Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)
Gy├Ârgy Pauk (1936)
Christine Brewer (1955)
Natalie Merchant (1963)
Sakari Oramo (1965)


Andrei Bely (1880-1934)
Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)
John Arden (1930-2012)
Andrew Motion (1952)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Almost enough grim in Seattle Opera's Hansel and Gretel

Sasha Cooke and Ashley Emerson. Photo by Philip Newton
When thinking of an opera that suits the Halloween season, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is a natural fit. Profound juxtapositions abound: the harvest season and the coming scarcity of winter, the gaiety of childhood under the specter of poverty, hunger when there is so much food nearby. Seattle Opera's performance at McCaw Hall on October 22 began with great promise, but ultimately the production yielded a mixed bag in terms of interpretation and overall effectiveness.

The musical performances were wonderful. Sasha Cooke as Hansel was especially arresting vocally--her delivery was rich and profound--a real pleasure to hear. Ashley Emerson joined as Gretel, and between the two they were extremely convincing as children--at times playful, bratty, unreasonably frenetic, strangely calm. There was no 'buy-in' to them as children--it simply felt natural. Marcy Stonikas as Gertrude imparted a sense of verismo as to the grinding effect of poverty--blinding anger and crushing weight were evident in her portrayal, as was ecstatic joy at the bounty of food that Peter brings home.  Mark Walters as Peter was excellent as well--his rolling, easy baritone formed the foundation of the effable father, and yet when he began singing about stories of the witch, he brought out the most in Humperdinck's score, reveling in the sense of creeping menace--infectious, inviting somehow.

Marcy Stonikas. Photo by Jacob Lucas
It was the non-delivery on this promise of menace that rendered the production less poignant than it otherwise could have been. Barbara de Limburg's sets right from the start pointed to something that could be special; giant images of duct-tape over a rag-tag curtain, the house an immense, ramshackle cardboard box with falling down walls--unflinching images of severe shortage and its effect on people's lives pointed toward a profound interpretation.  The sets continued to impress: the forest, tumbledown and barren of leaf or green, fit with the image of sparsity, and when coupled with the imperceptible creep of twilight, the children huddling in a pool of light with the darkling woods just behind, it set up for what should have been the fulfillment of the promise of a dark and disturbing happening.

John Easterlin as The Witch did a fine job within the confines of the production. His cackle was baudy and grating, and he warmed into the humor of the role as the final act moved on, and as the action moved toward its conclusion he did look disturbing--bald and frowzy and uncomfortable to look at. But somehow it never felt as if the children were really in peril--the candy house was imaginative, looking as though it were made of shelves of goodies from a box store with every sweet and soda imaginable. But it was confusing as to where the oven was--difficult to figure out why the witch kept climbing to the top of the house, and all the action happened outside of the house, which was really just a large object on stage, so it was only just before the witch was pushed into the oven that it became apparent where it was.

The final set, while eye-catching, was confusing in terms of the action, and the the witch  was portrayed as nonsensical and slapstick without enough believable predatory intent. That coupled with the sense that the children in the finale were essentially not scared (or not scared enough) of the witch led to the let-up on the promise of a dark ending--and make no mistake, a child forced into burning alive an evil witch in order to avoid being cannibalized is a dark ending--yet somehow by the end it just didn't feel that way.

Today's Birthdays

Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Johann Strauss II (1825-1899)
Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Galina Vishnevskaya (1926-2012)
Peter Lieberson (1946)
Diana Burrell (1948)
Colin Carr (1957)
Midori (1971)


Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
John Berryman (1914-1972)
Anne Tyler (1941)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Reviews of Portland Opera productions in Opera magazine

My reviews of "The Magic Flute" and "The Italian Girl in Algiers" with a brief introduction to Portland Opera's new summer season have been published in the November edition of Opera (UK). Brian Kellow's review of "Eugene Onegin" is also in that issue.

Today's Birthdays

Ferdinand Hiller (1811-1885)
Conrad Leonard (1898-2003)
Paul Csonka (1905-1995)
Tito Gobbi (1913-1984)
Luciano Berio (1925-2003)
George Crumb (1929)
Sofia Gubaidulina (1931)
Malcolm Bilson (1935)
Bill Wyman (1936)
George Tsontakis (1951)
Cheryl Studer (1955)


Moss Hart (1904-1961)
Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
Norman Rush (1933)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Albert Lortzing (1801-1851)
Denise Duval (1921-2016)
Ned Rorem (1923)
Lawrence Foster (1941)
Toshio Hosokawa (1955)
"Weird Al" Yankovic (1959)
Brett Dean (1961)


Robert Bridges (1844-1930)
Johnny Carson (1925-2005)
Nick Tosches (1949)
Laurie Halse Anderson (1961)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Sir Donald McIntyre (1934)
Elizabeth Connell (1946)


John Reed (1887-1920)
Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

From the Writer's Almanac:
It was on this day in 1883 that the Metropolitan Opera House opened with a performance of Faust. The opera was based on Goethe's German poem, and it was composed in French, but it was sung in Italian. The New Yorkers who designed the opera house wanted it to have an Italian feel, so they had it built with a palazzo on Broadway, and Italian was the language of choice.

There was already an opera house in New York, the Academy of Music, near Union Square. It was one of the main gathering places of the city's high society, who watched each other from the opera boxes as eagerly as they watched the opera itself. But there were only 18 opera boxes at the Academy of Music, and in the 1870s a whole generation of industrial millionaires were emerging in New York. These nouveau riche were not so welcome at the Academy of Music, or in any of the social circles of old money. But they wanted a place to display themselves, so they decided to build their own opera house. Seventy people got together and pooled $1.7 million to buy land and build a concert hall. They put in three levels with 36 box seats in each, more than enough for everyone.

In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton wrote:
"On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

"Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances 'above the Forties,' of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendor with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the 'new people' whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957)
Howard Ferguson (1908-1999)
Alexander Schneider (1908-1993)
Sir Georg Solti (1912-1997)
Dizzy (John Birks) Gillespie (1917-1993)
Sir Malcom Arnold (1921-2006)
Hugh Wolff (1953)


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Charles Ives (1874-1954)
Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)
Alfredo Campoli (1906-1991)
Adelaide Hall (1909-1993)
Robert Craft (1923-2015)
Jacques Loussier (1934)
William Albright (1944-1998)
Ivo Pogorelich (1958)
Leila Josefowicz (1977)


Christopher Wren (1632-1723)
Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891)
John Dewey(1859-1952)
Robert Pinsky (1940)
Elfriede Jelinek (1946)