Sunday, April 22, 2018

Philadelphia Orchestra – Stephane Deneve, conductor; Vadim Repin, violin. April 20, 2018.


Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia.  Orchestra Tier (Seat B120, $55.30).

Program
Flammenschrift (2012) by Connesson (b. 1970).
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major (1923), Op. 10 by Prokofiev (1891-1953).
Death and Transfiguration (1888-89), Op. 24 by Strauss (1864-1949).
La Valse (1919-20) by Ravel (1875-1937).

There is much French influence in today’s program, beginning with the French conductor.  He started the evening by talking a bit about the program.  He will succeed David Robertson at St. Louis Symphony as music director in the 2019-20 season.  In his late 40s, it is no small accomplishment.

Guillaume Connesson is a “young” (by Devane’s definition) composer who wrote Falmmenschrift (meaning “flame-writing” or “letter of fire”) was written to pay homage to Beethoven and Germany.  Devane actually sang out one line to illustrate how Connesson modified the famous Beethoven Symphony 5 theme to use in this piece.  The Playbill also mentions references near the end to Brahms and Richard Strauss.

The nine-minute piece was relatively easy to get, and the description in the Playbill helped a bit in following the program.  Too bad they didn’t broadcast notes to the audience’s smart phones as they did at the last concert we went.  I must admit I didn’t get any of the references, not even the Beethoven theme.

This was the premiere of the Connesson piece by the Orchestra.  Deneve held a copy of the score as acknowledgement. 

I am reasonably familiar with Prokofiev’s first violin concerto, and was looking forward to it.  In general Repin put in a great performance.  He had little difficulty with the difficult passages – and the majority of violin techniques were used – except there were occasional intonation problems.  Compared with the prior times I saw him in concert, he was a bit more mechanical and less engaging than usual.

The Playbill lists his violin as the 1733 “Rode” Stradivarius.  A 2007 blog of mine noted that his violin was a brilliant-sounding Guarnerius.  Upgrade, perhaps?  Also, the concertmaster was absent during the concerto performance.

Repin after the Prokofiev violin concerto.

The second half was occupied with more traditional orchestra music.  Strauss was all of 25 when he finished the tone poem “Tod und Verklarung.”  Basically the experience and hallucinations of a dying man, the body of the work contains a series of resolutions and hopes, and the work ends in a luminous blaze of C major.  These words in the Playbill help, but it would be more illuminating to list the different “elements” so the less-initiated (like myself) can follow along.

Most of the commentaries I read on Ravel’s La Valse talk about how the ending of the wrok reflected Ravel’s disillusion with humanity.  Today’s Playbill had a different take, quoting Ravel as saying that the work had no symbolic meaning of the “present situation in Vienna,” but was simply “almost hallucinatory ecstasy” and dancers exhausted by “the waltz.”  An example of people reading more into what the composer (author) says?  I found the description that the beginning described someone entering the party already in progress very useful in understanding the fragments of melodies.

At the conclusion of the concert.

 At intermission I took a few photos of the venue.  This is a structure (decorative?) at the top level of the concert hall.

 View of the auditorium from the top tier.  The hall is shaped like a cello, but could be the shape of any string instrument, in my view.

The atrium area of Kimmel Center, where the box office is located.

After two concerts, my assessment of PO is still mixed.  It is certainly competent, and has in Nezet-Seguin a conductor very much in demand, but neither of the concerts left a strong impression on me.

There were many empty seats tonight.  We moved one row back as our row was full.  The acoustics did not suffer - it was in general quite weak.

Our original plan was to attend two PO concerts conducted by Nezet-Seguin with Vivien and David, but our upcoming May trip necessitated the change to this concert.  Since Vivien and David had already made other plans for the evening, Anne and I attended this concert by ourselves.  Our son and family were in town, so we left a bit late.  Other than the “roundabout” around city hall, traffic was not bad, and we got in early enough to eat a sandwich bought in a deli nearby.  The return trip was similarly straightforward.  We covered the 70 miles in about 1 ½ hours.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

New York Philharmonic – Christoph Eschenbach, conductor; Till Fellner, piano. April 19, 2018.


David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat BB103, $59.)

Program
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K.482 (1785) by Mozart (1756-91).
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1887-94; ed. Nowak, 1951) by Bruckner (1824-96).

When I bought these tickets in June, 2017, the title was “Haitink conducts Mozart and Bruckner.”  The pieces on the program remained the same, but we had a different conductor for the actual performance.  Haitink is 89, so I suppose every now and then he would not be able to make a concert.  In any case, Eschenbach would be a competent substitute for any maestro.

This was the New York Philharmonic debut for the Austria pianist Till Fellner, and was also the first time I heard him.  My first impression was he looked quite a bit older than his photo in the Playbill.

Compared to his 21st and 23rd piano concertos, the 22nd certainly is not nearly as popular.  In my case, it isn’t popular at all, as I was unfamiliar with it, other than for a passage here or there.  As with most of Mozart’s piano concertos, it was easy enough to like.

Fellner put in a solid performance.  His interpretation was clean, and his phrasing kept a crisp dialog between the soloist and the orchestra.  At 34 minutes, it is a bit on the long side, but didn’t feel long at all.  The movements are Allegro; Andante; and Allegro (Rondo).

Till Fellner taking a bow after the Mozart concerto performance.

The story behind Bruckner’s ninth symphony is a bit sad, according to the Program Notes.  The conductor Levi, whom Bruckner respected, couldn’t make sense of his eighth symphony, which shook Bruckner’s confidence to such an extent that he stopped work on the ninth symphony and instead spent the years 1887 to 1891 revising that and other symphonies as well.  Eventually the eighth symphony premiered in 1892 to great acclaim, but by that time the composer was in declining health.  He finished the first three movements and had sketched out in different levels of detail the last movement.  His died on October 11, 1896, and per the Playbill “worked on the piece, took a short stroll, and, on his return home, had a few sips of tea, lay down on his bed, and quietly passed away.”

Even thought many subsequent composers have constructed a fourth movement from Bruckner’s sketches, tonight’s performance ended with the third movement.  The movements add up to about 60 minutes, and are (i) Feirelich, misterioso; (ii) Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft; Trio: Schnell; and (iii) Adagio: Langsam, feierlich.  Near the end, “the Wagner tubas recall the Adagio of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony and then four horns quote the beginning of his seventh,” so says the Program Notes.  I am not familiar enough with his symphonies to be able to hear these references.

A large orchestra was used for the symphony.  I couldn’t get a clear view of every musician on stage, but estimate there are 16 first violins and 12 cellos; on the roster there are 14 and 11 respectively, and Staples led the orchestra.  Surprisingly they didn’t sound that loud, although there is no “complaint” about volume.  I still recall how well Zubin Mehta conducted Bruckner’s eight symphony (the blog entry, however, is not as effusive as I thought it would be), tonight’s performance didn’t rise to that level.  That is not to say it wasn’t an interesting piece to listen to.  My preconception of Bruckner was he would dwell on a theme for a long time before moving on to the next, and there was some of that, but not so much that I felt at any time “move on already.”

A very large orchestra was used to perform the Bruckner symphony.  The only percussion instrument was the timpani.

I have seen Eschenbach conduct many times before, including in Houston and Hong Kong.  And he had led the New York Philharmonic in a performance of the Bruckner Ninth, but it was the 1934 Orel edition – so that must be why I didn’t remember any of it.

Again referring to my blog entries, I had heard the Mozart concerto the last time the Philharmonic performed it, in June, 2012, with Ax and Gilbert.

This blog entry is being written two days after the concert.  We went down to Philadelphia to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra yesterday, as a result many of the mental notes from the New York concert were “erased.”  In a way, if it takes so little to make one forget, it couldn’t have been that memorable.  A harsh way to look at it, but not far from the truth.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

New York City Opera – Montemessi’s L’amore dei tre re. April 12, 2018.


Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Orchestra (Seat L103, $35.50).

Story.  Baron Archibaldo suspects his daughter-in-law Fiora is unfaithful to her husband Manfredo.  Indeed she is in love with Avito, a fellow Alturan.  Eventually he ends up strangling her, and hatches a plan to find out her lover by putting a potent poison on her lips so whoever kisses her will die of the poison.  Avito shows up and indeed kisses Fiora.  When Manfredo finds out the lover’s identity, he is so distraught that he also kisses Fiora.  Archibaldo enters to find his own son dying.


Conductor – Pacien Mazzagatti.  Archibaldo – Philip Cokorinos, Fiora – Daria Masiero, Manfredo – Joo Won Kang, Avito – Raffaele Abete.

This opera, the third by Italo Montemezzi, was very popular for several decades since its premiere at the La Scala in 1913.  Arturo Toscanini was so impressed that he brought it to the Met in January 1914.  It was subsequently staged all over the United States.  Montemessi moved to the US in 1939 and conducted a series of performances at the Met in 1940.  It was last staged by the Met in 1949, and by NY City Opera in 1982.

The Program Notes calls the banishment of the opera to the “remote outskirts of the operatic repertoire” perplexing.  The opera’s run time is about 90 minutes, perhaps a bit too short as a stand-alone piece, but too long to be in a “double header.”  With two intermissions, the performance tonight lasted about 2 hours 20 minutes.

The sets used in the three acts were a bit “generic,” but they were at least realistic.  The story takes place in a remote castle in Italy, and there are different sets for the three acts.  The costumes are more modern: suits, uniform, and dresses.

Rose Hall is quite cozy, so the sound came across loud and clear, more “loud” than “clear.”  All the musicians sang loudly and clearly.  I also thought being closer to the stage would make the vocal lines louder, turns out in this case the orchestra also sounded quite loud, thus obscuring some of the voices.  The orchestra, to the extent I noticed, put in a great performance.  The pit at the Hall is so deep that I could not see the conductor at all.

From left: Alex Richardson as Falminio, Raffaele Abete as Avito, Philip Cokorinos as Archibaldo, Maestro Pacien Mazzagatti, Daria Masiero as Fiora, and Joo Won Kang as Manfredo.

How’s the music?  The Program Notes describes the opera world at the time as divided between a faction favoring the likes of Puccini and another devoted to Wagner.  Not in so many words, but the implication is that L’amore has the best of both worlds with its “tightly constructed, harmonically sophisticated score” and “shot through with an Italian melodic sensibility.”  It may be that; to me, however, it sounded more Wagner than Puccini, and it was more a compromise than a successful blend.

In the past few years City Opera has staged a few operas and concerts every season.  If the price and timing are right, we will go to one of them.  I didn’t notice this until a few days ago when they sent me an email about $25 tickets. I bought two, but ended up going by myself as Anne had a last-minute babysitting duty.  I probably wouldn’t pay $100 for a ticket to see this, but there was no reason to drop the tickets to this low price, in my opinion.  In any case, they managed to get the hall reasonably well-filled for this opening night performance.  I wish them success, but the unfortunate fact is even the Met has many empty seats for many of their performances.

The title of the opera translates to “The Love the Three Kings.”  There is royalty, but no sovereign in the play, as far as I know.

I took the bus in from Hoboken on the way in.  Coming back I was a bit pressed for time, being able to buy an NJ Transit ticket on my iPhone helped me make the train.  I got home about the same time Anne did.


Metropolitan Opera – Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. April 11, 2018.


Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat BB28, $25).

Story.  See previous post.  I probably made the remark when I first saw this opera in 2007 that the synopsis was very difficult to follow, and that the story itself was quite simple.  Well, I didn’t make the remark, but how I described the “story” was quite to the point.


Conductor – Roberto Abbado; Enrico – Luca Salsi, Raimondo – Vitalij Kowaljow, Lucia – Jessica Pratt, Egardo – Vittorio Grigolo, Arturo – Mario Chang.  Harp solo – Mariko Anraki, Glass harmonica solo – Friedric Heinrich Kern.

I wanted to take advantage of the rush ticket program to see this opera.  CS was in the area trying to take photos of gannets in the area, and he decided to come along.  There were many empty seats, so we moved up several rows after Act 1 – I sat in Seat W28 for Act 2 and W20 for Act 3.

I reviewed my writeup of the October, 2007 performance, and many of the comments are valid for this performance also.  The sets are still good, except after more than a decade they begin to look tired; of course that may simply mean people’s taste change over time.  I did call the scene changes clever then, I didn’t feel that way at all today.

The male cast members all did great.  Grigolo is always dependable, and he put in a very believable Edgardo today, playing the role in a “hot-headed” manner.  Pratt as Lucia sounded weak in comparison, at least most the time.  There were many instances when she had duets and her voice was noticeably less robust.

The mad scene, as usual, was much anticipated.  A couple of weeks prior we listened to WQXR’s broadcast, and at intermission there was a discussion of how the glass harmonica accompanied the mad scene.  This knowledge might have contributed to my appreciation of the music.  Pratt by herself did very well also.  Tonight she made Lucia a real sympathetic figure.  I would consider Edgardo’s solo after that a “mini-mad scene” as he went about lamenting Lucia’s death.

I do remember from 2007 the ghost of Ravenwood in the first scene, but forgot about the ghost of Lucia in the final scene.  I wonder if it was added after 2007 – there is no singing involved.

Curtain Call.  Pratt as Lucia, Maestro Abbado, Girgolo as Edgardo, and Kowaljow as Raimondo.

The 2007 performance we saw was when the current production was first used.  The Playbill recalls Natalie Dessay and Marcello Giordani as the leads (we saw Annick Massis), but fails to mention James Levine as the conductor.  I imagine a lot of Program Notes have been rewritten to remove Levine’s name.

The New York Times review heaps praise on Grigolo, calling him the reason to go see this opera - and is otherwise neutral on the opera (Lucia was sung by a different soprano.)

Chung Shu drove in, we had a simple dinner at Europan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Silk Road Ensemble. April 9, 2018.


Matthews Theatre, Princeton.  Balcony (Seat BB17, $67.50).

Program

Program for the Concert.

Artists
Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Jeffrey Beecher, bass; Nicholas Cords, viola; Haruka Fujii, percussion; Johnny Gandelsman, violin; Karen Ouzounian, cello; Cristina Pato, Galician bagpipes, piano; Yousif Sheronick, percussion; Kojir Umezaki, shauhachi; Wu Man, pipa.

The Ensemble was started by Yo-Yo Ma about 20 years ago.  At the beginning it explored the music along the famed trade route, with the aim to contribute towards cultural collaboration and understanding.  Now these artists “seek and practice radical cultural collaboration in many forms …”  For the uninitiated, the most obvious deviations from the original concept were the inclusion of the Galician bagpipes and the Japanese flute shauhachi.

When I looked at the program when I was trying to decide if I wanted to buy a ticket, the cellist was TBA.  I have a nagging suspicion that it had been decided that Yo-Yo Ma wouldn’t be the cellist for tonight’s concert, but they kept that unknown so they could sell more tickets.  In fact the Program Notes talks very little about Ma, other than he was the founder.

Any art form can be impressive when played by a master, and tonight’s musicians were all good at their instruments.  The Galician bagpipes, shauhachi, and pipa are not instruments one hears with any regularity.  We did hear the bagpipes before, played by Pato, at the “Alan Gilbert farewell concert” by the New York Philharmonic.  The pipa is a well-known Chinese music instrument, many of my high school classmates took up the instrument.  This was my first encounter with the shauhachi, it sounds like a recorder most of the time, but can also produce a haunting breathing sound.  The percussionist has a large array of instruments in front of her; and she was having a lot of fun with them.  I wished I had brought my binoculars along so I could see the musicians at work more closely.

What I didn’t expect was the heavy use of electronic amplification by the musicians.  Perhaps the pipa and shauhachi are light-sounding instruments and need some sort of aid, but the bagpipes and the violin just sounded loud with the amplification.  And, instead of the musicians working among themselves to find a good balance – which to me is a big part of ensemble playing – we have the technician in the back controlling the balance.

Curtain call at the conclusion of the concert.  Notice the many loudspeakers on the stage.

The music was enjoyable enough.  Wu Man – the first pipa player to earn a Master’s degree in the instrument – played a well-known Chinese composition called “White Snow in Spring” that highlighted how the pipa could be played.  The audience gave the performances a hearty applause.  A young woman sitting a few rows in front of me keep swaying and moving up and down with the beat, which was a bit distracting, particularly for her immediate neighbors, no doubt.

During the performance of “Repayment of a Crane,” Umezaki narrated a Japanese folk tale. The inspiration came from his interactions with people in a Cheyenne reservation in Montana.

However, I thought the program didn’t quite achieve the “mission” of being a “cultural and diversity ambassador,” for lack of a better term.  That one can mix different instruments together to me is no big deal, especially with the aid of amplifiers.  If the sound is harmonious, one makes one statement; if the sounds clash, one can make another statement.  I venture to bet in the near future continents of Australia and Africa will be added to the mix; a bit doing something for the sake of doing something.

If I am not certain Yo-Yo Ma is on the program, I probably won’t be buying another ticket to a concert by the ensemble.  Yes, I am that shallow; or, to be charitable, that is how much hold the Ensemble has on this particular listener.

Anne had a class, so I drove down to Princeton by myself.

New York Philharmonic – Very Young People’s Concert. April 9, 2018.


Merkin Concert Hall, New York.

Program – Make Believe
Fun with the Philharmonic.
La Revue de Cuisine (The Kitchen Revue) Suite for Clarinet, Bassoon, Trumpet, Violin, Cello, and Piano, H. 161 (1827) by Martinu (1890-1959).

Artists
Rebecca Young, host; Amy Zoloto, clarinet; Roger Nye, bassoon; Christopher Martin, trumpet; Quan Ge, violin; Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales, cello; Eric Huebner, piano.

In our attempt to instill some love of classical music in our grandson Reid, we bought him a book recently on the instruments of the orchestra.  We also thought this would be an interesting event to bring him to.  Many of the weekend concerts were sold out, but the auditorium was less than half full this Monday morning – I guess between class and culture, most parents opt for the former.  While the program is designed for 3 to 6-year olds, there were quite a few toddlers in the audience today.

When we got into the concert hall, the bassoonist and the clarinetist were demonstrating to kids on stage how the instruments sounded, and how they could mimic different animals.  Reid joined them for the last part, and was quite mesmerized.

The theme of the concert was how the music can be interpreted as what happens in a kitchen.  At one point the host Rebecca Young pretended to throw food onto the projected screen and came up with the first line of “twinkle twinkle little star.” Her commentaries would precede individual movements of the Suite, which in and of itself is quite pleasant to hear.  The movements are Prologue, Tango, Charleston, and Finale.

For the Finale, Young was asleep on stage, and her dream projected onto the screen.

The artists taking a bow after the concert.

Reid clearly enjoyed the event as a spectacle.  When asked what his favorite part was, it was when Young in her dream was eaten up by a whale.

We took the bus in from Hoboken, followed by a subway ride from Port Authority to Lincoln Center.  I am sure Reid enjoyed the journey as much as the event itself – isn’t that how life should be?  And he was hungry when we stopped by Au Bon Pain at Port Authority to grab something to eat.

Dryden Ensemable – Chamber Music for One: Works for Organ by Johann Sebastian Bach. Eric Plutz, organist.


Miller Chapel, Princeton, NJ.

Program
Concert in A Minor (BWV 53).
Fugue in G Major (“Jig”) (BWV 577).
Sonata No. 5 (BWV 529).
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 660).
Three settings of “Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Her” (BWV 664, 675, 676).
Partite diverse sopra “Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig” (BWV 768).


Our friends David and Vivian has a season subscription to this ensemble’s season, and thus got two complimentary tickets which they were kind enough to give us.  We went over to Princeton after church.

Plutz is the University Organist at Princeton, and the duties include playing for weekly services at the Chapel (the Princeton Chapel, not the Miller.)  The Joe R. Engle organ was dedicated in 2001; I managed to find an article that talks about how the organ was “historically inspired.”  My limited knowledge of the instruments does not allow me to appreciate the nuances of the points of discussion.

Organist Eric Plutz in front of the Joe R. Engle organ.

The organ, with its different stops and manuals, is uniquely qualified to be a “chamber music” instrument.  Bach’s contrapuntal genius makes it a lot of fun to try to follow the different lines.  For me, not having the time to study the music beforehand makes Bach-listening at best a hobby and not as rewarding as it could be.  David and Vivian, however, will head over to Leipzig this summer for another Bach Festival, and on their busiest day they will be attending six different events.

In the Program one can find the list of board members of the Dryden ensemble, but not a list of members of the ensemble.  They do have sponsors for different instruments and voices, so there are evidently other musicians in the ensemble.  Their website has a listing of musicians “performing” this season, we actually know one of them.

We had to say goodbye to David and Vivian right after the concert as we needed to head up to Hoboken.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Metropolitan Opera – Verdi’s Luisa Miller. April 6, 2018.


Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat Z11, $128.50).

Story.  See previous post.

Conductor – Bertrand de Billy.  Miller – Placido Domingo, Luisa – Sonya Yoncheva, Laura – Heather Johnson, Rodolfo – Piotr Beczala, Wurm – Dmitry Delosselskiy, Count Walter – Alexander Vinogradov, Federica – Olesya Petrova.

The setting is supposed to be rural England around 1850.  Not sure if it is that relevant.

The opera is based on a relatively simple story, and is dominated by solos, duets, and other ensemble numbers.  While the chorus did put in a few numbers, one of the take-aways was how much ease Verdi had moving from one ensemble number to another.

The Playbill talks quite a bit about the characteristics of the music, describing it as being at “a pivotal moment in Verdi’s career, so the score itself has aspects of both the rough vitality of his early works and the refinement of his middle career.”  A good example is Act II (also because I paid particular attention to it.)  It was a relatively short act (2 scenes, totaling just a bit over 30 minutes) but has in it (i) a duet for two basses; (ii) a passage where the soprano’s melody is accompanied by chords sung vocally, with no orchestra accompaniment; and (iii) the famous tenor aria “Quando le sere al placido.”  Interestingly, the substantive duet of the Millers (father and daughter) didn’t appear until Act 3, even though the love of the daughter for her father played a major role in how the story unfolds.

Tonight was the first time we saw the Polish tenor Baczala, and I was impressed.  “Quando le sere al placido” is among the most famous tenor arias, and he put in a superb, moving performance.  His Met debut was in 2006, for this season he sings only this opera.

The two main basses – also the villains – put in strong performances, managing do very well in the lower registers.  Both had their backs turned against the audience at some point and still managed to get their lines across.

Both Johnson (a last-minute substitute) and Petrova put in credible performances, with Johnson playing the village girl Laura, and Petrova the Duchess Frederica.

The names known to me before the opera are Yoncheva and (of course) Domingo.

We saw Yoncheva for the first time earlier this year as Tosca, and I was impressed by her singing.  She was equally strong today and did very well even when pitted against other equally strong male voices.  However, her character didn’t come across as sympathetic as she could be.  The Playbill talks glowingly about how the aria “Tu puniscimi, o Signore” is filled with pianissimo high notes – I don’t think she managed to pull of the pianissimo.

Domingo seems to be even more active nowadays.  Although he was listed as a tenor in the Playbill, Miller’s role is that of a baritone.  While Domingo’s voice was clearly adequate, it wasn’t quite a match for the impressive cast. When he sang Germont in La Traviata, I opined that he was gracious enough not to hog the spotlight; tonight, however, it felt like he was struggling to keep up.  In any case, there is this clear sense of well-deserved admiration by his fellow cast members, and I thought the applause he got at the end indicated the audience’s appreciation of his contributions to the world of opera.

Of course Domingo played the role of Rodolfo before, and one can find a video of his performance of the aria “Quando le sere” on YouTube.  At his best his singing could keep up with anyone’s.

The orchestra under de Billy sounded crisp, although at times I wished the music would come across more clearly.

 There was extended applause for Domingo.  Probably more for his contributions to the genre over the years than for how he did tonight.

From left: Delosselskiy as Wurm, Petrova as Frederica, Domingo as Miller, Yoncheva as Luisa, Beczala as Rodolfo, Maestro de Billy, Johnson as Laura, and Vinogradov as Walther.  Not a single American artist among them.

People knowledgeable about this opera may be able to explain why this was only the 89th performance at the Met.  I don’t understand why the arias aren’t more popular either.  The set used today was first used in the 2001-02 season, and is quite “classical” and elaborate.  Instead of location markings, the titles of the acts are Love, The Intrigue, and The Poison.

We saw the opera in 2016 in Sydney, and there are quite a few contrasts worth mentioning.  The most noticeable difference was the set used in that production.  I called it minimalist, but it allowed for continuous action during the performance of individual acts instead of the pauses (2 in Act 1, and 1 in Act 2) in this production.  The Met story was a straightforward narrative, but the Opera Australia was told as a “flashback,” as I understood it.

Perhaps the impact the 2016 performance had on me has faded considerably, I don’t recall being so invested in how the characters fared, describing the tenor aria as “commendable.”  I did jot down Car as doing a great job.

The New York Times review talked a lot about Domingo’s performance, and that Miller was his 149th role.  While there was the usual criticism of how Domingo really didn’t have a baritone’s voice, the review ended with “he did it in memorable style.”

We originally had tickets for a later performance, but exchanged tickets for tonight because of a conflict.  The balcony was full, so I “upgraded” to these seats in the Orchestra section, paying an extra $18 each.  Other than the orchestra sound, these are great seats.

We drove in, and ate Chinese takeout in our car.

Friday, April 06, 2018

New York Philharmonic – Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Benjamin Grosvenor, piano. April 4, 2018.


David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat V107, $85.50).

Program
Metacosmos (2017) by Thorvaldsdottir (b. 1977).
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (1796-1803) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55, Sinfonia eroica (1802-04) by Beethoven.

Metacosmos was a New York Philharmonic commission, and tonight was its world premiere.  The Playbill talks about the music tradition of Iceland (80 music schools in a country of 330,000, for instance), and how Anna Thorvaldsdotter’s education and career have progressed over the years; but not much about this piece.  There is a paragraph by the composer on this piece, including how the music is passed on from one player (or group of players) to another, the fragility of a flower, and the sentence “Abosolute tranquility with the necessary amount of concentration is needed to perform the task.”

All good.  Except when I think of “cosmos” (and by extension metacosmos as I have not idea what “meta” adds to it), I think of the big bang, the background radiation, planets, stars, galaxies, quasars, red giants, black holes and the like.  There is some tranquility like the poor astronaut thrown out during “Space Odyssey,” but also a lot of violence as depicted at the beginning of that movie.  So, no, I doubt very much someone listening to the music would think “cosmos,” much less “metacosmos.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some interesting aspects to the music.  One first notices a large orchestra being used, including a long list of percussion instruments.  It is surprising the music never got very loud, and at times the adjectives “fragile” and “tranquil” do apply.  While the music certainly had a lot of atonal elements and unfamiliar intervals, there was a stretch towards the end that sounded downright harmonious, but discordant notes were added to eventually to bring the music back to its “normal self.”  The music concluded on a sustained note played by the concertmaster.  One could argue many think that’s how the universe will end, with a whimper.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir being acknowledged by the audience after performance of her Metacosmos, with Salonen looking on.

Grosvenor is a young British pianist who won the first Ackman prize endowed by a New York Philharmonic supporter.  He pulled off the piece well technically and worked well with the orchestra, although there might have been a wrong note here or there.  At times he really made the piano sang, although those moments were not as frequent as they should be.  I enjoyed it, but wished there was more story-telling than I heard.

1796-1803 seemed like a long time to complete a piano concerto for Beethoven.  Per the Playbill, Beethoven performed the concerto for a while, without the music, and completed the manuscript quite a bit later.

The young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor.

The last Beethoven symphony I heard was the Pastorale, performed by The Academy of St. Martin in the Field, conducted by Joshua Bell.  I called that performance a bit tedious.  There was no worry of that sort today.  The 45 plus minutes went by, just like that.

Salonen after performing Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.

Salonen was in his elements tonight.  He seemed to enjoy leading the orchestra, and the orchestra responded to him well. He even led off the concert with an “interview” with Thorvaldsdottir, asking her what “industrial breath” (or was it “industrial breadth?”) meant.  I couldn’t understand the answer.

The New York Times reviewer has a good description of the progression of Metacosmos.  He manages to heap praises on both Grosvenor and Salonen in one short paragraph.  Calling Salonen a "fellow composer" of Beethoven's is as high praise as one can get, I imagine.  In the article is also a much better photograph of the two composers.

Beethoven's music probably is as popular today as it was first introduced - I, for one, have been listening to him for more than 50 years - but I wonder how these modern composer's will fare.  Will Thorvaldsdottir's music (or Salonen's, for that matter) still be performed 200 years from now?

We had two tickets for this concert as part of the CYO series, but returned one of them as Anne had a teaching commitment.  I took the train up. The Lincoln Center subway station was open when the concert concluded (rather late at 9:45 pm), so I managed to catch the 10:20 pm NJ transit home.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Metropolitan Opera – Puccini’s Turandot. March 28, 2018.


Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat BB32, $25).

Story.  See previous post.

Conductor – Marco Armiliato.  Turandot – Martina Serafin, Calaf – Marcelo Alvarez, Liu – Guanqun Yu, Timor – Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Ping – Alexey Lavrov, Pang – Tony Stevenson, Pong – Eduardo Valdes.


For all its popularity, especially with the arias “Signore, ascolta” and “Nessum Dorma,” I have seen a live performance of this opera only once, in Australia, and heard it presented in concert at the PNC Arts Center once.  Today’s performance did not disappoint.

First a few words about the set.  In one sentence: it was as elaborate as any I have seen. If I had to write another sentence: way too elaborate.  Things were so busy that the stage looked very congested at times, and I was worried that the artists would trip over one another.  At various times acrobats, lion dancers, and people with masks (including the “three masks” whose meaning eludes me, “Journey to the West?”).  The costumes are clearly ancient regal Chinese familiar to anyone growing up in China, although the time period is “mythical.

Even the two harps were draped in red.  I asked an usher if it was done especially for this opera, his reply was the “new” principal harpist (Ceysson?) got these new harps after he came to the Met.

 The curtain was raised after Act 2.

 The two harps have a red frame.  An usher told me that's how they have looked this season.  I wonder ...

After Act 3 the curtain was raised again before it quickly closed again.

The Franco Zeffirelli designed set has been in use since 1987, so perhaps it is due for an update?  It’s not like the Met won’t get a lot of use out of it – there are fifteen performances of this opera in the current season.

The use of lighting was quite clever in Act 3.  With the lights appropriately dimmed, we had a night scene where Turandot worked to learn Calaf's name and Liu committed suicide.  With the lights full on, the entire palace grounds became visible again.

The best performance, by far, was put in by Yu, playing the part of Liu.  The tragic heroine, Liu’s character is the most sympathetic in the entire opera anyway.  In addition to Signore, ascolta, Liu has another memorable aria – Tu che di gel sei cinta, not easily hummable – in Act 3 before she kills herself to protect the identity of Calaf.  As I said in my previous blog, this opera should be called "Liu."

 Curtain Call act 1 with Timur, Liu, and Calaf.

End of Act 2.  The three officials, Turandot, Calaf, Emperor, and a Mandarin.

The role of Turandot is probably very difficult to pull off as she has to transform from an icy revengeful princess to one consumed by love (I am surprised that there isn’t a lot of protest against this stereotyping.)  Serafin did okay, but probably didn’t win many fans over.  She does possess a steely strong voice that verges on being grating; perhaps called for in this role, and I wonder how she fares in roles that call for softer singing.

The bass Tsimbalyuk was a pleasant surprise.  He voice was strong, and – considering how young he looked in the Program – put in a very credible performance as Timur.  I am sure he will fare well, if he hasn’t already.

The performance of Alvarez was unfortunately only adequate.  As someone sitting behind me remarked, many people come to Turandot only to hear “Nessum Dorma.”  He sounded weak at the very beginning of the opera, and I thought there was the possibility that he was saving his energy for the Act 3 aria.  Alas, that aria didn’t have an auspicious beginning as he sounded extremely weak with the low notes (D); while he was more in his element with the high notes, the last “vin” in “vincero” didn’t come off at all.

It turns out we have seen Marco Armiliato many times before, including at the Paris Opera, and will see him in May during a planned trip to Europe.  He led the orchestra in a good performance.

Overall, I really enjoyed this opera.  And must say the Met did much better than (what I remember) of Opera Australia.  The New York Times review, of a performance last October, was not kind, describing the performance as “facelessly professional, fielding casts that were competent but hardly individual or noteworth.”  The cast members were different, but I am quite sure the reviewer would similarly pan tonight’s singers.

I went up to New York by myself as Anne had to teach.  On the way back I found out the metro 1 stations at both Lincoln Center and Columbus Circle were closed.  The A train station was open, and I made the 11:18 pm NJ Transit train by a few minutes.