Thursday, June 28, 2007

Leopold, we're going

Finished watching Der Rosenkavalier (the Carlos Kleiber version with Felicity Lott, Anne Sofie von Otter and Barbara Bonney). Lots of things to like in it, but I was disappointed in Kurt Moll's Ochs. Pretty stiff and he hardly seemed freaked out by the Act III shenanigans at the inn. Otter was a great Octavian and Barbara Bonney pretty much is Sophie (the 3 DVD versions that come to mind all have her in the role).

Mildly irritated at the cuts in the score (the Covent Garden performance with Solti is the only one on DVD I know to be complete). I'm annoyed that I have to keep track of which recordings of Rosenkavalier, Elektra, Arabella, Frau ohne Schatten, etc. are actually note-complete. But that's all for another post...

Light listening the last couple of days. Listened to Strauss's Don Juan (Kempe) after watching the first two acts of the Kleiber Rosenkavalier. And last night was the Für Elise from the Complete Beethoven Edition followed by Chopin's G minor Ballade and the 3 Nocturnes of Op. 9. This morning, listened to Bruckner's Sixth (Haitink) again. I'm thinking one of the Elektras recorded off Sirius will be next on the opera listening list.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hitler in Bayreuth in Staten Island

Listening to Howard Stern today and Howard or Robin mentioned that a film of Hitler and his pals in Bayreuth had been discovered. Here's the story.

But there's something funny in the article: "Ladziak, now 85 and still living on Staten Island, told Cardamone how he had found them in 1945 in the bombed ruins of the Old Opera House in Bayreuth, the Bavarian hometown of Wagner, who was idolized by Hitler." I had never heard of the Margrave Opera House being bombed in the war and a quick web search turned up nothing. (Wagner's home, Wahnfried, of course, did get hit.) It's definitely in one piece today. So is that an honest mistake or are we dealing with a FORGERY? You can do some crazy stuff with Adobe Premiere these days. The PBS special on September 3 about this better have answers.

Also, if I were a boring Wagner pedant, I'd point out that Bayreuth could hardly be called Wagner's hometown and that it's actually Leipzig. Good thing I'm not one. In any case, I expect the NY Daily News to be bombarded with emails containing the correction.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The cards are turning out better than last time

ArabellaWatched Strauss's Arabella last night. It was originally telecast from the Met in 1995 and has been out on DVD for a while now. I hadn't heard Arabella for years and watching this I enjoyed it more than ever.

Hofmannsthal died soon after sending off the final version of the first act and thus never had the chance to put the last coat of polish on the text for the second and third. (He died of a massive stroke while preparing to attend the funeral of his son who had committed suicide.) The so-called weaknesses of those acts weren't apparent to me while watching. The last time I listened, I did think the second act was front-end heavy: the fantastic Arabella-Mandryka duet scene isn't properly balanced by Mandryka's drunken raging and the Fiakermilli stuff. This didn't seem to be the case last night.

Marie McLaughlin as Zdenka was a real highlight and Wolfgang Brendel's Mandryka showed that Barak the Dyer in Die Frau ohne Schatten isn't the only great role Strauss wrote for baritone.

When Zdenka finally bursts in at the end of Act III, Liz pointed out that she was now wearing black and white since she couldn't just wear just white because she wasn't a virgin anymore (as we knew from the R-rated instrumental prelude to the act) and that Arabella was still all in white. It was a good point so I screamed at her not to talk during the opera. Not really.

Here's a montage from the DVD of Natalie Dessay singing the Fiakermilli:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Strauss on Sirius, Part 1

Went through the 1965 Met Salome with Nilsson I taped off Sirius' Met Channel last week. Great performance. Nilsson (in her only Met broadcast) completely tears the roof off. Talk about fearless high Bs. And Karl Liebl's Herod was very strongly sung. He doesn't put on much of an affected voice which can be a problem with roles like these (Mime and Beckmesser also can suffer from this). I sat listening with the score and found lots of new things. I'll probaby listen to one of the Elektras next. Here is Time's review of the 1965 Met Salome.

Watched some of the Barenboim on Beethoven DVD set last night - the Hammerklavier. As you'd expect, this one really makes Barenboim sweat. I'm gonna get out the score and work on this one a bit.

Loads of Strauss on the weekend, too. Listened to the Oboe Concerto and Duett Concertino (both conducted by Kempe) and in the evening watched Act I of Die Frau ohne Schatten (the Friedrich/Solti production from Salzburg). Will be watching it again soon because Liz wants to see it. That whole act has to be one of the greatest things Strauss ever did. Leon Bottstein wrote an article in a collection of Strauss essays calling for a revisionist view of Strauss's ouvre. He rightly challenges the idea that Strauss's powers somehow fell off after Elektra only to rebound mysteriously post-1945. One of my favorite parts of the article is when he speculates that Salome, Elektra and Rosenkavalier would one day be regarded as dated and that Die Frau ohne Schatten, Intermezzo and Die ägyptische Helena would be regarded as the forward-looking works. I doubt the first 3 are going anywhere, but Frau has been steadily gaining in popularity and Helena is even showing some movement. Someone needs to talk Renée Fleming into recording Intermezzo to give that one a kickstart.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

She is a monster, your daughter

Salome Watched the Götz Friedrich Salome on DVD over the weekend. It was filmed in 1974 and features Teresa Stratas, Bernd Weikl, Astrid Varnay and was conducted by Karl Böhm. I liked it quite a lot overall. I'd seen this production a few times on video and snapped it up when it finally came out on DVD. Stratas and Böhm are the best things about this production. The Dance of the Seven Veils is only so-so. We're accustomed nowadays to full frontal by the end of the dance and we sadly don't get that here. We do get some very 1974-style backup dancers, though, so all isn't lost.

It's good to see New Bayreuth star Astrid Varnay. She's obviously having a ball chewing up the scenery. I'll definitely be watching this again. But I'm still hoping the Met releases their 2004 Salome with Karita Mattila on DVD. People hit the streets in hysterical joy when it premiered and I know it was filmed...

Oh, and the Stratas Salome had a nice little cameo in it: Dave Foley and Will Ferrell! 1974 saw them both at the height of their vocal powers.

Strauss vs. Hofmannsthal

And speaking of Helena... Hugo von Hofmannsthal's heirs sue Strauss's for opera royalties.


I did some looking online for a good source for sheet music. While looking around, I made of couple of finds that dramatically improved the quality of my life.

First, the editions of Wagner's operas contained in the critical edition are available in far less expensive versions from Eulenburg. Instead of paying something like $1000 for the new Götterdämmerung, it can now be had for less than $100.

The second is that Strauss's Die ägyptische Helena is finally available in study score. Back in university days, I put a lot of energy into trying to get ahold of the five Strauss opera scores that Boosey & Hawkes hadn't printed as study scores (Guntram, Feuersnot, Helena, Friedenstag, Die Liebe der Danae) through interlibrary loans. There was such a thing as the Internet back then, but searching library catalogs wasn't as effortless as it is now. Plus, I kept finding scores, ordering them in, and collapsing in frustration when yet again they sent the piano/vocal reduction instead of the full orchestral score. A Strauss Stage Works edition was printed years later which featured all 15 operas plus the 3 ballets in study score. I definitely was tempted, but I'd invested in the 10 previously-available study scores already and couldn't really face spending the money and having that much duplication.

But now Helena, at least, is finally available separately. It's been one of my favorite Strauss operas for a long time and I'm really looking forward to digging into it -- I'll finally be able to track the twists and turns of The Omniscient Mussel's leitmotives throughout the score...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Today in Cosima Wagner's Diary

Here is the entry for Sunday, June 13, 1875:

"In honor of the barometer, drive to Alexandersbad in a very rough wind. ... R. consults the barometer in the cashier's office, knocks over potted plants, but sees that it has risen. Splendid weather in Alexandersbad, climbed the Luisenburg, not so well suited to us. In the hotel Fidi [Richard and Cosima's 6 year-old son Siegfried] decides to make fireworks for himself and sets fire to the curtain! Great alarm. He speechless, draws attention to the fire by rattling the door, and disappears through the back door; R., changing his clothes, puts out the fire in a state of complete nudity; as he is doing so, something happens which he has so often experienced in dreams: the entire Kurhaus sees the fire from outside and storms in to put it out; R. has trouble withdrawing in his ridiculous state. In good spirits afterward, Fidi surely cured forever of playing with matches, I almost ill with shock. Fidi does not want to sleep in his room any more, thinks it is still burning!"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Busy Weekend

It's been a productive weekend listening-wise. Back on Thursday, we watched one of the masterclasses from Barenboim's new DVD set of all the Beethoven sonatas. In it, Barenboim sat with a young pianist as he played the first movement from the Waldstein sonata. Barenboim is a great teacher and his comments produced immediate, audible improvements. A lot of time was spent on the second subject and the transition to it. "Tempo comes last, not first. Content determines tempo."

Also started on yet another project on Friday. All 200 of Bach's church cantatas are going to be mowed down like so much grass. I listened to BWV 167, Ihr Menschen, rühmet Gottes Liebe, conducted by Rilling and the version from Gardiner's Bach Pilgrimage. I hadn't decided whether to get more of the Gardiner set, but after hearing that performance (and especially the central duet for soprano and alto), I'm thinking it's a good idea.

Recorded and listened to two operas from Sirius' Met Opera channel: the US premiere of Britten's Death in Venice from 1974 and a great performance of La bohème from 1958 with Schippers conducting and Licia Albanese and Carlo Bergonzi starring. For now, I'll say that I prefer La bohème's TB to Venice's chorlera. Today, an Aida from 1967 (Schippers again) was recorded. Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, Carlo Bergonzi, Robert Merrill and Jerome Hines are the stars. Should be a barn-burner.

And Monday and Tuesday are going to be Richard Strauss Mania on the Met Opera channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. I'm planning to record the whole thing so there's lots of listening ahead. Check out the schedule:

Monday, June 11, 2007

  • Ariadne auf Naxos (3/20/1976) Levine; Caballé, Remedios, Welting, Troyanos
  • Der Rosenkavalier (1/29/2000) Levine; Graham, Fleming, Hawlata, Grant Murphy
  • Salome (1/5/1974) Levine; Bumbry, Ulfung, Resnik
  • Die Frau Ohne Schatten (12/17/1966) Böhm; Rysanek, King, Ludwig, Berry, Dalis
  • Elektra (1/22/1994) -Behrens, Voight, Fassbaender, McIntyre, King
  • Arabella 3/5/1983) -Leinsdorf; Te Kanawa, Weikl, Battle

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

  • Elektra (3/25/1961) Rosenstock; Borkh, Rysanek, Madeira, Uhde, Vinay
  • Capriccio (1/31/1998) Davis; Te Kanawa, Harries, Kuebler, Fitch
  • Arabella (12/15/2001) Eschenbach; Fleming, Ketelsen, Bonney
  • Der Rosenkavalier (3/19/1983) Levine; Troyanos, Te Kanawa, Haugland
  • Ariadne auf Naxos (4/14/2001) Levine; Voigt, Margison, Petrova
  • Salome (3/13/1965) Böhm; Nilsson, Liebl, Dalis, Cassel, Shirley

The performance of Frau is famous -- one of the best broadcasts from the Met ever. The two Arabellas should be great: never mind Kiri and Renée Fleming: Kathleen Battle and

Barbara Bonney as Zdenka

is too much to ask for. And the 1965 Salome with Nilsson... I'm guessing there'll be a lightning storm tonight and we won't have power for those two days.

Oh yeah - I listened to Bruckner's Sixth today (Haitink). It's a pretty concise symphony by Bruckner standards and more approachable, I think, than the Fifth. Anyway, gotta go set up for tomorrow's recording....

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Rape of Euterpe

Found an old favorite from Hans von Bülow from Chapter 9 of this dissertation on Nietzsche. Nietzsche had recently finished composing his Manfred Meditation and had sent a copy to Bülow asking for his comments:

“…the most fantastically extravagant, the most unedifying, the most anti-musical thing I have come across for a long time in the way of notes put on paper. Several times I had to ask myself whether it is all a joke, whether, perhaps, your object was to produce a parody of the so-called music of the future. Is it by intent that you persistently defy every rule of tonal connection, from the higher syntax down to the merest spelling? Apart from its psychological interest—for your musical fever suggests, for all its aberrations, an uncommon, a distinguished mind—your Meditation, looked at from a musical standpoint, is the precise equivalent of a crime in the moral sphere. … You yourself, not without reason, describe your music as 'terrible’. It is indeed more terrible than you think—not detrimental to the common weal, of course, but something worse than that, detrimental to yourself, seeing that you can find no worse way of killing time than raping Euterpe in this fashion.”

This is even better than the remark he made when told that expanding the orchestra pit for the upcoming premiere of Tristan und Isolde that he was to conduct would mean the loss of seats for the audience: "What's 50 or 60 schweinhunde more or less?"

Not much listening the last few days. Listened to a bit of Mahler's Second (Kubelik) on Tuesday and watched the first concert from the recently-acquired Barenboim on Beethoven DVD set. In it, Barenboim plays the 32 sonatas in a series of 8 concerts. The first disc featured Op.2 No.1, Op. 31 No. 3 and the Hammerklavier. There are 6 hour-long masterclasses featuring Barenboim working through sonatas with 6 different pianists. If the excerpts shown on PBS a couple of months ago are any indication, these are gonna be great.

Update 8:00PM:
Now I know where I first read this. It's in Volume 4 of Ernest Newman's classic The Life of Richard Wagner.

Monday, June 4, 2007

New Releases

EMI is adding to their mid-price opera reissues series. Massenet's Manon and Werther (both conducted by Pappano) are going on the shopping list. Oh, there's Callas' Giaconda, and Birgit Nilsson as Minnie in Puccini's Fanciulla del West?! Kempe conducting The Bartered Bride with Gottlob Frick? They've gotta stop reissuing stuff...

A couple of finds on iTunes: the Barenboim and Karajan Tristans for roughly $10 each! (Yes, they're the complete recordings.) I still have a preference for a physical CD set over a set of downloaded files, but I am doing all my listening on the iPod, I spend a lot of time ripping discs, and do I really want to pay an extra $40 or $50 for a box and booklet? I'm thinking I'll get over this preference.

Not much listening on the weekend. Beethoven's Op. 101 piano sonata (in the Goode and stereo Kempff recordings) was all I got to on Saturday. I used the playlist feature on the iPod to listen to Goode, then Kempff play each movement in turn. Dead ahead is the Hammerklavier which I'll listen to sometime this week.

Listened to the first half of Black Sabbath's Paranoid on Sunday and finished it on the way into work today. Still love that album. Geezer's bass on "Electric Funeral" caught my attention and I love Tony Iommi's playing. He doubles his guitar a lot, but when it comes time for the solo, instead of doing the regular thing of keeping the doubling guitar in the background to help fill the sound out, Iommi takes the opportunity to double the solo! It's even better when the guitars take different routes through the solo (check out the end of "Iron Man"). He does this to great effect on later albums, but it's interesting to hear it way back on the 2nd album.

Night Mail

Okay, my ignorance of film history may be wide and deep, but I'm still surprised that Night Mail is a classic. I guess Britten's music shouldn't have been the sole reason I had heard of it.

I understand that some of the movies Bernard Herrmann scored have achieved some noteriety for non-musical reasons as well.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Saturday Sugar Fix

Kathleen Battle as Zerbinetta in the Met's production of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Yow.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Mario and Miles

I got seriously into Miles Davis about 6 years ago. I started with the stuff he did with Coltrane but I also was very curious to hear the post-Bitches Brew albums. 1974's Get Up With It was an early purchase and it remains one of my favorite albums. One of the two main tracks, a half-an-hour-plus 50-megaton funk workout called "Calypso Frelimo" is based on a bass figure played by Michael Henderson. Someone at Nintendo must have been a Miles fan when he wrote this tune (taken from Super Mario).

At just after the 10 minute mark in the song, the band lays out and Henderson plays a slowed-down version of the figure. Coincidence or shameless ripoff? (Though this would explain why Miles was wearing that Mario shirt during the 1991 show in Montreux...)

Good listening day: another listen to Beethoven's Op. 59, No. 1 quartet, this time from the Alban Berg quartet (from their first Beethoven cycle). They play like they have personal rocketpacks on. Also listened to Kubelik conduct Mahler's First - who wouldn't like a symphony that instructs the horn players to actually stand up during the last movement. And to top it off, Haitink's recording of Bruckner's Fifth. I'd have written more about these but finding that Mario clip was a real pain in the ass.)