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).

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Hardball Tango

Brian Carson, the announcer on my WagnerOperas Podcast was the videographer on this new video that was just put up on YouTube. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Satyagraha comes to The Metropolitan Opera

Last April, I went to London to see the English National Opera's production of Satyagraha, the opera about MK Gandhi, by American composer Philip Glass. A year later, that very same ENO production has reached The Metropolitan Opera where I got a chance to see it on Friday.

Visually, very little has changed from London, although the dimensions of the Metropolitan stage are much bigger than those of the London Colosseum. Last month when I attended one of the MET's performances of Peter Grimes I happened to sit next to the puppeteers who had come from the UK in order to work on Satyagraha. Basically, they informed me that indeed very little had changed with the production, although they had had a longer rehearsal period at the MET. Also, the bigger dimensions of the MET's stage allowed them to fly the puppets much higher than in London

Overall, the New York performance was tighter musically than London's. In the second act, the MET chorus was as precise as a metronome as they sang an unbelievably difficult four-square section repeating the syllable "ha" over and over again. Regretfully, last year in London, the ENO chorus crumbled during this section.

The focus of the evening in any performance of Satyagraha is the tenor singing the role of Gandhi. Richard Croft sang a beautiful performance on Friday. From my seat in the second row there was no doubt that he was wholly immersed in his character. Twice, however, he was forced to step out of character and cover his mouth when he sneezed twice. I had never seen this happen to a singer on stage, but he dealt with it as silently and discreetly as possible. So good, in fact, that I don't think anybody noticed beyond the first few rows.

They say that nobody comes out of a modern opera humming the tunes -- not true! I dare anyone to come out of a performance of Satyagraha and not intone in your head, or outright hum or sing the ascending phrygian scale that Gandhi repeatedly intones over and over again in the last scene of Act III. That incredible restful line is one of the most serene moments in opera -- old or new.

It was wonderful to revisit Satyagraha on this side of the ocean. Although there was something special about experiencing an opera about Gandhi in England, the MET production this year was the culmination of the journey that started last year at the ENO.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

News from Bayreuth

This week two news items came out of Bayreuth. The first was that after 57 years, Wolfgang Wagner would be leaving the leadership of the Bayreuth Festival. Since the historic re-opening of the Festival in 1951, Wolfgang Wagner has been at the helm of the Festival. The second bit of news involved the replacement of a singer for this summer's festival. Soprano Linda Watson will be replaced by Adrienne Dugger in the role of Brünnhilde. Here is how The New York Times reported the change of leadership at the Festspielhaus:

After 57 years as chief of the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany, Wolfgang Wagner, 88, plans to step down, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Wagner, right, grandson of the composer Richard Wagner, wrote to donors on April 8 to express his support for his daughters Katharina Wagner, from his second marriage, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, from his first, as part of a group to succeed him. He had previously rejected the appointment of Ms. Wagner-Pasquier, who is supported by the Richard Wagner Foundation, which supervises the annual Bayreuth Festival. And he had insisted that he would step aside only if Katharina were allowed to succeed him. The German-language television network 3sat reported that Mr. Wagner had suggested that the half-sisters could be part of a team that included the German conductor Christian Thielemann and Peter Ruzicka, the former director of the Salzburg Festival. Mr. Wagner has led the festival since 1951, first with his brother, Wieland, and then by himself after Wieland’s death in 1966.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Peter Shaffer's EQUUS comes to Broadway

This morning The New York Times ran an American Express full page ad officially announcing that last year's West End smash hit Equus, the controversial play by Peter Shaffer, will arrive in America for a limited Broadway run at the Broadhurst Theater. Heading the cast will be the original co-stars of the London run: Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe.

When I saw the play on April 10 of last year at the Gielgud Theatre, I immediately knew that the production was destined, when it ended its limited run on Shaftesbury Avenue, to come to the States. And although Richard Griffiths is not my ideal Martin Dysart, he will return to Broadway where he won the Tony Award for his unforgettable performance in The History Boys.

Americans will get a chance to see Daniel Radcliffe's incredible performance as Alan Strang, the boy who blinds a stable of horses in rural England. His performance in London was incredible. Here was a movie superstar, making his West End debut in a difficult role where he had to shed his clothing, and perform one of the key scenes of the play totally naked. The British are generally blasé about nudity on stage. Certainly, the audience at the performance I attended were adult about it. Although there were plenty of curious teenage girls and boys in the audience that had come to see their Harry Potter in the all-together, they were quiet and serious. Interestingly, many had come to the performance with their moms, and these ladies all had that look that told you that they knew exactly why their children had suddenly acquired a taste for the theater.

Americans, on the other hand, are entrenched in deeply-rooted puritanical attitudes when it comes to nudity, and even New York papers such as The New York Post had something negative to say about a West End run that was distant. Now, the play will be here in New York City, and the rush for tickets, the hype, and the controversy will soon engulf the Great White Way.

On September 5, New York is in for a nice treat. But pay close attention: if you intend to see it, I suggest that you begin making arrangements to buy your tickets fast. This limited 22 week run has all the makings of a fast sell-out, and people will be trampling over each other to get in to see it. See you at the Broadhurst!