Monday, February 29, 2016

The Good Witch!

Back in the 1980's, when I was doing research for my book How to Make Your Arm Into a Wet Noodle, A Study of the Teaching Techniques of Theodor Leschetizky, I came across a wonderful quote from a review a Chicago music critic wrote after hearing Fanny Bloomfield Zeisler in a piano recital. Fanny was the star student of Leschetizky and the teacher of my piano teacher, Carolyn Willard.

The jaded critic, who referred to himself as 'the hardened person', had heard many pianists in his career and was not expecting to be impressed by this little woman who strode on stage. As she played composition after composition he found himself becoming emotionally involved in her performance. He felt tears running down his cheeks. What was happening? He tried to find words to express what he was feeling as he listened to this tiny woman perform. Her playing had reduced 'the hardened person' to tears! He finally came to this conclusion:
 'She's a Witch!'

But a good witch.

This evening we attended the concert by Music of the Baroque at the Harris Theatre. The program was three Haydn symphonies and the Mozart Serenade # 6 in D major

Every time I hear Jane Glover conduct I think 'She can't possibly be more musical, more sensitive, more involved than the other times I have heard her.'

But she is!

She is a good witch, just like Fanny.

From her fingers (no baton tonight) flowed everything Haydn and Mozart could possibly ask for in this music. The three symphonies were numbers 6, 7,and 8, titled Le Matin, Le Midi, and Le Soir.  The hall was filled with sheer joy. The genius of the composers flew from her expressive hands into the hearts and minds of her virtuosic players. It was a magical performance.
Image result for jane glover

Haydn used to write 'solo' parts in his orchestral works so that Esterhazy would give the soloists extra money. The soloists tonight all certainly deserved a bonus. They were Kathleen Brauer and Sharon Polifrone, violinists, Elizabeth Hagen, violist, Barbara Haftner, 'cellist, Collin Trier, bass, Mary Stolper, flutist, Robert Morgan and Peggy Michel, oboists, William Buchman, bassoon, Robert Johnson and Matthew Oliphant horn, and Douglas Waddell, tympani. Each is a virtuoso in his or her own right and they were exceptional.

But it is the good Witch, Jane Glover who makes the magic. Long may she wave her magic wand!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Tonight David and I heard the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in recital at the Chicago Lyric Opera House.

He strikes an imposing picture with his snow white hair and slim figure. (I'm into white hair myself!)

Image result for dmitri hvorostovsky

His fine pianist was Ivari Ilja who collaborated beautifully throughout the program.

Image result for ivari ilja

He opened the concert with two groups of songs by Mikhail Glinka and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The songs were slight and too much alike to have that many in a row. They also made no vocal demands of Mr. Hvorostovsky. All were in the middle range of his voice and none was longer than three minutes.

Frankly, I thought to myself, "Is this all there is?"

After the intermission we had songs by Tchaikovsky and Strauss. Now that's a whole different ball game.

Suddenly with stronger music and texts, his voice came alive and showed different colors and a much wider vocal range. He certainly has good control of his entire range and was able to become emotionally involved in the lyrics. This was a very different singer from the first half of the concert.

I know that some singers like to start out easily and give the voice a chance to warm up, but thirty minutes of small pieces is too much. His second group should have been stronger musically and vocally.

Once he was into the Tchaikovsky and Strauss you could hear why he is considered one of the great baritones on the current scene. It was very exciting singing and playing.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Othello at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

Last night David and I saw a remarkable performance of Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. It was preceded by a marvelous dinner of Dover Sole at Riva, an excellent restaurant with incredible views right next to the theatre.

The play was directed by Jonathan Munby and was brought forward to modern times,  which at first bothered me. Hearing people speaking Shakespearean English in modern dress disturbs my senses a bit, but I soon got used to the idea.

The set was probably very much the way the play was performed originally at the Globe Theatre in 1603; a large platform which was changed with various props as the play went on. The actors used all the aisles of the theatre for entrances and exits. Since I was seated in a center aisle seat, I sometimes risked getting hit by people and/or props as they whizzed up the aisle beside me.

Image result for james vincent meredith  James Vincent Meredith

The excellent cast  featured Fred Geyer as a very handsome Roderigo, Michael Milligan as a marvelously evil Iago, David Lively as Brabantio, James Vincent Meredith as a strong Othello, Luigi Sottile as an inept Cassio, Melissa Carlson as The Duke of Venice (I never thought the Venetians had women Doges!), Bethany Jillard as Desdemona, Bret Tuomi as Montano, Jessie Fisher as Emilia, and a large cast.

Image result for michael milligan actor   Michael Milligan

I had not seen the play in many years. I think I read it in Junior High School, which was ages ago! It was very well staged and my lasting impression is that Othello was pretty dumb to accept everything Iago told him about Desdemona's treachery. Oh well!

I forgot that after Othello strangles Desdemona at the end, there is quite a bit that happens after that moment. In the Verdi opera, which we will see later this season, after she is strangled, the opera is basically over. It will be interesting to compare the two forms of theatre.

This is the Shakespeare Year. 400 years old!

That's even older than I am!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Nabucco at the Lyric

Last night David and I saw a spectacular production of Verdi's Nabucco at the Chicago Lyric Opera. This was my first time with this early Verdi opera, the one that established him as one of the premier opera composers of all time after two failures.

The biblical tale of Nebuchadnezzar has been loosely woven into the libretto presenting the battle between the Jews and the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE. In the end, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews are victorious and return to the city to rebuild the temple.

Image result for tatiana serjan soprano  Tatiana Serjan

The excellent cast was headed by Tatiana Serjan as Abigaille. Ms. Serjan has a large, flexible voice that handled the vocal acrobatics of the role with ease,  including a two octave run from high C down to middle C. This role was created for Verdi's wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, who must have had a remarkable voice to sing this role. Ms. Serjan is a little shrill at the top,  but so are most Russian sopranos. In this case it worked well with the characterization of Abigaille, who is a veritable shrew.

Image result for dmitry belosselskiy bass         Dmitry Belosselskiy

Dmitry Belosselskiy was Zaccaria, singing with a stentorian basso voice that thrilled. Ismaele was Sergei Skorokhodov, a marvelous tenor. Elizabeth DeShong sang the part of Fenena with a beautiful mezzo voice that sometimes was lost in the ensembles.

Image result for sergei skorokhodov tenor   Dmitry Belosselskiy

 Željko Lučić sang the title role of Nabucco. He seemed to be under-voiced in the first two acts but by act 3 it  was obvious why he might have been holding back. His very difficult aria was a gut-buster. His was probably the smallest voice on the stage.

Image result for željko lučić Željko Lučić

A special Bravi must go to the wonderful Chorus of Chicago Lyric. They had several large scenes basically to themselves and sang beautifully, having been prepared by Michael Black.

The conductor was Carlo Rizzi who led the whole production with energy and enthusiasm.

It was a wonderful evening, though icy cold outside, to be at the Lyric Opera!