Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2009 - Live Offerings --PART II

Further offerings for this afternoon:

  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From English National Opera, a November 22nd performance of Bernstein's Candide, with Toby Spence, Alex Jenkins, Beverley Klein and Marnie Breckenridge, conducted by Rumon Gamba.
  • NPR Worlf of Opera - From La Scala in Milan, the December 7 Opening Night performanc of Verdi's Don Carlos, with Ferruccio Furlanetto, Stuart Neill, Dalibor Jenis, Anatoly Kotscherga, Fiorenza Cedolins, Dolora Zajick and Diogenes Randes, conducted by Danielle Gatti.
  • Lyric FM & Latvia Radio Klasika - a time delayed broadcast of Massenet's Thais, from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - From Musiktheater Amsterdam, a June 7th performance of Massiaen's Saint Francois d'Assise, with Camilla Tilling, Rod Gilfry, Hubert Delamboye, Henk Neven, Rom Randle, Donald Kaasch, Armand Arapian, Jan Willem Baljet and André Morsch, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From Grand Théatre in Geneva, a performance of Janacek's The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, with Kim Begley, Gordon Gietz, Alexander Vassiliev, Eva Jenisová, Joanathan Veira, Tereza Merklová, Brigitta Svenden and Konrad Jarnot, conducted by Kirill Karabits.
  • Klara - A Decmebr 11th performance of Dvorak's Rusalka, with Olga Guryakova, Burkhard Fritz, Stephanie Friede, Willard White, Doris Soffel, Julian Hubbard, Olesya Golovneva, YoungHee Kim, Nona Javakhidze and André Grégoire, conducted by Adam Fischer.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, a September 24th performance of Rimskij-Korsakov's Pskovitijanka, with Gennady Bezzubenkov, Nikolai Gassiev, Mikhail Vishniak and Irina Mataeva, conducted by Valeri Gergiev.
  • NDR Kultur - From the Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival in Lübeck, an August 19th Opera Gala celebrating the 150th birthday of Puccini, featuring Nicole Cabell, Miroslav Dvorsky and Christopher Robinson singing arias and duets from Puccini operas.
  • WCLV - From Severence Hall in Cleveland, Ohio, Part 1 of Handel's Messiah, with Twylas Robinson, Kelley O'Connor, Alek Shrader and Timothy Jones, conducted by Robert Porco.

Happy listening,


Saturday, December 20, 2009 - Live Offerings --PART I

The Met (on numerous stations) offers Massenet's Thais this afternoon, featuring Renee Fleming, Thomas Hampson and Michael Schade. It starts in just a few minutes. I'll be back in a few minute4s with offerings starting later this afternoon....

Happy listening,


Monday, December 15, 2008


On Saturday evening Sam Shirakawa revisited the N. Y. Philharmonic's concert Elektra for its final performance . . .

New York Philharmonic

13 December 2008

Backstage following one of her concert triumphs in 1961, Judy Garland is said to have told a gushing admirer who had just seen her perform live for the first time: Don't attend again. She explained that her on-stage magic rarely struck twice.

I recalled that odd piece of advice while attending the fourth and last Elektra on Saturday evening given by the New York Philharmonic. The first performance over a week ago was nothing less than a sensation. Word-of-mouth on the second and third performances was enthusiastic. But the net-net of Saturday night's presentation struck me as more summary than summation. A couple of missed cues, an unnerving memory lapse and some pitch issues were among the cardinal signs that magic wasn't striking.

Deborah Polaski sounded tired. Who can blame her? At least this time. But her handlers should be raked over the coals for letting her sing one of the most grueling roles in the operatic repertory four times in ten days. (Not even Flagstad had to do anything like that "back in the day...") And the Philharmonic management should be reminded: it's not fair to subscribers.

With one exception, the other lead singers appeared to be relieved rather than elated to be giving their final accounts of their roles, for now. Only Anne Schwanewilms seemed as deeply involved as she was on 4 December -- again a thrill to hear.

The New York Philharmonic was in a boisterous, end-of-a-long-haul mood -- behaving more like a Mack truck than a Maserati. But Lorin Maazel's firm grip steered the orchestra without knife-jacking over some rugged terrain in Strauss' treacherous score, making it sound, all in all, as though it was meant to be played that way.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Offerings for Saturday, 12/06/08

The biggest news today is definitely Gary Lehman's first MET broadcast, and in the role of Tristan! It doesn't get any more heart-in-mouth than that. We so fervently hope that he will match his tremendous impact of last season, when he filled in for a few evening performances to great acclaim (signs seem promising today, considering REG's review of his one evening appearance this season this past Tuesday).

Here are some special offerings this afternoon:

  • Metropolitan Opera Radio Network - From the Metropolitan Opera, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, with Gary Lehman making his MET b'cast debut in the role of Tristan; Katarina Dalayman sings Isolde -- and not to be overlooked is Daniel Barenboim, also making his MET b'cast debut at the podium today.
  • DR P2 - From Vienna this past October, Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu star in Gounod's Faust, with Bertrand de Billy conducting.
  • France Musique - A new aspirant to Anne Boleyn's crown of thorns, Ermonela Jaho takes on Donizetti's fearsome heroine in his Anna Bolena, with Sonia Ganassi as Seymour; Evelino Pido conducts.
  • NPR World of Opera - Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea stars Susan Graham (Poppea), William Burden (Nero) and Frederica von Stade (Ottavia); William Lacey conducts.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - Daniela Barcellona is heard in Rossini's Maometto II, with Michele Pertusi in the title role and Gustav Kuhn at the podium.
  • CESKY ROZHLAS-D-Dur - Reinhard Keiser's rarely heard Croesus stars Roman Trekel and Dorothea Röschmann, with René Jacobs conducting.
  • Espace 2 - Cherubini's Médée features Anna Caterina Antonacci, Giuseppe Filianoti and Sara Mingardo in the leading roles, with Evelino Pidò conducting.

Happy listening....


Sam Shirakawa attended the concert performance of Strauss's Elektra with the New York Philharmonic on Thursday evening. Here's his squib:



When Lorin Maazel returned to the Metropolitan Opera earlier this year to conduct an eccentric but riveting series of Walküres, I wondered why he stayed away for 45 years. For all of New York's nightly array of world-class performers, local opera fans have merely a faint idea of what they've been missing without Maazel.

But we do have a good idea of what Maazel is like conducting Richard Strauss' masterwork Elektra. He first brought it to Carnegie Hall in 1974, leading the Cleveland Orchestra in concert with a cast that headlined Jose van Dam, Kenneth Riegel, Astrid Varnay and Ursula Schröder-Feinen. In 1991, he stepped in for Claudio Abbado, when the Vienna Philharmonic presented the opera here in concert form with Eva Marton in the title role.

On Thursday night Maazel led it with the New York Philharmonic in a remarkable concert performance. The evening was especially phenomenal because so much was "new."

For starters, the music was new to the Orchestra. It's a sure bet that few if any of its members had played the difficult score at its most recent performance back in 1964 -- apart from venerable First Clarinetist Stanley Drucker. Mastering over 100 minutes of new music within the space of a few rehearsals is no mean feat, when you consider how much other work the Philharmonic has on its plate. Look, for example, at the mess the Philadelphia Orchestra made, when they tried to play The Flying Dutchman in its entirety some years ago under Riccardo Muti. The Philharmonic in stark contrast performed Thursday night with the kind of bravura it brings to a frequently recurring work such as the composer's Ein Heldenleben. Some of the woodwind and brass playing was hair-raising--especially among the soloists.

Wisconsin born Deborah Polaski is no stranger to Elektra, having performed it at the Met, but she is new to the Philharmonic, making her debut as she reportedly nears her 60th birthday. I have heard her in various cities at least seven times in the past decade, and she never has sounded better. Absent a couple of under-pitched notes during the morbid Monologue, a recondite warmth informed her singing on Thursday, that I previously found lacking. She went from strength to strength, unleashing vast reserves of tonal contrasts. At a age when most other sopranos have long called it quits, Polaski is now squarely at the top her game. She must have been wearing comfortable shoes, because she also remained standing throughout the intermission-less performance.

Strauss' librettist Hugo von Hofmansstahl pits Elektra against three formidable foils, and Polaski stood up admirably to all of them. As Klytemnestra, Polaski's fellow American Jane Henschel re-affirmed her growing reputation as a powerhouse mezzo-soprano. She is still too young to portray Elektra's mother -- and certainly too young to play Polaski's mom, but her portrayal was as deliciously addled as it was devoid of camp -- especially when Klytemnestra quizzes her daughter giddily on performing the correct animal sacrifices to dispel her bad dreams. She also elicited sympathy for the queen's drugged out derangement with a faint and daffy far-away smile, oddly reminiscent of Laurette Taylor in her legendary screen test.

And then there was Anne Schwanewilms, also making her Philharmonic debut. I have heard this young woman several times over the past decade and found her very... okay. Suddenly, though, she's blossomed into an artist in full command of her estimable vocal arsenal. What strikes me most is how the formerly dark steel in her voice appears to be turning into gold up and down the registers. At several junctures during Thursday's performance, the present character of her voice recalled Ursula Schröder-Feinen's in the brief moment of her prime: beguiling and brilliant, always teasing the imagination.

Fitting, perhaps, that young debutant Julian Tovey, who sings Orest, has been cast in an opera full of archetypes, for he embodies the archetype of the contemporary British baritone: well schooled, cooly polished and unthreateningly attractive. Orest, however, is essentially monochromatic, which makes it hard to assess Tovey's net assets. I say this much, though: the first time I heard Donald McIntyre, he sang Orest (at Covent Garden). He was excellent, as I recall, and look what became of him. Tovey sounded every bit as impressive on Thursday. Put all that under his musicologically resonant surname, and he too is on a glide path to a bright career.

Tenor Richard Margison used his ten minutes in the spotlight to articulate a nasty Aegisthus. It's immensely satisfying to hear the role sung for once by a tenor who is no has-been Tristan or Siegfried as too often is the case.

The cast was rounded out by mostly young, healthy voices: Jessica Klein, Soprano (Clytemnestra Confidante) - Renee Tatum, Soprano (Clytemnestra Trainbearer) - Ryan MacPherson, Tenor (Young Servant) - Frank Barr, Bass (Old Servant) - Matt Boehler, Bass (Orestes's Tutor) - Helen Huse Ralston, Soprano (Overseer) - Janice Meyerson, Mezzo-soprano (Maid 1) - Stephanie Chigas, Mezzo-soprano (Maid 2) - Linda Pavelka, Mezzo-soprano (Maid 3) - Priti Gandhi, Soprano (Maid 4) - Julianne Borg, Soprano (Maid 5), Members of the New York Choral Artists contributed the off-stage hoo-ha, following the deaths of Klytemnestra and Aegisthus.

The brightest lights of the evening, all in all, were Maazel and the Philharmonic. Placing a Straussian orchestra at the same level as the singers predicates huge acoustic risks, but Maazel let the singers soar above the roar without appearing to hold the band at bay. Along the way, he brought forth delightful instrumental details I never heard before.

But there must have been something about this performance that wasn't for everyone. I saw about 15 affluent-looking patrons racing to the exits less than 20 minutes after the performance begin. Maybe they were just philistines. Maybe they were expecting to hear Johann Strauss.

Elektra will be performed tonight/Saturday, Tuesday 9 December and next Saturday 14 December. If you're going to visit a dysfunctional family over the holidays, what better way to rehearse the right spirit than experiencing Strauss's and Hofmannsthal's primer on the Atreus Clan?

©Sam Shirakawa

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Lehman does Tristan....

An internet correspondent, REG, was in the house to hear Gary Lehman (hero of last seson's star-crossed Tristan run), sing his first Tristan of this season on Tuesday night (12/2/08), replacing an indisposed Peter Seiffert:
. . . . Almost as interesting was tonight's performance of Tristan. The MET, I think, is already experiencing revival-itis with this production, and much of the problem has to lie with Baron Danny-boy, who led an at-best fitful performance. When Mozart died, the young Beethoven, who had hoped to study with him and was instead shuttled off to an older and somewhat less-motivated Franz Josef Haydn, was told by his patrons, "Receive Mozart from the hands of Hadyn." I suppose in going to Danny-boy performances, I always expect to be somehow handed performances of the depth and complexity of Furtwangler, but in the event he almost consistently disappoints, and tonight was no exception. While I think as a pianist he remains, when he is in technical fettle, first-rate, his major limitation as a conductor is that he has, essentially, the attention span of a gnat - at any given moment, there can be a lovely emphasis (he particularly seems to favor the darker woodwinds, and the strings sounded heavenly towards the end of Act II when Tristan turns to Isolde and asks her if she will accompany him in exile), but he doesn't ever seem to 'see' these details against each other, or in terms of a larger structure, and so solecisms and musical tautologies abound....I thought that the entire first part of Act III might never end, although Gary Lehman himself did a wonderful job as Tristan. A pianist can get away with moment-to-moment insights in recital, in quicksilver differences in touch and musical underlinings, but a conductor cannot so easily do so. I thought the orchestra sounded well, but it didn't have either the glow that a great Levine performance can have, or, for that matter, the warmth I'd hoped to hear from the Baron.

As to casting, I thought Lehman did a more-than creditable job in the house. The sound isn't particularly clarion, or even highly colored - he is clearly not a pushed-up baritone - but he (almost) never tired, and he saved enough of himself to be impressive indeed on stage in Act III, even with a few moments where he lost focus. If Peter Gelb's Dram Shop ever opens, I'm afraid that Katarina Dalayman is most likely to be found at the Kool-Aid counter - she has almost all the notes, and she's obviously listened when people have told her to move, but as to the singing, it was largely dispassionate and, frankly, not much more than dutiful - if she felt the role, she certainly didn't share it. If Voigt has some moments of vocal frailty, she is still an Isolde in bearing and line, and can dominate the orchestra and the music where she has to. Michelle DeYoung is a fine singer, but I thought the voice smaller (or was the orchestra louder?) than last time around, and this is a tough role if you don't make a real impact in the middle of the voice. Rene Pape was passionate and made a lot of the words (particularly in the upper half of his voice), but though Marti Salminen isn't the superstar the Pape is, I thought Salminen's King Marke a far greater accomplishment - the voice was more solid, the bearing more regal, and interpretively Salminen knows that an effective interpretation starts from a single point of view, and not a kaleidescope of individual moments. But you know me, I'm not complaining.

The production has been tampered with a bit - most obviously the various-colors of lighting seem to have been eliminated in favor of a recourse at moments of emotion to yellow verging on chartreuse, and more unfortunately, the crespuscular darkness of Act II and the hieratic staging, which were all of a piece, have been sacrificed to something both more neutral, and naturalistic, at the cost of some of the sense of suspense and wonder in that critical scene.

Heads up to listeners to tomorrow's MET broadcast --- Mr. Lehman will be singing Tristan (finally getting his due...), but (and it's a big caveat) Pape has canceled and Youn is singing King Marke.

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