WagnerBlog

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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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).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MET/AGMA Memorandum of Agreement

A strike at the Metropolitan Opera has been averted as the house management and various unions have agreed to new contract terms. For those of you with legal minds, and anyone curious enough to see what these documents are like, click HERE in order to view the Memorandum of Agreement between the MET and AGMA (The American Guild of Musical Artists).

Friday, August 22, 2014

Frank Martin and JS Bach Conclude Mostly Mozart

Louis Langrée put together an interesting concert to end the Mostly Mozart festival at Lincoln Center this weekend. He chose the 1973 piece Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion of the Christ by Swiss composer Frank Martin, a relatively rare piece for orchestra and solo violin that was originally commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to commemorate the 25th anniversary of UNESCO's International Music Council. The movements of this piece were played alternating with the chorales from J.S. Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245. The dialogue that this musical juxtaposition created between these two compositions, separated by 200 years, was quite profound.  

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, the Moldovan-Austrian violinist had much to do with the success of this musical experiment. Her virtuoso playing ran the gamut from elegant to inspired, and it was filled with passion at every turn. The third polyptype, known as "Image de Judas" was particularly memorable for its shrieking, tormented strings that presented a Freudian portrait of Judas's troubled mind. The contrast with Bach's reverential "Wer hat dich so geschlagen" offered the most satisfying dialogue of the evening.   The Concert Chorale of New York sang each of the chorales beautifully, and they returned in the second part of the program as the backbone of W.A. Mozart's Requiem, K. 626.

An audience favorite, Langrée led a smooth reading of this well-known score, opting for swift tempi and transparent sounds. He was aided by a quartet of capable soloists: Morris Robinson, a sepulchral sounding bass, and tenor Dimitri Pittas being the two stand-outs of the evening.

There will be one more performance of this program tomorrow, August 23, at 8:00 at Avery Fisher Hall.

Monday, August 18, 2014

We are Not Ourselves to be Published Tomorrow

We Are Not Ourselves the powerful first novel by my friend Matthew Thomas is due to hit bookstores all over America tomorrow.  I was lucky to read his work while still in manuscript form, and I can assure you that you are in for an amazing journey into the lives of some unforgettable characters. A journey that will take you through Post-World War II America, as it focuses on the lives of an Irish-American family, and its indomitable matriarch, Eileen, one of the most memorable characters ever created in recent American Literature.

Here is a review of the novel from author Neal Thompson: "Ten years in the making, Matthew Thomas’s heartfelt debut launches with the gritty poetry of a Pete Hamill novel: brash Irishmen on barstools, Irish women both wise and strong, and the streets of New York splayed out like a song. What’s special about this book is how Thomas takes us, slowly and somewhat unexpectedly, deep inside a family battling the gray-toned middling place of their middle-class existence. At the core is Eileen Tumulty Leary, urging her complacent husband and their impressionable son forward. Along the way, lives come and go. (“Fair enough,” her mother said, and in a little while she was dead.) There are some gorgeous scenes, some taut lines (I liked the air-conditioning unit’s “indefatigable wind”), and some heart breakers (a mother tells her son, at the funeral home, “That’s probably enough”). It’s thrilling to see an emerging writer test and flex his voice. Eileen and her husband are “co-conspirators in a mission of normalcy”; in truth, there’s occasionally too much normalcy in these 600 pages. Then again, it’s oddly addictive to watch this family unfold, age, and devolve. Intimate, honest, and true, it’s the story of a doomed father and a flawed son and the indefatigable and loving woman who keeps them all together, even as they’re falling apart."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Il Trovatore at the Salzburg Festival

Ever wonder what happens when a museum closes its doors to visitors after a long day of tours and tourists? According to Alvis Hermanis the director and scenic designer of the new production of Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore at the Salzburg Festival the guards put on a show.

The doors shut, the lights dim, and those silent sentinels who spend their day seated in a corner of a gallery making sure visitors stay away from the art as well as the flashes on their cameras take on the roles of the portraits around them. Two of the guards just happen to be Anna Netrebko and Plácido Domingo.  Before you know it, they've become Leonora and the Count di Luna, and are soon joined by Francesco Meli as Manrico, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, a giddy tour guide who turns into the tormented gypsy Azucena, and Ricardo Zenellato, an Italian tour guide who, at the beginning of the opera, scares his group of tourists out of their wits with a tale that could only be told by Ferrando, the bass character that he later becomes.

The stage is set for Verdi's "capa y espada" opera to be performed in a museum against the backdrop of familiar Renaissance and Baroque paintings. It's a night at the museum like no other night. Is it the director's view that opera belongs in a museum, with Il Trovatore the biggest museum piece one can find in the repertory? Are the many paintings of Madonna, Christ and John The Baptist supposed to remind us of the two children of the old Count di Luna? Like many "Regietheater" productions this one poses more questions than it actually answers, and the museum conceit grows tiresome almost immediately, although the deep reds and crimson velvets of the stage design and costumes are sumptuous to look at.

Anna Netrebko sang with fiery conviction. Leonora is a role that falls easily in her range, and she was quite convincing in just about every one of her scenes. Sadly Francesco Meli was not the impressive figure that the role of Manrico calls for.  Short of stature and thin of voice, he oftentimes seemed to disappear into the background. Plácido Domingo sang the role of the Count Di Luna under the weather. A few years ago when he began to take on the baritone repertory it sounded like a strange decision. To hear him in this role, his voice somewhat frayed, his natural tenor superficially lowered and darkened, assures me that he is no baritone. Still, he has had decades of experience and possesses a rock solid technique. He was able to get through "Il balen del suo sorriso," possibly Verdi's most demanding baritone aria, with minimal strain. He may not be a baritone, but he is a helluva performer, and he can't hide that he loves to be onstage.

Daniele Gatti led the Vienna Philharmonic firmly, but with the kind of gusto I have not heard from him in a while. The results were long Italianate lines and wide transparent sounds.  The work in the pit was perhaps the most memorable part of this very strange night in the museum.

Licia Albanese: 1913-2014


The incomparable Licia Albanese, an Italian soprano, and a mainstay at the Metropolitan Opera for 26 seasons, died last night at her home. She was 101.  At the MET she performed 17 roles in 16 operas 417 times. She left the MET in 1966 after a dispute with then general manager Sir Rudolf Bing. After performing in four productions during the 1965-66 season, she was scheduled for only one performance the next season. She returned her contract unsigned.

In 1946, in her prime, conductor Arturo Toscanini chose her to be his Mimi in the live broadcast concert performance of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, from NBC's Studio 8-H. This classic broadcast was later issued on LP and CD on RCA Victor.

She belonged to a golden age of opera singers the likes of whom we will perhaps never see again. She might not have been as popular as her contemporaries, Zinka Milanov, Maria Callas, Victoria de los Ángeles or Renata Tebaldi, but she was a consummate singer who night after night shared the stage with the great baritones and tenors of her day, which included Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Richard Tucker, and Leonard Warren.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tristan und Isolde at the Grosses Festspielhaus

A sold-out event is happening at the Salzburg Festival on August 21 at the Grosses Festspielhaus.  Conductor Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (an ensemble of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians) will perform segments from Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.  The concert performance labeled "Projekt Tristan und Isolde" will include the Prelude, the entire second act, as well as the Liebestod. It will feature an all star cast that will include Peter Seiffert and Waltraud Meier in the title roles. Ekaterina Gubanova singing Brangäne, René Pape will be King Marke, Stephan Rügamer will be Melot, and in the role of Kurwenal, Plácido Domingo. The former tenor has been performing the baritone roles of Giuseppe Verdi, primarily, for some time now, with various degrees of success. Personally, when I hear Domingo sing Simon Boccanegra (the first baritone role that he sang at the MET) I hear a distinctive tenor fach which fails to convince me that he is a baritone. The effect is that of a tenor without any high notes. Perhaps Wagner's lush orchestrations will allow him a little more credibility. He certainly was a more than credible, if not successful Parsifal and Lohengrin during his tenor heyday.

And needless to say, the sights and sounds of Israelis and Palestinians making music together is something that right now we desperately need. I'm convinced that this kind of event is not going to solve any deep present-day conflicts, but it will remind us of the kind of world that we all aim to live in.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Medea at the National Theatre

 Medea by Euripides, written nearly two and a half millennia ago, is the archetypal revenge tragedy, and the ultimate portrait of the inner life of a murderer.  Whether presented traditionally (a rare occurrence these days) or in this modern-dress staging, in a new translation by Ben Power, and directed by Carrie Cracknell in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre of Great Britain, the play possesses an inherent power to move audiences, and inflict a wave of catharsis that left many in tears at the performance I attended last night.

To review the basic plot, Medea and her children have been abandoned by her husband Jason after the family moved to Corinth.  Jason has found a new love, the young daughter of King Kreon, and is about to marry her. Meanwhile Kreon has banished Medea since he genuinely fears her.  Medea begs that she be allowed to stay for one more day. This is all the time she needs to fashion a chilling revenge that includes the killing of Kreon and his daughter as well as the slaughter of her own children: a ghastly decision that she knows will forever torment Jason for as long as he lives.

In the title role, Helen McCrory presents us with a modern portrait of a scorned, jealous woman. Dressed in a tank top and cargo pants, nervously rolling up and only half-smoking a cigarette, she could be one of the thousands of abandoned single mothers who are having trouble making ends meet. However, when she changes into a white outfit, a costume that recalls a traditionally staged performance, and fashions her horrific revenge, the real Medea, as conceived by the author, pushes through. Ms. McCrory possesses a dark voice, and is able to command a powerful fury which often erupts with a volcanic intensity. She commands the stage when she is preparing a lethal gift for Jason's new bride, and especially at the conclusion of the play when she carries the bodies of her dead children into a windswept, smoky, dark wilderness.

 Danny Sapani gives a memorable performance as Jason, a man who loves his two sons, and is only marrying in order to advance his social status. The rest of the cast is generally good, especially  Dominic Rowan, in his brief scene as Aegeus, the King of Athens, who brings the only light of hope for Medea by offering her sanctuary in his kingdom. The chorus is a nimble group of thirteen women who dance, gyrate, and generally look spooky as they slink all over the stage to the music of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, their primitive-sounding, moody score is a memorable addition to this production.

Medea will be broadcast live from the Olivier Theatre to cinemas around the world on September 4 at 7pm. I urge you not to miss it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

I Miss Last Year's Wagner Celebrations

You don't get too many celebrations when you are 201 years old.  But last year's Richard Wagner's bicentennial celebrations around the world were quite a show. Some more successful than others, of course.  Frank Castorf's Ring at Bayreuth was a huge failure last year.  It will be presented again this summer, and hopefully he has gone back to re-examined his concept in order to deliver a better show.

By far, one of the most interesting events to mark the 200 anniversary of Wagner's birth took placed in Munich. Spencer Tunick's art installation "The Ring" consisted of over 1000 nude volunteers, some painted red and others silver, who "recreated" various scenes from the Ring Cycle in the center of the city.

 According to the artist "I'm very interested in the history of the city, the close links with Richard Wagner's work, but also the dark chapters of the city's history and the building structures from the Nazi era."
“I'm very interested in the history of the city, the close links with Richard Wagner's work, but also the dark chapters of the city's history and the building structures from the Nazi era,” - See more at: http://www.the-wagnerian.com/2012/06/spot-naked-wagnerian.html#sthash.0axsE8vJ.dpuf
“I'm very interested in the history of the city, the close links with Richard Wagner's work, but also the dark chapters of the city's history and the building structures from the Nazi era,” - See more at: http://www.the-wagnerian.com/2012/06/spot-naked-wagnerian.html#sthash.0axsE8vJ.dpuf