JSU, the always admirable commentator at An Unamplifed Voice, was far less impressed with this concert than I was, raising pertinent points about both performers. His comments about the less attractive features of the new Tully Hall are right on the money; once you're in your seat, though, the improvement is remarkable.
Simply stated, this was one of the gutsiest, most individual recital programs I've ever had the privilege to attend. What made it exciting wasn't just the variety—though that was certainly part of the fun in this violinist's equivalent of hitting for the cycle—but also the notion that the pieces Curtis played later in her concert, and the way she played them, made you continue to think about what had come before. An artist of keen intelligence and taste, well worth watching out for. Nice to hear Paul Desenne's The Two Seasons again so soon after last time, too.
Not many artists can claim as broad a CV as that of Nico Muhly,
a young Juilliard-trained composer who has worked with Björk, Antony,
Philip Glass, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and many, many others. If you
plan to catch Grizzly Bear
with the Brooklyn Philharmonic this Saturday, you'll be hearing Muhly's
orchestrations. His work in video and film, meanwhile, has covered
everything from The Reader to Wonder Showzen.
And that's just the routine stuff. In 2005, Muhly hooked up with artist Maira Kalman to create a musical version of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (which we previewed here). For a performance he created with Icelandic designer Shoplifter
at the Kitchen last year, Muhly combed and teased the hair of three
compliant models, as regular associate Nadia Sirota scrubbed away at
her viola nearby.
Now, in the latest salvo of Muhly's comprehensive assault on the
realm of the senses, he's teaming up with director Stewart Matthew,
fragrance designer Christophe Laudamiel and musician-producer Valgeir
Sigurdsson for Green Aria, the world's first "ScentOpera," at the Guggenheim Museum
May 31 and June 1. According to the press release, audience members
will listen to music by Muhly and Sigurdsson in a darkened room while a
"scent organ," designed by Fläkt Woods, triggers "scent microphones"
attached to each seat, which will emit suggestive scents to tell the
story. We're oddly fascinated by the notion…but then, we've always been
suckers for a pungent gimmick.
In an exciting new development, some of the ACO's recent concerts are now available for streaming at InstantEncore. You can already hear pieces by Anna Clyne, Jonathan Dawe, Charles Mason, Ned McGowan, Dan Trueman, Kamran Ince, Fred Ho, Gregory Spears, Keeril Makan, Clint Needham and -- exclusive to those who register as fans of the ACO -- Terry Riley. The pieces included in my review of Friday's concert, which were subsequently recorded yesterday in Philadelphia, should be available for streaming this Friday.
It's a shame you won't be able to both see and hear Breakdown, the daffy multimedia piece by Margaret Brouwer and Kasumi. Here's the trailer, which should give you a pretty good idea of what the piece was like:
And here's the video with Derek Bermel, mentioned in the lede of my review:
Honest, it's not my fault this time. This was published in Friday's New York Times, but didn't reach the paper's the website until a few moments ago; somehow it got lost in transit, apparently. I actually didn't know that it had run on Friday, having not seen it online that morning, until someone I met at Zankel Hall that evening mentioned having seen it. Mystery solved.
An auspicious debut by a 20-year-old German violinist whose poise, insight and originality are already well beyond her years.
Prior to each half of this concert, I was treated to an earful from two audience members seated directly behind me: a violin-toting woman and a male accomplice. When they first came into earshot they were discussing pseudonymous reviews: a bad idea not just because people should stand behind what they say, but also because, apparently, a clip with a byline like "Allegrius" is tough to use in your press kit.
"But at least it's not something boring like Smith," he says.
Later, before the second half, the two were still talking about critics and criticism. She wants to do some writing; he suggests a blog. She's unconvinced: who among all those bloggers out there really has anything to say? Well, besides Alex Ross, obviously, they trip over one another to add, and Jeremy Denk, too. He wonders if she's reading the web feature in which Tony Tommasini is answering questions from readers. He likes it, because it's giving him an interesting new perspective on a writer with whose opinions he doesn't always agree.
"You know, I really don't like any of the current Times critics at all," she says.
(Sometimes it's more fun to be a fly on the wall than others.)
It would be foolish to imagine that any production of Il Trovatore could meet the insane demands Verdi wrote into it: The opera requires four of the world's greatest singers, a superlative chorus, an imaginative staging that allows for improbably fast changes of scene and—last but not least—a willful suspension of disbelief in its ridiculous plot contrivances. Hold your breath for all of those stars to line up, however, and you're in for a long, dark night with your record collection. For the rest of us, the new David McVicar production of Il Trovatore is not only better than anyone had reason to suspect, it could easily turn out to be a highlight of the spring.
First, and most importantly, this new staging finally breaks the curse of the Met's last two Trovatore productions: one dismal, the next roundly reviled. McVicar's solution involved a huge, gray vertical slab on a turntable, allowing for quick and easy changes between indoor and outdoor scenes, while also providing—at last!—a reasonably credible scenario to account for an otherwise inexplicable instance of mistaken identity during the first act. McVicar's blatantly Goya-esque vision was atmospheric and effective, though the turntable could definitely use a greasing before its next go-round.
The singing, though largely successful, was not without fault; that said, there were few blemishes that could not be explained away by a combination of opening-night nerves and other environmental concerns. Marcelo Álvarez offered as handsome, robust and secure an account of Manrico, the titular troubadour, as you're likely to encounter in the opera house today, with a blazing "Di Quella Pira" that drew a solid ovation out of the crowd. As the Count di Luna, Dmitri Hvorostovsky was best at slow-burn soliloquy; Verdi is surely not his métier, but Hvorostovsky can often carry a role through sheer presence, and mostly managed to do so here.
Both Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora) and Dolora Zajick (Azucena) were rumored to be under the weather last night; if so, you'd hardly have known. Radvanovsky's voice, big and complex, filled the hall magnificently, with only a few mishaps. Her two great arias, "Tacea la notte" (mostly delivered from a variety of perilously prone positions) and "D'amor sull'ali rosee," were emotionally wrenching, earning her the loudest, longest ovations of the evening. Hear it for yourself in this exclusive live recording from last night's performance:
Zajick was a characteristically powerful presence, with a booming sound to match. At one point she vaulted for a climactic high note and crashed into the figurative pole, losing stability for a few long moments. And as usual her enunciation could be indistinct at times. But 20 years after making her Met debut in the role, this valuable artist is still finding new and worthwhile things to do with it—no small thing. Maria Zifchak and Kwangchul Youn handled smaller roles honorably, and Donald Palumbo's chorus sounded fantastic—especially in a shirtless, beefcake "Anvil Chorus" likely to be much remarked upon.
Conductor Gianandrea Noseda didn't always seem to be completely in sync with his singers; some numbers took longer than others to jell. Those differences will surely be ironed out as the show settles in—at which point the sheer vivacity of Noseda's conception, and the profusion of colors and shadings he drew from the players, will become even more exciting and convincing. Jitters aside, both ensemble and crew had ample reason to be satisfied with a curse-breaking opening night.
While I'm on the subject of The Volume (which I'm not being paid extra to flog, I promise), I've just remembered that I uncorked a secret scoop over there last Thursday afternoon, regarding some very special unannounced guests who'll join the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Clogs and Bell Orchestre in "Shuffle Mode," a concert coming up on February 26 at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House. (The photo above is a pretty obvious tip as to the identity of one prominent guest, and there are threemoresurprises.)
That I didn't bring the news over here immediately speaks to deadlines and distractions, but the good news is that tickets are still available.
Don Cherry, Nana Vasconcelos and Colin Walcott - The Codona Trilogy (ECM)
Benny Golson - New Time, New ’Tet (Concord)
Jon Hassell - Last night the moon came dropping its clothes (ECM)
The Allman Brothers Band - At Fillmore East (Mercury Deluxe Edition)
Branford Marsalis Quartet - Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music; due March 17)
Hans Werner Henze - Elogium Musicum (publisher's demo of a stunning recent piece; details here)
Juan Diego Flórez - Bel Canto Spectacular - Orquestra de Comunitat Valenciana/Daniel Oren (Decca)
Johann Sebastian Bach - Concerto for Two Violins in D minor; Violin Concertos in A minor and E; Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor - Julia Fischer, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Andrey Rubtsov, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (Decca)
Josef Suk - Asrael - Helsinki Philharmonic/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Ondine)
Henry Purcell - Dido and Aeneas - Sarah Connolly, Gerald Finley, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Elizabeth Kenny & Steven Devine (Chandos)
Napalm Death - Time Waits for No Slave (Century Media)
Denny Zeitlin - Mosaic Select: The Columbia Trio Sessions (Mosaic)
Alban Berg - Violin Concerto; Leoš Janáček - Violin Concerto; Karl Amadeus Hartmann - Concerto funebre* - Thomas Zehetmair, Philharmonia Orchestra/Heinz Holliger, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie* (Teldec)
Roscoe Mitchell - Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes (Nessa)
Steve Tibbetts - Safe Journey (ECM)
Joe Lovano Us Five - Folk Art (Blue Note; due May 5)
Jesse Stackin Trio - That That (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Charles Hamilton - Well Isn't This Awkward (mixtape download)
[Posted this morning on The Volume. Not so much here for knowledgeable opera buffs -- this was meant more for general readers. But there are two links worth anyone's time: one takes you to the hysterical climax of A Night at the Opera, the other to Matthew Gurewitsch's sharp article on Il Trovatore in yesterday's New York Times.]
opening night at the Metropolitan Opera is always buzzworthy, but
there's a special anticipation in the air for tonight's maiden voyage
of Verdi's rousing warhorse Il Trovatore ("The Troubadour"). This is one of Verdi's most popular and tuneful operas—you definitely know the "Anvil Chorus," and you've probably heard the high-flying tenor aria "Di Quella Pira." But what makes tonight special in an edgy way is the memory of the Met's last two Trovatore productions, both notorious flops. Factor in a plot so ludicrous that parody seems superfluous—which didn't prevent the Marx Brothers
and countless others from goring it—and you can see why folks at the
Met might avoid mentioning the opera's name, like theater companies
insist on referring to a certain Shakespeare drama as "the Scottish play."
Still, there's ample cause to suspect that the old curse might be broken tonight.
The very smart, able and creative Scottish director David McVicar has
updated the action from 15th-century Spain to the country's War of
Independence against Napoleon (1808–14), with a staging based on Goya's
grim series "Desastres de la Guerra." (Check out this keenly reported feature by Matthew Gurewitsch in yesterday's New York Times for further details.)
And even if all else fails, Il Trovatore makes for a strong night of music when you've got the Met's firepower, beginning with conductor Gianandrea Noseda.
Sondra Radvanovsky, the company's best Verdi soprano, is Leonora. The
awesome Dolora Zajick plays the batty witch Ulrica; suave Siberian
barihunk Dmitri Hvorostovsky is the Count di Luna. And starring as
Manrico, the titular troubadour, is Argentine tenor Marcelo Álvarez,
whose performance ought to throb with old-fashioned gusto and manly
swagger if the version of "Di Quella Pira" on his conveniently timed
Decca debut CD, The Verdi Tenor, is anything to judge by. Listen for yourself, then hit the Met's website to check on ticket availability.