Monday 29 October 2007

The Bayreuth Succession episode 9: Waiting for November 6th...

Previous episodes of this Wagnerian docu-soap may be read here, and for new readers the background of this unique Wagnerian docu-soap is written up here.

After a long period of complete silence by the protagonists, the Honorary President of the Friends of Bayreuth named Edgard Hilger has decided to speak his mind. Again the tabloid Bunte is the chosen medium:
["If the Bayreuth Festival does not get a new director soon, I fear for the future of this world-class institution," he says and continues: "All insiders know, that Wolfgang Wagner due to his health condition has not been running the Festival on his own for quite some time. And since that was a condition for his life-time contract, I now consider this to be expired. Wolfgang Wagner may have a contract for life. But the condition was that he remain in "full legal capacity".

An anonymous member of the Board of Directors (of the Festival) further states that : "Wolfgang Wagner has to be present at the meeting at November 6". If not "we will not keep postponing the meetings and invite him again and again...". Furthermore, this anonymous source is certain that 2008 will see a new Festival Director. ]

The push for change by the involved parties is not surprising. The scheme of the Friends of Bayreuth is however not apparent: Obviously they will back the candidate guaranteeing them maximum influence...

And an up-date on the doings of the protagonists:

Katharina Wagner - has been seen at the premiere of Claus Guth´s Meistersinger in Dresden.

Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Nike Wagner - have not been seen.

Christian Thielemann – has been seen on the podium in Munich this weekend conducting his first performances of the season with the Munich Philharmonics in an all-Strauss programme (reviewed here by ionarts). A quick look at Christian Thielemann´s conducting schedule this year finds him focusing almost solely on Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner (as usual) - but also on Pfitzner, whose music Thielemann finds very underrated (one non-musical reason undoubtedly being Pfitzner´s not all-to-clean record during the Second World War, to put it mildly). Politically, it is not a very smart move of Christian Thielemann to begin championing his music, particularly when he himself has previously been accused of both right-wing sympathies and conservatism (which he denies and probably rightly so, in my opinion). Actually, the only reason I can possibly imagine for him playing this music is that he likes it.

So....Richard Strauss, probably the most loved composer in Munich, exponent of the Great German Cultural Tradition as well as Thielemann, the magnificent Richard Strauss (and Wagner) conductor. Surely, the conservative Friends of Bayreuth will back this man as leader of the Bayreuth Festival guaranteeing the Great German Cultural Tradition to continue in Bayreuth?? And even if you don´t care about the Great German Cultural Tradition - isn´t he the man to back anyway, in lack of serious competition? A world-class conductor teaming up with Wagner´s designated heir against two low-key operatic/music festival managers? And whatever you may think of Christian Thielemann´s abilities to run the Bayreuth Festival, he undoubtedly has star quality. Which the Bayreuth Festival needs as well.
Expect Thielemann to conduct marvellous performances in Bayreuth, but do not expect him to bring major changes to the Festival Administration. Nothing in his past career (which includes being music director for the Deutsche Oper Berlin) has suggested that he will.

The London Warner/Pappano Ring: Walküre revisited

Walküre. October 28th 2007, Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Production: Keith Warner. Cast: Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde), Plácido Domingo (Siegmund), John Tomlinson (Wotan), Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde), Stephen Milling (Hunding). Conductor: Antonio Pappano.

As I reported on this Walküre production with a virtually identical cast last week I will be brief:

Plácido Domingo is still the best Siegmund around. Stephen Milling is still the best Hunding around and Eva-Maria Westbroek is still a wonderful Sieglinde. Sir John Tomlinsons still performs Wotans monologue as the true highlight of Walküre it should be.

This time the Brünnhilde was Lisa Gasteen, who generally hits (almost all) the notes, but didn´t make any particular impression apart from that.

Antonio Pappano continued his brisk Keilberth-style conducting from Rheingold and fully deserved the thunderous applause he got.

Von Otter/Kuusisto/Forsberg in Korngold recital

I suppose I ought to be more familiar with Korngold´s music, so I wouldn’t have had to risk neck injury to look at my neighbor’s programme to follow the going-ons at this recital – since programs were sold out even before people started arriving, though the Queen Elizabeth Hall was only half full at most…..

Luckily accompanist Bengt Forsberg provided some initial explanations of the programme – which mainly consisted of songs by Korngold and contemporaries (sung by Anne Sofie von Otter) as well as his violin sonata (played by Pekka Kuusisto). I must admit, I was very impressed with Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto – his appearance in casual outfit and an almost non-chalant take on the music, but a very engaging presence on stage. Anne Sofie von Otter sang beautifully, but she somehow seemed not to perform at maximal intensity.

I now see that Intermezzo has also reported from this event (more extensively), and with more or less the same main points as myself.

The London Warner/Pappano Ring: Rheingold

Rhinegold. October 26th 2007. Cycle 3. Production: Keith Warner. Cast: Sir John Tomlinson (Wotan), Peter Sidhorn (Alberich), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Rosalind Plowright (Fricka), Emily Magee (Freia), Philip Langridge (Loge), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Erda), Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt), Philip Ens (Fafner). Conductor: Antonio Pappano.

Keith Warner´s London Ring is an eclectic mix of ideas seemingly borrowed from others: A bit of psychoanalysis, some Harry Kupfer, plenty Götz Friedrich. According to Keith Warner he is ”spinning the plate of microcosmos and macrocosmos simultaneously”, creating an universe where ”Strindberg/Ibsen meets the poetic universe of Greek drama” challenging ”the continuous power and existence of the Judaeo-Christian God”.

With dark sets carved out of a Strindberg play, a room with a spiral in the middle is a constant feature. The rooma apparently symbolizes Wotan´s mind as the spiral creates a vertical axis communicating with other rooms of Rhinemaidens, Valhalla, Nibelheim etc. Through the spiral a shining globus is attached to a red wire (another constant feature) symbolizing the Gold.

Alberich´s human experiments in the Nibelheim room are easily worthy of a Nazi camp. Wotan is not too noble either, continuously trying to manipulate with everyone to his own means.
However, humour and irony is also present in this Rheingold, quite apparent in Philip Langridge´s excellent Loge, making no efforts to hide his contempt for the Gods, constantly scheming to make Donner and Froh look like the ignorant fools they probably are, and forcing Wotan to chase him desperately to get his hand on the last golden apple after Freia´s involuntary departure.
The idea of placing normal-sized giants in front of two large projected shadows worked out well, as did the Nibelheim and Tarnhelm scenes (for once): The Tarnhelm was a white cube, both enlarging (so he embraces the entire stage) and diminishing (crawling on an elevated part of stage) Alberich.

I would like to see Alberich for once portrayed as a worthy adversary to Wotan instead of a clown. Unfortunately, Keith Warner´s Alberich is the usual fool, though well sung and acted by Peter Sidhorn.

Generally, the singers were good, although none were truly exceptional. Too much sprech-gesang for my taste on the parts of both Gerhard Siegel, Philip Langridge and Peter Sidhorn. Sir John Tomlinson’s strengths, such as dramatic projection and characterization may come better to their rights in Walküre than in the higher-lying legato-dominant Rheingold-Wotan. However, he commands the stage as ever and is well matched by Rosalind Plowrights Fricka. Catherine Wyn-Rogers made me wonder, how it is that Erda is such a difficult part to cast.

While Anthony Pappano does not dazzle with insight into Wagner´s score at the level of Thielemann or Barenboim, his conducting is nevertheless clearly far above average: His tempi are brisk, he is relatively straightforward, not overly dynamic and he follows the singers closely. In many ways he reminds of Joseph Keilberth conducting as heard on the recently released Testament Ring: Somewhat superficial, but never inadequate or boring.

Superb Sibelius recital disc by Kim Borg

A wonderful Sibelius Recital disc with the superb Finnish bass Kim Borg (1919-2000) recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in 1958-60 was released on CD earlier this year.
Kim Borg´s voice is exceptionally beautiful, especially in the middle and lower registry. He sings songs by Sibelius in both Finnish, Swedish, French and English plus three bonus tracks by another Finnish composer Kilpinen. Wonderfully accompanied by Erik Werba.

Highly recommended.

Sunday 21 October 2007

Plácido Domingo on stage directors, atonal music, opera stars and how to manage an opera house

My translation below of excerpts of an interview with Plácido Domingo in the latest edition of the German magazine Opernwelt (Albrecht Thiemann interviews) (I find some of his points quite interesting and have enlightened these)

On the future of opera

Plácido Domingo: First of all, I do not believe that opera as an art form is endangered. Most often, such statements come from people who advocate radical operatic productions and a need for each opera to "identify with our times". But what does the search for truth mean in this context?
We have over the last forty years invested a lot of time, energy, research and money to reconstruct the operatic sound to match what the composers of the Baroque era, the Viennese classics, etc. had in the ear had when they wrote their works. Suddenly countless musicians experiment with historical instruments. This has undoubtedly enriched our hearing of these works. And that raises the question for me: Why do we now insist that our ears perceive the music the same way as the composers who wrote it, while with our eyes and our intellect, the exact opposite is organized on stage?

Does anyone seriously believe that Verdi imagined Rigooletto at a monkey planet or that Mozart would have been delighted to see his operas as the zeitgeist of the 21st Century? And have those responsible for radically new interpretation of the established masterpieces ever thought, that perhaps they are the ones jeopardizing the future of opera?

These millions [used on semi-innovative opera productions] should instead be used to get something really new. In short, new works for both the eye, ear and intellect. To avoid misunderstandings: I have nothing against innovative staging approaches to masterpieces of the operatic literature, as long as they are tastefully executed and with talent behind. In Los Angeles, for example, William Friedkin set the prelude in "Ariadne auf Naxos" in the Malibu villa of a filmmaker. It was a great idea with which the audience could relate immediately... So what makes one "upgrade" acceptable and another not? It is the way a production is formed and how it is implemented. Whether talent and empathy is obvious and whether it becomes clear why it it is set in another era.

On atonal music

Plácido Domingo: In terms of atonal music, I have done my duty: Ginastera, Abril and to a certain extent, Tan Dun. When I sing atonal music, it should have a distinctive sound. Atonality for the sake of atonality sake does not interest me. I say this being quite aware that opera revolves around singing and the beauty of the human voice. Around the world people go to the opera to hear beautiful voices. Of course, I realize that the transformations of music during the last hundred years is needed to make new, unprecedented expressions and to test effect orms, not least in the field of musical theater. But the voice a deeply romantic instrument. Therefore, I often wonder whether it would not be better, to leave the atonal segments to the orchestra and give the voice more tonal music to express human feelings and dramatic situations. Yes, I believe in atonal vocal music, but I do not think that atonality is a "must" to create a significant new work.

On the difference between the Opera in Washington and Los Angeles

Plácido Domingo: The audiences in Washington and in Los Angeles, for example, cannot be lumped together. It is my conviction, that we make opera to entertain and enlighten. Also, I must consider the fact that in Washington, many people in one way or another are related to politics, while in Los Angeles you rather feel the presence of the movie industry and big business. Because every four to eight years, the government changes in Washington, there is a high turnover. Many people leave the city, while others come here. Especially when the power passes from the Democrats to the Republicans or vice versa. These findings influence my artistic planning, of course. An example: At the Washington National Opera, I have an American opera on the repertoire every season....For I believe that the capital of the United States should deal with American culture. That applies especially to new works. The true value of a piece of new music can, in many cases, be measured only after the hype around the "world premiere" settles down. It is also like this in Europe.

At the Los Angeles Opera....I have tried to get personalities from the film industry to work with opera. I have asked directors known from the film and music industry to direct classic operatic repertoire on stage: William Friedkin, Maximilian Schell, Marte Keller, Gary Marshall, Vincent Patersen, Julie Taymor. I have also commissioned a new opera - by a composer who usually works for the film industry.
Incidentally, my faith in film directors was developed long before my connection with the Los Angeles opera. For example, I was the one, who persuaded John Schlesinger to stage "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" at Covent Garden and "Un ballo in maschera" in Salzburg.

On funding

Plácido Domingo: Opera in Europe has for decades been funded by public means only. But the world is changing and there is now also countries where we can no longer readily rely on the flow of public money to opera. Even valid contracts mean little when the promised funding is just not there.
In the United States, opera has always been privately funded. The crucial point is that the artistic independence is maintained regardless of where the money comes from.

On contemporary European and American operas

Plácido Domingo: "Moses and Aron" has been staged several times in the US, among other places at the Metropolitan Opera. But unfortunately, the performances were poorly attended. Zimmermann's "Soldaten" was staged at the New York City Opera, but here the interest was so low that a revival of the production was cancelled. That does not mean that Americans have anything against contemporary music from Europe. The works of Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich and Hans Werner Henze have been well received here. Some works just come across the Atlantic better than others. That composers like William Bolcom, Tobias Picker and Scott Wheeler are more or less unknown in Europe is an example of this. Could the neglect of contemporary operas from America perhaps relate to some kind of chauvinism? If this is true, it would be very foolish. If you wonder about the weak presence of works such as Zimmerman's "Soldaten" at American opera houses, I may just as well ask why a Bolcom opera like "A View from the Bridge," a success both at the Chicago Lyric Opera as well as the Metropolitan Opera and to be shown in the 2007/08 season at the Washington National Opera, have never been performed in Europe?

On American vs. European stage directors

Plácido Domingo: There are several American directors having great success in Europe: Francesca Zambello, David Alden, Robert Wilson, Peter Sellars – to mention only a few. On the other hand, American opera houses also have engaged several European stage directors. Achim Freyer, for example, made a fantastic «La Damnation de Faust» in Los Angeles. And he will stage a new Ring Cycle there as well.

On the importance of opera stars vs. the ensemble

Plácido Domingo: Of course, the ensemble is of paramount importance, I agree. But it is also a fact that every major opera house has a "wish list" of about 15 singers whom they´d prefer to hire. The ideal combination is one of established stars and young singers. This mixture holds a double advantage: The stars help the box office sales; the houses help the stars of tomorrow.

Rudolf Bing once said something very beautiful and true about this subject: "I loathe dealing with stars. But I need them. "

On chosing repertoire

Plácido Domingo:
As a head of an opera house, you have to be very conscious of your audience. I should not forget that I don´t manage a Festival, but two houses with many subscribers. In Washington, as well as in Los Angeles, most visitors are locals, not tourists. And I cannot close my eyes to most of the wishes and needs of this core audience. In a house where Verdi's "Vespri siciliani" and Strauss' "Frau ohne Schatten" has never been played, I must first play such pieces before I introduce Berg's "Wozzeck," Hindemith's "Cardillac" or Luigi Nono's "Intolleranza".... Therefore, I cannot make radical choices. The problem with many radical productions - termed "Euro-trash" is that the viewers are robbed of imagination. An example [of the opposite]: Wieland Wagner´s staging of the works of his grandfather were revolutionary in their poverty, and yet they had a magical world created only by light. It was possible to be a spectator listening to wonderful sounds quite alone, while the eye associated many different things with the action on stage. At festivals such as Salzburg and Bayreuth, where year after year the works of a single composer (Mozart, Wagner) is at the center and the audience are mainly tourists, you have other opportunities to show "radical" stagings/performances.

On looks vs. voice in opera careers

Plácido Domingo: Ultimately, the best ones make it. Has it not always been so? Just give me one singer of historic rank, who did not in the true sense of the word have "extraordinary" vocal quality. Does the look matter? Not necessarily. But, of course, it helps the credibility, if you are visually suitable to a role on stage.

How have you managed to keep your voice fresh for almost five decades ?

Plácido Domingo: The answer is: with discipline and self-knowledge.

On stadium/arena concerts

Plácido Domingo: I have performed some 3,300 nights in 124 different roles on the operatic stage. These performances were always very satisfying for me, because in the opera you follow a role from beginning to end: A criminals, sometimes an emperor, priest or hero, painter or saint, a biblical figure, clown, duke, king or general. It's great, to embody so many different people. I have done about 100 Arena concerts in order to access a different audience: You sing every four or five minutes, a new aria or duet, a musical number, a song or something from an operetta or Zarzuela. Melodies, which most people know and love. What is wrong about dealing with various forms of expression of the music to an audience?

Saturday 20 October 2007

London Pappano/Warner Ring: Superb Domingo, Westbroek and Milling in Walküre

Walküre. October 19th 2007, Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Production: Keith Warner. Cast: Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde), Plácido Domingo (Siegmund), John Tomlinson (Wotan), Susan Bullock (Brünnhilde), Stephen Milling (Hunding). Conductor: Antonio Pappano.

I thought he was good when I heard him in Munich this July. But that was nothing compared to his Siegmund in the Royal Opera performance of Walküre yesterday. Plácido Domingo, despite his 67 years, is quite simply still the best Siegmund around. While he occasionally may be stiff on stage, his voice was as beautiful as ever, with a distinct glow, no barking or yelling and an effortless "Wälse" cry. Even his German diction seemed better than usual.
He was accompanied by Eva-Marie Westbroeks wonderful Sieglinde, which, Waltraud Meier apart may not be seen better on stage anywhere.
Stephen Milling is equally unrivalled as an astonishingly evil Hunding with superb command of the stage. His laughter after Siegmunds murder is simply spine-chilling. And when he dies, he falls flat on the floor being stabbed in the chest by Wotan: Chest and head hit the floor with a major PLUNK resulting in scattered audience whisper along the lines of "wauw - that must really have hurt".

No, Sir John Tomlinson does not have the top notes, and his vibrato is far too large when he is strained, but in large parts of the Walküre he isn´t and when he is on, he simply commands the stage, which counts for a lot. Such as in one of the best monologues I have heard. A roguish Wotan, but one you cannot help feeling sorry for despite his inadequacies. That his voice isn`t really suitable for the "leb wohl" anymore, I`ll just forget.
Fine performance also from Susan Bullock (replacing the indisposed Lisa Gasteen) as Brünnhilde. While her acting seemed a bit neurotic, she looked the part, did not tire and did not have a too unpleasant vibrato.

Keith Warner’s Room of Wotan´s mind continues to be the center of action, with the vertical spiral in the center and a white fan on the ceiling creating an oppressive atmosphere of A Doll House (Ibsen).
In the second act we are at the bottom end of the spiral, with the previously mentioned red tread guiding Siegmund and Sieglinde´s flight, while Wotan anguishes and throws furniture around. For the third act, Keith Warner operates with a symbolic door through which Siegmund´s body falls. The fire, which continuously has malfunctioned, was working. But only just, as it seemed to stop half-way up the spiral case, though finally decided to continue as scheduled.

Antonio Pappano repeated his excellent performance from Rheingold. Brisk, energetic and attentive to detail as well as to the singers.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Dresden: Claus Guth with new Meistersinger

For American tenor Robert Dean Smith, it all ended in the living room of Hans Sachs in the third act of the premiere of Claus Guth´s Meistersinger at the Dresden Semperoper.
Despite Hans Sachs (Alan Titus) offering him a glass of water, the voice was simply gone in the middle of the Prize Song. Raymond Very (who?) quickly jumped in and finished both Prize song and opera, without conductor Fabio Luisi missing a single beat.

Reactions to controversial director Claus Guth´s staging were, as always I may say, mixed: According to the various media, he takes Meistersinger very seriously, follows the text meticulously and focus on rebellion within a closed community as well as Eva´s relationships with both Sachs, Walther and Beckmesser, none of which are taken lightly.

Claus Guths Meistersinger is no comedy. Stark reality is present underneath the surface. To further the interpretation, each singer was represented by a double-puppet as the chorus held small Nürnberg houses in their hands on an otherwise almost empty stage.
Uanimous praise in the German press for Bo Skovhus in his debut as Beckmesser, Fabio Luisi´s conducting and Robert Dean Smith/Raymond Very as Walther.

Photos by Matthias Creuziger for the Semperoper from Richard Wagner Werkstatt

Tuesday 16 October 2007

From the dusty archives...

Wolfgang Wagner´s 1989 Bayreuth Festival staging of Parsifal will be revived next year in Seoul, Korea overseen by his daughter Katharina. She states, that she declined an offer to stage a Parsifal production of her own, thinking her style "not appropriate in this cultural setting".
Apparently a dusty 20-year old Parsifal production is more appropriate...
Whatever qualities Wolfgang Wagner may have, innovative stagings of his grandfathers works are not among them...

Just checking the mail....

Peter Emmerich, spokesperson of the Bayreuth Festival in front of boxes and boxes with ticket applications for the 2008 Bayreuth Festival (from

Monday 15 October 2007

Time´s up..

If you intend to apply for tickets for the 2008 Bayreuther Festspiele. Ticket forms post-marked later than tomorrow will not be taken into consideration.

Before rushing to the post office, you may be interested to know that:

More than 60.000 ticket forms have already been returned so far (they claim around 54.000 seats are available to the general public), causing a close-to-break-down of the Bavarian postal system.
The Bayreuth ticket office reports that it´s not uncommon for people to attach lucky charms etc. to their ticket applications...
Or to write desperate stories in order to advance in the queue..
Average waiting time is 7-10 years (assuming you make this deadline every year)..

Thursday 11 October 2007

The Bayreuth Succession - episode 8: The silence...

Previous episodes of this Wagnerian docu-soap may be read here , and for new readers the background of this unique Wagnerian docu-soap is written up here.

Episode 8: The silence..

Katharina Wagner has not given any interviews for two weeks.
Christian Thielemann has not given any interviews apart from the one, declaring his candidacy.

Eva Wagner-Pasquier has only given one additional interview to a German radio station declaring her joint candidacy with Nike Wagner, who has not given any interviews either.

In short: Nothing is happening OR major things are probably happening, just behind closed doors. Counting down to November 6..

Reviews of the London ROH Ring

Reviews of Cycle 1 of the Warner/Pappano London Ring:

The Telegraph, musicOMH, Guardian, The Stage, TimesOnline, The Independent

Mixed reviews for Keith Warner´s prodution. Positive reports on John Tomlinson, with Times even calling him magnificent, and The Independent judged his Wotan "one of the most moving spectacles in opera" and further finds Pappano´s conducting to be simply "world-class". Also much praise for Eva-Maria Westbroek´s Sieglinde and Simon O´Neill´s Siegmund, while reports on John Treleaven (Siegfried) and Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde) ranged between "excellent" and "problematic".

Friday 5 October 2007

Bill Viola´s Déserts, a new accordion concerto and stewardesses serving snacks...

The white smoke filling the bare white-walled 17th century former naval warehouse slowly lifted as Varese´s Déserts began, with the orchestra initially hidden behind a white curtain. Bill Viola´s images of isolated deserts and underwater images interrupted by an isolated man in a room seems almost ideal to accompany Varese´s music. Purification, redemption, transfiguration seems to be the themes of Viola´s work. Arrestingly beautiful.

Intermezzo included white-clad stewardesses serving wine and tapas to the audience (brilliant idea!)- while deserted cities were projected on the wall.

And then the world premiere of Kent Olofsson accordion concerto - mixing prerecorded electronic sounds played by loud-speaker with those of the symphony orchestra - placed at 5-6 small elevated scenes between the audience. And the accordion score included vocal sounds and drumming on the instrument as well... It is a fascinating piece, the mix of percussion with the characteristic accordion seems a very good match. I had the most fascinating seat in the room - just beside the percussionist, playing on: Old metal sweet boxes, scratching a heavy object on the floor, moving a chord sticking out of a drum ..wonder what his score looked like....

I´d say this was a close-to-ideal set-up for performing contemporary classical works: The mix of century-old buildingc, brand-new music and top-quality visual input.

This concert was part of the Sound Around festival:

Friday 05.10.07
Danish Radio Sinfonietta
Conductor: Christian Eggen
Soloist: James Crabb (accordion)

Edgard Varèse: Déserts with video by Bill Viola
Intermezzo: Transformation by Hans Hansen and 7 students from the School of Archicture
Kent Olofsson: Chladni’s Bow- Physisonochromie III for accordion, orchestra and electronics (2006-07) World Premiere

"The matchstick man" - a look into Kurtág´s universe

Very reluctantly, Hungarian composer György Kurtag accepted the presence of director Judit Kele and her film crew for this documentary.

The resulting portrait The matchstick man is essential viewing. The life of Kurtág, is documented by sequences from rehearsals, master-classes, concerts and composing-sessions providing unique insight into his thought process as well as his interpersonal relations. The look at his face upon hearing Claudio Abbado rehearse his music with the Berlin Philharmonics is priceless. To be followed by: "I have now given the piece to you and it is of course yours now to form, but....". Fellow composers, such as Ligeti appear as well, and Kurtag´s towering, though quiet, presence in Hungarian cultural life is quite evident.

The second film on this DVD is The seventh door (a reference to Bluebeards Castle) about fellow Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös. Also well worth seeing and providing interesting insights into the works and world of Peter Eötvös. A brilliant sequence shows Eötvös, Pierre Boulez and David Robertson rehearsing Stockhausens´"Gruppen" . Not to mention Eötvös practice ow to smash two stones together to get the exact right sound for a composition "The stones", dedicated to Pierre Boulez.

Highly recommended.

Kurtag playing "Quarrel" with his wife:

Thursday 4 October 2007

Boulez´ Parsifal = The reciprocal Wagnerian answer to Harnoncourt´s Figaro

"Well, it´s not like anyone would dare apply such extreme tempi to Wagner´s operas as those applied by Harnoncourt in his Salzburg Figaro?", is the common response to my lack of understanding of why Harnoncourt´s choice of tempi for his Figaro are that controversial.
(now, I am no frequent listener to Mozart´s operas to put it mildly, but I find his reading of the score the closest worth listening to I can remember having heard, with added poise and gravity resulting from his slower-than-commonly-used tempi).

And they are completely wrong, of course. The tempi of Boulez´Parsifal are much more deviating from "normal" performance practice than Harnoncourt´s. Boulez cuts about an hour of Parsifal, when he is at his fastest, which is ~25% of the total work lenghts. Both in his 1970 recording and in the Schlingensief Parsifal performances in Bayreuth 2004-5.

So my reaction to that? Well, it really is kidding..leaves me almost out of breath after the first act. But at the same time transparent and clear. Wonder what makes him prefer such a fast reading for Parsifal, which he didn´t in the 1976 Ring...
I am still going with Barenboim or Thielemann, though. Or Knappertsbusch.

Why don´t they wear a wig as well!....Pierre Boulez on concerts, on other conductors performing his works and on his own role in the music business:

Excerpts of one of the relatively rare interviews with Pierre Boulez, published in the Frankfurter Rundschau this week (my translation):

You have worked as a conductor for more than half a century. Surely, the music enterprise has changed very much during that time?

Pierre Boulez: Not enough. I still think that one should do much more for the contemporary music, as well as for the contemporary art. For the contemporary art, you have the Documenta. A comparable event does not exist for contemporary music. But I am definitely optimistic, regarding the situation of contemporary music today. We do not play for empty halls anymore. However, compared to the visual arts, we also have the disadvantage of the lack of economic interest from audience members: Nobody can go into a concert and hope that what he brings with him is much more worth 20 years later. In addition there is the time question. If a picture does not please you, you continues to go to the next. That cannot be done with a concert. At the most, you can leave and thus demonstrate your anger.

We talk about the changes in the music enterprise, to which you have contributed significantly.

Pierre Boulez: I have tried my best..

You were basically the only person in question [for the leadership of the IRCAM]?

Pierre Boulez: At the time, I had the luck not to have been much in France for almost 20 years, working instead abroad in Germany and in the States.So one had the impression in France that I had achieved success on an international level - that was my luck...

Your conducting style is free of maestro attitudes?

Pierre Boulez: Conducting is a dialogue. I have had the luck to work frequently with extraordinary musicians, with their own idea about the pieces, which one cannot ignore. They have their own thoughts about the music and sometimes come to other results than I. But we always meet at the end. It may appear that I am very serious, but there are moments, where one must listen exactly to what the musicians have to say.

..To work in America was good schooling. Rehearsal time cost money and are often very limited there. One had to come to the point quickly, be well prepared and know how to bring your ideas forward, which is best done by convincing the musicians. You cannot convince anybody, if you are not convinced yourself.

Is orchestra work more relaxed in Europe?

Pierre Boulez: To work with the musicians in the Ensemble Modern is just marvelous,...But I have also had excellent experiences for example with the Vienna Philharmonics, even when I pushed the orchestra very hard.

Doesn't the orchestras in Europe represent a very conservative tradition?

Pierre Boulez: Yes, and the changes happen far too slow for my taste! Just take the formal attire worn by musicians..around 1870, 1880 a comparatively normal article of clothing. Today it isolates the musicians from its public. Why not also wear a wig! go to a concert is like going to the museum in order to look at a conserved body.

You were also the first conductor, to take Frank Zappa seriously as a serious composer?

Pierre Boulez: He came to me in Paris bringing with him his own compositions for orchestra and was very pleasant, but I did not have an entire orchestra to my disposition at that time, only the Ensemble Intercontemporain. I said to him, if he wanted to write pieces for that ensemble, I would play them...In concert I have played his music together with that of Elliott Carter, Charles Ives and Carl Ruggles, in order to emphasize his role as an American composer.
It came to energizing meetings between those audience members, who had come to the concert because of Carter or Ives, and those, who had come because of Zappa, which could be distinguished from each other on the basis of their clothing alone..In that way the public was confronted not only with strange music, but also with itself.

Your third role in the music enterprise is that of the composer. What is your influence in that regard?

Pierre Boulez: On the enterprise the smallest possible.

One must wait, until conductors like yourself plays your music..

Pierre Boulez: Exactly. As a conductor I play both my own music and that of my colleagues. Many conductors today, however says to themselves: He can conduct his own music himself, therefore we do not have to do it. When my music is conducted by someone else, it sometimes feels like if I own a car and am only allowed to be in the passenger seat..

Lars Von Trier on the Nibelungen Ring - the enriched darkness

Lars von Trier on his ideas for the Nibelungen Ring, published on Zentropa´s website and reprinted in full below (recommendation: take a look at the section entitled Enriched Darkness - definitely not uninteresting). As most will know, this was supposed to be the 2006 Bayreuth Festival Ring, but Lars von Trier backed out..

Deed of Conveyance

Plain as a pikestaff

Having worked for two years on my now cancelled production of the Bayreuth Ring cycle I feel the urge to draw up a kind of deed of conveyance in which I describe some of (what I regard as) the fertile ideas and results I arrived at, partly in cooperation with Kalli Juliusson, the designer.
I’ll start with my qualifications for directing an opera: none, apart, perhaps, from an instinctive yearning towards and away from the medium. However, I have always had affection for Wagner: mostly for his music and the monumental aspects of his life and work; less so the singing, which I had skimmed lightly, regarding it as less accessible. But perhaps it was precisely because of my reservations that I felt very clearly that I had something to offer vis-à-vis the Ring. I had the willpower and love, and my lack of operatic upbringing and knowledge was something I felt could be turned to advantage.

To me, opera is a curiosity, whereas singing seems perfectly natural. On this point my view is probably shared by most other people who lack cultivation in this field. It seems reasonable that we may tell stories in different ways, and that one of them is stylized, tuneful, and is known as song. But to populate the world in which a tale is set exclusively with singing individuals (with no explanation given) is a quantum leap. I am sure there are explanations (historical and experiential) but it’s tough, and we have to accept it at an instinctive level.

So when faced with the Ring I was forced to draw various conclusions about opera: any stylization had to have a purpose. It was obvious that music accompanying a narrative could underline emotions and moods, and occasionally help to tell the story itself (the way music is often used in films, as a rule without the provision of the slightest explanation for this abstraction); it was thereby also obvious that the words presented by the singers could also be enriched in the same way. But opera is not just enriched theatre; it is an independent form and style, the purpose of which is to reach places you cannot get to by any other means: experiences that cannot be provided otherwise.

Experiences can, of course, take many forms ... but with regard to Wagner (and opera in its traditional form in general, I felt) I soon saw only one possibility: that the experience ought to be an emotional one for me; and how do you achieve emotional contact with an audience? Or rather, how do you make sure you don’t prevent it? You allow the audience to apply the range of emotions it knows from real life by insisting that the performance IS real! A stylized reality, a poetic reality in which the voices possess melody and the silence has notes, but reality nonetheless!

In my view, then, Wagner must be experienced emotionally. This is and always has been the idea (although as a member of the audience you can always train your way to an abundance of experiences that are just as good, of course), and emotions are permitted only when you accept the medium as real. This acceptance starts with the director! Siegfried, Wotan, Fafner, Brünhilde and the rest of them are real and alive and inhabit a real world. First and foremost they are NOT symbols or illustrations or decorations or abstractions. They all have their psychologies, and via them the conflicts and thereby the empathy and emotions of the audience arise.

That was a long introduction but it pays to be thorough even when dealing with something as plain as a pikestaff. Once I’d understood the emotional bit I was ready, I felt. And after all: everything was already there in the words, which made it quite unnecessary to invent and add any new layers. It may be fine to make Wagner’s amazingly human Gods populate English industrialism or the Third Reich, but it doesn’t improve things. We don’t need parallels! Actually, parallels are directly confusing! Leave parallels and interpretations to the audience! As the recently deceased opera buff Gerhard Schepelern so persistently reminded me, “The director must not try to be cleverer than the work!” No, he must be the servant of the original intentions he finds in the words and music, and the harder the task, the more persistent he must be. If Fafner is meant to inspire terror, the director is firmly obliged to apply all his abilities to invoking terror. If Siegfried is a hero (however psychologically complicated) he must be presented as such, no matter how unfashionable, ungrateful and politically incorrect it may seem. If the Ring contained and contains humour, it is this humour that the production must bring out and not the prejudiced wit of a casual director.

If we want Wagner, we want Wagner. And that’s that. Anything else is pusillanimous. He is not to blame if his work made such an impression that posterity often – for the sake of convenience – almost regards it as a comic cliché. If he was inspired by the era of the great migration, this must also be the dogma the director submits to, and if Wagner’s artistic starting point was a view of humanity that we find hard to swallow, the production must submit to his original intentions, no doubt about it; squeezing Wagner’s Ring into the confines of modern humanism is just as misleading and incorrect as basking in the classic by drawing parallels or poking fun. Wagner made a myth of the myths, and if you are afraid of it, you should steer clear.
But how do you relate to a production of the Ring when, as I do, you believe you have an emotional understanding of and respect for the original work? How do you imbue the visual staging with the necessary reality?

Wagner faced the same problem when the Festspielhaus was finished. He staged the first production of the Ring. He was not satisfied. Not at all. Creating the musical, abstract world was one thing; the visual (and hence tangible) world was another. The singers annoyed him with their mannered gestures. The grandeur of the idea of the flying, armour-clad Valkyries paled disappointingly when shown on stage.

Realizing his mythological world caused him trouble. And we know that illusion mattered to Wagner. Consider the stage directions for the scene in which Siegfried fights Fafner: they meticulously describe the size of the cries to be uttered by the singer in order to provide the sound of the mighty beast’s voice before and after the coup de grace.

Wagner considered that all artistic effects should be employed for his production. He borrowed from other art forms and amalgamated them. He talked of a Gesamtkunstværk. He invented the concealed orchestra pit (the music was not to originate from instrumentalists but merely to exist in space). What Wagner wanted to achieve in those days sounds very much like what we would call cinema. Would Wagner have made a film? Perhaps. To me, the Ring as cinema would lose its vitality. It would betray the concept of opera, which to me, besides illusion, is also the performance. High wire acts and conjurers fail to come across on film; so does opera. Because being there is a vital ingredient. Opera must be performed live, with the unique quality of the moment, for live human beings by live human beings.

The challenge was now obvious: a performance that would use illusion and presence to convey the emotional qualities I and many others had found in Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungs: a production the composer and librettist did not think he had achieved; a staging to which I had not found any obviously satisfying contemporary counterpart. I had to seek the commonplace, the essential ... the illusion!

The essence of illusion is that it does not exist; or more correctly, it only exists in the mind of the spectator. How do we put it there? Simply by implication. By showing things that cause the spectator to deduce and “see” the illusion that is precisely not shown. It is simple dramaturgy: if A via B leads to C, we show A and C, and let the spectator deal with B! It’s the simple recipe for conjuring tricks. We see the presentation and the result but never the actual transformation. It is the spectator’s acquired knowledge of sequences of events that creates the magic and the illusion.

It doesn’t take much brainpower to deduce from this that all that is really interesting about the Ring cannot be seen! Like conjuring tricks, the visual mythology is a definite B! So I concluded without hesitation that the ultimate production would have to take place in total darkness! By not showing the characters, scenery and action, you allow your audience to build up images of them solely on the basis of the music and the words, the value of which any director would be stupid to question. But to a director, in addition to being consistent, total darkness is also rather meager and unsatisfactory. And anyway, Wagner’s words also include a small but very important and far-reaching number of stage directions.

And to make this long story a bit shorter, permit me to take this chance to present my scenic conclusion! A conclusion partly in line with “theatre noire” but which I would rather call direction using “enriched darkness”.

Enriched darkness

Modern productions employ a maximum of visual impressions from start to finish: usually grandiose, partly abstract sets in which an act of the opera takes place. With a bit of luck the sets allow a few different places to position the characters so a smidgeon of visual development does take place. Inevitably, however, the result is that the audience reads the set in an instant, where after it simply becomes a place where the whole thing happens. At worst the audience soon begins to wonder how on earth the large number of performers can make their entrances, let alone their exits. This can be quite entertaining for an audience trying to kill time, but it does not promote positive communication with the production on the part of the spectator.
It didn’t always use to be like this. The lighting at the Festspielhaus was surely very different in the early days. In Wagner’s day gas light was used. It wasn’t until electric lighting was introduced that you could distinguish the singers’ faces properly (and that would have really given Wagner problems with the tangible!). So Wagner actually wrote for a much lower level of lighting. Mystery originally enjoyed far more favourable conditions. My idea was to go back, and more than that. To go into the darkness, which modern stage technology enables us to position with considerably more precision and purpose.

Actually, the concept is filmic. In horror films in particular, the technique of hinting without showing has been tried and tested, and adopted to great effect by electronic games. In both media we are familiar with arriving at a darkened house with the frail beam of a torch our only source of lighting. Not to mention in real life: at night, no matter how delightful and safe our neck of the woods may be, it inevitably becomes populated by demons, evil and mythological forces; and as we all know, they are all the more real and terrifying for not being illuminated.
A via B to C: imagine two spots of light on a stage. Top and bottom. We see the top and bottom of an old ladder. The ladder is rotten and the bottom half is split. In a horror film blood would be dripping from the darkness above. As somebody climbs the ladder and disappears into the darkness the ladder begins to shake violently. If the person had been armed his weapon would have tumbled into the patch of light at the bottom. Then for a while neither end of the ladder would move until the top began to shudder more and more and two hairy hands emerged from the darkness above and whipped the ladder away. Perhaps it would prove to be a short length of ladder unattached to the length below ... etc. etc. This is just an illustration of the narrative potential of enriched darkness, familiar to us all; how by seeking the great impression amidst the smallest ones we can achieve more than by employing maximum power. Our observation of the person on the ladder in what is surely a perilous, claustrophobic situation somewhere in the midst of the darkness may be compared in a small way to our observations of the tiniest particles in physics, which we cannot observe directly but only on the basis of the effects they must have on things around them big enough to be visible. That we can’t see atoms doesn’t make the atomic any less fascinating!

But before I make enriched darkness sound trite, let me say that it is a tool to be used in far more sophisticated ways than just telling linear stories. In the case of the Ring I think it would prove to contain a good deal of what Wagner dreamed of: by not lighting “democratically” but – on the contrary – manipulating to the extreme (as we determine absolutely the amount of visual information the audience is offered at any given moment), we could control the way the set and the world grew and evolved in the minds of the audience as the performance proceeded.
As is the case when using other clearly defined techniques, it is important to treat enriched darkness with care. When we make a limited light field follow a character through the landscape or a building, we must meet the audience’s logical requirements. As we only see tiny sections of the set, and together they must make up the complete picture in the minds of the audience, we must provide some help. If we sense a room at first floor height and then perceive a staircase somewhere, it is generally expedient to link the two in a logical way. I.e. the character followed by the spot climbs the staircase to the first floor at some stage, thus meeting our expectation that there is a naturalistic building. By presenting this kind of gift to the audience we can use the gradual revelation of the building to reflect developments at the dramatic and psychological level. And once we render the cohesion and logic of the set plausible like this, we can introduce surprises such as trap doors suddenly turning out to link two completely separate rooms. It also provides opportunities that are more like extensions of dream and myth: we can fool the audience, its memory and sense of place by exploiting the absence of light to change the basic dimensions of the set, all in order to convey the qualities of the work in the best way: an enrichment of the darkness in which the original musical and textual work of art is played out in such a way that it finally proves to be a decent, not to mention challenging, arena for it.
Another advantage of the technique is the way it allows us to make the stage infinite (no bad thing when you’re dealing with mythology!). Using the dark suddenly makes it a lot easier to introduce visual layers from outside in a credible amalgam with the components of the stage. The use of video projections for adding scenic motion in the big scenes, drastically extending the stagescape, and rendering many of the special effects or conjuring tricks the Ring has to offer is an obvious option. As in any illusion, it is important to conceal the technology so that it is not apparent how the various visual effects are created. We are in the world of suggestion, and this is precisely why we can use the most sophisticated mechanical and electronic technology, as it will never result in effects that draw attention to themselves and divert attention from the content of the whole.

I wanted to extend the stage even further by adding another layer of abstraction, as via TV and film audiences today have been reared very differently from those in Wagner’s day. That is to say: using the spot light technique would allow me to make the proscenium into the visual equivalent of a silver screen or TV screen, introducing pans, tilts, and movements of the visual surface that would give the illusion of dollying and crane movement. (Hence we developed a technique that would enable the second act of Die Walküre to consist of a single continual illusion that the stage picture was rising constantly upwards, following the trek to the Valkyrie mountain right to the top, just as a similar horizontal movement would show Siegfried approaching Fafner’s lair.

Using technology with a maximum lighting quotient of five percent (sometimes distributed among a number of lit areas, too) obviously detail would matter. If enriched darkness was to enrich the Ring by turning much less into much more, the quality of suggestion would have to be high. Working with Kalli Juliusson I accumulated an extensive picture library of relevant details from nature and the countryside; and we conducted extensive historical research. If we were to comment on and substantiate the dramatic and emotional progression of the opera for every metre through which our spot of light moved, we would need a library of hundreds of different kinds of Northern European moss, for example, and just as many lava outcrops, because in my view the mythological landscape can only be created from relentlessly naturalistic components. Dock leaves and mortised beams from the era of the great migration would have been presented with the same authenticity, even if only in glimpses and in such tiny sections that perhaps only the front rows would have benefited.

I know it is easy to invoke such high quality requirements for a production that has been abandoned. But if you want to know the thinking behind it, that was it; greatness in the tiniest detail and divinity in nature. That was what my Wagner was like!

If I’m to end by touching on the difficulties of the complete project, well, theatre noire, magic theatre or enriched darkness are not easy quantities, particularly with the quality requirements outlined above. Compared to the implementation of a modern, professional US magic show on stage (where the importance of presence and human performance are vital, just as in our case), the technology and sets easily run into millions of dollars, as one trick that doesn’t function perfectly can kill the whole show. The same applied here. Not only would my version of the Ring require the terrifyingly precise, expensive development and synchronization of everything from the many video screens to advanced hydraulic stage machinery, a large number of hidden stagehands (who would have to be equipped with night vision), and thousands of lighting cues (the follow spot was soon abandoned in favour of lots of loose lights that moved the light via tons of coded fades), not to mention the problems that would arise in simply maintaining the divine darkness (both in the auditorium, despite the covered pit, and on stage, where light spillage from within the desired limits was a gigantic problem that could not simply be solved using bobbinet scrims, which had disastrous effects on the acoustics anyway, etc); the production would lose all its authority and be brought down to earth with a thud if just one of these procedures went wrong. I am not saying it could not be done; just that with my morbid craving for perfection (which has kept me from producing predefined images for my films for years now: i.e. in practice, any planned camera positions) it would have been hell.

But as I say, perhaps other people might feel inspired by my deliberations; hence this article; also in order to purge my mind and get rid of the whole monstrous burden that the Ring also comprises, especially when you have painted yourself into a corner from the conceptual point of view (even a really successful one, as I still believe it is), and which was the emotion that overwhelmed me a few months ago and was the main reason for my pulling out.

Lars von Trier, 22 June 2004

PS If anyone would like to look at and maybe use my rough notes for the two operas I drew up, Die Walküre and Siegfried, they will be freely available at this homepage from around a month from this date, located here with the kindly cooperation of Wolfgang Wagner and the Bayreuther Festspiele.

Also, in Danish and German, Von Trier´s detailed stage directions for parts of Siegfried and Walküre may be viewed here, clicking on the header "links"

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Aage Haugland with Mussorgsky´s Complete Songs

Mussorgsky: Complete songs. Aage Haugland (bass), Poul Rosenbaum (piano). Released 1999. Further information here.

Released only one year before his much too early death, the great Danish Bass Aage Haugland presents a complete recording of Mussorgsky´s songs, accompanied by Poul Rosenbaum on piano.

For me, this recording probably means the end of a long search, though it may not be for everyone: Aage Haugland´s voice, though not beautiful, comes close to a traditional Russian-style profondo complete with yelling and sprechgesang. Haugland´s main assets were his eminent sense of characterization as well as an overwhelming presence on stage, both convincingly conveyed in this 3 disc set.
Though I do not speak Russian, upon listening to these songs, I immediately felt what they were about as the moods of each one of these songs are precisely delivered: The song of the drunkard, the fly, the devil, on melancholy etc.
We are far from bel canto style. Often, in the upper ranges, where Haugland is most uncomfortable, he diminishes his volume to almost a whisper. Alternatively he yells. However, the characters are drawn with a pen as sharp as anything I have previously encountered in this repertoire and brought to life as rarely heard.

The obvious comparison is with Boris Christoff and comparing the two in a classic like the "Song of Mephistopheles" precisely pin-points the difference in approaches: Christoff with his booming, almost monotonous thundering bass, with elegant and beautiful ornamented characterizations versus Hauglands raw bass and intense raw characterizations, at times even yelling and making strange sounds according to the textual elements. Sergei Leiferkus has recorded the complete Mussorgsky songs as well, but though much speaks in his favor, I feel the songs lack the characterization Aage Haugland provides.

Monday 1 October 2007

Eva Wagner-Pasquier breaks the silence in episode 7 of "The Bayreuth succession"

Previous episodes of mostly opera´s highly successful Wagnerian docu-soap may be read here, and for new readers the background of this unique Wagnerian docu-soap is written up here.

Episode 7 presents the first interview with Eva Wagner-Pasquier given to the magazine "Bunte":

“I do not feel too old or over my zenith at all. I am intellectually challenged every day and I am ready. But this time, the Festival Director should resign and not invoke his life-time contract if he doesn´t agree with the Board of Directors choice. What happened in 2001 should not be repeated [background on what happened in 2001 here]. The resolution from 2001 [to put her in charge of the Festival] however, is still valid, in principle."

Furthermore, she doesn´t think her father´s life-time contract valid anymore:
"It expired in my opinion, because my father does not lead the Festival alone any longer, which is clear to everyone and also public knowledge...I find it a humiliating end to my father´s otherwise valuable work for him to be used like that.....My goal is to celebrate Wagner´s 200-year in 2013 - a great challenge."

On Katharina Wagner:

"I have only met her twice - briefly....I find it inconceivable to run the Bayreuth Festival with Katharina - not possible in any way. It would be better for her to collect some years of experience after such a vertical take-off [after the Meistersinger debut in Bayreuth]. She is only 29 and has enough time. Furthermore, my younger sister will have to rid herself from suspicion that she is controlled by her mother.”

On her personal relationship with Wolfgang and Gudrun Wagner:

Eva W-P would still like to meet her father again [after 6 years]. If she could still love him?
"It is difficult if you cannot get into the fortress where he sits"...
“I regret that she [Gudrun Wagner, her stepmother] from the outset actively worked towards the alienation of a father from his children from first marriage.” Eva W-P and her brother Gottfried were kicked out from their home in Bayreuth 1976 from one day to the next. “I felt offended. That hurt me very much and destroyed our poor mother. You need years to get over something like that.”

And finally:

"It disturbs me that the image of the Wagner family has most of all become like a Soap Opera."

[Just wondering:
If becoming a Soap Opera figure concerns Eva W-P, then why did she chose a notoriously unreliable tabloid like Bunte (just look at their front page) to bring forward her version of the story]...

Phenomenal Karita Mattila Helsinki recital

Karita Mattila - Helsinki Recital. Accompanied by Martin Katz. Released 2007. Further information here.

From the moment of the eerie opening of Duparc´s L´invitation au voyage you know that this is very special recital. Performing in front of an electric sold-out Finnish National opera, Karita Mattila accompanied by Martin Katz simply gives one of the most moving and exciting vocal discs I´ve ever heard.

Karita Mattila starts out with five songs by Duparc, creating an almost eerie sense of expectation as well as being perfectly suited to expose her velvety middle register. Followed by Kaija Saariaho´s song cycle "Quatre instants", which is written for Karita Mattila. Set to the poems by Maalouf these songs bring Karita Mattila to the absolute limits of expressiveness. She clearly gives everything and stretches her voice to the maximum. Songs by Rachmaninov and Dvôrak (Gypsy Songs) make up the remainder of the program, all displaying Karita Mattila at her best - a little raw, never polished, maximally expressive and with a middle register without competition today. All splendidly accompanied by Martin Katz.

I cannot recommend this disc highly enough. If you are only going to buy one recital disc this year, make it this one.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

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