Big brash bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, currently in the middle of an Australian tour, spoke to OC on behalf of Limelight Magazine for the April 2013 issue while he was in Milan this past spring as Falstaff and Der fliegende Holländer at La Scala. Read the interview here.
OC unpacks her luggage from a week in London to a newly-uploaded capture of Domenico Cimarosa's Il Ritorno di Don Calandrino, the 18th century gem unearthed by Riccardo Muti (from the archives of the San Pietro a Maiella Conservatorio), which premiered at the 2007 Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele.
Verdi, then Wagner, then four encores (like the one above) made London break a sweat for Jonas Kaufmann's Sunday night recital with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Here's what Hugo Shirley said for The Telegraph and Michael Church's review for The Independent. Next month brings Angela Gheorghiu and Rolando Villazon chased by Bryn Terfel in June.
He was also very, very knowledgeable about literature. He wasn’t just a movie savant; you could talk to him about Homer or you could talk to him about Shakespeare—you could talk to him about all that stuff. I would have lengthy conversations with him about “Henry IV” or Virgil, the Aeneid. He would know—he would know all about it and I could talk—I remember, I was looking through Caesar’s “Gallic Wars” and he knew everything about that stuff. And you just thought to yourself, “How do you know about this?” I had a conversation with him once about “Middlemarch” and I’m like, “Is there anything you don’t know about?” He was one of those kinds of people. And opera, too—I remember discussing an opera called “Fedora,” which is a very obscure opera by Umberto Giordano, and he said, “Oh, you know, I’m related to Giordano—my cousin Vinnie Giordano is his relative, but…” and all of a sudden he goes on a disquisition about Giordano and “Fedora,” which is, like I said, not exactly Puccini or Verdi.
While nights were spent at Linz’s new Musiktheater Volksgarten, we filled the days tracing Anton Bruckner's footsteps across the Danube. Mornings started at Brandl on
Landstrasse for delicious brioche, afternoons were at the city's open, sunny fields, punctuated by retail/supermarket therapy at Billa and Bipa. And lots of Celibidache Bruckner on the iPod.
We visited St. Florian's Baroque Augustine Monastery, inhabited since 1071, now home to the St. Florian Boys Choir, a firefighter museum, Albrecht Altdorfer saturated oils, an antique library, the church where Bruckner
played the organ and his Viennese deathbed tucked at the end of the
Emperor’s thirteen guest chambers.
We hiked to the top of Pöstlingberg, saw the Stadtpfarrkirche
where Bruckner was organist, found Danner
instrument store and browsed Pirngruber's classical music discs.
(Brandl for brioche)
(Thank you, Billa)
~Trip to St. Florian~
Bruckner's piano and death bed
(OC hiked in Church’s handmade linen slippers – next time she’ll definitely bring kicks)
By way of a 30-seat turboprop plane and a prayer from Vienna,
OC passed the weekend in Linz to celebrate the opening of London-based
architect Terry Pawson’s new opera house, the Musiktheater Volksgarten (also, we
were dying for a hit of Upper Austria supermarket therapy, simpering orchestral
elasticity and fresh Danube-filtered air). Besides, after living in Italy, it’s become intuitive to
check out the cultural little leaguers – La Scala’s and Opera di Roma’s
sweet, neighboring opera houses set on pedestrian-only cobblestones such as the opera theaters in Parma,
Bologna and Torino.
Originally intended to park at the Danube, clustered with
other city landmarks like the Ars Electronica Center and the Brucknerhaus,
Pawson rallied for an accessible, green site as an organic,
living space so he turned to the quaint city’s Volksgarten. At the time, it
was burdened with problems – a major road cleaved/rendered it
desolate, seedy and pedestrian-unfriendly. But the city obliged Pawson and
in four years after breaking ground, the road was moved and the green was
crowned with his glass, steel, concrete and wood.
(Musiktheater's upstairs reception hall/bar)
The opera house is rooted in egalitarianism; open to the city, for
the people, lacking traditional identifiers of politically-misappropriated
opera houses -- no central VIP box (at the gala, the Linz mayor sat in the front row), no unwieldy auditorium chandelier, no proscenium
arch collage – it’s an austere, modern theater, the best grosser saal tickets maxing-out
at 60/70 euro.
Programming’s malleable, a mix of modern dance, traditional
opera, operetta and musical theater. During
the opening weekend, we took in a traditional staging of Der Rosenkavalier,
Anne Schwanewilms as the Marschallin, Kurt Rydl as Baron Ochs and Dennis
Russell Davies on the podium; an energetic, well-acted, Broadway-inspired The
Witches of Eastwick in German translation; a water-soaked modern dance to a soundtrack of Monteverdi and Purcell, Campo Amor; Philip Glass’
opera world premiere of Peter Handke’s bleak, post-trauma dystopian play,
Spuren Der Verirrten; and a cabaret-sourced,
performance-driven show, Seven in Heaven. La Fura del Baus threw a few replications of a free, one-hour Wagner pastiche, Ein Parsival, exploding fireworks and stampeding puppets at the foot of the opera house's facade, post-twilight.
The state-of-the-art auditorium meets every flex of artistic
muscle. There’s a hydraulic-driven orchestra pit, a stage that rotates on different
turntables and a backstage that can hold up to eight simultaneous productions. In the auditorium
of burnished gold, dark woods and intimate acoustics, enormous, red plush
velvet seats have large touch-screen displays that control subtitles.
Now that you’ve heard about our evenings, we’ll soon
share the daylight hours…
(The most comfortable opera house seats that have ever touched OC's butt)
(Intermission snacks -- a glass of white wine and a couple raw slices set you back about 5 euro)
(Top ticket price is around 60/70 euros)
(Wet and wild Campo Amor)
(Polish tenor Piotr Beczała sang at the gala)
(Collage of a 1853 Don Carlos staging in the upstairs hallway)
The chameleon Musiktheater, designed by Terry Pawson, is an Autobot. We’ve so far seen Philip Glass’ world premiere of The Lost and last night we shook our Jil Sander-encased butts to musical theater at the Austrian premiere of Dempsey/Rowe The Witches of Eastwick. Leaving the theater from springy, velvet seats to the raked glass foyer overlooking the park, rich, dark woods that line the passageways still smell deliciously organic. The theater has cast off tradition and old school identifiers such as the central European standby of grand, central boxes for VIPs, cluttered proscenium arches and peacocking centerpiece chandeliers. The Landestheater sheds protocol. Power to the people.
As we explore the city on a sleepy, brisk Sunday, we’ll leave you with photos like the Danube and the classical music store, Pirngruber, on Landstrasse.
Ask yourself an important question. No, not whose bed you slept in last night. No, not how did you get that bruise. Because at some point, even if you were lucky enough to be born into a culture or a country that has been gifted with a bloodless past, you will suffer loss. And trauma. And the grisly aftermath.
How does a displaced population rebuild from historical trauma was the big question (with well-intended solutions) in the aftermath of genocide, war and ghastly man-made historical traumas. Ask any Armenian or Jew or Native American or Cambodian or Rwandan (etc., infinity, sadness, madness) how they’ve endured. It’s a lifelong reframe, which alluded to some of the questions raised last night at Linz's new Musiktheater am Volksgarten in a world premiere by Philip Glass based on Peter Handke's play Spuren Der Verirrten in David Pountney’s direction.
Great works by even greater men have built on the framework of loss -- Picasso's Guernica, Elie Wiesel's Night, Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour -- in a global language of aftermath. There are a few ways to make sense of loss, including absurdity, a complete surrender of order with a silver lining of fickle inspiration and hope, which is one way that Pountney and the production team digested Handke’s gritty play. But with absurdity, any fool can laugh in the face of senseless chaos. Laughter’s what separates man from beast. There’s a great Milanese expression that OC wishes she could remember from her hotel room in Linz about hope and fools. Anyway, surrender to absurdity only comes after the rebuilding process, a solution and framework that’s a bit premature in Pountney’s direction and narrative arch.
In the dialogue of global loss, Handke asks “Where are we?” “Wo Sind Wir?” Anyone can figure out that they’re neither here or there but the most important question, for OC anyway, is “Where do we go?” & “What now?” It’s not about understanding how you’ve come to that point, because, let’s face it – the unflinching, unsavory answer is that life is full of unexplainable trauma and the only thing that one can predict is unpredictability. It’s the aftermath, the remembrance, the bearing witness, the rebuilding that separates the victims from the survivors.
Historical trauma aside, opening the season with such an unconventional work was considered risky by Intendant Rainer Mennicken but who cares when you can show off all the capabilities and potential of your newest, shiniest toys? The orchestra pit floats, the stage rotates on Saturn’s rings of turntables, the centerpiece "chandelier" glows with multicolored LED lights. So here we have masses of chorus, actors, dancers, and at a certain point, the orchestra as onstage protagonists, a collective mass of the “everyman” intended to make the condition less alienating. Effective, yes, as collective loss. But with Handke’s archetypal message and Glass’ self-sustaining, textural, classically-sourced score punctuated by ethereal choir work, you don’t need much else, which is why Amir Hosseinpour’s aggressive, severe choreography -- while precise, well-intended and executed flawlessly by the Ballett des Landestheaters Linz -- was painted in strokes a bit too broad. Frankly, with historical trauma, one understands the implied desperation and exhaustion without having the themes so boldly narrated.
The opera-event (because really, it’s not an opera) is split into two distinct halves cleaved by an intermission. The first half is an energized, absurdist reality with Hosseinpour’s interpretive movements and Glass’s steam engine glistening with lovely arias behind bucolic images and nostalgic landscapes that have an underside of grit & grotesque. And as it often does, the world changes from light to dark in the span of an opera house intermission. The spectator returns to a post-apocalyptic, J.G. Ballard dystopia, a mass of displaced population reeling in the aftermath of an implied trauma, empty spaces and voids, scenery falling away added to the disorder and chaos, somber and gritty.
When you peel back Pountney’s absurdity, there’s an effective message on the collective nature of loss and its aftermath, which culminates in a complete upheaval led by the Bruckner Orchester Linz onstage with the chorus filling the orchestra’s seats, trained to chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies’ every nuance in a young, flexible sound, although nothing bright or burnished quite like our Italian orgies of strings, woods & metals, but it's disciplined and very sure of itself.
Like all great art, the merit of Spuren der Verirrten rests on its provocation to ask terrible questions, to explore the framework of aftermath and probe the legacy of absence -- although in the end, in the void of such loss, one must ask the right ones.
How do you throw a memorable housewarming party? No, we're not talking about the kind where the disco ball ends up at the bottom of the pool's deep end or you wake up in handcuffs (the sexy kind or the cop kind, choose your own adventure).
What we mean is killer guests (Philip Glass), the hottest band (Bruckner Orchester Linz), a ripping MC (Dennis Russell Davies), a troupe of fire-juggling acrobats (La Fura dels Baus) and fireworks, which is how Landestheater Linz inked itself into Austria's modern cultural legacy earlier tonight at Architekt Terry Pawson's sleek, new theater for the upper Austria city of chrome and steel on the banks of the Danube.
OC's in the city of Bruckner and Mozart's Symphony 36 celebrating the 1200-seat Musiktheater am Volksgarten with its three concert halls -- deceptively intimate, unbashfully egalitarian. At tonight's gala concert, Landestheater Linz flexed its muscle and showed off its killer heels & dizzying curves during two hours of speeches by the theater's biggest cheerleaders & advocates framed by inspiring performances -- Piotr Beczala was on hand for Lehar's Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, capped with an open-air Wagner adaptation, Ein Parzival, by aerialists/fire-breathers/puppeteers La Fura dels Baus.
Our first impressions of the new theater (a lethal weapon of opera, ballet, operetta and musical theater)? She's a -beat- heartbreaker, dream maker, love taker -beat- especially excited for tomorrow night's world premiere of Philip Glass' Spuren Der Verirrten (The Lost), based on Peter Handke's play. *flexes, poses, orbits the moon*
Michael Douglas is Liberace, Matt Damon is Scott Thorson and Debbi Reynolds is Frances. The film premieres on May 26, the same date of Arrested Development's Season 4 live launch on Netflix -- delirious.
In his bicentennial birth year, Busseto-born Verdi has inspired many projects, such as Berlin-based video artist David Krippendorff's Nothing Escapes My Eyes. His eight-minute mini-movie, calling for Kickstarter funds, is about cultural identity shifts inspired by Aida/Cairo, a billet-doux to his enduring love of ancient Egypt with EMI's blessings to use that Muti/Caballé/Domingo recording on the soundtrack.
Karma's a byotch which is why we love director Park Chan-wook's cult 2003 vengeance-prOn flick Oldboy (and hopefully its upcoming, controversial remake by Spike Lee). The South Korean director recently debuted his first English film, Stoker, a thriller (natch) with a compelling soundtrack by Clint Mansell (Pi/Requiem for a Dream/Black Swan) offset by an original piano work, Duet, by Philip Glass, and since there's nothing more operatic than a vindicating revenge fantasy, Verdi's Stride la vampa from Trovatore is also on the soundtrack.
The 76-year-old American composer's 2013 has been packed with premieres -- the New York debut of his 7th Symphony "Toltec" (by The Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall), the West Coast debut of his opera The Fall of the House of Usher (Long Beach Opera), the world premiere of his opera The Perfect American (Teatro Real) and his new opera Spuren der Verirrten (The Lost), which premieres later this week in Linz, Austria to celebrate the city's new Musiktheater Linz.
You can hear Glass' Stoker track below [via] and [via].
Philanthropist, teacher, soloist, opera star -- we've tried to pigeonhole Thomas Hampson, but it's impossible. Onstage, the versatile American baritone melts into Lied recitals + American song + Verdi bada$$ baritones (he just finished Iago at The Met) while offstage, he's devoted to foundation work like his Hampsong Foundation + Song of America + the Heidelberg Lied Academy, which is now two days into its 3rd annual seminar. In addition to nurturing young singers, artistic director Hampson invites
seasoned collaborators (such as Thomas Quasthoff this year) and accompanists for two weeks of intense masterclasses, lectures and performances to nurture the Lied arts.
We saw Hampson at La Scala in 2011 for a well-studied, deeply curious exploration of Schubert, Liszt and Mahler Songs. As an artist who understands the literature & culture behind classic German Lieder, it's very cool that he's livestreaming today's masterclass.
In its 200+ year history, La bohème has been retold, like, a million times, which is why the latest narrative by Rolando Villazón gets the gold. In a new series, Villazón Toons, the Mexican tenor sketches & Sinfini Music animates Puccini's timeless love story.
Right around the time you guys were celebrating Jesus' resurrection with bunnies & binges, the NYTimes ran a Dan Wakin piece on Teatro dell'Opera di Roma's rise from the brink of uncertainty, merit to direttore onarario a vita, Riccardo Muti, with quotes from our favorites -- Paolo Isotta for Corriere della Sera and Giovanni Gavazzeni Ricordi for Il Giornale. Resurrected 'em? Damn near killed 'em! With notable upticks in ticket sales, educational outreach, refreshed programming and musicianship, even the usually-blasé Italian press took notice of Muti twerking it hard.
Lincoln Center patrons, please stay calm. Those nappy, rainbow-colored puppets are not the hallucinatory vapors of a 72-hour Adderall/Red Bull bender. They're kindergarten eye candy, the cast of Sesame Street's "People in Your Neighborhood", tearing through Lincoln Center's backstage. Through April, PBS's beloved puppets will teach preschoolers all about NYC performance art -- hanging with NYCB ballerinas for excerpts of Swan Lake (teaser below), playing Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik with students from The Juilliard School/Alan Gilbert and singing clips from Rossini's Barbiere with mezzo Isabel Leonard.
What is singing? Voice coaches often try to demystify it, call it a mere
vibration of vocal cords due to a movement of air. But that is a lie.
Singing is nakedness. And it is a far more fathomless form of nakedness
than that achieved by the removal of clothes.
As early spring plummets our circadian rhythm earthbound and pangs of Lent leak from our iPod (oh dear, how embarrassing), Il Sole 24 Ore rounds up Western Europe's best Spring Break classical music offerings and it's not all Passions, Oratorios or Resurrections: Tomorrow La Scala opens a Gergiev-led Macbeth, spared from
the strike-hammer that cancels the April 7 replication; Rome's Teatro dell'Opera gets a new Fura dels Baus Saint-Saëns Samson
et Dalila; Barenboim & Staatskapelle Berlin do Villazon & Pape in a Mozart
Requiem for the Konzerte Festtage; and the Osterfestspiele Salzburg glides through a
Thielemann Parsifal run with the Staatskapelle Dresden.
"I cannot clothe them! I need models!" --> Miuccia Prada's famous battle cry aimed at The Metropolitan Opera's supernumeraries in the run up to a starry Verdi Attila that bowed in February, 2010. In her opera costumier debut, the Italian fashion designer was (apparently) horrified at the discrepancy between the teenage Amazon models, lithe & light as air, who she sends down the runway twice a year (excluding resort collections) and opera professionals who frankly can't subsist on a model's diet of Starbucks & Marlboros & Veuve Clicquot & fruit salad to crank out four hours of unmic'd (we hope) Strauss.
Although Prada's outburst could have been taken straight from the pages of a modern rom-com -- the eccentric, Ivory-towered fashion designer scandalized by seam-sabotaging curves of real women -- it doesn't mean that opera singers are banned from
couture. Performers have been upping their games (since Maria Callas and Biki/YSL) through relationships with couture designers who understand the physique of classical music artists -- Lacroix, Viktor & Rolf, Zandra Rhodes and the late greats Gianni Versace and Gianfranco Ferrè.
Young (hawt) performers like Charlie Siem, Ray Chen and Vittorio Grigolo play dress-up with Giorgio Armani, whose been cultivating classical music stars well before he premiered as opera costumier at the ROH in 1995 for a modern-day Jonathan Miller production of Cosi. But what about the girls? DiDonato goes with Westwood and Renee's a couture cowgirl. Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio relies on Alberta Ferretti -- although Ferretti's never designed for opera, she creates for real-world, independent women and Giannattasio perfectly fits the bill, like in the photo above.
For classical music artists, there's no better time than now -- along with the rapidly-changing landscape of 21st century opera that increasingly assumes sartorial savvy, the fashion world's changing, too, with an egalitarian shift, a new power paradigm that invites bloggers as first row ambassadors shoulder to shoulder with the great taste-makers of the industry. Fashion is accessible, but when anyone can get backstage without credentials, it's no longer aspirational/exotic/elite (choose one), so OC predicts that fashion will bolster & buttress with arts and culture. And we've always needed fashion for its raw swerve. So what do you say we go get our symbiotic swerve on? Start here with OC's latest piece for Sinini Music on the Giannattasio/Ferretti partnership (including a little lesson from Leyla Gencer).