Saturday, May 7, 2011

Trop de Rameau?

A night at l'Opéra

Jordan Hall is the major concert hall in Boston. I have been there several times in the past to hear Lorraine sing.

Tonight it was Nat Watson's turn. He was singing in Jean Phillipe Rameau's opera Les Indes Galantes, an opera-ballet by the French Baroque composer. 

Rameau replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the major opera composer of the period. He was also a contemporary of Francois Couperin.

Nathaniel Watson

The opera is in four un-related acts. Le Turc généreux,  which takes place in Turkey; Les Incas du Pérou,set in Peru, Les Fleurs, set in Persia, and Les Sauvages, set in 18th century North America. It premiered in Paris in 1735.

Let's face it- Boston Baroque is not Les Arts Florissants. This is a very long opera that was put together in twelve long days of rehearsal. Lorraine used to spend the entire summer in Paris when preparing an opera with Les Arts Florissants.  Obviously, the French government was pouring tons of francs into the production, so they had all the time in the world. Lorraine would show up at 10:00 for rehearsal and not sing a note until 4:00 in the afternoon.

Apparently a similar event happened with this production with only twelve days to get it ready for the stage.

That being said, it is a wonderful Baroque opera that deserved to be heard. This was just not the company to do it.

Nat sang like an angel. Beautiful voice, very dramatic on stage, funny, sad, whatever was needed. The other singers were Amanda Forsythe, soprano, Nathalie Paulin, soprano, Aaron Sheehan, tenor, Daniel Auchincloss, tenor, and Sumner Thompson, baritone. Of these my favorites were Paulin, Sheehan, and Thompson. And, of course, Nat.

Amanda Forsythe has a pretty voice that seems disembodied at times. There is no connection. This often results in a very fast vibrato which is unattractive.

Daniel Auchincloss has a raspy sort of tenor voice. He did a very funny bit in drag in the third part, using a lot of falsetto. Nat told me over drinks afterwards that this was NOT falsetto. Trust me, it was.

I was much more delighted with the singing of Aaron Sheehan. He is the same tenor I heard several years ago in a performance of Handel's Saul, which was sung by the Harvard choir in memory of John. In that performance, the part of Saul was sung by Nat, one sister was sung by Amanda Forsythe, and the second sister by my own favorite, Janet Brown. Aaron has a beautiful voice. He needs to learn how to move it more easily in rapid flowing passages.

Nathalie Paulin is an excellent singer from Toronto. She and Nat have sung together many times in Canada. It is an easy sound from top to bottom. In the last part of the opera she was really singing a mezzo role and brought it off beautifully.

Sumner Thompson is a fine singer. His voice moves easily throughout the wide range that was required in his singing tonight.

The chorus sang admirably. Good blend, energy. A few too many dumb things with props, but that isn't their fault.

The orchestra played very well. The conductor, Martin Pearlman, tended to drag tempi, making for a very long evening.

The weakest part of the evening's performance was the staging and the dancing. The staging seemed impromptu and the dancing mindless. Also the dancing went on and on. Here was a good place to cut. The choreographer, Marjorie Folkman, had supposedly done some work with Mark Morris. I am not a great fan of his choreography, but if anything, she took his worst habits and capitalized on them.

I must say in all lack of predjudice, that I was very proud of Nat. His singing these days is very musical, sophisticated, and beautiful. I guess he has had a good teacher.

PS Nat told me later that a lot of ballet music was cut from last night's performance. No where nearly enough, for my taste. Perhaps if there had been a more sensitive choreography that somehow related to the wonderful music, this would not have seemed so long. But endless 'heel and a toe and away we go' doesn't do Rameau's music justice and give it the gravitas it deserves. As it was, the incoherant bobbing around on stage was far from the mark. I would love to see a fully staged production of this work. It deserves no less.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mrs. Rosa

Today on CNN they were featuring a story about a school where, within several grades, pupils move about from table to table according to their ability in various subjects instead of all doing exactly the same thing at the same time. You test out of one table to get to the next higher one whenever you think you are prepared. You may be doing math at the fourth grade level and English at the seventh grade level. Either way, there is no stigma attached to which table you are working at.

What a modern idea.

Mrs. Daisy Rosa, my algebra teacher in the ninth grade used exactly this same method of teaching in 1945. We sat at large round tables scattered throughout her large classroom. Mrs. Rosa was as round as the tables. The class all started out as a unit for the first week or so. At the end of the week we all took a test.If we passed it we moved to the next higher table. If we failed, we stayed at the same table and reviewed the material. Then we would test again the following week. If we passed the test we moved, otherwise, we stayed where we were. I often stayed at the same table for a while.

She taught in a very large room at Southwestern Junior High School on Goguac Avenue in Battle Creek, Michigan, where I grew up. She was way ahead of her time, apparently.

I was playing piano concertos when I was in the ninth grade, but algebra was not in my vocabulary. Somehow Mrs. Rosa got me through the class and sent me on to high school. If asked today what x equals, I would have to admit that I have no idea except that it often 'marks the spot'. Don't even ask me what y is all about. Mathematics and I have never had a close relationship.

I freely admit that I also cheated all through fractions, whenever that comes along in your schooling. Maybe that's why algebra was Greek to me. My 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teacher was Gertrude Woodard. She seemed to pass from grade to grade with the class. In fractions, at the end of a quiz, she would read the answers. Since I sat in the back of the room, I simply jotted down the answers as she said them. Mea culpa. Naughty boy. I still have no idea how to do either fractions or algebra. So sue me! I also count on my fingers.

But I have played all the Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert sonatas, so I can't be all bad.

Or can I?

Monday, May 2, 2011


Spring comes to Rood Hill Farm.

My poor road!

And to Colebrook.

All this plus Osama bin Laden!!