Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Magic Flute

Last night David and I braved icy temperatures to attend Mozart's Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera. It was quite an evening.

I hadn't seen the opera in a number of years. I think the last performance was at the Met with sets and costumes by Marc Chagall.

This was very different scenically. Dale Ferguson, the set and costume designer, decided to place the opera
in and around a house in the suburbs, say Oak Park, in contemporary times. A complete two story house filled center stage and revolved completely around as the opera advanced. It was an amazing set but I never quite got the reason for it. A young man, (non singer), supposedly got the idea to put on a show, a la Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, in his back yard. Neighbors gathered, bringing all sorts of chairs, to hear it during the overture. They were in modern dress. Then fully costumed singers and actors appeared from various directions to do the opera.

Once one accepted the premise, the singing was sensational.

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Tamino was sung beautifully by Andrew Staples, whose voice reminds me a bit of Fritz Wunderlich, light, high and very easy.

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Papageno was Adam Plachetka and he was simply wonderful. Great voice and a marvelous actor.

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Pamina was sung by Christiane Karg. She has a good voice but I would prefer a more limpid sound from Pamina.

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The Queen of the Night was sung by Kathryn Lewek. She is one of the best singers of this role I have ever heard. A sizeable voice with a very secure top. All of her high f's were perfectly in line with the rest of the voice.

The three ladies were Ann Toomey, Annie Rosen, and Lauren Decker. They sang very well and were good actors as well.

The Monostatos was Rodell Rosel and sang with a snarly voice that is perfect for this character.

Sarastro was Christof Fischesser. He had a resonant voice with the appropriate low notes. Between him and the Queen of the night they covered an enormous vocal range.

The conductor was Rory Macdonald and the stage director was Neil Armfield.  They kept the music and action moving at a fast pace making for a very enjoyable evening of musical theater.

I never did get the reason for the set but it worked out well in the end.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Shakespeare and Costello

Last night David and I saw The Complete Deaths at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. It was put together by Tim Crouch. It is a work from the British group 'Spymonkey' which seems to be trying to resusitate Monty Python.

It doesn't quite work.

A woman sits at one side of the stage, apparently working a crossword puzzle, and as each of 76 characters from the Bard's plays bites the dust (in very quick succession), pushes a button which reduces the number of deaths on an electric board over her head.

The performers have to try too hard to get laughs out of deaths. They are Attor Basauri, Petra Massey, Toby Park, and Stephan Kreuss.

Shakespeare meets Abbott and Costello doesn't quite work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Double Header!

This blog will be a double header since we saw one concert tonight (Tuesday) and we have a matinée tomorrow.

Tonight's concert was led by the incredible Jane Glover conducting Music of the Baroque in a concert entitled "The Family Bach". It featured music by Johann Sebastian and three of his sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johan Christian.

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As is always the case, Johann won.

The concert opened with his Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42. Jane Glover somehow can get 25 or so musicians to perform and sound like a single voice. Very expressive, sensitive playing is the norm with this group. They are so well rehearsed and conducted that it as if a single person was doing the playing. Wonderful.

This was followed by Adagio and Fugue for 2 Flutes and Strings in D Minor by Wilhelm Friedemann. A charming but light-weight work by Bach's eldest son.

Then came Johann's Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major. This is a sensational work and was very well played by concert mistress Gina DiBello.

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After the intermission we heard C.P.E.'s Flute Concerto in B-flat Major. Mary Stolper was the soloist for this. It's not that interesting a work by Bach's second son.

 The concert ended with Symphony in G Minor, Op.6 No.6 by Johann Christian, the 'English' Bach.

Bach obviously produced a family of good musicians but he reigns supreme as the Master.

And Jane Glover brings every bit of his genius to the fore through her wonderful understanding of his music. Brava!


Wednesday's matinée was Massenet's Don Quichotte at the Lyric Opera House.

Ferrucio Furlanetto was sensational in the title role. His rich, easy basso soared the heights and depths of the role both vocally and emotionally.

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Clémentine Margaine was his Dulcinée. A rich voiced mezzo with a wide range, she portrayed a much more elegant, though no less sexy, woman from The Man of La Mancha roleI would love to hear her Carmen, which is one of her many roles.

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Nicola Alaimo was Sancho Panza. His agile baritone voice work well in this role.

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Other singers were Diana Newman as Pedro,Lindsay Metzger as Gervais, Alec Carlson as Juan, and Jonathan Johnson as  Rodriguez. All sang very well and are fine singing actors.

The sets were designed by Ralph Funicello and were exceptional.  The stage at the Lyric Opera has been there for a long time and does not have all the mechanical devices of the Met or of Broadway shows. Therefore, everything needs to be moved by hand. This was done fairly swiftly and the look of the sets was very fine.

Sir Andrew Davis was the conductor and led his band of musicians beautifully.

I must say a word about the acoustics in this hall. From where we were seatd in Row F they were perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bach to Bach

I recently heard an organist play the Bach Prelude and Fugue in E Flat on a recital. It made me think about the many ways I have been taught to play Bach on the organ over the years. The rest of the program was forgetable.

My first organ teacher, Helen Roberts Scholl, taught an ultra-legato style of playing Bach. In the 1950's this was they way you did it. So that's what I did.

In 1950 I went to New York City to attend Columbia University and studied at first with the flamboyant Claire Coci. She was the female Virgil Fox of that era and played sensational recitals, in every respect.

Once when in mid recital she reached over to pull out a stop on the organ; it came off in her hand and she threw it over her shoulder without missing a beat and kept playing. She gave me my pedal technique. She also had me start Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue on the Voix Céleste. I thought it was swell.

I then studied with Vernon de Tar who never forgave me for studying with Claire and got rid of the Voix Céleste on the Passacaglia.  Everything was still a dead legato

Vernon became a life-long friend. I interviewed him for my book How to Make your Arm into a Wet Noodle, a study of the techniques of Théodor Leschetizky. (Available at my website. He had studied with a student of the master, as had I.

About this time I did master classes with André Marchal and Finn Videro and began to learn there were other ways of playing Baroque music. I played a Suite of Clérambault for Videro, he praised my playing and then said, 'of course, the French play it differently', never explaining how differently.

Then I met Melville Smith and went to Europe on an organ tour with him and began to learn about notes inégals in French Baroque music. Melville won the Grand Prix du Disc for his recording that year of the organ music of de Grigny.

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Then I studied harpsichord with the fabulous Gustav Leonhardt who really taught me what to do with French, Italian, Spanish, and German baroque music. It was a revelation. One of his reviewers called him the greatest keyboard artist of the time!

I also did a master class with André Isoir, the great French Baroque expert. He taught me how to use the 'Baroque' legato, which is much different from the ultra legato I had used.

For years I played German, Spanish, Italian, and French Baroque music on my recitals which took me throughout the USA, the West Indies, and Europe. I played Clérambault in Haderslev and Copenhagen, Denmark, Hamburg and Berlin, Germany, and Vienna Austria. I played Vierne at the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Paris. Dear Daniel Roth pulled stops for me and at one point lifted my hands from one manuel to another in mid piece.We had very little time to practice on the organ and he said 'I'll take care of everthing'. He did- but it was quite a surprise to me!

In short my evolution as a performer of Baroque music evolved over a number a years.

In 1965 and 1966 I twice performed the complete organ works of Bach, first in my church in Red Bank, NJ and then 14 concerts in 15 weeks at St. Paul's  Chapel, Columbia University, where I had been Associate University Organist and Choirmaster.

The recital I heard recently did none of the above things. Messy playing, too legato, odd hitches in rhythm- well- I remember why I have stopped going to organ recitals.