where operators have their hands full. The theater in which I watch HD ruined Rusalka by trying to stretch the image. They could not fix it and there was no way to watch it.

Many people in my cinema, and several who wrote to me yesterday thought that the problem was local at the time that it happened. The Met should be prepared with "technical difficulty" messages to inform us if anything like this happens again in the future. 

Quicker response times are important. Imagine trying to appease angered opera fans when no real explanation can be offered. The Met's regrets were directed toward us, but should have been offered to the venues.

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