Thursday, July 19, 2018

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra – Louis Langree, conductor. July 18, 2018.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra (Seat NN20, $46).

MASS: A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers (1971) by Bernstein (1918-1990).

Nmon Ford, celebrant
Concert Chorale of New York – James Bagwell, choral director
Young People’s Chorus of New York City – Elizabeth Nunez, associate artistic director
Tenzin Gund-Morrow, boy soprano
Street Chorus: see photo for members
Dancers: see photo for members

First, some background material I want to record so I can reference it in the future.  This work was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC in September 1971.  Given the controversy of Leonard Bernstein’s political views, Nixon – the US president at that time – was advised not to attend; the reason given was “this should be Mrs. Kennedy’s night.”  Not being a Catholic, I cannot tell how closely the structure of the program hews to the traditional order of mass; it appears close enough.  Except Bernstein interposes a lot of material that questions the celebrant’s faith, with the celebrant finally giving in and shattering the sacraments.  The arguing with God aspects seem to be a Jewish tradition.  Also unconventional was that the Mass was written by an atheist of Jewish descent; Bernstein did claim to be a spiritual person and wanted to write some sort of sacred music (per the Program Notes.)  In addition to traditional Latin liturgical texts, Bernstein put in some Hebrew prayers and lyrics (in English) written by himself and Stephen Schwartz (of Godspell fame.)

The music is an amalgam of various genres, including pop, jazz, classical, and 12-tone.  But the most predominant genre is broadway and street-singing.  Some recorded music was used; I also wonder how they sync up these tapes, and the transitions tonight were smooth.  The street chorus mainly played the role of doubters who constantly challenged the celebrant’s belief with “tropes” such as “I don’t know” and “Easy” that questioned the nature of sin and the worth of confession, respectively. This theme and counter-theme basically guided the rest of the music, resulting in the shattering of the sacraments.

With the aid of binoculars, one could easily observe tiny microphones worn by the singers.  The technician working the equalizer for them had a hard time keeping up with switches, resulting in some weak beginnings and an occasional loud feedback noise.  Our seats were in the second to last row of the main hall, and the voices came across fine, most of the time.  The celebrant did a lot of singing, and was on stage nearly all of the time.  He sounded uncertain at times, but generally did well.  It took me a while to locate the mic on him.

The staging was simple, with the altar as the centerpiece behind which stood the Young People’s Chorus.  Members of the concert chorale were seated in the front boxes of the first tier, women and men on opposite sides.  Dancers and street chorus used the stage to do their “thing,” and the orchestra occupied the first few rows of the auditorium.

The Program was advertised to be two hour long, without break.  It did take two hours, but didn’t feel that long; there were too many things happening that kept me occupied.

Before we decided to go to this event, we debated whether we really wanted to see it as we weren’t sure if it was worth the time (and money) to see something that might offend us.  We decided we were not that sensitive, and we had probably encountered the sentiments expressed in the work anyway.  We had some idea of what they would be anyway: Cornell made the cover of Time because of the occupation of the student center by activists, and the Engineering library was occupied for several days by anti-war protesters when I was an undergraduate.  Compared to other controversial works (Stravinsky’s, for example), this was tame.  The only cuss word used that I could catch was “goddam” and there was only one crude scene where sexual intercourse was simulated by two fully clothed actors.

When the celebrant threw the sacraments on the ground, I thought the program ended and was about to take a few photos.  Good thing I was slow, as the flute began to play a rather interesting tune (I would say also the most original) followed by singing by the boy soprano.  The Program Notes describes this as a new hope and resurrection: everything is well.  The cynical may say this simply describes the next generation of “suckers” being born.

Curtain Call.  The celebrant (Ford) and boy soprano (Gund-Morrow) are at the center.  Some members of the Concert Chorale can be seen sitting in the first tier; the Young People's Chorus at the back of the stage.

Overall, this was not a satisfactory experience, even though we had no idea what to expect.  Bernstein the composer was often maligned by his critics as being lightweight, this work would add to their ammunition.  Other than the occasional passages of brilliance, most of it sounded recycled.  The skepticism of some that the work would not have a lasting value (as noted in the Program Notes) has borne out, even to one where the anti-war, modernist movements were at the peak during his first years in the United States.  The one thing to admire was how tonight’s performance went without a hitch given the different elements involved.

A search of the web returned many positive reviews (judging by the headlines) of the performance.  The New York Times review is titled “’Mass’ Brings Out the Worst in Leonard Bernstein.”  Perhaps the cruelest remark by the reviewer was “hard to discern … why we should perform it at all – other than as a relic.”

[Note added 7/21/2018.  A couple of remarks. First was how Mostly Mozart has been transforming into A Little Mozart over the years.  The reasoning - if one can call it that - is this is "in keeping with Mozart's spirit of innovation and creativity."  The question is, which composers are thereby excluded?  The other was the similarity of my reaction to one Seinfeld had with Whatley as a Jewish comedian: that it offended him not as a Jewish person, but as a comedian.  For tonight the disappointment is not as not as much about the message as it is about the music.]

We left at around 11:30 am to have lunch with our friend Ron W in Malvern PA, and it was close to 11 pm when we got home.  A relative long day for us.  Dinner was street food in NYC.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Poulenc Trio. July 8, 2018.

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University.  Balcony (free).

Suite in the Old Style (arr. M. Krutik) by Schnittke (1934-1998).
Trains of Thought (2012) by Viet Cuong (b. 1990).
Romance, op. 97a (arr. Anatoly Trofinov) by Shostakovich (1906-1975).
A Spin Through Mosco (arr. Trofimov) by Shostakovich.
Fantasie concertante sur des themes de “I’Italian in Algeri” (arr. Charles Triebert & Eugene Jancourt) by Rossini (1792-1878).
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano (1926) by Poulenc (1899-1963).
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano iii. Jaunty by Previn (b. 1929).

James Austin Smith, oboe; Bryan Young, bassoon; Irina Kaplan, piano.

This was an interesting concert, with interesting stories behind several of the pieces.  Of course the combination of instruments is not common for a trio, which probably accounts for the claim that the trio “is the most active touring piano-wind chamber music ensemble in the world.”  Competition for that title is probably light, and there is every reason to believe this trio is welcomed all over the world.

Alfred Schnittke’s piece “Concerto Gross No. 5 for the Violin” is the first song (alphabetically) on my iPod, so I have listened to it many times – at least the beginning part as I usually would skip to what I wanted to listen.  The suite performed today had nothing in common, except perhaps for the rather “minimalist” approach.  Schnittke wrote in a classical (or even baroque) style.  It was a pleasant composition of five movements: pastorale, balletto, minuetto, fuga, and pantomime. The first four movements sounded exactly like their descriptions.  I didn’t know what to except of the pantomime, so was happy to ride along.  It ended with a flourish.

The second piece was composed by a young composer (he was around 22 when he wrote it).  On top of that, there was an accompanying video that was projected onto the screen when the music was performed.  Both Cuong and the animator Elizabeth Phelps made a brief remark about the work.  Cuong described the music reflected how a day-dreamer’s thoughts might move from one subject to another (“scattered brain” was a phrase he used), and when he returned to his original thought he was informed by the intervening thinking.  Phelps described her animation technique as mostly using tweezers to move objects around, and the process took nine months.

Elizabeth Phelps and Viet Cuong talked about the piece "Trains of Thought."

The music was interesting enough, so was the animation.  I unfortunately don’t have the bandwidth to process so much information simultaneously, and didn’t have time to really listen to or analyze the music while trying to grasp what was happening on screen.  The “story” was mostly about being carried away by birds in flight, and indeed the scene at the end was similar to what we saw at the beginning.  At more than 15 minutes, though, the screen play got a bit monotonous, and – by implication – the music also.  While people definitely day-dream for long periods of time, perhaps we may not find other people’s day-dreams that interesting?

My overall impression of the music was quite positive.  This naturally was my first encounter with Cuong, but I won’t be surprised if I will hear more from him in the future.  The Trio’s website has a YouTube video of the piece.  The duration was about 12:30 minutes, so it felt longer …

The first half concluded with two pieces by Shostakovich, arranged for the Trio’s instruments.

I saw the light-hearted “An Italian in Algiers” at the Sydney Opera House a few years ago, so was looking forward to hearing the “fantasie concertante” arranged by a couple of Paris Conservatory reed players.  The piece had several of the familiar themes from the opera woven into it; despite that, it didn’t sound as light-hearted as I remembered of the opera.

The Trio written by Poulenc was an example of the many chamber music works he wrote for wind instruments, and was the reason the Trio adopted its name – according to Smith.  The three movements are quite traditional: presto, andante, and rondo.

Smith joked that there is a “reed convention” every now and then, with hundreds of participants, and it was during one of those events that Andre Previn introduced his Trio.  We heard one of the movements today.

The audience was appreciative of the musicians.

We were happy that we could sit through such a concert, and I certainly got a new appreciation of how difficult these reed instruments could be (not that I ever had any doubt.)  One problem is the bassoon, especially when bellowing out low notes, is not as easy to pick up as the oboe or the piano, and I often had to consciously listen for it. The other issue was most of the attention was paid to the winds, and the pianist was mostly ignored – Smith did say there were 15x more notes played the piano, slight exaggeration.

Our second Princeton Summer Chamber concert was at 3 pm Sunday afternoon.  Melissa Bohl, the artistic director, mentioned this time slot allowed a different group of people to attend.  We did see some young children.  We stopped by Buffalo Wild Wings for an early dinner on the way back.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Omer Quartet. July 2, 2018.

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University.  Balcony (free).

String Quartet in F Major, op. 50, no. 5 “The Dream” by Haydn (1732-1809).
Four Script Styles of Chinese Calligraphy by Yiwen Shen (b. 1986).
String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Sz. 40, BB 52, op. 7 by Bartok (1881-1945).

Artists: Mason Yu, Erica Tursi, violin; Jinsun Hong, viola; Alex Cox, cello.

For 51 years, the Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts produces a series of chamber music concerts that is free to the community.  We have been going to them for several years, and plan to make three of the four concerts this season.

It was going to be the Zora Strings – a resident quartet at the Curtis Institute – that would be performing tonight.  For reasons not given to us (which is okay) the Omer Quartet was asked to substitute.  All the musicians look young, and are apparently graduates of Cleveland.  The quartet is now resident at the University of Maryland.

The Haydn quartet is vintage Haydn.  At some point I was wondering what the name given to it would be (I hadn’t looked at the program yet), and was surprised to see “The Dream” as I didn’t hear anything like that in the piece (or Haydn’s dreams were different from mine.)  The other interesting aspect was the glissando-sounding passages in the fourth movement.  That was the first time I heard such a sound in the violin, so I looked into the score.  The marking was “sopra una corda.”  I guess this effect is a by-product of moving the fingers up a string.

As a side remark, there are entire books devoted to early Haydn chamber music!

The sound from the first violin was brilliant.  Per the quartet’s website, the violin played by Yu is an Amati on loan to him.  He in general played very well, although I thought his intonation was off on several occasions.  The movements of the quartet are: Allegro moderato, Poco adagio, Menuetto: Allegretto, and Finale: Vivace.

Beginning of the fourth movement of the Haydn Quartet.  The effect of "sopra una corda" is like a short glissando.

Tursi talked about the Chinese Calligraphy piece written by Shen.  The two evidently knew each other (Shen has a doctoral degree from Julliard, and Tursi is a current student; per their websites) as she joked that one could call Shen about how the music should be played, but not Haydn or Bartok.

The work performed tonight consists of four movements, each patterned after a style of Chinese calligraphy: Clerical Script (), Regular (), Semi-Cursive (), and Cursive ().  Chinese in parentheses are taken from Wikipedia.  The last two are played attaca, but Tursi reassured the audience that they could tell by the wild finish.  I am not good at associating pictures with music, but there certainly were differences in style from one movement to the other.  As contemporary music goes, this was easy to take – being short at less than 10 minutes certainly helped.  I do have a what-if question of how things would sound if Shen had written a set of variations based on the different scripts.

Tursi also said something about the Bartok quartet.  Bartok evidently was very smitten by a pianist and wrote a concerto for her.  As a reaction to this requited love Bartok wrote this string quartet, beginning a dirge-sounding movement (Lento).  The music was ultimately uplifting after the second (Allegretto – Introduzione) and third (Allegro vivace) movements.  Along the way Bartok would incorporate these folk melodies that he collected as a ethnomusicologist.

All good, except most of what she said was difficult to prove (I looked), I did find references to a Stefi Geyer who was a violinist.  Also, the music was difficult to get on a first listen for me.  Bartok is usually easy to get in some way, tonight’s piece remained out of reach for me.  As opposed to the Shen piece, there are many recordings of this quartet on YouTube.

The viola got quite a bit of workout in this piece, which had a much better balance among the instruments than the Haydn.  The quartet should certainly be congratulated for putting out a well-coordinated performance, with seamless handoffs between instruments, and great dynamics.

Yu, Tursi, Cox, and Hong at the conclusion of the concert.  The audience was very appreciative.

The Omer Quartet is certainly a capable substitute for any other ensemble.  I would have enjoyed a more traditional programming, but what I heard tonight was fine.

We met up with the Yee’s at Panera Bread and talked about our respective musical tours.  They just spent about two weeks in Leipzig attending more than 30 concerts at the Bach Festival.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at Marine Park. July 1, 2018.

Marine Park, Red Bank.  Lawn seating (free).


The program was announced from the stage, including the following:
Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut
Overture from William Tell
Meditation from Thais – Brennen Sweet, solo
Carousel Waltz by Rodgers
Imperial March from Star Wars by John Williams
Tribute to the Branches of the Military (army, coast guard, marines, navy, and air force)

It is my understanding that for several years now the NJSO gives a series of concerts at various (mostly) outdoor locations throughout the state.  July 1 was the last one, and Marine Park is where our boat is moored.  So we asked a few friends to come to the boat for dinner (sandwiches, chips, and fruit) and we also met some others at the park.

There was quite a crowd, and many stayed after the intermission, which is a good thing.  I think it numbered about 500, a friend said it was a couple of thousand.  So much for my (or her) ability to estimate crowd sizes.  In any case, it was a good showing of support.  Only thing missing were food trucks – I think they would have done some business.

It was hot today, the temperature was in the mid 90s at concert start.  There was a covered stage set up for the event, so at least there was some protection from the sun for the members.  The sun sets around 8:30 pm this time of the year, and we had a clear sky and a beautiful sunset.

 This was the temperature at 3 pm.  It was still in the mid- to high-90s when the concert started.

 The crowd at the beginning of the concert.  Most people stayed after the intermission.

I couldn't find the name of the conductor.  He has a strong resemblance to NJSO's Youth Orchestra music director Jose Luis Dominguez.

While I do not want to critique the performance – it was supposed to be just plain fun – I must say I enjoyed the waay Sweet played.  Meditation is not particularly difficult, but to make it sound as good as he did, in such an environment (sweating profusely, for one) was a great accomplishment.

The concert lasted about 1:30 hours, so we had time for a snack at McDonald’s after we cleaned up.

New York Philharmonic - Very Young People's Concert. June 4, 2018.

Merkin Concert Hall, New York.

This was the second such concert we brought our grandson Reid to expose him to classical music and orchestral instruments.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Princeton Festival 2018 – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. June 24, 2018.

Matthews Theatre, Princeton, NJ.  Balcony (Seat GG106, $61).

Story. See previous post.


Conductor – Richard Tang Yuk; Madama Butterfly – Yulia Lysenko, Suzuki – Janara Kellerman, B. F. Pinkerton – Matthew White, Sharpless – Paul La Rosa, Goro – Anthony Webb.

Due to various reasons, we have not been able to attend too many concerts during this year’s Princeton Festival.  Indeed this particular opera will probably be the only one we end up attending.  (I am typing this on 6/27 while in Boston, and the Festival ends early July.)  Even this one was a “touch-and-go” as we decided on it the day before.

If I characterize this as a “near-professional” production, then it was a pretty good “near-professional” production.  Not sure if that was an insult, or a compliment.

Being in a small auditorium helped.  Given how expectedly loud some of the instruments and many of the voices sounded, I suspect there was a sound enhancement system.  When I went to the Silk Road Ensemble at the same venue recently, the instruments didn’t sound as loud, and that was with loudspeakers in front of every musician.  What I couldn’t explain was how Lysenko as Butterfly had a much stronger voice than other cast members.

Here again Butterfly made or broke the show, and Lysenko did her job well.  I could complain she could use a softer and more resigned take every now and then, but the Butterfly she portrayed was rather original compared to the others I have seen.  The rendition of “One Fine Day” was simply heartbreaking.

The same set was used in all three acts.  I suppose the artistic crew had a limited budget to work with, they nonetheless did a credible job.  Several scenes (e.g., Butterfly killing herself) were done as silhouettes.

Yuk flanked by Lysenko and White at curtain call.

Yuk (or is it Tang Yuk?) did a great job of leading the orchestra and the singers, with the caveat that there may have been some electronics help.  He is also the Artistic Director of the Festival, and last season I saw him help selling tickets at the door, certainly a very hands-on person.

There were quite a few empty seats this afternoon.  Which also a bit discouraging.

Anne and I drove to Princeton after church, stopping to get some coffee along the way.  On the way back we grabbed something to eat at Panera Bread.

Friday, June 08, 2018

New Jersey Symphony – Xian Zhang, conductor; Gil Shaham, violin. June 7, 2018.

Prudential Hall at NJPAC, Newark. Orchestra (Seat C106, $38).

Overture to Candide (1955-56) by Bernstein (1918-1990).
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 (1878) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Symphony No. 1 in D Major (1884-88; rev. 1893-96, 1906) by Mahler (1860-1911).

The pieces on the program are all well-known.

Candide is one of Bernstein’s most famous compositions, and this year many ensembles perform Bernstein’s work as he was born 100 years ago.  Indeed in April the Monmouth Civic Chorus had an all-Bernstein program as a commemoration.  The overture contains some of the most memorable melodies in the oper(ett)a, and most who hear it would silently hum or tap along.  That does not make it an easy piece, with some of the quick runs testing the precision of the orchestra.  Despite a muddled phrase here or there, the orchestra put in an exciting performance, with a huge range in dynamics, and didn’t shy away from the fast tempo needed.

Brahms’s violin concerto is often compared to that of Beethoven’s (fairly or not), although it sounds (and is) more difficult and complex than Beethoven’s, also in D Major.  There was no reason to doubt Shaham’s ability to pull it off with clarity and aplomb; our seat in the front of the orchestra gave us a great vantage point (not the third row, the rows go inexplicably AA-FF, followed by A).  One comment I have always made is “Shaham needs a lot of space” as he moves from close to the conductor’s podium to close to being on top of the violins; and he often has this grin while the soloist has his silent moments.  The concerto is difficult, requiring precision figuring and bowing.  Even though Shaham was all business when he was playing, and seemed to take great care especially during the many double stop passages, he had to be familiar enough with the piece that every now and then there was the impression that it was just a day at the office for him.  Consequently I felt less excitement about the piece than I normally do.

Shaham and Zhang at conclusion of Brahms's violin concerto.

After many years of listening to Mahler and Bruckner, I can appreciate the differences in style between the two composers.  Mahler’s first symphony, however, is very different from his later ones.  One thing I didn’t know (or forgot) about Mahler was he also revised his composition extensively over long periods of time.  Per today’s Program Notes, he did it with the first symphony for 22 years.  Despite all that, the first three movements remain quite different from his subsequent works.  I don’t know how many times I have heard this symphony, but these movements all sounded quite familiar (Langsam Schleppend, Kraftig bewegt, and Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen).  They are all characterized as bright and happy.  The last movement (Sturmisch bewegt) is of a completely different character and is more in line with the majority of his work – wandering, painful to the degree of screaming.  The piece lasts 53 minutes (per Program Notes) and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it.

The Program Notes had two statements about this symphony that I take issue with.  First was that the third movement begins with “the best-known string bass solo in the orchestra repertoire.”  It is true in the sense that this is the only solo I know of (and there can’t be that many.)  However, the melody is short as others soon join in, simple, and not all that memorable by itself.  The other statement is that the fourth movement’s duration is “nearly as long as the three prior movements combined.”  True only if one thinks 23 minutes is as long as 30 minutes (roughly).  Nothing wrong with the statements, except they raised unmet expectations.

While the “headline” for the concert is “Shaham plays Brahms,” the concerto also could be considered a bold statement by the NJSO and their Music Director Zhang that the organization can do a credible job with a challenging program.  While I heard better performances of each of the pieces (notably by the orchestra across the Hudson), I am glad they pulled it off.

We were in Hoboken last night so it was easy to get to Newark for this 1:30 pm concert.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Prague Music Orchestra – Frantisek Pok, conductor; O. Jelinkova – soprano. May 20, 2018.

Smetana Hall, Municipal Building, Prague.  Orchestra B (Seat 21-10, CzK 950).

Program – Strauss, Mozart, Dvorak & Opera with Ballet.

When we planned this trip we found out, somewhat to our chagrin, that both the opera and concert seasons would be over by the time we come to Prague.  That, of course, refers to the major organizations such as the Czech National Symphony or the State Opera (not sure what the actual names are.)

Of course in many major European cities there are always concerts and operas going on, some of them designed for tourists and marketed heavily – Vienna is a good example.  Turns out Prague is similar, in many tourist spots (e.g., Republic Plaza) there are ticket booths for these sort of concerts.

When it comes to Czeckoslavia (we are of course talking the Czech Republic) the composers Smetana, Dvorak, and Janacek come to mind.  If one digs deeper, the names Suk and Mahler would also come up.  We had a chance to see Turnadot, but decided not to as we had an early flight the next day.  However, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Smetana Hall, and thus bought tickets to this event.  The tickets cost about US$40 each.  A tourist trap, no doubt, but – as someone reminded me – we are tourists.

The concert was reasonably well attended, I would say 40% full in a hall that seats about 1250 (per Wikipedia.)  And it appears to host some world-class events also.  For instance, David Robertson would be conducting the Czech Philharmonic in a June 1 concert as part of the annual Prague Spring series.

The program tonight, however, was mostly familiar favorites.  The orchestra was small, maybe 14 people total, and there was a piano that sometimes was used as a continuo instrument.

When they first got started with the Magic Flute Overture I said to myself “uh uh” as the two first violins were not quite in sync.  To my relief things got better soon afterwards, and I got to appreciate how good the acoustics in the hall was.  Every now and then ballet dancers would come out and perform.  There was this little girl (perhaps 8?) who was quite impressive.

Jelinkova did quite a few songs.  (It may not be Jelinkova, as the program lists three possible alternates.)  Her voice is quite strong, but a bit muffled, probably due to where she stood on the stage.

Curtain Call.  Soprano Jelinkova is on the left in this photograph.

I am sure one can connect the pieces performed somehow to Czechoslovakia, I would have preferred more direct references.  How about some excerpts from The Moldau, we are in Smetana Hall, after all.

Overall, we were glad to have attended this concert.  And it was indeed an hour in duration, as advertised; the Magic Flute overture counts as Opera.

With this, our 4-city 8-concert European Concert Tour concludes.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Volksoper Wien – Offenbach’s Hoffmanns Erzahlungen. May 18, 2018.

Volksoper Wien.  Galerie Rechts (Seat 5-18, 44 euros).

Story.  See previous post.

Gerrit Priessnitz – conductor.  Hoffmann – Vincent Schirrmacher, Die Muse/Niklaus – Juliette Mars, Olympia – Sophia Theodorides, Antonia – Anja-Nina Bahrmann, Giulietta – Kristiane Kaiser, Stella – Ursula Pfitzner, Lindorf/Coppelius/Dr. Mirakel/Dapertutto – Josef Wagner.

Poster describing tonight's cast and creative team.

Vienna State Opera evidently has a little sibling called People’s Opera, so we decided to give this a try, making the Tales of Hoffmann our sixth opera on this trip, and our seventh musical event.

The website for the opera said the show would be done in German and French, and that there would be German (only) surtitles.  A bit of a worry, but we thought we should know enough about the music, and that the story is simply a retelling of three of Hoffmann’s failed love experiences.  How difficult can it be?  On top of that, Shirley and I each had a year of German in college … Bottom line, while we clearly knew what story was being told at any moment, there was really no way to get the gist of the action.  One year of German 30 odd years ago?  No use. What was to me most surprising was that there were only a few tunes that I remember well: Olympia’s song, and the opening theme to the Giulietta segment came readily to mind.

Volksoper stages more than operas.  Here they are clearly doing the Wizard of Oz.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience.  For many reasons - including language, length of opera at 3:45 hours, and this being the seventh concert in 10 days – we were slightly overwhelmed.

Our seats were in the middle of the Galerie, the highest level in the theater.  The sound was generally so good that I wonder if there is some sort of enhancement system in place.

Schirrmacher looked very Asian – he is equal parts British, Chinese, Japaneses, and Mongolian – and has lived in Vienna for a while.  He had to sing against several “leading ladies” and did very well.  The costumes were a bit humorous.  Olympia the robot had a wide hemmed dress which she opened up at some point to show her “legs” which could be contorted in different ways.  Half of Antonia’s dress was painted as a skeleton which extended to part of her face – she was on the verge of dying, afterall.  For the gaudy scenes, women were in flesh-colored body suits.  Mad scientists and the like looked their parts with wired headgear and very long fingers.  Given the undoubtedly low budget they had to work with, the set designers did a credible job of creating believable scenes for the various acts.  The Met production we saw last year may have been more intricate, but I don’t think it had a lot over tonight’s production.

Schirrmacher taking a bow.  Behind him are Olympia, Giulietta, the conductor, the Muse, and Antonia (notice the half-skeleton dress and make-up.)

The Hoffmann in this poster looks nothing like Schirrmacher.

There was considerable “stand-alone” orchestra music, which was well-performed.  Again it sounded so loud that I wondered if it was sound enhanced.

The posters on this opera had a bearded western-looking gentleman in the role.  I wonder if Schirrmacher was a last-minute substitute.

The idea behind a “Volksoper” makes sense, and given the relatively inexpensive tickets seems to be realized to a certain extent.  We noticed many young people (teenagers) in our section, a phenomenon unthinkable in the US.  However, the availability of only German surtitles makes the show of only limited to tourists. I wonder if any thought has been given to making this more accessible to people who don’t speak German. One argument against it is probably they don’t want this to be like Vienna State Opera, but tourists will drive up the ticket prices, or make tickets more difficult to get.

Getting to the opera house was easy enough, although CS – who was on his own taking photographs in the city – went to Volkstheatre instead.  He eventually realized it was the wrong place and got to Volksoper about 10 minutes late, again a testament to the efficient transportation system.