Wednesday, June 27, 2012

L'heure exquise: French art song on CD

Mucha, "Music"
After several days of cooler temperatures, New York City is poised to plunge back into baking, exultant heat. Much as I love the summertime, there seems to be, in the city, a disturbingly fine line between weather that is glorious and weather that has you sticking to things and wishing you weren't. To accompany hours of delicious languor, or to sweep through sticky afternoons like a cool breeze, my listening of choice this summer has been French art song. I'm not sure why, but it seems to fit. So here, without further ado, a brief commentary on a selection of discs old and new.

The most recent album I found was Clair De Lune, Natalie Dessay's disc of Debussy songs. Dessay's intelligence and sensitivity are great assets to the interpretation of these vivid, romantic songs. The playing of Philippe Cassard made the piano part always wonderful, and sometimes breathtaking. I was not without reservations, though: the distinctive characteristics of each piece seemed a bit flattened by Dessay's approach. The longer selections on the disc shone: the "Chanson d'Ariel" and "La Demoiselle Elue" (the latter with Karine Deshayes) were highlights. Bonus points to those responsible for the cover design reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha's paintings.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Season's end: Mozartean joie de vivre with the NYPhil

The New York Philharmonic seems to have taken as a truth universally acknowledged that you really can't top Mozart, and their season finale concerts are devoted entirely to that composer, pairing the 22nd piano concerto with the Great Mass in C minor. The Beloved Flatmate and I treated ourselves to a summer evening at the symphony. If short on sublimity, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night out. I confess to thinking the orchestra a trifle unfocused at first, but this was soon overcome, and each of the movements of the piano was gracefully shaped, and given with verve.  The joyous, light, elegant playing of Emanuel Ax was undeniably excellent, virtuosic without being jarringly showy. ("Without interpretation" was the last thing it was; this description in Mr. Gilbert's program note was meant as a compliment, but jarred. "If 'as if without interpretation' is the ideal," observed the Beloved Flatmate, "what's the point of live performance?" Exactly.) That Ax was so visibly delighted by the music was a delight in itself.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Un impegno nuziale: Christoph Marthaler's Nozze

Christoph Marthaler's production of Mozart's Nozze di Figaro was filmed in 2006 at the Opera National de Paris (although it was originally created for Salzburg in 2001; the Regiebier, Stiegl, survives.) Its final tableau, above, shows much of how its setting contributes to its exploration and critique of contemporary social norms. Set in the 1970s or '80s, between a wedding boutique and a registry office, the production is simultaneously cynical and compassionate about the problems with normative ideas of idealized romantic relationships, and the disastrous pressure to live up to them. The conductor, at intervals, photographs the personages in "suitable" tableaux. Doors marked for Damen und Herren in the background support Marthaler's pointed satire of this supposed/constructed oppositional binary. Marcellina's aria, "Il capro e la capretta," thus becomes an encapsulation of the production's thesis, and the remarks of Figaro about avenging all husbands, e.g., take on unusual significance. I sometimes felt this concept wore a little thin for Mozart and Da Ponte's lengthy and complex masterpiece, but Marthaler and the performers were scrupulous in realizing it. Precisely because Figaro and Susanna do interact with each other as unique, worthy, beloved individuals (sniff! I love them...) they survive the artificial "battle of the sexes," and their genuine affection cannot be sullied by any amount of kitsch. The other characters are neither so fortunate, nor so wise.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nuits et jours d'été: Summer Schedule Survey

Well, Gentle Readers, it is mid-June, and nary an estival festival do I have to show for it. I have danced at my first wedding of the summer, and am well-launched on the juggling of the season's academic responsibilities, but heart and mind, eye and ear alike have begun to pine after the opera house. Still, the city's summer schedule hardly seems overflowing with opportunities to sate this craving. Kaija Saariaho's Émilie is the only thing currently penciled into my diary, although the rigors and expenses of travel may prove insufficient to keep me from taking a bus to sample the bel canto delights of Caramoor. Clearly, this is not enough. And so, Gentle Readers, I solicit what Definitely the Opera has termed the vox blogguli: tell me via the survey below, or more expansively in the comment section, what you would like to see featured here during the long months of opera's off-season.

  • Opera DVD reviews
  • Films featuring opera
  • Novels related to opera
  • Non-fiction related to opera
  • CD reviews
  • Live events which you have inexcusably not mentioned
  • Something else, as I will outline in the comments
More polls:


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