Saturday, June 25, 2016
Mozart was 35 years old when he died in Vienna in 1791. Shortly before his death, he agreed to compose a Requiem for a strange man, who offered Mozart money that the composer badly needed. The Requiem was not completed when the composer died. Several other composers published their own versions of the Requiem, based on sketches that were left incomplete by Mozart. I have always been greatly moved by this music. And again this morning I listened to one of the very sad sections called “Lacrimosa” from this work. Here we are, 225 years after Mozart’s death, and I have for you this music, as conducted by the late Claudio Abbado:
Berliner Philharmoniker/ Abbado/ Barenboim/ Boulez/ Dudamel/ Haitink/ Mehta/ Muti/ Rattle (Warner Classics, 25 DVDs)The Berlin Philharmonic gave its first ever concert in 1892, on 1 May. Since 1991, it has been marking that anniversary with a one-off May Day concert, which is given in a different historical-cultural centre in Europe each year, and which is televised live widely across Europe, though not in the UK. This set of DVDs documenting the first 25-year history of the Europa Concerts has been taken from these broadcasts. Though some of the performances are far more memorable than others, it makes for a fascinating collection. The recordings are generally first-rate, and are blissfully free of video gimmicks, voiceover introductions or commentaries, though there are no subtitles or printed texts for the vocal works. It’s the performances pure and simple, though a few of the discs include additional short documentary films about the cities in which the concerts took place. Those venues range from St Petersburg to Palermo, Istanbul to Oxford, with no fewer than three of them, for some reason, having been in Prague.Concerts under nine conductors are included in the set. As you might expect, the Berlin Philharmonic’s two principal conductors over the quarter century concerned, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle, feature most prominently, but Daniel Barenboim conducts five concerts, as well as making two appearances as a soloist. Programmes tend to be determinedly populist and mainstream – there’s lots of Mozart and Beethoven, and quite a bit of Brahms; even the one concert that Pierre Boulez conducts, in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, in 2003, includes a Mozart piano concerto, the D minor, K466, with Maria João Pires as the wonderfully fluent soloist. Continue reading...
‘If you know opera, even on a tertiary level you’ve heard this piece’ says American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton of the great choral tune ‘Va, pensiero’, also known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. The American mezzo-soprano is currently performing the role of Fenena in Daniele Abbado ’s production of Verdi 's Nabucco . 'Giuseppe Verdi wrote the music in a time of great oppression', she explains. ‘He felt the people of his own nation needed a voice’. A tune about the oppression of Hebrew slaves in Babylon quickly became synonymous with the campaign for the reunification of Italy in the mid 1800s. In the years since it has been dubbed the nation's unofficial national anthem and become much-mythologized . Its influence has crossed borders too — it was sung fervently by East Germans during the partition of Germany during the Cold War. ‘The chorus was a way of putting that voice and the message of the story of the Israelites in Babylon into something the audience could connect with and feel politically more empowered', says Canadian bass John Relyea . American tenor Leonardo Capalbo , who sings the role of Ismaele, agrees: ‘The chorus represents lost souls. Those unnamed faces that the story is really about'. After each performance of the opera, Barton sees the audience leave the theatre with a ‘feeling of strength from that unity – it very much plays today how it was first written and performed for the first time.’ Watch more films like this on the Royal Opera House YouTube channel: Nabucco runs 6–30 June 2016. Tickets are sold out, although returns may become available . The production is a co-production with La Scala, Milan , Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona , and is generously supported by Rolex and The Friends of Covent Garden.
The story about Romeo and Juliet comes from Medieval times in Italy but until it was taken up by Shakespeare it didn´t have so much repercussion, apart from Verona (where tourists are now led to a fake house of the lovers). Shakespeare´s play had immense success. I was impacted by the wonderful films of Renato Castellani and Franco Zeffirelli and horrified by Luhrmann´s version in contemporary Miami. In music, there are at least four great "R and J": Tchaikovsky´s great tone poem; Prokofiev´s ballet; Gounod´s charming opera; and the 90-minute dramatic symphony by Berlioz, a marvelous score only played here in 1973. I am glad to anticipate an unofficial but very probable revival this year by the National Symphony. Back in 1971 the Colón offered Bellini´s "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", based on the same old Italian "novelle" that had inspired the English playwright but with many points differing strongly from Shakespeare. Of course, his play is vastly better than Felice Romani´s libretto as there are nowhere in it the poetic insights of the play that have become so famous, but some aspects are interesting. Shakespeare tells us of a terrible feud between Capulets and Montagus, but Romani adds an essential ingredient: the former are Ghibellines, the latter Guelfs, thus fully putting the action during the Thirteenth Century. From the Encyclopedia Britannica: "The split between the Guelfs, sympathetic to the papacy, and the Ghibellines, sympathetic to the German (Holy Roman) Emperors contributed to the chronic strife within the Italian cities". Both are derived from German sources: Guelfs from the Welf family, Ghibellines from Waiblingen, a castle of the Hohenstaufen. The main source of both Shakespeare and Romani seems to be Matteo Bandello´s Late Medieval " The unfortunate death of two unhappy lovers", translated later into French and English. However, Romani was also influenced by the 1818 tragedy written by Luigi Scevola (based also on Bandello). And there is a further fact: the libretto was concocted for an earlier opera by Nicola Vaccai and adapted for Bellini. Now some words about the Colón´s 1971 version. There´s a vexed question: the Bellini original casts Romeo as a mezzosoprano, apparently due to a suggestion by Giuditta Grisi (who sang it at the Venice première on March 11, 1830). There are at least four recordings of "Capuleti" and three of them respect the original; but one, with Scotto and Aragall, conducted by Claudio Abbado, transposes the mezzo writing to a tenor. And so did the Colón: Scotto with Renzo Casellato. Aurally the mezzo version has its charms: in my recording the combination of Beverly Sills and Janet Baker is refined and beautiful. But the Romantic tryst feels truer with soprano and tenor. Frankly, it strains credibility that a fifteen-year-old could be the Guelfs´ "condottiere"; his opponent is Giulietta´s father, Capellio. But such is Romani´s libretto; in Shakespeare things are more logical: Romeo, as so many teenagers in those days, plays around with a sword and does impish pranks with his friend Mercutio, in Romani nonexistent. In Bellini´s production one opera dominates: "Norma", of course; a powerful drama blended with pure bel canto. "I Puritani" has beautiful music on a poor libretto. And then come "La Sonnambula", "Il Pirata", "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", "Beatrice di Tenda" and "La Straniera". "Capuleti..." has its merits, although Romani´s libretto is mediocre (he was the most famous in those times, but this time he wrote well below his capacities). One positive fact, however: Tybalt (not Paris as in Shakespeare) is in deep love with Giulietta, and when he and Romeo, who were crossing swords, learn of her "death" (apparent), there is a moving scene where both stop fighting and reveal their despair. Curiously, for Bellini´s main gift was for vocal melody, the preludes to the scenes are distinguished by lovely solos (horn, clarinet, harp, cello). There are some beautiful arias and duets, but there´s too much recitative and the choruses are weak. Although the conductor Jorge Parodi states in an interview there are no cuts in his version, there is a small but crucial one, in which Capellio says that he suspects Lorenzo and will confine him: that explains why Romeo doesn´t know that Giulietta´s death is simulated and drinks the venom that kills him. In the silly ending, she dies of love... To survive this opera needs the right voices and production; that didn´t happen at BAL. Rocío Giordano was disappointing, for her high register was painful to hear; a pity, for she looks the part and in some lower passages she gave expression to her lines. Cecilia Pastawski, slim and agile, made the change of sex plausible and sang with intensity, though her voice is small for this role. Santiago Ballerini, with the ease of his splendid high notes, and ameliorated acting, was a fine Tybalt. Capellio may be detestable, but it was richly sung by bass Walter Schwarz. Sebastián Angulegui gave compassion to his Lorenzo; however, his timbre sounded gritty. Parodi got adequate results from the orchestra (fine solos) and Juan Casasbellas did the best he could with the uninteresting choral parts. But Marcelo Perusso´s staging (producer and stage designer) neglected the necessary Medieval ambience (and Stella Maris Müller followed his orientation with modern costumes) even if he solved well the relationships of the characters (but why those three veiled women in the final scene? Voyeurism again...). For Buenos Aires Herald
Bernard Haitink will conduct a concert at Bologna’s Auditorium Manzoni [on] 6 January 2017… The ensemble, created in Bologna by Claudio Abbado in 2004, stopped playing in 2014 due to a combination of Abbado’s ill health and Italian government spending cuts.”
Royal Opera House, London In the title role, Domingo played the ageing king with captivating physicalityAround a decade ago Plácido Domingo was still singing Tristan. Shortly after, his tenor voice fading, he switched down to baritone, choosing his roles carefully, favouring Verdi. Managing the notes is only a starting point to distinguishing a voice type. Timbre, strength and control from top to bottom of the range all contribute. The common complaint has been that Domingo still has the vocal character of a tenor, without the necessary baritonal weight. Some mind, and think he should retire. The rest still revel in the musicality, intelligence and experience of a singer nearing the close of a 45-year career. He returned to Covent Garden last week to reprise the title role in Verdi’s early Nabucco.Domingo sang it when Daniele Abbado’s austere staging, in Alison Chitty’s understated designs, was new in 2013. The production treats the work more as oratorio, letting the chorus hold sway – which they do, singing superbly under the experienced baton of Maurizio Benini. Abigaille (Liudmyla Monastyrska), Ismaele (Jean-François Borras), Fenena (Jamie Barton) and Zaccaria (John Relyea) are all more than reliable, but bring little in the way of characterisation. This played to Domingo’s strengths. Others may produce greater volume (the Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias will sing five performances). Domingo offered dignity, courage and charisma. Now in his mid-70s, he played the ageing king, made insane by a raging god, with compelling physicality. White-haired and grizzled, he had the look of El Greco’s penitent St Peter. The prompt box was in use: Domingo won’t be the first, or the last, to need it occasionally. Less visible devices – various kinds of earpieces used by some actors – are available. He is a man of the theatre, happy to stick with a tradition going back to the Elizabethans. Continue reading...