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A Quick Visit to The Ring at The Met

Met Opera Die Walküre - 32After Tuesday's NY Phil concert with Semyon Bychkov leading the U.S. Premiere of Thomas Larcher's colorful, surprisingly tonal Symphony No. 2 "Kenotaph", I took a chance and walked across Lincoln Center Plaza to the Met, just as Die Walküre, the second installment of Richard Wagner's monumental opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen - was letting out for its second intermission.

Sure enough, a patron who had had enough for one night - Die Walküre runs five hours, not including curtain calls - offered me her ticket in the Grand Tier, which is how I got to see all of Act 3: the Ride of the Valkyries, the long duet between Wotan and Brünnhilde, the Magic Fire music. As I said when the Met last staged the Ring in 2012, this Robert Lepage production - and it's 40 ton machine - is a bit hit-and-miss, but the music, as performed by the mighty Met Orchestra under the brilliant conductor Philippe Jordan, is breathtaking. (Jordan is currently Music Director of two of the biggest opera houses in the world: the Paris Opera and the Vienna State Opera.) As for the singers, home grown soprano Christine Goerke is a force of nature as Brünnhilde, her voice easily carrying over the orchestra. Bass Michael Volle is a menacing, almost terrifying Wotan, while soprano Eva Maria Westrbroek fortified her position as the world's leading Sieglinde. 

Tickets for the remainder of this cycle, as well as cycle 3 next week, are all gone, but you can take your chances at the box office on returns. Or, maybe just show up a few hours late and hold up a finger. You'll be glad you did. 

Video preview here. More pics below and on the photo page.

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Janacek's "Diary of One Who Disappeared" at BAM

by Steven Pisano

47496985642_a841d5a9db_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

The Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) is perhaps best known in this country for his operas Jenufa and The Cunning Little Vixen, though he wrote seven other operas, as well as orchestral, chamber and vocal music. One of Janáček's most striking works is Diary of One Who Disappeared (1919), which arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week in a production by the Belgian group Musiektheater Transparant, directed by Ivo van Hove

Van Hove has seemed to be everywhere in recent years. While his principal work has been with International Theater Amsterdam, the largest theater in the Netherlands, he regularly has directed plays both in the UK and New York, winning both the Olivier and Tony Award for directing (for 2015's A View From the Bridge.) Often cited for his minimalist style, he works frequently with his longtime life partner, Jan Versweyveld, who created both the stage and lighting design for this run at BAM.

Diary of One Who Disappeared is a 22-part song cycle written for piano and voices. It was inspired by a series of anonymous poems that appeared early in the twentieth century in a Brno newspaper. The poems told of an all-consuming love that a boy felt for a Gypsy girl, and Janáček soon found a parallel in his own life. In 1917, in his early 60s, Janáček met Kamila Stosslova, a married woman with children who was almost 40 years his junior. Although she was not romantically interested in him, and their interactions with each other were intermittent, Stosslova became Janáček's muse for the prolific last decade of his life. Some 700-plus letters from Janáček to Stosslova survive, in which he repeatedly tells her she was the inspiration for many of the characters in his works. In one letter he wrote: "If the thread that binds me to you were to break, it would also break the thread of my life."

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American Symphony Orchestra Performs Bohuslav Martinu's Opera "Julietta" at Carnegie Hall

by Steven Pisano

46743421314_d51c3a1921_o(All photos by Steven Pisano)

The conductor Leon Botstein has led the American Symphony Orchestra for more than 25 years, and has developed a reputation for championing works that have sometimes been neglected by other maestros. This past Friday at Carnegie Hall, Botstein conducted the American premiere of Bohuslav Martinu's surrealist opera Julietta, which received its world premiere in 1938 in Prague. It is based on the French play Juliette, ou La cle des songes ("The Key of Dreams") by Georges Neveaux.

Botstein strongly believes that the opera is a lost masterpiece which deserves to be a part of the modern repertory, and certainly the opera has a lot to offer. Long criticized for its "episodic" music, which jumps sometimes from style to style and at times feels a little jittery, the score actually does not seem out of place in today's contemporary music scene. So, maybe Martinu was just ahead of his time.

The basic story line concerns Michel, a bookseller from Paris who three years earlier had somewhere heard a woman's voice singing that has haunted him ever since. One day he decides to go in search of the voice, and he finds himself in a seaside town where all the people living there have lost their memories. They live perpetually in the present and have no recollection or appreciation of the past. When Michel tells a policeman that he can actually remember all the way back to his childhood--a toy duck he owned--the policeman congratulates him on his extraordinary memory and proclaims that by virtue of that memory the townspeople will make him the Captain of the town. Michel is naturally bewildered by this strange town, and only more so when some hours later Michel meets the policeman again, except now he is a mailman and he cannot remember his meeting Michel earlier or his vow to have him be the leader of the town.

Numerous comical episodes like this ensue, and at times the town seems like a mixture of the Marx Brothers and Franz Kafka. In a concert version such as this one, it was hard to imagine how this might be presented had it been staged, but one can easily picture a phantasmagoric setting for the opera to play out in.

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Les Arts Florissants, “Rameau, Maître à Danser,” at BAM

by Steven Pisano

33377413548_186fdf8c24_o(All photos by Steven Pisano)

William Christie founded Les Arts Florissants in 1979 as a way to celebrate his love of Baroque music from the 1700s, and for the last forty years he and his fellow musicians have been performing and recording music on original period instruments that had not always been played much before. Much of this music was written for the royal family of France.

At the Brooklyn Academy of Music this weekend, Les Arts Florissants is presenting two rarely performed opera-ballets by Jean-Philippe Rameau, "Daphnis et Egle" from 1753, and "La Naissance d'Osiris" from 1754. Both works were originally performed for the royal court of King Louis XV at his summer palace at Fontainebleau outside Paris, where the royal family went on hunting expeditions.

For New York audiences accustomed to the cutting-edge, very modern productions that BAM is deservedly known for, this blast into the past takes a little bit of getting used to. The music by Rameau does not immediately impress the ear. It is very pretty to listen to, but a far cry from the masterworks of the soon-to-come classical period (Mozart, Rossini, etc.) But as a chance to enjoy music from the Baroque, by such a top-flight ensemble, this opportunity should not be missed.

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