My wife, currently in Boston, thought I was crazy to even consider attending a second Tristan und Isolde in such close proximity to the one I reviewed on Saturday afternoon. And I have to admit that I came close to tossing in the towel when I got the news this afternoon that Deborah Voigt had canceled due to illness. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days of our lives, etc., etc.
What I witnessed tonight at the Met was the most potent reminder conceivable of why we attend live performances, why we bother to hear a different cast perform the same opera we already heard a few days (or a week, a month, a year) ago -- even, to a degree, the very reason why we value and preserve a classical repertoire.
That might sound hyperbolic, but I don't think so. Ben Heppner, the reason I made myself attend tonight's Tristan, ought to have been tentative after canceling his first four appearances in a six-performance run. Instead, he was effin' Muhammad Ali: floating, bobbing, weaving, taunting and making contact dead on, time after time after time. When he pushed his performance into the red during the second act, we -- that being me and my choice companion for the evening -- thought there was no way he could sustain that crazy energy through the third act. He didn't; he surpassed it. No kidding, this was a crazymaking performance, one you knew you were privileged to witness.
(And yes, for those who assumed that I somehow missed the fluffed final note of the Liebestod on Saturday because I didn't write about it: Heppner cracked a note in Act III. Let me repeat that for you: Heppner cracked a note in Act III.)
And if this was an exceptional showing for Heppner, the real discovery tonight was Janice Baird, the "substitute" Isolde: Here was an attractive woman who could deliver the goods over a Wagnerian orchestra at full roar, while also moving with grace and acting with insight. Her gestures approached silent-movie melodrama -- so much better to convey emotion to every level of the house -- and her vibrato verged on wobble. But I can't imagine a singing actor who could have brought more to this role in sound, gesture and motion combined. Baird was in character from Act One's Narrative and Curse onward. Her Liebestod, sung while kneeling before Heppner's prone body, completely gutted me: in the moment, it felt as if I'd discovered religion.
If Matti Salminen's performance as King Marke didn't devastate me quite as much as it had on Saturday afternoon, it was only because I knew what to expect: on first encounter I remember thinking, "In 40 years René Pape might touch this." A consummate artist.
Richard Paul Fink was a Kurwenal woolier in tone than Eike Wilm Schulte's steely interpretation, but no less moving. I wasn't entirely sold, on Saturday or tonight, by Michelle DeYoung's big ol' goofy girl characterization of Brangäne in Act One, but the rest of her performance tracks just fine.
James Levine's orchestra was exceptional, again. And I truly hope he'll consider commissioning a concerto for his remarkable English horn player Pedro M. Díaz, whose contributions in Tristan practically amount to a marquee role, and whose excellence I've noted on severalprevious occasions.
As the entire civilized world knows by now, Justin Davidson -- once of Newsday, now doing a bang-up job at New York -- is guest-blogging for Alex at The Rest Is Noise. But while you're following him there, don't miss this mordant post about the Met's current spate of ill health on New York's Vulture blog.
(Seeing that funny photo of Thomas Hampson in a hazmat suit reminds me that I had a celebrity sighting last night, when Dustin Hoffman brushed past me in front of the Lincoln Plaza Cinema. Darn -- is it too late to re-title this blog post "Andromeda strains"?)
Caifanes - El Silencio and La Historia (RCA International)
John Harbison - Ulysses - Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose (BMOP Sound)
Jaguares - El Equilibrio de Jaguares; Bajo el Azul de Tu Misterio; Cuando la Sangre Galopa and El Primer Instinto (RCA International), and Cronicas de un Laberinto (Sony International)
La Barranca - Providencia (self-released)
King Crimson - New Theatre, Oxford, England, Nov 25, 1972 (DGMlive.com download)
getting tough to remember a time when Lincoln Center's annual Mostly
Mozart Festival was something you'd greet with a yawn. The announcement
for this summer's edition (July 29–August 23) arrived this morning,
with news that innovative Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho will be the
festival's second composer-in-residence. Her La Passion de Simone, a
quasi-operatic paean to French philosopher Simone Weil, receives its
U.S. premiere on Wednesday, August 13, with repeat performances on
August 15 and 17, at the Rose Theater. Peter Sellars will direct,
soprano Dawn Upshaw will be at center stage and dynamic conductor
Susanna Mälkki makes her New York debut at the head of the City of
Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
There's more Saariaho in store: On August 14, also at the Rose
Theater, Mälkki will conduct the CBSO in the New York premiere
of the composer's Notes on Light, with cellist Anssi Kartunen
as soloist. The following night, Kartunen, pianist Tuija Hakkila and
percussionist David Cossin take over the Kaplan Penthouse for an
intimate evening of pieces by Saariaho and Debussy. And the Emerson
String Quartet plays her recent Terra Memoria, with works by Mozart and
Schubert, at Avery Fisher Hall on August 21.
As has become customary for this festival, period-instrument
ensembles are well represented. Particularly exciting this summer is
the Mostly Mozart debut of Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto
Italiano, presenting two concerts: sacred vocal works by Scarlatti,
Pergolesi and Melani on August 4, and a feast of Vivaldi concertos on
August 5. Returning to the festival are the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
(in a nearly three-hour Mozart marathon July 31) and the Orchestra of
the Age of Enlightenment (a concert performance of Mozart's opera La clemenza di Tito on August 3, with sensational mezzo Alice Coote as Sesto).
Then there's the house band: the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra,
still riding high on the buzz that music director Louis Langrée has
provided since his arrival. Among the guest artists joining the
ensemble this summer are tenor Paul Groves, alto Anna Larsson, soprano
Christiane Oelze, conductor Jiri Belohlavek, violinist Janine Jansen,
violist Maxim Rysanov, clarinetist Kari Kriikku and pianists Garrick
Ohlsson, Benedetto Lupo and Mihaela Ursuleasa.
Other points of interest this summer will include the local premiere of Samoan choreographer Lemi Ponifasio's Requiem,
originally created for Vienna's New Crowned Hope Festival in 2006; a
film series featuring Leonard Bernstein conducting Mozart (neatly
foreshadowing this fall's citywide Bernstein celebration); and
interactive video installations by Lynette Wallworth in the Frederick
P. Rose Hall Atrium.
By now we should probably be used to all the wonderful offerings and
novelties the Mostly Mozart Festival is providing. Even so, that this
announcement has become something to anticipate is still a pretty novel
sensation. A press release with more details on everything you've just
read here and more can be found here; a complete, chronological list of events is here.
La Barranca, an intense, proggy Mexico City band that draws meaningfully on the likes of Radiohead and King Crimson*, will be
playing its first New York show in almost three years at S.O.B.'s this
Sunday night (March 16). The band,
formed in 1995 by singer-guitarist José Manuel Aguilera (at right in
the photo), last played here in September 2005 -- a memorable if
all-too-short set at Joe's Pub. It also played a set for Lincoln
Center's Out of Doors series, part of the Celebrate Mexico Now!
festival, as well as a wee-hours marathon at D'Antigua in Jackson
Heights, which I unfortunately wasn't able to attend.
La Barranca -- or at least the version that played New York in 2005
-- effectively disbanded last summer. But Aguilera has since recorded a
new disc, Providencia, with his two original bandmates, bassist
Federico Fong and drummer Alfonso André. That rhythm section comes with
a solid-gold pedigree: Fong and André both played with the seminal
Mexican alt-rock band Caifanes. Fong has since been active with
Mexican-Jewish rap duo Hip-Hop Hoodios (a much better proposition than
you're thinking it could be), while André is a member of Caifanes' successor,
superstar Mexican band Jaguares.
With any luck, that's the La Barranca lineup that will show up
here on Sunday night. But even if it isn't, Aguilera is a riveting performer well worth getting to know.
* P.S. New Yorkers who might have been thinking about heading to Chicago for the King Crimson reunion shows at Park West in August -- and I know of at least five offhand -- can sit tight; according to an announcement made yesterday at DGMLive,
the band will now be playing three shows at the Nokia Theatre Times
Square, August 14-16. The new Crimson -- guitarists Robert Fripp and
Adrian Belew (the latter onstage at B.B. King's in Times Square as I
type this), bassist Tony Levin, and drummers Pat Mastelotto and Gavin
Harrison -- will also hit Philadelphia's Keswick Theater August 11 and
Playlist (bulging, overdue…):
Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls & Marches, Vs. and The Horrible Truth About Burma (Matador super-deluxe reissues, due March 18)
Kurt Rosenwinkel - The Remedy: Live at the Village Vanguard (ArtistShare)
Shulamit Ran - Concerto da Camera II; East Wind; Inscriptions; Mirage; For an Actor; Private Game - Da Capo Chamber Players (Bridge)
Arabesque Music Ensemble - The Music of the Three Musketeers (Xaven)
Meshuggah - obZen (Nuclear Blast)
5ive - Hesperus (Tortuga)
Frederic Chopin - Etudes, Op. 10 & 25 - Yeol-Eum Son (Universal Classics; South Korea)
Gabriel Fauré - Cantique de Jean Racine - Oxford Camerata/Jeremy Summerly (Naxos) and Requiem - La Chapelle Royale, Ensemble Musique Oblique/Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi)
Josquin des Prés - Missa Sine Nomine; Missa Ad Fugam - Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips (Gimell)
Francis Poulenc - Gloria; Salve Regina; Quatre Motets pour un Temps de Penitence; Quatre Motets pour le Temps de Noël; Exultate Deo - Susan Gritton, Polyphony, Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Britten Sinfonia/Stephen Layton (Hyperion)
Cecil Taylor Quintet with John Carter - Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen '87 (downloaded from here)
Antonín Dvořák - Rusalka - Renée Fleming, Eva
Urbanová, Dolora Zajick, Ben Heppner, Franz Hawlata, Kühn Mixed Chorus,
Czech Philharmonic/Charles Mackerras (London)
Grateful Dead - Dick's Picks, Vol. 7: Alexandra Palace, London, England, Sept. 9-11, 1974 (Grateful Dead)
Sabbat - History of a Time to Come (Noise/Sanctuary reissue)
The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath (GSL/Universal)
Nasum - Doombringer (Relapse)
Kiss - Kissology, Vol. 3 (VH1 DVD) and Creatures of the Night (Mercury)
Giuseppe Verdi - La Traviata - Renée Fleming, Rolando Villazón,
Renato Bruson, Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Orchestra/James Conlon
Roxy Music - The Thrill of It All (Virgin DVD)
Ikue Mori and Gamelan Dharma Swara - Bhima Swarga (Tzadik DVD)
Derek Bailey - New Sights Old Sounds (Incus)
Joëlle Léandre, Marilyn Crispell, Roy Campbell Jr. and Mat Maneri - DMG @ The Stone, Vol. 1: The Stone Quartet (DMG/ARC)
Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori - Phantom Orchard (Mego)
Mephista - Black Narcissus (Tzadik)
DNA - DNA on DNA (No More)
La Barranca - Denzura (MW Records) and El Fluir (Fractal)
Carl Stone - Al Noor (InTone)
Steve Peters - The Webster Cycles - J.A. Deane (Cold Blue)
Anna Ternheim - Anna Ternheim (Decca)
Last Exit - Headfirst into the Flames (DMG/ARC reissue)
Opeth - The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville) and Watershed (Roadrunner, due June 3)