Monday, March 22, 2010

A Gift

A gift of getting older is the ability to finally forgive your parents, and hope that your children will finally forgive YOU!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On listening to Parsifal

We're coming up to Holy Week and I find myself non -church affiliated these days (is that even a term?) But as I age I am drawn more to the contemplative in music. The Donizetti-Bellini can still thrill but I'm more sustained now by Wagner and Bruckner (Monteverdi will always be a great love for his mixture of piety and eroticism) Years ago when living in New York I made it a habit to see Parsifal whenever it was being done at the Met. For me, unless Texaco was picking up the tab-which they did once, with brunch yet-that meant upstairs standing room. Two dollars back in the day. You could easlily touch the rotting gold leaf on the Met's ceiling. Friends and I used to walk in with sandwiches and beer. No bag checksor exams in those more relaxed days!

We needed the sustenance for Parsifal. Let's not kid ourtselves. It's nearly five hours. I never found Parsifal long in the way I still find Die Meistersinger or Siegfried. From those first muted chords in the darkness, I was always enthralled. Parsifal always began in total darkness, with the music rising up out of the pit and up, way up into the air, above the dirty ceiling and bottles of beer of those of us standing. Remember too, no titles in those days. I never knew this opera well enough to know what they were singing. German is not my language, except for the ocassional 'ach so!' and 'recht gut!' I looked up "Der reiner Thor (the innocent fool), and "Wein und Brot" was easy enoguh. But the music itself cast a spell. I know Tristan is Wagner at his most devastating, driving people nuts with its delayed and sometiems absent resoultions. Parsifal has always taken me to a deeper place, more of contementmet and a kind of cathartic sadness. I looked forward to Parsifal every year-I was drinking beer in those days so it may have helped, no more-and always left contented, feeling I've had an experience akin to worship in preparation for Easter. And mine was a pretty profane life back then.

My Parisfals were Jon Vickers and Timthy Jenkins (who alas died young) Placido Doming came a bit later. Vicker's cry of "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" still frightens me and I last heart in in 1984! My Guremanzes (?Gurnemanzen?) were Kurt Moll or James Morris...Simon Estes was Amfortas (how I wish I could have experienced Goerge London!) and Kundry was Tatiana Troyanos or Leonie Rysanek. Many of them are in heaven now, presumably, Morris and Domingo God love them soldier on. Levine condcuted. I remember his balance between music and emotion was perfect. He never wallowed and he never allowed the drama to sag or get lost. He knew we needed the hedonistic Act II and we got it. And the magnificent Met orchestra and chorus. For $2 in stnadin room and you didn't mind bringing your own beer.

I can't get to the Met anymore. Youtube, the web, and my own collections bring me Parsifal from 1936 in Buenos Aires, 1951 Bayreuth, the 50s and 60s, Vienna, Levine, Domingo, and my touchstone, the 1962 Bayreuth performance with Knappertsbusch conducting London, Thomas, Dalis and Hans Hotter. Hotter's may be the most beautiful voice I've heard on a man. Ah! It is good to get older!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Samuel Barber

This is Samuel Barber's 100th birthday. He died in 1981. His was a long career and his was the career of creativity in classical music in America. In American music. Meaning that, to me, while he embraced his predecessors, like Ravel and Satie, like Brahms and Stravinsky, he didn't need them. Barber brought a European sophistication to an American-democratic "get out there and do it because ain't nobody gonna do it for you" ethos. Virgil Thomson used the French models in music often to snobbish ends, to parse down his audiences. Barber, who at firs could be less listener friendly, did the opposite. He used dance, rhythm and texture to draw people in. Barbe's music lifts up. A good example of this is the warmth of his violin concerto. It does without a lot of slash and burn until the final movement, the "perpetual motion' composed to satisfy the commission-people wanted show off for show off sake and I don't think Barber knew how to do that.

The world knows Samuel Barber for his Adagio for Strings. It's said that Toscanini encouraged the young composer to orchestrate part of his String Quartet-hence the Adagio, which the Italian conductor pronounced 'semplice e bella" Simple and beautiful. Indeed. Barber worked well in several genres. I'm especially partial to his songs, and to his three short choral pieces 'Reincarnations' to poetry by James Stephens. I like his opera 'Vanessa' very much, and I really admire 'Antony and Cleopatra'. The failure of this work, written to open the Metropolitan Opera House in 1966, ruined Samuel Barber's life. He lived another fifteen years but his productivity fell off, and he grappled with alcoholism and depression. Still, the composer of the Adagio, of Hermit Songs, The Essays for Orchestra, a 1961 Piano Concerto written for John Browning and the opening Lincoln Center-the composer of the sublime Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and the very grand Antony and Cleopatra, this composer, Samuel Barber, deserves a statue. Better yet, more and more performances! Don't just sit there. Go to youtube and type in his name. Listen (watch) Enjoy.

Monday, March 08, 2010


I've had the pleasure over the past few weeks of actually sitting down and listening to the live broadcasts from the Met. There was a beautiful La Boheme on February 27, and then this past Saturday the Met's broadcast premiere of Verdi's Attila. Hard to believe a big Verdi opera has waited 150 years to be done by America's preeminent opera company. Attila is no stranger to New York: it was a staple at the New York City Opera with Samuel Ramey for many years from he early 1980s, and as Mr. Ramey approaches retirement age he took on the cameo role of Leone in the Met production, a nice "pass of the torch" gesture.

What a great opera! I hadn't heard Attila in a long time and I've missed something. There are starkly beautiful religious chants, big, wonderfully nasty cabalettas for the warrior Odabella, bel canto line and beauty for he baritone Ezio and some nice soprano-tenor duets. Foresto, the tenor is one of Verdi's few supporting tenor roles, but the Met did it justice by casting the wonderful Ramon Vargas.

This was the first time I had heard Ildar Abdrazakov, the young bass (33!) who sang the title tole. Like Ramey in his prime, who owned this opera for my generation, Mr. Abdrakazov has a large voice with plenty of beauty, a deep, pleasing presence that he never sacrificed to make dramatic points. He didn't have to. With Ricardo Muti conducting-in HIS Met debut!- the balance was perfect between Verdi's long melodic lines and the crash and dash moments that give the opera its forward momentum. What I loved was how Muti-and thus everyone-respected and loved this work, for all of its violence we heard two hours of great MUSIC,beautifully made.

I can't comment on the production because I heard it without seeing it. What I heard was an afternoon of superb music making, being re-introduced to an early Verdi opera, like encountering a past girlfriend from long ago and finding her aged but in every way alluring. Bravo.

The recording of this broadcast will make the rounds. Meanwhile, don't forget the first modern stereo recording of Attila, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Ruggero Raimondi, Sherrill Milnes, Carlo Bergonzi and Cristina Deutekom. Muti's recording has Samuel Ramey, Giorgio Zancanaro and Cheryl Studer from La Scala, and I believe there's a DVD with this cast, too. No excuses! Go find Attila!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In case you're wondering......

There seems to be some shmutz going on with this blog and all the nonsense spammy comments with no relevance to what I'm posting,etc. Just skip over 'em. Sorry.