Posts Tagged ‘uncategorized’


Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Goeke Nilsson

by Albert Innaurato

(Christine Goerke congratulated by Birgit Nilsson after winning her competition)

Buttons that should be made from the Met’s Die Frau ohne Schatten: CLONE Christine Goerke. ANNE SCHWANEWILMS FOR ACT THREE. FIRE VLADIMIR JUROWSKI. I thought he rushed through in a business like if technically able way, missing the high romanticism, the “nuss”, which is the only way the very long opera really becomes completely and continually involving.

He forced Goerke (who had a triumph as the Dyer’s Wife) through every soaring phrase — she could have spun them out thrillingly (many can’t), he RUSHED the D major interlude in scene two, act one, (marked “molto sostenuto e cantabile” — VERY MUCH SUNG AND SUSTAINED) — and after that RUSHED Goerke on the low d’s and the phrase starting “und mich dich gemacht”, which includes two low A’s delivered with a contralto’s color and size — and RUSHED the beautiful chorale at the end of that scene. He drowned everyone but Goerke out. In act three, Schwanewilms had the sense to come all the way downstage and do it her way (she had some issues earlier).

He RUSHED the most soaring music in the opera, “Schweigt doch ihr Stimmen”, that opens act three, and did not relish a DYER’S WIFE who could really soar when she joins in the duet with her husband Barak, “Mir anvertraut…”, and ignored one who could actually DO that impossible line all the way up to B natural (in fact tied B flat to HALF NOTE B natural) and then, after the alto says they are free, he RUSHED her through that insane cry of jubilation (and yes I realize it’s marked “LEBHAFT” — “lively”) but you had someone who at the very least DESERVED the opportunity to spin out that final phrase that starts on the high A natural (half note tied to quarter soars up to the B flat tied to quarter and yes I know they become triplets but the music needs grandeur.)

Many of the markings in the score are fast, but fast and flexible, inward and expansive are the way for me and it’s how Wolfgang Sawallisch did it in Munich (I saw him do it 11 times there and saw him rehearse) and how Christian Thielemann does it (complete!). Scuttlebutt from backstage (unconfirmed, of course) was that the Met wanted the usual cuts, Jurowski insisted on the work being given complete but was told he better get a move on.

Audibility issues with others (I was sitting orchestra row M on 11/12), and I thought Barak, Johan Reuter, though he had a pretty tone, was slight and bland, and the Nurse — whose part is impossible to sing, let’s face it, and really cruel if the work is done complete — barely made it.

And, as with Sondra Radvanovsky’s often phenomenally sung Norma, I felt that there was no one to teach the singers how these scenes work best (the brilliant original director, Herbert Wernicke died in 2002). I remember Birgit Nilsson and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau in that D major interlude simply standing still and staring at one another with everything they had in them — the longing the couple feels, the intense attraction, yet the impossibility for them at that moment to express it — was overwhelming (Nilsson and Theo Adam did the same) — it is the magic of filled, focused and felt stillness. Or Fischer Dieskau, terrifying, moving from confusion to homicidal rage at the end of act two, as Nilsson (and the great Inge Borkh on other occasions) abandoned herself to his knife, almost as a kind of sexual/sacrificial offering — stunning and shocking.

A friend, my age, said — “bury the ghosts and seize what’s here”; so CLONE CHRISTINE GOERKE and yes, ANNE SCHWANEWILMS — while she got the better of Jurowski in act three, he did prevent her from really taking that devastating pause before “Du taugst nicht zu mir” to the nurse — I’m not going to mention Leonie Rysanek, Eva Marton, Cheryl Studer, but will mention Ingrid Bjoner who I saw six times in Munich — ALL got to make the MOST of that pause, a HUGE moment of decision.

Jurowski is a tall, young, nice looking Russian with very long hair, doesn’t that mean he’s great? But Thielemann, conducting the entire work live both at the Met, and in Berlin and on a Decca DVD with a good cast, including Schwanewilms found so much more. Sawallisch also does wonderfully on a note complete EMI recording, and old timers may remember the compelling old Zillig recording. I heard it first in high school on reel to reel tape, now, with luck, it’s to be found on Ponto CDs. On that recording, Christa Ludwig, some years later to emerge as a great exponent of The Dyer’s Wife, sings the soprano role of the Falcon!!!

How much Die Frau ohne Schatten is worth as a work of art is a different matter.

Perhaps on my other blog I will consider that. But soon, more on Goerke, announced as the next Brunnhilde in a complete Ring at the Met.

Albert at length:



Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

by Albert Innaurato

On Saturday evening, YannickNezet-Seguin conducted The Philadelphia Orchestra in a stunning, almost unbelievably thrilling account of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, written for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941. It seemed the most modern and challenging work on a program containing two world premieres.  Yannick (as he introduces himself to audiences) had an amazing grasp of this piece — surprising phrases, agogic mastery, finding the sting in no longer familiar modulations, all floating along on a magic carpet of inevitability.  It was feverish, reckless, and the orchestra responded with astounding virtuosity.

I was not raised to value composer Rachmaninoff; at a master class, my heart bleeding into  Busoni, the “master” hit me on the back of the head and screamed, “raus, du… du… Rachmaninoff spieler!”, words to wound a young man’s soul. But I was astounded by the piece, thanks to Yannick’s insight and fire.

After this concert there was a round table with Yannick and the two composers the orchestra had commissioned to write virtuoso concerti for principles. These were Behzad Ranjbaran, whose Flute Concerto, spectacularly played by Jeffrey Khaner; and David Ludwig, whose Bassoon Concerto was gorgeously sung by Daniel Matsukawa (Ludwig described himself as a “lover of Italian opera”). This concerto has a title, Pictures From the Floating World, and many quotes from Debussy piano pieces.

An older man put up his hand and effusively congratulated both composers for not being “navel gazers” but for “communicating with the audience”. “None of this atonal stuff“, he said. 

Yannick,  with great charm, said “but atonal music, you know, can communicate, and can be quite beautiful”, and quickly changed the subject.

I thought the questioner was a bigoted idiot and I see the same mentality on the ‘Net all the time. Mr. Ranjbaran’s work alternated lush orchestration with “Persian” effects for harp (imitating running water), the flute circling ’round (I’d have been more impressed had I not heard these effects and others he used in Ethnomusicology 101 45 years ago). Built on the alteration of augmented seconds and perfect fifths, the harmonic language as opposed to cultural allusion seemed thin for a thirty minute piece, and for once the complaint that it sounded like movie music seemed justified (did our questioner day dream or even nod off during, thrilled not to be rudely awakened by a surprise?). Mr. Ludwig’s work was shorter and modestly tuneful (thank you, Claude) but there was a lovely movement that for all the world sounded like Sam Barber’s quietly melancholy meditations leading to a long scale that was a recurring motive in the piece but in that section provided an effective punctuation. Mr. Ludwig is the grandson of Rudolf Serkin and teaches at Curtis. I suspect he knows his Barber.

Having heard these sort of discussions in Europe, the man’s question struck me as profoundly yet proudly ignorant. Does he know what “atonal” means? What works exactly did he have in mind? If one removed the name Schoenberg or Carter or Boulez or Berg from a piece would he actually enjoy it? Would he hear surprising tunes, interesting harmonies, arresting sounds and a distinctiveness these new pieces seemed to lack, and want to listen again immediately? Now, I don’t want to be unfair to the commissions, they should be heard again, with different conductors and soloists; secrets may open up. They got big applause, but was that relief that they weren’t “worse”, or enthusiasm for local soloists and not that the pieces themselves had got the audience thinking, their minds racing, their emotions fully involved?

American “serious music” culture is very stupid. It’s all TV now; we look to be palliated and reassured not stimulated, profoundly moved, disturbed. There’s nothing wrong with being enraged or puzzled by an art work. But I think there’s a great deal wrong with wanting it to be essentially a warm bath to which one plans tomorrow’s brunch.

Well, I’m a snob and hadn’t paid for my ticket; these good people should be allowed their soul deafness. But I’m glad I’ve seen works that were hated, that inspired heated discussion, that were booed, that divided an audience. I disliked some of them too, but I left the hall feeling I had had a unique experience, an evening different from all other evenings, an escape from Law and Order reruns or yet another proficient but standard go through of a war horse. One should go to art to have one’s life changed, if only a bit, to be forced to see the dark streets and one fellow human beings a little differently afterwards, to have one’s brain buzzing. I am afraid we’ve lost that desire in “fecund America today”, and with it, the determination to fight for the survival of those endangered arts we think we love.


Thursday, October 31st, 2013

by Albert Innaurato

I visited my doctor yesterday. He looks like Santa Claus. He eyed me and said, “Yo!” (he’s from South Philly), “No trick or treats. You’re a fatty.” I thought of Luke 4:23, where The Nazarene is mocked, “Physician, heal thyself” (Cura te ipsum as the nuns used to scream at us after they had thrashed us without mercy.) Doctor Santa then gave me a flu shot, and I had visions of dying from it. I thought, “what music would one chose for one’s last moments alive?”

A number of people have mentioned the second movement of the Schubert Quintet. It is one of the most celestially beautiful pieces of music ever written in the West. It was written two months before he died, and shrugged off.

Schubert Quintet in C, Stern, Casals

But there is a lot of music one loves in a lifetime. Bela Bartok for example. He saved me from Johann Sebastian Bach. I was a hapless six year old fighting the Inventions, too stupid to count them. A new teacher suggested Bartok. And though rhythm was never my strong suit, in life or music, I fell in love. As the flu shot worked its way toward my throat to close it, I thought of this memorial to Bartok by Gyorgy Ligeti. This is early Ligeti, but throughout his career he composed beautiful and moving music. It is played here by the great pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

Musica Ricercata number 9. Bela Bartok In memorium

But of course, if one wasn’t too out of it, one would want real Bartok. I’d ask to hear at least a movement from one of the six quartets. As I felt flu vaccine flood my lungs, I thought of Number Five. It uses elaborate Bulgarian rhythmic patterns (one might want a taste of the authentic as, with one’s dying eyes, one made out the white light — either The Eternal or the impatient orderly who wants to dispose of one’s body). The Adagio is strictly structured to have three subjects, one following another, ABC, then those subjects return. Not only does Bela invert the order in which they return but the subjects themselves. It’s sublime music to hear but also to count off as these small miracles of invention occur up to one’s final shut eye.

Bartok: Fifth Quartet, Adagio; Julliard Quartet

However, I was torn. The flu shot had entered my abdomen and pumpkin pie looked good. The Third Piano Concerto was written by a dying Bartok. Not Jewish, he’d fled to America to escape Fascism (funny that, today). The Piano Concerto was a birthday present for his wife; it’s a work of great beauty and the second movement is the last Bartok finished. (Tibor Serly completed the concerto). Dying, Bartok evokes the night sounds of his native Hungry, the universal spirit of late Beethoven, the famous Tristan chord. a homage to love in death perhaps as he thought of his wife, but unlike Wagner, Bartok resolves the chord on an affirmative C.

Bartok: 3rd Piano Concerto, Schiff, Rattle

I am not religious but Olivier Messiaen was devout. Perhaps, dying, one might want to bargain a bit just in case…? My belly was shaking — flu shot or pie? One piece in memory of Messiaen by Tristan Murail, one of his students (born 1947), might do. And, after all, Murail is part of a movement, which has an element of ghostliness in it, the “spectral” style. This is his beautiful homage to his master: Cloches d’adieu et un sourire (Bells of Farewell and a Smile), played by Marilyn Nonken

Murail: Cloches d’adieu et un sourire 

But I would try to hear all of Visions de l’amen. In college, my only friend and I would play this two piano piece at parties, and then wonder why no one liked us.  Wretched playing, maybe. It’s a wonderful piece, all about The Nazarene’s misfortunes and promises but wildly theatrical. That’s especially evident in this sweaty performance by Messiaen and another devout Catholic, the great Yvonne Loriod, with whom he was having an adulterous affair.  This is No. 5, The Amen of the Angels, the Saints and the Songs of the birds — hey, there are worse things to think about when dying!

Messiaen – Visions de l’Amen no. V (Messiaen/Loriod)

If my dying moments stretched a bit, I would want to hear something by John Adams. Several composer pals agreed we were less fond of Nixon in China than the works he composed around the same time. My favorite is Harmonielehre. Arnold Schoenberg used the title for his book on music theory (lots of fun to read). I’d choose the second movement, The Amfortas Wound, a reference to Wagner’s Parsifal but a summation of music that Adams had loved. Especially striking is the way he works in the amazing 12 note chord Gustav Mahler uses in the Adagio of the Tenth Symphony he died writing. There is a combination of sorrow and mind-energy, which just perhaps survives cessation in this deficient dimension.

John Adams, Harmonielehre, Part 2, Barnett Newman

But the shoulder wound made by Dr. Santa’s needle had healed, and seeing if there were a Family Guy episode on, I realized that I might want to laugh at death. Maybe the dread secret is that it’s funny at the final second. This is something chirped by Nellie Melba in 1910 from a useless work by Massenet that always makes me laugh. Trick or Treat!

nellie melba massenet-Don cesra de Bazan “Sevillana”


Who Am I? Is This the Asylum?

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

by Albert Innaurato

Well, Alberto (that’s me) does babble on a lot. And that reminded me of a little known Rossini Opera, Ciro in Babilonia. Poor Ciro does have his problems, though talking too much isn’t one of them (on the other hand, in my case, …). It’s one of the happy/sad realities of a troubled time for the arts, that we can fairly easily encounter Ciro on DVD and CD; a score has been prepared that is fair to Rossini. And we can find out by reading that score, or experiencing one of the DVDs that Ciro is fascinating, phenomenally orchestrated, and full of great tunes. Ciro’s enemy even gets one of the great tenor mad scenes in opera.

That’s happy because it’s a fine opera. That’s sad because it’s not new, just unfamiliar. It’s a very old opera, in a very old style with a very old story. Art is about us, now. One shouldn’t have to be like a soldier fighting battles, to believe that arts that can’t renew themselves die.

I always wanted new sounds. When I was studying music (for eighteen years) I always wanted to know what was being created right then. And then I took a wrong turn (probably) and began to write plays. I got to Broadway and Europe and even to Asia and everything was new; my life was about my creating, and about my measuring myself against what others were creating.

It’s not that I didn’t love older plays. And I was never indifferent to the stratagems of Beethoven and Debussy and crotchety old Johann Bach. It’s just that discovery was always just as thrilling. Even if technology has given us a way of reconstructing virtually the entire past of Western music, and great masters are always being uncovered, someway has to be invented to persuade those under thirty, said to be watching three screens at once, to pay attention. And in some sense it has to be, however subtly or indirectly, about the new kind of lives they are living now.

And as for opera, well, let’s be frank, it’s a mental illness. I have it. Electroshock won’t help. But the most thrilling evenings in my life were seeing Lulu for the first time, or Nixon in China or L’amour de loin. It’s not a contest; great operas have been written from the beginning, but the remarkable new is always more thrilling than one’s fiftieth exposure to a MASTERPIECE from a fast receding past.

I have the voice sickness too… I’ll be chattering about those things. But who even knows about  much of this, really? I know I’ll be babbling to many. One thing’s for sure, I’m a tenor!! Bring on the mad scene!