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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Thursday, September 29, 2016


parterre box

September 27

Keep the Rome fires burning

parterre boxUndoubtedly talk of Tristan und Isolde will dominate Parterre this week, so I offer an alternative to those who aren’t fans of Wagner: Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito from the house where it premiered. It’s always a special occasion for me when I can hear an opera in the house in which it premiered. To date, the earliest examples have been within the powder blue brocade-covered walls of Prague’s glorious Stavovské divadlo (Estates Theatre). Here Mozart led the world premieres of his Don Giovanni (1787) and La clemenza di Tito almost three months to the day before his death on 05 December 1791. With the exception of American mezzo Kate Aldrich (who counts Carmen and Adalgisa on her Met résumé) in the role of Sesto, the cast is made up of company members of the Národní diavdlo Praha (National Theatre Prague). While he has a wide repertoire, Jaroslav B?ezina (Tito) has long been the company’s Mozart specialist, and with good reason: the voice seems build perfectly for the timbre and line which are hallmarks of that composer’s compositions for tenor. Pavla Vykopalová (Vitellia) is a true Zwischenfach soprano who alternates mezzo and soprano repertoire. One cast member decided to the break the habit of remaining bound to one theater for the duration of his career. Bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, currently singing Leporello at the Met, was all of 21 when he sang the small role of Publio in this performance. I first heard him the previous year as Masetto and remarked to Intendant Ji?í He?man, “You have the makings of a great Don Giovanni here,” to which he replied, “Don’t think we haven’t thought of that already.” Plachetka joined the ensemble of Wiener Staatsoper (where he remains a company member) in 2010 as Schaunard and has sung close to 200 performances there. He has since sung at the Salzburger Festspiele, Glyndebourne, Teatro alla Scala, the Monnaie, Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and other major international stages. His first big break came in September 2011 when, as the cover, he went on in the title role of Don Giovanni at Wiener Staatsoper, singing the entire run of performances. He is now established as the company’s go-to Giovanni. Another Mozart specialist, he has, at age 31, already sung both Figaro and Conte Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, and was the first artist in the company’s history to sing Figaro, Guglielmo, and Giovanni in a single season. He recently took on his first Wagner role, the Herrufer in Lohengrin, and adds Mustafa in L’italiana in Algeri to his buffo repertoire along with Dulcamara. Watching Plachetka leap from comprimario roles to larger and larger assignments at major houses has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my opera-going for the last decade. Photo: Ilona Sochovora

grecchinois

September 27

From the City of Brotherly Love

I've had this nagging itch to write more regularly here the past couple of months.  I've ignored it as best I can, but I'm slowly realizing that I need to pay attention to that insistent, prodding voice/feeling.  So, I think I am going to try to post daily for the next little while.  I can't promise anything profound, but it's about time for me to start writing more again.  Plus, I have a lot of ideas and news that I hope to share on here over the next few months, so why not get into the practice of it all again? It's been a rather densely packed time lately, and (thankfully) it shows no signs of letting up for another couple of weeks.  In the last 6 weeks, I've toured Bach cantatas and masses through many of the Bach cities in Germany, revisited some Scarlatti with my dear Philharmonia Baroque colleagues at Tanglewood, mounted our fifth Collaborative Works Festival in Chicago, and made my Asian debut performing and recording more Bach cantatas in Japan.  Just yesterday, I found myself getting off a plane here in Philadelphia, where I am excited to be for a week of Mozart with the Philly Orchestra. Good evening, Philadelphia #TouringLife #HotelViews #Mozart It felt fitting to land just in time for last night's presidential debate here in this city in which our great nation, for all intents and purposes, was born.  Watching Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar with each other while sipping my anxious feelings in the hotel bar, I had the distinct feeling that we are, as a nation, on the precipice of an important turning point in American history.  I really do believe that this great experiment in democracy has the potential to change dramatically (and perhaps collapse in on itself) depending on the outcome of this upcoming election.  For me, last night's debate only highlighted just how great the threat our democracy (and the world) faces in November truly is. Here we go... #debates I find myself with an unexpected free day here in Philly, which is fantastic.  It allows me some extra study time to continue preparing for next week's Stravinsky adventures back home in the Bay, as well as an opportunity to catch the much raved-about 'Breaking the Waves' at Opera Philadelphia tonight.




Royal Opera House

September 27

Who was the Barber of Seville?

José Fardilha as Don Bartolo and Vito Priante as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Mark Douet Meet Figaro, the barber of Seville and the eponymous hero of not just one but two operatic masterpieces. Mozart told the tale of his marriage in Le nozze di Figaro in 1786, and 30 years later Rossini provided the prequel to the story in Il barbiere di Siviglia . But Figaro was originally the creation of French dramatist Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais , who created a trio of popular – and controversial – plays around his ingenious and ever-resourceful barber. What made them controversial? It’s actually not too different a question from our first: why make Figaro a barber? The barbers in Beaumarchais’ time did more than just cut hair and shave chins. In the 12th and 13th centuries the clergy – the primary medical practitioners of the day – were forbidden from shedding blood. Who then could carry out even a simple bloodletting, the standard cure-all of the day ? Step forward the barber, a man who could be expected to be handy with a sharp knife. Over the centuries the surgical services offered by barbers expanded to include lancing abscesses, setting broken bones, pulling teeth and many more. The barber surgeon was on his way out by the turn of the 19th century, but his legacy, particularly through 16th-century barber pioneer Ambroise Paré , was the birth of modern surgery. So in Beaumarchais’ Figaro we have the universal personal handyman, an invaluable figure in any well-to-do household. Rossini has Figaro summarize the work he does for Don Bartolo: ‘I am barber, surgeon, botanist, apothecary, veterinary… In other words, I run the house.’ Figaro’s centrality to the Bartolo household, along with his resourcefulness, make him invaluable in Count Almaviva’s plan to free his love Rosina from her domestic incarceration. But there’s another aspect to Figaro that made him Beaumarchais’ revolutionary hero: class. That Medieval change in policy was in response to theories about the sanctity of the body. It was seen as contaminating to touch blood – you could not celebrate the Eucharist with bloodstained hands. As seats of learning were largely held by the clergy, this led to a deep division between the physician – a university-educated theorist, sometimes barred even from examining a patient, let alone operating on him – and the barber surgeon – a working- or middle-class craftsman, trained through guild apprenticeships. Let’s return to Paré. He was born to a working-class family in 1510 and joined the army after his apprenticeship. On his first campaign he followed the received wisdom of treating gunshot wounds with boiling oil. Overwhelmed by the numbers of injured, he ran out of oil and was forced to improvise, instead applying a poultice. To his surprise, the next day he discovered those he had treated with the poultice were improved; the boiling oil group, not so much. Through observation, he was able to advance medicine in a way that the physicians, isolated in their ivory tower, never could. Paré’s fame grew and eventually he was appointed to an influential position at court; but his career was a constant battle to argue the advantage of observation over classical education. From this ancestry rises Figaro. He is smart, resourceful and will do any job that needs doing. Perhaps more than any other tradesman, he serves an essential purpose, but is despised for it – a pretty potent combination in pre-Revolutionary France. In Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro, Figaro rages against his superiors: ‘Nobility, fortune, rank, influence: they all make a man so proud! What have you ever done to earn such wealth? You took the trouble to be born, and that’s the sum total of your efforts. For the rest, a pretty ordinary man!’ Perhaps no wonder it was banned. Find out more about Ambroise Paré Il barbiere di Siviglia runs until 11 October 2016. Tickets are still available. The production is given with generous support from Professor Paul Cartledge and Judith Portrait OBE and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .

parterre box

September 26

Crazy stupid love

Well, that didn’t last long. Just four months after closing out a triumphant Ring cycle that briefly made DC the envy of opera-goers across the country, Washington National Opera has launched its new season with an exceedingly safe, borrowed production of a repertoire chestnut. I suppose that’s not quite fair. WNO is solidly beyond the statute of limitations for reviving Marriage of Figaro, which hasn’t been seen here since 2010, and while this production (I saw the second outing on Saturday) is very much in DC’s comfort zone, the new season is devoting two out of five productions to recent compositions. Still, one couldn’t help but dwell on still-fresh memories of headier offerings in the opera house. On the plus side, this is a highly watchable show that takes pains to avoid the stodginess and self-seriousness that can turn Figaro into four hours of exquisite paint drying. Supported by a game cast of younger American singers, director Peter Kazaras’ inventive touch keeps the farce entertaining and endearing, generally without resorting to cheap laughs. He also keeps this Figaro largely untroubled by the work’s deeper currents and ideas. I bring this up not to imply that every Figaro production needs to be some psychosexual journey through the history of class relations, but it struck me Saturday that the other Mozart/Da Ponte collaborations now routinely serve as opportunities for more adventurous presentations by relatively “safe” companies, while conservative takes are still the default for Figaro. A bigger issue for this show is that, despite strong constituent parts, the musical picture never coheres in a fully satisfying way. In the pit, conductor James Gaffigan was admirably committed to matching the lighthearted tone of the direction and keeping any sense of drag at bay. Kicking things off with a bubbly overture, he frequently returned to exhilarating tempi throughout the night, all assisted by nimble, precise playing from the WNO Orchestra. Yet these ambitious tempi came at a cost. The ensembles should be just as powerful an engine of Figaro’s overall impact as the arias, but too often the cast here seemed to be trying to keep up, as in a nail-biting Act I finale. At other times, balances between the singers seemed haphazard, as in that gorgeous Act III ensemble after Figaro’s parentage is revealed. In the end there was much to dazzle in this reading, but also a feeling that crucial aspects of the score had received short shrift. Headliner Amanda Majeski did not disappoint in the Countess’s major showpieces, especially a captivating “Dove sono” in which her colorful, urgent soprano beautifully conveyed the Countess’ frustration and melancholy, eliciting the biggest audience response of the night. There was more to quibble with in the balance of her portrayal, which often felt like a relatively surface-level approach, and in her sometimes cursory contributions in the ensembles. Joshua Hopkins seemed headed for broad comedy in his initial entrance, serving us the Count as buffoonish lothario, complete with chest hair sight gag. But he promptly dialed this back and turned in one of the more complex portrayals among the leads, finding a comfortable balance between making the farce work and hinting at the darker undercurrents of the Count’s rage, including a penetrating “Hai già vinta.” Hopkins’ pleasant sound is perhaps a weight class lighter than what is really needed for a memorable reading of the Count’s music, but he compensates with intelligent attention to the text. DC audiences spent a lot of time with this production’s Figaro, Ryan McKinny, as both Donner and Gunther in the Ring. He has been singing more Wagner in the intervening months, taking on Amfortas in that controversial new Bayreuth Parsifal that sounded like it might give the old rabbit cadaver version a run for its money. McKinny is a charismatic performer, and his confident, virile Figaro often stole the show here, though times he came off as perhaps a bit too glib vis a vis the Count. For instance, the potential cuckold’s rage in Act IV’s “Tutto è disposto…” doesn’t really register if we have a hard time believing Figaro could find the Count threatening in the first place. McKinny’s velvety bass-baritone sounds great in Figaro’s music within a core range, though lower-lying passages proved a challenge. Lisette Oropesa made for a winning Susanna, though she had trouble vocally distinguishing herself for most of the evening, her clear soprano sometimes losing steam amidst the broader ensemble issues. A gentle, beautifully shaped “Deh vieni…” was a welcome counterpoint in Act IV. Aleksandra Romano brought a warm sound and anxious energy to Cherubino. “Non so più…” was a bit tentative and never really took flight, but “Voi che sapete…” and the charged ensuing Act II interaction with the Countess made a strong impression. Happily back at WNO after her celebrated turn as Fricka in the Ring, Elizabeth Bishop (Marcellina) was a standout on the crowded stage, easily elevating the comedy while her generous, distinctive voice soared in the ensembles. If you need a reason to open up the cut with Marcellina’s bonus track about goats, Bishop is it. Valeriano Lanchas’ commanding Bartolo cemented their duo as a key asset in this show; a robust “La vendetta” registering as one of the evening’s early musical highlights. Several of the current Domingo-Cafritz young artists made notable appearances as well, including Ariana Wehr lending a sweet, inviting soprano to Barberina and bass Timothy J. Bruno as a resonant, implacable Antonio. The production design, originally from Glimmerglass, is a solid example of what one might call “budget period whimsy.” The set, by Benoit Dugardyn, is organized around a colonnade of generic classical columns; flats with trompe l’oeil drapery between the columns define the interior spaces of the first and second acts, and are later removed to very attractive effect to create the more public spaces in the third and fourth acts. Mark McCullough’s lighting contributes a lovely transition from evening to night over the course of the second half. Garishly colored vaguely 18th century costumes by Myung Hee Cho try very hard to make sure you know you are having fun. Mostly these are par for the course, though occasionally one will cross the line into poor taste, as with the Pepto Bismol peignoir visited upon Majeski in the first half. Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(1756 – 1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 - 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. Mozart composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers. Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood in Salzburg. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of Mozart's death. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons. Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate. His influence on subsequent Western art music is profound. Beethoven wrote his own early compositions in the shadow of Mozart, of whom Joseph Haydn wrote that "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years."



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