Monday, April 30, 2012

Garrick Ohlsson plays Liszt

BACH Fantasy and Fugue for Organ in G Minor, BWV 542; (transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt, S. 463)
LISZT Fantasy and Fugue for Organ on "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" (after Giacomo Meyerbeer), S. 259; (transcribed for piano by Ferruccio Busoni)
LISZT Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S. 173
LISZT Étude No. 5, “Feux follets,” from Études d’exécution transcendante, S. 139
LISZT Valse oubliée, S. 215, No. 1
LISZT Nuages gris, S. 199
LISZT Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke), S. 514

I was eager to hear more of Garrick Ohlsson after his performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 with the New York Philharmonic last week, and so yesterday afternoon I attended his recital at Carnegie Hall featuring works by Franz Liszt. Ohlsson replaced Maurizio Pollini who was scheduled to perform but cancelled because of illness.

The program opened with piano transcriptions of two organ compositions. Liszt wrote Fantasy and Fugue for Organ on "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" in 1850, which Busoni transcribed for piano in 1897. The work was structured in three parts: fantasy, adagio, and fugue. Liszt transcribed Bach's Fantasy and Fugue for Organ in G Minor in 1869, several years after he had retired from concert performances. Ohlsson displayed formidable technique in the denser passages of both pieces as well as ardent lyricism in the Bach fugue and the Busoni adagio.

The second half of the concert featured a sampling of shorter works that spanned Liszt's career. Liszt composed Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude in 1834 when he was 23 years old. As the title suggests, Bénédiction featured a sublimely beautiful theme with softly undulating notes that suggested an encounter with the divine.

Liszt wrote Étude No. 5 at the age of 15. It's a bright, glittering piece that showed his precocious talents at that age. The next two works, on the other hand, were composed during Liszt's later years. Valse oubliée conveyed a certain restless melancholy, brimming with wistful atmosphere, and Nuages gris was a slow quiet piece with a darker castalmost like a longing for death.

Ohlsson saved Mephisto Waltz No. 1 for last and delivered it with great bravado.

The encore, a short work in A-flat Major from Klavierstück (which Liszt wrote 1865, if I heard Ohlsson correctly), had a lovely autumnal air and was a bit more introspective than most of the preceding works.

Liszt, born in 1811, was a contemporary of Schumann and Chopin and so this recital was a wonderful follow up to last Wednesday's concert with Richard Goode. Two programs featuring works from the Romantic period by two great pianists, both in the same week. What more can you ask for, indeed.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Batiashvili and Neikrug at the Philharmonic

New York Philharmonic
Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Violin: Lisa Batiashvili

Hector Berlioz, Le Corsaire Overture (1844)
Marc Neikrug, Concerto for Orchestra (World Premiere)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216, Strassburg (1775)
Claude Debussy, La Mer (1905)

The picture above was the view from my third tier box seat at the New York Philharmonic last night.

The program began with a rollicking account of the Le Corsaire overture by Berlioz, followed by the premiere of Neikrug's Concerto for Orchestra. I didn't know what to expect with this new piece since I wasn't able to find any original compositions by Neikrug on Youtube. From the online program notes:
When Alan Gilbert was at Vail with the Philharmonic a couple of summers ago, and Marc Neikrug was Composer in Residence at the Vail Music Festival, they began to discuss the possibility of a commission. The composer thought possibly a wind concerto, but Alan Gilbert said that’s not what he had in mind; he wanted something “with more flash”…something a little more “sparkly.” Neikrug suggested that a concerto for orchestra might fill the bill. Traditional concertos for orchestra (by Bartók, Lutoslawski, for example) tend to highlight sections of the orchestra as virtuoso entities, but rarely pick out individual instruments or players, the way a solo concerto would. By contrast, the present work will build the concerto from multiple layers to show off the Philharmonic: the brilliance of the entire orchestra playing together; sections of the orchestra (e.g., strings, winds, percussion); smaller groups of musicians (a trio of strings, for example); as well as individual players.
The concerto turned out to be a rather serious piece with a percussive opening in the first movement, followed by a scherzo with winds sounding vaguely like Stravinsky, and then an adagio for strings, evoking Mahler. The finale was quite grand and impressive and involved the entire orchestra.

On my first hearing, it was hard to tell what Neikrug sought to achieve with this score other than providing a virtuosic showpiece for the Philharmonic. But I did like it a lot, especially its brooding atmosphere and interplay of harmonies and dissonances. My only crits were that the concerto could perhaps benefit from improved precision among the strings and more concise phrasing towards the climax.

Batiashvili gave a radiant and emotionally charged account of Mozart's third violin concerto, which can sometimes seem chirpy and simplistic in lesser hands. Her tone was sumptuous throughout the piece and her candenzas had a noble beauty.

Gilbert likewise provided a sensuous reading of La Mer, perhaps a bit short on mystery but he did move this piece along with dynamic cadences that kept my interest from flagging. I began to understand why Sviatoslav Richter once called it "a piece that I rank alongside the St. Matthew Passion and the Ring cycle as one of my favorite works."

All in all, a great program. Next week: Mahler's Sixth.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Richard Goode at Carnegie Hall

Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Kreisleriana, Op. 16

Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55, No. 2
Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39
Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 3
Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2
Waltz in F Major, Op. 34, No. 3
Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47

Last night pianist Richard Goode presented a program of solo piano pieces by Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin at Carnegie Hall.

Schumann and Chopin were both born in 1810 and went on to become two of the great masters of the Romantic era. Surprisingly, they had little contact with each other and moved in different circles (Schumann was based in Leipzig whereas Chopin lived in Paris). Schumann was primarily influenced by Beethoven; Chopin revered Bach and Mozart. This concert was a great opportunity to hear both composers side by side.

In 1838, Schumann composed Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana as short character studies for the solo piano. The thirteen sections of Kinderszenen were inspired by Schumann's reminisces of childhood. Goode played them with a suitably nostalgic and wistful air, and his Traumerei (Dreaming) was gorgeous, especially in the final measures.

Kreisleriana, inspired by a character from E. T. A. Hoffmann, has a greater emotional range with eight sections ranging from tempestuous to introspective. And yet Goode reigned in any showiness and instead delivered the essential character of each movement with deep thoughtfulness and clarity.

In the second half of the program, Goode evoked 19th century Paris with Chopin. His sound was silken and otherwordly, particularly in the waltzes, amd the final ballade was a showpiece of glittering virtuosity.

Goode played three encores: Chopin's Mazurka in C Major, Op. 24, No. 2, Beethoven's Scherzo from Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3, and Leoš Janáček's On the Overgrown Path, Book I.

I enjoyed Goode's understated yet profoundly sensitive style and am looking forward to hearing him again next season.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Affordable Art Fair

Affordable Art Fair
Address: 7 West 34th Street (near 5th Avenue), NewYork, NY
Hours: 11:00 am to 6:00 pm
Tickets: $12 ($10 with student ID)


Today was the last day of the Spring Edition of the Affordable Art Fair in New York City. While there was a wide range in quality, I thought it was an interesting show and found many hidden gems. In contrast with more prestigious art fairs like Art Basel Miami, the dealers were quite friendly and the prices were indeed affordable (and negotiable). Here are a few of my discoveries:

Jinchul Kim
Fraser Gallery

Nigel Cox
Quantum Contemporary Art

Tadeusz Biernot
Engine Gallery

Rieko Fujinami

Daniel Ochoa

Nguyen Quang Huy
Art Vietnam Gallery

I'll definitely go again in the fall. I might even save up to buy a work or two....

Friday, April 20, 2012

Garrick Ohlsson plays Mozart

Last night the New York Philharmonic presented Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 (1777) and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 (1888) with pianist Garrick Ohlsson and conductor Herbert Blomstedt.

Mozart wrote the concerto at the age of 21 for Louise Victoire Jenamy whose last name perhaps accounts for the nickname Jeunehomme.  Even though many consider it to be Mozart's first masterpiece, this work is rather hard to find in concert programs (the Philharmonic last played it in 1997). It is also Mozart's longest concerto for piano.

Ohlsson played with bright, lapidary style with judicious pedalling and ornamentation. His forthright tone and complete lack of sentimentality, even in the Andantino, somehow threw the concerto's melancholy undercurrents into sharp relief and even made them heartbreaking. He gave a ravishing account, one that will stay with me for a long time.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 is more frequently performed and Blomstedt, now 84, kept the piece fresh, immediate, and exciting. He even managed to prevent endless repetition of the "Fate" theme from becoming exasperating, which is a miracle of sorts. The second and third movements were especially fine.

The program will be repeated tonight and on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Two debuts at the Philharmonic

Last night the New York Philharmonic presented Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 with pianist Yuja Wang and conductor Jaap van Zweden in their subscription debuts.

The concert has been reviewed extensively and very positively. I have nothing much to add besides agreeing that both pieces were played exceptionally well, with great flourish and somewhat manic tempi. Wang's encore last night Chopin's Valse Op. 64 No. 2 in C Sharp Minor. The running notes in the second theme were absolutely breathtaking.

While I left the concert more wowed than moved, I'm looking forward to hearing more of Wang and van Zweden in the future.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Die Walküre

Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Brünnhilde: Deborah Voigt
Sieglinde: Eva-Maria Westbroek
Fricka: Stephanie Blythe
Siegmund: Stuart Skelton
Wotan: Bryn Terfel
Hunding: Hans-Peter König

The Metropolitan Opera presented Richard Wagner's Die Walküre on Friday night. I had seen the new Robert Lepage production last year so I wasn't planning on seeing it again this season. But a few days ago, while browsing the Met website, my fingers started clicking uncontrollably, completely against my will, and before I knew it I bought myself a ticket.

I enjoyed last year's performance with James Levine as well as the controversial set which consisted of oscillating planks and digital projections. It was all very striking and creative while staying true to Wagner's stage directions.

I still loved the set on my second viewing though a video glitch momentarily projected the Microsoft logo during one of my favorite scenes, Brünnhilde's War es so schmählich, was ich verbrach (where she begs for Wotan's mercy in Act 3, not completely ruined but the Met should seriously consider switching to Mac). Thankfully the planks moved on cue and the whirring, clanking noises were also less noticeable. The final image of Brünnhilde in a reverse crucifixion of sorts amidst flames, suggesting Wotan's aerial view of the mountaintop, was as amazing as ever.

As a Wagnerian conductor, Luisi is not yet in the same league as Levine but nevertheless led a forceful account of the score with faster tempi and incisive phrasing (albeit with occasionally ragged playing among the horns).  While his preludes to all three acts were thrilling and he eloquently conveyed the nuances of the more intimate scenes, he somehow lacked the grandeur and architectural form of his predecessor. In Luisi's own words:
We can play Wagner’s music as music. You can take all of this ‘pan-Germanic’ pathos out of these operas, drop this very slow and heavy pace and find the music there, which is Wagner’s great gift. You can bring out the intensity in this music, but also its flow. I think that by making the orchestra and the audience listen to some of the subtleties that are so much a part of Wagner, I can help actually push things forward and we can free ourselves from this bad and wrong tradition, this myth of the superior sound of the German orchestras. It’s not true and it’s not real. These so-called traditions come only from the 1920s and ’30s. These great composers came from the 18th and 19th and early 20th centuries!
Voigt, Westbroek, and Terfel were as good as ever, each bringing a palpable humanity to their roles, but it was Blythe who once again electrified the audience as Fricka. In her short Act 2 scene she dispelled any doubts as to who wore the pants in Valhalla.

Skelton was a credible Siegmund though a bit one dimensional in terms of acting and vocal expressiveness. His Winterstürme was lovely but not as deeply affecting as the renditions by Jonas Kaufmann last year and Placido Domingo in previous seasons. Same with König - he has great booming voice but came across a bit teddy bearish as Hunding.

Die Walküre has to be my favorite opera in the Ring cycle. The five-plus hours went by quickly with Luisi's pacing and even the extended monologues sounded like Homeric poetry rather than the usual "Oh God, they're repeating themselves again..." By the end I was wondering whether I should see it one more time with Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde, but perhaps that would be overkill. Or maybe not? I should definitely stay away from the Met website though.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Orchestra of St. Luke's at Carnegie Hall

Conductor: Iván Fischer
Soprano: Dominique Labelle
Mezzo-Soprano: Kelley O'Connor
Tenor: Joseph Kaiser
Baritone: Richard Paul Fink
Chorus: Musica Sacra
Music Director: Kent Tritle

On Thursday night, the Orchestra of St. Luke's presented at program at Carnegie Hall featuring two works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 34 in C Major, K. 338 (1780), and the Requiem, K. 626 (completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr) (1791).

Mozart wrote Symphony No. 34 at the age of 25 during his final year in Salzburg. Set in three movements, this symphony marked a new confidence in Mozart's stylistic development and helped establish his reputation in Munich and Vienna. The orchestra seemed to play it with a darker, more burnished color than what I'm accustomed to with Mozart. In the second movement, the interwoven themes between the violins and the bassoons, cellos, double basses were particularly captivating.

Mozart died ten years later at the age of 35. At the time he was working on the Requiem, which was commissioned under mysterious circumstances, but had only completed the first half (up to the first lines of Lacrimosa), leaving behind sketches of the remaining sections. Süssmayr completed the score, adding his own Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, and Communio.

While Musica Sacra seemed to emphasize the sacred rather than the emotional aspects of the score, the singers fully expressed Mozart's anger and desperation over his own impending death in Dies Irae and Confutatis. The excellent soprano/mezzo/tenor/baritone quartet alternated with the choral passages and provided an introspective and deeply spiritual context.

The Requiem was a work of dark and somber beauty and I was glad to hear it for the first time. This was the orchestra's final concert in Carnegie Hall. I'm looking forward to hearing them again next season.

Here's the complete Requiem with Karl Bohm leading the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.


I. Introit: Requiem
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Te decet hymnus, Deus, in Sion,
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem.
Exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis care veniet.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them.
You are praised, God, in Zion,
and homage will be paid to You in Jerusalem.
Hear my prayer,
to You all flesh will come.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them.
II. Kyrie
Kyrie, eleison.
Christe, eleison.
Kyrie, eleison.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
III. Sequence
1. Dies irae
Dies irae, dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
quando judex est venturus,
cuncta stricte discussurus!
Day of wrath, day of anger
will dissolve the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sibyl.
Great trembling there will be
when the Judge descends from heaven
to examine all things closely.
2. Tuba mirum
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
per sepulcra regionum,
coget omnes ante thronum. 
The trumpet will send its wondrous sound
throughout earth's sepulchres
and gather all before the throne. 
Mors stupebit et natura,
cum resurget creatura,
judicanti responsura.
Liber scriptus proferetur,
in quo totum continetur,
unde mundus judicetur. 
Death and nature will be astounded,
when all creation rises again,
to answer the judgement.
A book will be brought forth,
in which all will be written,
by which the world will be judged. 
Judex ergo cum sedebit,
quidquid latet, apparebit,
nil inultum remanebit. 
When the judge takes his place,
what is hidden will be revealed,
nothing will remain unavenged.
Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
quem patronum rogaturus,
cum vix justus sit securus? 
What shall a wretch like me say?
Who shall intercede for me,
when the just ones need mercy?
3. Rex tremendae
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos savas gratis,
salve me, fons pietatis. 
King of tremendous majesty,
who freely saves those worthy ones,
save me, source of mercy.
4. Recordare
Recordare, Jesu pie,
quod sum causa tuae viae;
ne me perdas illa die. Quaerens me, sedisti lassus,
redemisti crucem passus;
tantus labor non sit cassus.
Juste judex ultionis,
donum fac remissionis
ante diem rationis.
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
culpa rubet vultus meus;
supplicanti parce, Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
et latronem exaudisti,
mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Preces meae non sunt dignae,
sed tu, bonus, fac benigne,
ne perenni cremer igne.
Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra. 
Remember, kind Jesus,
my salvation caused your suffering;
do not forsake me on that day. Faint and weary you have sought me,
redeemed me, suffering on the cross;
may such great effort not be in vain.
Righteous judge of vengeance,
grant me the gift of absolution
before the day of retribution.
I moan as one who is guilty:
owning my shame with a red face;
suppliant before you, Lord.
You, who absolved Mary,
and listened to the thief,
give me hope also.
My prayers are unworthy,
but, good Lord, have mercy,
and rescue me from eternal fire.
Provide me a place among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
guiding me to Your right hand.
5. Confutatis
Confutatis maledictis,
flammis acribus addictis,
voca me cum benedictus. Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis,
gere curam mei finis. 
When the accused are confounded,
and doomed to flames of woe,
call me among the blessed. I kneel with submissive heart,
my contrition is like ashes,
help me in my final condition.
6. Lacrimosa
Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus,
pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen. 
That day of tears and mourning,
when from the ashes shall arise,
all humanity to be judged.
Spare us by your mercy, Lord,
gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest. Amen.
IV. Offertory
I. Domine Jesu
Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae,
libera animas omnium fidelium
defunctorum de poenis inferni
et de profundo lacu.
Libera eas de ore leonis,
ne absorbeat eas tartarus,
ne cadant in obscurum. Sed signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam.

Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini ejus. 
Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory,
liberate the souls of the faithful,
departed from the pains of hell
and from the bottomless pit.
Deliver them from the lion's mouth,
lest hell swallow them up,
lest they fall into darkness.
 Let the standard-bearer, holy Michael,
bring them into holy light.

Which was promised to Abraham
and his descendants.
2. Hostias
Hostias et preces tibi, Domine,
laudis offerimus.
Tu sucipe pro animabus illis,
quaram hodie memoriam facimus.
Fac eas, Domine,
de morte transire ad vitam,
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini ejus. 
Sacrifices and prayers of praise, Lord,
we offer to You.
Receive them in behalf of those souls
we commemorate today.
And let them, Lord,
pass from death to life,
which was promised to Abraham
and his descendants.
V. Agnus Dei:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis
peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem sempiternam. 
Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world,
grant them eternal rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world,
Grant them eternal rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away
the sins of the world,
grant them eternal rest forever.
VI. Communio:
Lux aeterna
Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine,
et Lux perpetua luceat eis,
cum Sanctus tuis in aeternum,
quia pius es. 
Let eternal light shine on them, Lord,
as with Your saints in eternity,
because You are merciful.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and let perpetual light shine on them,
as with Your saints in eternity,
because You are merciful.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Gabe Stulman, the owner of Joseph Leonard, Jeffrey's Grocery, and Fedora in the West Village, just opened a new Italian restaurant called Perla about a month ago in the former Bellavitae space at 24 Minetta Lane.

The chef Michael Toscano used to work at Babbo and Manzo and his current menu reflects the meaty, rustic flavors of both places. So far I've enjoyed:

- garganelli with tripe, crispy guanciale and tomato
- cavatelli with egg, pancetta, and pecorino (carbonara and cacio e pepe in one dish!)
- guinea hen with black trumpet mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and foie gras gravy
- duck breast and duck leg confit with cabbage and pancetta
- roasted mushrooms contorni
- chocolate crostata with toasted caramel, almonds, and banana.

Toscano handles rich flavors with a light hand, and portion sizes are just right. I wasn't too keen on the cauliflower with tomato and olives side dish or the panna cotta with fennel and grapefruit. Nothing wrong with them, just not as exciting as the other dishes.

The restaurant is already jammed but accepts reservations for groups of four or more. You can also get the full menu at the bar or chef's counter.

The atmosphere is hip but down to earth, and service is friendly and efficient. The noise level is high with a Babbo-esque playlist -- probably not the place for a quiet dinner but for something new and lively (and utterly delicious) Perla fits the bill.


(photo courtesy of Eater NY)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sviatoslav Richter plays Franz Schubert´s Sonata in A, D664

Everyone was talking about Richter. Well, I thought, maybe I should listen to this Richter. So I went to one of his concerts. He didn't play badly at all: he was a good craftsman, everything was professionally done. But it really wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Then at some point I noticed my eyes growing moist: tears began rolling down my cheeks, and my heart grew all constricted.

  - Arthur Rubinstein
First Movement, part 1

First Movement, part 2

Second Movement

Third Movement

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

John Campbell to lead the Jois Shala in Greenwich

According to the Jois Shala website, John Campell and Aliya Weise will be the main ashtanga instructors in Greenwich, Connecticut.

And according to the blogosphere, Kimberly Flynn will take over the mysore program at Pure Yoga in the Upper West Side, and John will only be teaching at Jois through the end of the summer since he has accepted a position at the University of Virginia.

Here's a pic from the opening workshop with Sharath and Saraswathi, courtesy of Facebook.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

La Traviata

Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Violetta Valéry: Hei-Kyung Hong
Alfredo Germont: Matthew Polenzani
Giorgio Germont: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Willy Decker's modern staging of La Traviata returned to the Metropolitan Opera last night with Hei-Kyung Hong replacing Natalie Dessay who was ill.

Hong was a fine actress whose frail, exhausted manner suited her character. The problem was that she sounded frail and exhausted as well, especially in Act 1 where her Sempre libera was barely audible. But she did gain volume in Acts 2 and 3 and even though her voice has lost some of its luster, her portayal was quite moving particularly in Addio del passato.

Polenzani was a lyrical Alfredo though he used too much vibrato which sometimes gave the impression of operatic overacting. He gamely indulged the director's whims such as singing De' miei bollenti spiriti in boxer shorts rather than hunting clothes and generally getting knocked around by various members of the cast.

The evening belonged to Hvorostovsky whose Germont combined nobility with tenderness. His glamorous good looks lent an interesting dynamic to his Piangi piangi duet with Violetta (which has never sounded so seductive), and hiis velvet sound and ardent phrasing in Di provenza drew ecstatic applause. It was a pleasure to watch him.

Under Luisi, the orchestra was lackluster in the first act, perhaps toned down to accommodate Hong's small voice, but bloomed as the opera progressed. The Act 3 prelude was especially haunting.

Peter Gelb, the general manager at the Met, has been updating the repertory's staging to reflect current trends in Europe and this production sharply contrasted with Zeffirelli's traditional designs. All three acts took place in a clinical white set with a minimum of furnishings. The chorus, dressed identically in black suits (including the women), moved with menacing choreography that made Violetta, and sometimes Alfredo, seem like victims of an intolerant and judgmental mob. The symbolism was sometimes heavy handed, as with the big clock, the constant presence of Doctor Grenville, and Violetta's plain red dress (in lieu of a ballgown) which was worn in drag in one scene and by a young, seemingly innocent woman in another.

These ideas were interesting though stripping the opera of its period context and luxurious trappings effectively minimized the class differences between Violetta and the Germonts, and consequently the story of a courtesan who leaves her high born lover in order to protect his family's reputation no longer made much sense.

Still, I was engrossed with the production and am almost tempted to see the opera again with Natalie Dessay who is still scheduled to perform through the beginning of May.

Here's the Brindisi from the original Willy Decker production in Salzburg with Anna Nebtrenko and Rolando Villazon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera

Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Lady Macbeth: Nadja Michael
Macduff: Dimitri Pittas
Macbeth: Thomas Hampson
Banquo: Gunther Groissböck

Last Monday I attended Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera.

This was an early work influenced by bel canto and the score actually sounded more like Donizetti rather than Verdi's later operas. In certain scenes it seemed as if I was listening to Lucia de Lammermoor with occasional blasts of verismo.

Much has been written about Michael's pitch problems and they were indeed evident on Monday. She has an arresting stage presence but Lady Macbeth seemed beyond her current vocal capabilities. Her wobbly tone did contribute to the sense of her character's mental disintegration and her sleepwalking scene was chilling in spite of the imprecise intonation.

Hampson, who has made a specialty of the title role, was oddly inert. His elegant, patrician baritone is well suited for Mozart but not for Verdi, which requires some heft and gravitas. His didn't quite convey Macbeth's ambition and paranoia.

The chorus, however, was fabulous, especially in the witches' scenes and in Patria oppressa. Noseda led the orchestra with chamber-like nuance. I did love the modern dress production which was updated to post World War II Scotland. The use of large swinging lamps was particularly ingenious, and the staging of Banquo's ghost in the banquet scene was delightfully spooky.

It's a testament to Shakespeare that in spite of the inconsistent singing I left the opera eerily disturbed by what I had just seen. Una macchia è qui tuttora (Yet here's a spot) really creeped me out. It's the eternal metaphor for the buried terrors in each and every one of us.

Here are two incredible, and completely different, interpretations by Montserrat Caballe and Maria Callas.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Paul Taylor Dance Company

I'm probably the last to know but the Rubinstein Atrium across the street from Lincoln Center sells same-day tickets to certain performances at half price. So yesterday I bought a first ring seat to Paul Taylor Dance Company at the New York State Theater.

Cloven Kingdom (1976) opened the program. Set in a debutante cotillion, dancers in formal dress start moving to a baroque piece Arcangelo Corelli. Then the choreography turns primal, almost ape-like, as the soundtrack morphs into a modern percussive score by Henry Cowell and Malloy Miller. It was a fascinating study of primal impulses that lurk beneath civilized behavior, marred only by the occasional lack of synchronocity among the dancers.

House of Joy (2012), a new work with music by Donald York, was a bit of fluff about prostitutes and their clients, a sailor, an old man, and a biker chick who each get their pick, and a young client who is beaten for his inability to pay. There was nothing particularly interesting about the solos or storyline.

Big Bertha (1970), on the other hand, was quite shocking. It starts with Mr. B, Mrs. B, and Miss B dancing innocently to big band tunes. Then Mr. B starts behaving lewdly towards his daughter, ultimately raping her with his wife's knowledge (or consent). This is the dark, violent side of Paul Taylor that I had only seen once before in Private Domain.

Piazzolla Caldera (1997) was all about tango, set in a working class bar (or brothel?) but without any overt tango steps. The piece seemed derivative of Jerome Robbins's choreography in West Side Story. The male duet, in particular, seemed inspired by the male duet in Goldberg Variations, another Robbins piece, with Taylor substituting the tenderness of the original with a suitably drunken, bromantic vibe.

The program pretty much summarized Paul Taylor's strengths and weaknesses. I'm still ambivalent about him but was happy to see his work again after almost a decade.