Friday, August 31, 2007

Needed a break

Nothing like a link from Alex Ross to get you posting again. I've been off studying for a certification exam I don't really want to write. And Howard Stern's off again this week and Wife and Son are both sick so the daily schedule has been a chaotic wreck with strobe lights.

I've also been needing a break from the steady diet of Beethoven, Strauss and Wagner I've been on. I swerved hard in Verdi's direction and I've been going through Nabucco. It's the 21st century - there should be no guilt on the part of a German music lover who partakes of the sunnier delights from south of the Alps. Right? (And I did listen to the first 25 numbers of the St. Matthew Passion before bed last night so I've redeemed myself.)

I had been planning on doing a post on a comment I heard on TV from a soprano back in the 90s. It must have been during a Met telecast. During an intermission, she said that the role of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro was longer than Brünnhilde's in the Ring. I'd thought since then that that must be wrong. Reading Michael Kennedy's Master Musicians series book on Strauss last week really motivated me because he claimed that Och's role was the second only to Susanna's in length. That was it - I was going to find out how many bars we're talking about here.

I dug out the Figaro score and got to work. I'd decided to count every measure in which a note for Susanna appears - i.e. including pick-ups. The recitatives didn't contribute as much as I thought they would. But that Act II finale really is a monster. Something like 650 measures for her in that one. My grand total ended up being roughly 1680. I then turned to Walküre and started counting.

The task was pretty tedious by this point and I realized that my supposition is that whoever first asserted this couldn't count. (Or maybe it was that I was the first person dumb enough to sit down and count these things out.) I couldn't face finishing the Ring, let alone plouging through Rosenkavalier. I gave up. For now, I'm content to let the assertion stand. Susanna is the longest opera role ever in the world.

Part III of Album Cover Follies is coming this weekend. I thought it was going to be a one-time deal, but it turns out you can pretty much make fun of any album cover...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Greatest Classical CD Covers EVER, Part II

Click here for the complete (ongoing) series...)

Now THIS is a production of Carmen I'd like to see! A totally nude beauty gets pawed by Mumenschantz? Leave the kids at home when you go to play this CD! Oooh Nellie!

Annette Dasch - Armida
This looks like the cover of a CD you get along with the free sample of Fructis that comes in the mail. I don't know how her voice is but I'm sure her hair smells great.

Elgar - The Collector's Edition
I'm never going to England again. Not while the ghost of Elgar haunts the English countryside. I'll bet this is some spooky-ass music. Hopefully all of Elgar's pieces for theremin are included in this collection.

Lang Lang - Beethoven: Piano Concertos 1 & 4
Looks like Lang just spent the afternoon shopping and is pissed because he just realized he forgot all his shopping bags on the subway. Tough luck there, Mr. Metrosexual. I hope he didn't forget his iPhone as well.

Max Emanuel Cencic - Rossini: Opera Arias & Overtures
God, this guy is funny on those Ricky Gervais podcasts. The thing about the bee having the heart attack? When he gets angry about that poisonous frog? Classic stuff. I didn't know he could sing.

Artemis Quartet - Schumann and Brahms Quintets
These hipsters sure are proud of their glowing cupboard doors. If you look at their legs, they're spelling out something, kinda like the Village People spelling out "YMCA". I think these guys are spelling out "YOINT".

Leonard Bernstein - West Side Story
What the hell's so goddamn funny, Len? You make a 20th century update to a beloved love story and you do nothing but giggle? Well I hope nothing bad ever happens to you, sir.

Strauss - Complete Works for Wind Ensemble
This picture is a mindbending paradox. Old Strauss is conducting Young Strauss in heaven while Young Strauss himself conducts? If you buy this, you'll just stare at the cover, get more and more violently confused and pretty soon you're shaking and the CD self-destructs like a Mission: Impossible cassette and you won't even get to listen to it.

Mozart - Cosi
You didn't know Cosi fan tutte was a dystopian nightmare? The best part of the opera is when THX-1138 and RMK-5930 exchange their unisex jumpsuits and totally confuse their assigned breeding partners and it's the time of the month where they are allowed to engage in the reproductive act with the females so there are hijinx galore. In the end, everyone, even the cynical cyborg UNI-MOPH, learns a little something about life.

Click here for the complete (ongoing) series...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another Masterclass

Liz and I watched another masterclass from the Barenboim on Beethoven set. This time it was the first movement of the Appassionata with Lang Lang. After Lang plays, and Barenboim gets the requisite compliments out of the way, the constructive criticism starts. Barenboim says he'd like to hear a better grasp of the structure of the piece from Lang. Now, the classes are taped before an audience and they're always in the background. A few of them brought scores with them, the nerds. One of the nerds can be seen scribbling this piece of advice down. What did he write? "Grasp of structure = good"? "Lang doesn't know what he's doing"? Good thing he brought the notepad.

In another class, Barenboim (who plays all the sonatas from memory) has a question about one of Beethoven's performance markings and asks to take a look at one of the nerd's scores. Of course, they've brought some jive, unreliable edition instead of a proper urtext edition. Barenboim notes it but doesn't wipe his butt with the score which is what he should have done.

One of the best parts of the class was Barenboim's advice about one note. He said that Lang should create the illusion of a crescendo on the note and then played the passage in question. Sure enough, the effect was there. One of the audience members asked how he did it. Barenboim said that if he told it wouldn't be an illusion anymore. He then told an anecdote about meeting Horowitz who gave him a memorable piece of performance advice: "You must have will." Barenboim then apologized for not fully answering the question but that sure sounds like the full answer to me. Hope the nerds got that one down.

(Why the hostility to the nerds? Self-revulsion because I identify with them? NO. LEAVE ME ALONE.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

New Verdi Letter

Courtesy Opera Chic comes news of a newly discovered letter written by Verdi. The contents are somewhat disappointing - he doesn't call the recipient a horse's ass or a jackanape or anything. (I always assume everyone else's correspondence is just like mine.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Greatest Classical CD Covers EVER?

Click here for the complete (ongoing) series...

Every once in a while, I'll come across a classical CD whose cover will burn itself into my memory forever. Here are a few...

Mendelssohn - Elijah
I remember cracking up the first time I saw this cover. He's supposed to look like he's imploring a higher power but instead looks dubious about a lighting rig used during the photo shoot. Actually, it looks more like he's trying to work out a square root in his head. Plus, the stage beard looks good at 50 or 100 feet but looks pretty weak this close up. I will not be purchasing this recording.

Rossini - Il barbiere di Siviglia
Domingo looks like a total spaz here. I'd dump a chamber pot on a goon like this if he came around to senerenade me with a look like that on his puss. I may purchase this recording if it is reissued with a different cover. It should not feature Domingo cutting hair.

Johann Strauss - Famous Works
I'm sure this is a wonderful Johann Strauss DVD. Only have one misgiving about it: they've slapped a picture of RICHARD Strauss on the cover. It inspires confidence. Close enough, guys. God knows what you'd get if you actually played this thing. Episodes of McMillan & Wife? An instructional video for your new LG washing machine? There's literally no way to know.

Richard Wagner - Parsifal: An Orchestral Quest
Robert Mapplethorpe is apparently a Wagnerian. I'm glad this isn't the cover of a recording I'd have the slightest interest in. I'd feel real uncomfortable with this cover nestling next to my other Parsifals.

RICHARD Strauss - Salome
I wouldn't feel too comfortable having this cover sniffing around my collection either. It looks like the funniest outtake from the photo session that got out and is passed around in the underground opera scene. Don't even think about the number of people that had to be involved in putting the cover together and that none of them raised the red flag. I know of someone who ordered in a copy of this recording and paid more to get the previous cover.

Placido Domingo - Granada: The Greatest Hits (aka "THE HAT")Wow. I'm thinking when some assistant pulled that mother out of the tickle trunk that that would have been the time to put your foot down, Placido. You wouldn't see Daniel Barenboim in a crazy hat like that!

Bruckner - Symphonies
Aw, Christ.

Lara St. John - Bach - Works for Violin Solo
I was all ready to make jokes about how inappropriate this cover was. What, with her state of undress and apparent age 'n all. "So you want to take a picture of a topless 12 year-old and slap it on the cover? Run with it!" But after some quick research, I found that St. John herself wrote a reply to a review in the Edmonton Journal of all things in which she states she was 24 when the picture was taken. She only looks 12. So it's okay then.

RICHARD Strauss - Zarathustra/Don Joan/Rosenkavalier Suite (Maazel)
This is the greatest cover of anything ever. I want gloves to make my hands look like Space Hands like that. There's no way an orchestra would miss a downbeat if Maazel had mitts like that. But surely the only misstep in this cover is the space hands, right?

RICHARD Strauss - Zarathustra/Don Joan/Rosenkavalier Suite (Maazel)
Wrong! If anything, this one is even more distressing. Why are his hands doing that? We notice even more the psychotic look on his face. Physical assault looks like one of his more benign intentions.

I love how someone at the record company realized how crazy the Space Hands were and reissued the recording without them. But now instead of looking like Timothy Leary, Maazel looks like Charles Manson.

Click here for the complete (ongoing) series...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Edmonton Opera

For whatever reason, my memory of events in the mid-90s can be patchy. A few months ago, like a bolt from the blue, I remembered that Kathleen Battle had a recital here. It took me a bit to decide if it really happened or if it was a dream. I'd attended the performance, so why didn't I remember it? I can't tell you a single thing she sang. I decided to check Google and searched for any record of an Edmonton recital. I was kind of surprised by what I found.

The Edmonton Opera has a history page with a number of interesting items:
  • Not only was Kathleen Battle here in the 90s, but so was Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kenawa and Cecilia Bartoli. What was I doing when Dame Kiri came to town that I didn't go? Playing with pogs?
  • Marilyn Horne, Jose Carreras, and Anna Moffo all sang here.
  • Beverly Sills sang here three different times.
  • 1976 Bohème with Teresa Stratas?!?!

Something obviously happened around 1980 because these superstar bookings stopped (excepting the recital series mentioned above). I went to a number of productions in the 90s and things have actually gone even further downhill since then. I actually saw works like Britten's Rape of Lucretia or Strauss's Ariadne here and I'm thinking that would never happen now. (I guess they lost a ton of money in the 90s.) Liz and I had been subscribers for a few years recently, but after a brutally bad Barber of Seville, I think that's it for subscriptions. Especially with the Met HD broadcasts at movie theatres. After the Edmonton fiasco, we went and saw Bartlett Sher's Met production of Barber in the theatre and it was fantastic. With 8 Met presentations in the theatre next season, it's no contest.

To be fair, I did enjoy one Edmonton production - the Turandot from a few years ago, the highlight of which was Sally Dibblee's Liu. It was the best singing I've ever heard here... Except for Kathleen Battle, of course, if I could remember it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Strauss on Sirius III: The Voyage Home

Listened to the 1994 Elektra from the Met with Hildegard Behrens and Deborah Voigt. Great singing from all the principals. Hopefully a DVD reissue of this isn't too far off.

I was looking at the booklet that came with the Böhm recording. There's a note in it in which he claims the cuts he uses were sanctioned by the composer. Not surprised that he claims this since it's the only possible justification for making cuts. It could be that Strauss said something to Böhm but it could also simply be Strauss's refusal to go to war over cuts being taken as a sanction. (I doubt he approved of the butchery that Die Frau ohne Schatten was/is subjected to and he did make that famous dry comment about a conductor forgetting to make a couple more cuts to Act III of Rosenkavalier - the concluding Trio and Duet.) Böhm also says that Strauss conducted the work with cuts in the last 20 years of his life. In the 30s Strauss suddenly decided that Elektra had too much fat and needed some trimming? In any case, he made no changes to the published score which for me is a definitive gesture. He didn't, so to me, the cuts still = bad.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Classical Downloads

Got an email from Naxos today that had a link to the Classics Online site. Apparently all of the Naxos catalog is available there as well as those of other labels. They're DRM-free, but seem kind of on the pricey side. Hänssler is another label available and you can get their entire Bach Edition for about 10 bucks a CD. This would work out to about $1700 for the whole thing. But the whole thing is available on CD for something over $1300 at ArkivMusic. Shouldn't downloads be way cheaper than CDs?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Mission Accomplished

FriedenstagThe study score for Strauss's Friedenstag arrived today. As you can see, it is the proper, full-size study score and not the pocket score I was worrying about. Boosey & Hawkes is indeed selling the scores from the Complete Stage Works set separately. It is identical to the Friedenstag score I took out of the library. I'm extremely happy about this. I'll be able to pick up the 4 remaining Strauss opera study scores without resorting to getting the 18 volume Complete set and figuring out what to do with all the duplicates. The soul-scarring, futile attempts to get this and the other 4 scores through Inter-Library Loans are now a distant, bitter memory.

Update: Liz couldn't resist commenting on this.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Next month is the 30th anniversary of Maria Callas's death. EMI is releasing her complete studio recordings (newly remastered) in a 70 CD box. Places are already listing it.

And while you're waiting for that, check out the 50 CD set of Schubert works for $80. Or what about the 22 CD set of Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky for $43?

Hear the clarity and definition!

I'm not an audiophile. I can't see spending orders of magnitude more money for incremental improvements in sound ("I'm glad I spent the extra 10K - I really hear the improved transparency in the midrange!") Found this article (via the Opera-L list) that really goes overboard in trying to make the case on the importance of sound quality.

But what is the price of inferior audio quality? Can poor audio touch the heart as deeply as better sound? John Meyer, who designs and builds some of the world's best speakers at his Meyer Sound Labs in Berkeley, doesn't think so.

Um, of course a hawker of overpriced speakers is going to think this. But really - we can't respond as strongly to a mono recording as to a stereo one? I think Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing Strauss's Four Last Songs would turn me into a blubbering wreck regardless if I'm listening on a $50K system or on my iPod, stereo or mono.

Seems to me that when we listen to poorer-fidelity music, we make the adjustment pretty quickly and don't really notice the sound quality after a few minutes. The range of acceptable sound quality is pretty wide.

Plus, weren't these same types complaining when CDs came out and how the compromise in sound quality was unacceptable there, too?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Today's Anna Netrebko Picture

Anna NetrebkoAnna gets some practice in at a St. Petersburg firing range. Found this photo (clipped from this one) and another photo on her official site.

I was not at all surprised to see that John Derbyshire was all over this a few months ago...

(At no point was this post going to be called "Anna Get Your Gun.")

What's a word stronger than "asinine"?

Found an article on Wagner via Arts & Letters Daily. It's a fairly standard checklist of the various banalities that get trotted out whenever someone gets the notion to write about Wagner. But a sentence at the end is astounding:
And as that devout Wagnerian Michael Portillo pertinently asked in a New Statesman article a couple of years ago, why is it that a love of Wagner is so often taken to signal right-wing, antisemitic tendencies when a love of Richard Strauss, at least on occasion a Nazi sympathiser, signals only the height of good taste?
I'm thinking this has to be satire of some kind. If the comment about right-wing, antisemitic tendencies "signals" anything, its that this "devout Wagnerian" needs to start hanging around with smarter people. I'm really not sure what this question is asking. Every one of its assumptions is wrong. First of all, as soon as the term "right-wing" comes out when dealing with Wagner, you know you're dealing with an ignoramus. The revolutionaries of 1848-9 were "right-wing"? Wagner agreed with Proudhon and was running buddies with Bakunin for God's sake. The claim that people who love Wagner have to defend themselves from charges of antisemitism "often" is ludicrous.

The part of the question about Strauss is the stupidest thing I've read in the last 14 months. The single biggest feature of the history of Strauss reception is the attempt by fellow composers, critics and academics "of good taste" to write off most if not all of his works as kitsch (Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Joseph Kerman in Opera as Drama, etc. etc. etc.). There is no other composer who is accused of bad taste as often as Strauss.

I'm sure Stephen Pettitt meant to get us thinking when he quoted a "provocative" question posed by a "devout Wagnerian" but instead has presented us with a funhouse mirror of stupidity. Every angle reveals something new.

I'm off to put my head in ice water.

During Lunch

Went for a walk around the Leg. grounds at lunch. Walked by a guy who was wearing rubber boots with his jeans tucked in them. I don't think there's a simpler, more pure way to look crazy than to do that on a +26 C summer day. I'm going to try it tomorrow.

Plus, I saw a guy who had a mullet that was humbling in its magnificence.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Back to Rutherford

Went to Rutherford this morning to take out some scores. No wacky misadventures this time, but once again, someone's sitting in the music section doing something non-music related. Some girl was sitting there reading a map. I don't think it was a treasure map. There was also a fishy looking guy with a hat. I kept my eye on him.

I ended up taking out a volume from the Neue Bach Ausgabe (the one with the Johannisfest cantatas) and Bruckner's Fifth Symphony (the edition edited by Nowak).

Would Sobeys Have Vöslauer?

I'm surprised I haven't posted a video or picture of Anna Netrebko yet... Here she is singing the Flower Duet from Lakmé with Elina Garanca.

And here's one of her Vöslauer Mineral Water commercials.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The iPod Decision

Did some cleaning out of the iPod. It was getting full and I had to make some decisions. The collection isn't even half ripped yet and what I do have won't fit on an iPod. The solution to the problem actually solved another problem as well.

I was finding that making a decision about what to listen to was getting more difficult as more and more stuff appeared on the iPod. I finally realized that I could make a few decisions to focus what was on there a little better. I can have everything ripped and stored in one place at home and walk around with a subset of that. Do I need all the Haydn symphonies and string quartets at the same time? During the day, are the chances I'll listen to a given work all equal? These kinds of questions made me realize that limiting my choice would help diversify the listening as well as save space. So only Symphonies 1-8 and the Op. 20 quartets are on the iPod today. Only one recording of Parsifal (the 1951 Knappertsbusch), only a few volumes of the Beethoven edition, one Don Carlos, only the live King Crimson stuff from 1972-74, only the 1963-68 stuff by Miles Davis, etc.

This has helped. My July listening has been a little more diverse with me hearing a few things for the first time. This kind of approach is probably pretty obvious to a normal person but to a mildly obsessive completist it's a revelation.

(Okay, fine, there are 7 Rings currently on the iPod - most of them were downloaded from the Yahoo opera share group. So sue me. What, I have to have only one of every single thing? Who made you boss of my iPod?)