The World of Composer Richard Wagner and his operas. www.wagneroperas.com with frequent forays into the world of art, culture, and film.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

Vincent Vargas is a foreign language teacher at a private school in New York City. He runs websites dedicated to Casablanca (www.vincasa.com) and Richard Wagner (www.wagneroperas.com).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Parsifal on BR Klassik

 I'm not sure how long it's going to be up there, but you can stream Monday's Parsifal performance from the stage of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus by going to BR Klassik. This performance marks the beginning of the annual Bayreuth Festival which will run until the end of August. The new production by Uwe Eric Laufenberg is a mixture of classical staging and Eurotrash, with Islamic elements thrown in for good measure. It's a hodgepodge that although does not live up to the beauty and intelligence of the Stefan Herheim production it replaced, manages to leave a lasting impression. The picture above should speak a thousand words where this concept is at, although do go ahead and watch the performance.  There is some fine singing from Georg Zeppenfeld (Gurnemanz), Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal), and Houston Grand Opera Studio alumnus Ryan McKinny, who makes a fine Bayreuth debut as Amfortas. The orchestra is under the direction of Harmut Haenchen who at the last minute took over from Andris Nelsons who left the production citing artistic differences.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Following Terror Attacks Security Tightens at Bayreuth

 Mere days before the start of the Bayreuth Festival, Germany is on edge after five people were injured in an axe attack in a Bavarian train in Wuerzburg, an event claimed by the Islamic State, and the Munich rampage where nine people were gunned down by an 18 year old German Iranian who then took his own life.

The festival begins on Monday with a new production of Parsifal, and new security measures have been implemented at the Green Hill this year thus robbing the event of the summer carefree idyll setting that it has had for 140 years.

Katharina Wagner sent the following letter to all Bayreuth ticket holders:

Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Festival-goers,

Due to the overall increased threat level, the 2016 Bayreuth Festival is increasing its security.  We would like to inform you of several important aspects as follows:

As advanced security measures by the police cannot be ruled out, please plan to arrive at the Festspielhaus a little earlier than usual.  We recommend arriving about 45 minutes before the performance.
  • Please carry a valid government-issued ID, so you can be identified
  • For safety reasons, it is prohibited to take the following into the Festspielhaus:
    • Bulky items, in particular bags and backpacks of any kind, except for evening handbags
    • sharp or pointed objects as well as any other objects that are hazardous or can be used as a weapon
    • cushions
    • drink bottles and other liquid containers
Please note that there are no storage facilities for them inside the Festspielhaus
  • There is a different route for directions by car to the Festspielhaus.  Exiting is as usual.
  • Please note that direct access from the parking lots to the Festspielhaus is only possible via one route.
We hope that you will understand these rules.  All visitors cooperating as best as possible can significantly help to avoid problems and inconvenience to a large extent.

If you are unable to use your tickets yourself, we respectfully request you provide the users of the tickets with this information.

Thank you for your understanding and we wish you a pleasant and fulfilling visit.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Madam Butterfly at the ENO

It is such a delight to rediscover Anthony Minghella's poignant, unforgettable production of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly at the place where it originated: The English National Opera, in its home base at the London Coliseum. Though it might be the biggest theatre in London's West End, it is an intimate house compared to the Metropolitan Opera, where I first saw this remarkable production. The ENO is the place where the late director envisioned this production, and it is wondrous to experience it in its original home. As is the custom of the house, the opera was performed in English in a translation by David Parry.

So much of the libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica is part of my operatic muscle memory, that hearing it for the first time in another language is disconcerting. Many times I had to resort to the supertitles at the ENO which are not ideally placed if you are sitting in the seventh row of the stalls (orchestra seats in the US). However, it is the tradition of the house: to perform all the operas in English, and eventually one gets accustomed to it. Actually, the only time I did not hear English at the ENO was many years ago when I went to their production of Philip Glass's Satyagraha, which was performed in Sanskrit.

One of the remarkable aspects of this production is the use of Bunraku style puppets, used throughout the production, but especially for Butterfly's little son. These life-like creations, operated by visible, but black-clad puppeteers gives a truly authentic Japanese air to the production, and needless to say no child actor can ever emote such longing as this amazing wooden creation in his cute, white sailor suit. This unique feature sets apart this staging of the opera from any other. So remarkable is the idea that many of the world's opera houses have borrowed this production.

The orchestra, under the baton of Sir Richard Armstrong never achieves a quiet moment, which is so important in this tender work. As a result the voices are either covered, or, as was the case tonight, forced to throw away the composer's dynamic markings. I have never heard a "Flower Duet" sung fortissimo before, but here it was. Rena Harms, in the title role certainly has the voice and stamina for the role, and the same can be said for David Butt Philip, her BF Pinkerton. I just wished that the conductor had given them a break and allowed some subtlety to enter into the evening.

Despite the company's faults, which are not many, at least the city of London has an alternate choice to The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. At the ENO families can still go to hear grand opera at popular prices. Boy, do I miss the New York City Opera. But hope springs eternal, though, and perhaps one day the phoenix will rise once more.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Disney and Netflix deal

Back in 2012 Netflix struck a deal with Disney to have exclusive rights to stream new films from Marvel, Pixar, LucasFilms, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. The deal will go into effect this September.

What does this mean for the company, and for us consumers? Basically it will mean that all new films in 2016 from this point forward will only be released on Netflix. If you want to find anything from Captain America: Civil War to The Jungle Book to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will only be found on Netflix. According to the contract it cannot be found on any other streaming platform. Further, new content will not be found on cable channels, and it won't be available on premium pay channels and networks.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Poster for the 54th NY Film Festival

The Film Society of Lincoln Center has announced the poster for the 54th New York Film Festival. It was designed by film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The following is an excerpt from a press release sent from the Film Society:

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is more than just a ‘logical’ choice to do our poster—he’s one of the world’s greatest filmmakers and he works in the visual arts,” said New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones. "I knew that he would send us something extraordinary: a beautifully wrought, self-contained little world. The more you concentrate on the image, the more detail you see, and the further your dream extends. The NYFF has had many great posters designed by a long list of great artists, but this is one of the very best."

The renowned Thai filmmaker and artist, whose works deal with memory and subtly address personal politics and social issues, has had a fruitful relationship with the New York Film Festival for over a decade. Four of his films have been selected for the official NYFF lineup: Tropical Malady (2004), Syndromes and a Century (2006), the Palme d’Or–winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), and Cemetery of Splendor (2015). In 2002, Apichatpong’s debut narrative feature Blissfully Yours won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Along with his features, Apichatpong is known for his short films and art installations. His work has been featured in exhibitions across the globe, including solo shows at the New Museum in New York, the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Munich Film Museum, and many more. His art prizes include the Sharjah Biennial Prize (2013), the prestigious Yanghyun Prize (2014) in South Korea, and the Thai Ministry of Culture’s Silpatorn Award (2005)."

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Elektra at the MET

If Finnish conductor/composer Esa-Pekka Salonen were eying the job of Music Director at the Metropolitan Opera, recently vacated by James Levine, the current production of Richard Strauss's Elektra would serve as a successful audition. Not that he would need one, mind you. These performances just serve as a reminder that he is one of today's great conductors; a superstar in the tradition of Leonard Bernstein, comfortable leading an orchestra, composing a concerto, as well as promoting Apple's iPad Air and thus providing a positive look at classical music, something that rarely happens in the mainstream media. The MET would be crazy not to hire him.

This production of Elektra will go down in the annals of the MET as one of the high points of Peter Gelb's tempestuous tenure at Lincoln Center. Directed by the late Patrice Chéreau, with a cast that includes Adrianne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis), Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra), Eric Owens (Orest), and in the title role the great Nina Stemme. One can travel far and wide and not find this collection of talent on any operatic stage.

This staging started life at the Aix en Provence Festival in 2013 with Mr. Salonen conducting. Evelyn Herlitzius played the title role, and Ms. Pieczonka and Ms. Meier originated the roles that they are reprising currently at the MET. That performance was captured on film and is available on Blu-Ray/DVD.

Mr. Chéreau's concept updates the Sophocles play to the present, making it the story of a truly dysfunctional family, which in many ways is exactly what the original drama really is. Clytemnestra sore that her husband Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia so that his ships could sail to Troy, kills him upon his return from the Trojan War. Elektra now mad at her mother for having killed dad, dreams of the day when her brother Orestes will return home, kill their mom and her new lover and thus avenge her father's death. The Waltons it is not! But if you want to experience some powerful cathartic moments, this one has it in spades.

In the opera, the character of Elektra promises in her great opening monologue ("Allein! Weh ganz allein") that she will dance once her mother has been killed, and in this production Ms. Stemme attempts to kick up her heels, but she just can't.  It's as if the character had suffered for so long that her joints are stiff. Just one of the many innovative moments in Mr. Chéreau's wonderful re-imagining of this work.

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra continues to be the well-oiled machine that James Levine created, and they played magnificently. This has always been one of my favorite scores which, like the earlier controversial Salome, can go from crashing dissonant chords to the sweetest most beautiful melodies. The stamp of the 20th century is definitely on this Strauss work, but scratch its surface and the Viennese waltz is there throughout the entire work.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Roberto Devereux at the MET

After missing my original date to go to see Roberto Devereux at the Metropolitan Opera as a result of being in the hospital, I finally attended another performance of this Donizetti opera on April 11.  The production by Sir David McVicar, utilizing a unit set and no curtain unfortunately gets old pretty soon. The Palace of Nonsuch, Sarah's apartments and the lower depths of the Tower of London all look the same, giving no specific feeling for different settings. It's a shame because the plot almost pleads for the scenic designer (also Sir David) to take flights of fancy with this Tudor story. Where the production truly excels is in the costume design, which in the hands of Moritz Junge brings to life the Elizabethan court. In particular, the women costumes are gorgeous, especially those designed for Sandra Radvanovsky, who in Act I is the embodiment of Gloriana, as pictured in the famous Ditchley Portrait at London's National Portrait Gallery.

But this production is not about the sets or the costumes, it is all about this season's MET third leg of the Sandra Radvanovsky royal trifecta that will surely earn her place in the operatic history books. The arc is now finished, and the performances that began early in the season with Anna Bolena, and this winter's great Maria Stuarda have come full circle. Ms Radvanovsky's performances have earned her the critical and audience accolades that she deserves. Roberto Devereux is the crowning glory. A tour-de-force that earned Beverly Sills her place in the pantheon when she attempted the three operas at the New York City Opera in the 1970s.

Ms. Radvanovsky was truly remarkable.  Her voice has been compared to that of Maria Callas, and it is true that, like that fabled artist, her instrument goes beyond just sheer beauty. In doing so, she is able to penetrate the inner soul of her character, a feat that is key to singing Elisabetta correctly. She is lucky to have as a co-star the brilliant Elīna Garanča, whose young, traditionally beautiful tone was the perfect foil to the aging queen. Add to that Matthew Polenzani, who has never sung better, in my opinion, and the evening was complete. Unfortunately baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was indisposed that night, his understudy sang with conviction and ringing tone, but regretfully I sensed that he was quite nervous, and he managed to bark most of his role. Conductor Maurizio Benini led an assured performance, making us realize that Donizetti's score contains not just beautiful music, traditional of his time, but also attempts to probe into the psyche of his characters.  After all, this score was written two tears after Maria Stuarda and Lucia di Lammermoor, and the composer was at the heights of his powers.

As Anthony Tommasini noted in his review in the New York Times: "Met audiences can rightly complain about a company that lavishes such attention on five Donizetti operas in a single season, during which the newest work on the boards is Alban Berg’s Lulu, first performed in 1937. Still, completing the Tudor trilogy is an achievement for the house, and a triumph for Ms. Radvanovsky."