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John Eliot Gardiner

Saturday, May 27, 2017


Tribuna musical

May 16

Monteverdi´s ·The Coronation of Poppea”: music respected, wrong staging

Tribuna musical A new way of telling stories with music was born in Florence in 1597, when the Camerata Fiorentina went back to Greek mythology in a "Dafne" with music by Peri, unfortunately lost, but in 1600 both Peri and Caccini wrote an "Euridice", and these are extant; they are mostly recitative and words dominate the music. But Claudio Monteverdi showed the right way in 1607 with his "La favola d´Orfeo" for the Court of Mantua (on the same subject but giving pride of place to Orfeo rather than Euridice): "notable advances both in dramatic characterization and in musical form" (Willi Apel). Monteverdi moved to Venice and it was there that in 1637 opened the first opera house, Teatro San Cassiano: now what had been a courtly entertainment was seen by the common people. The composer, equally adept in sacred and profane music, went in his life (1567-1643) from the Late Renaissance to the Early Baroque, or as he said, from the "prima prattica" to the "seconda prattica". Unfortunately no less than ten of his operas were lost, and only two (apart from "Orfeo" and the admirable fragment of "Arianna": the "Lamento") survived, and were written in his final years: "Il ritorno d´Ulisse in patria" (1641) and "L´incoronazione di Poppea" (1642). It´s a good thing that all three have been staged in Buenos Aires. There was no edition of "Poppea" but two manuscripts have come to us: the Venitian at the Biblioteca Marciana, and the Neapolitan, at the Conservatory San Pietro a Majella; they have considerable differences. "Poppea" is recognised as a great masterpiece. There were editions in the Twentieth Century by the likes of specialists like D´Indy, Malipiero, Krenek and Redlich. It was premièred in Buenos Aires at the Asociación Cultural de Conciertos, Grand Splendid, 1927, and the Colón presented it in 1938 conducted by no less than Tullio Serafin. My first experience was in 1965, when Bruno Bartoletti presented an honorable performance with a certain degree of historicism, but the Colón touched greatness with the 1996 performances led by René Jacobs, staged by Gilbert Deflo, and sung by a distinguished cast. Then, Buenos Aires Lírica (BAL) had the merit of giving a stylish staging by Rita de Letteriis and a very decent musical realisation at the Avenida in 2006. There are admirable recordings led by Leppard, Harnoncourt, Jacobs, Gardiner and Hickox, and it´s interesting to observe that both in them and in stagings seen in BA some roles have been sung by different types of voice: Nero by tenor or mezzo, Arnalta by tenor or mezzo or contralto, Ottone by countertenor or mezzo or baritone. Granted, that sort of problem is typical of the Baroque, but more of later stages of that period when castrati reigned, nowadays replaced generally by countertenors (I don´t suppose historicism will go as far as reviving the castrati...). The opera is long (about three hours and a half) and most performances prune it here or there. The recent presentation was (for the first time) a joint enterprise of Nuova Harmonia (NH) and BAL, starting both seasons; the venue, the Coliseo. The initial night was that of NH (the one I saw), the other two, for BAL. Both institutions innovated: NH because it is a concert concern, BAL because its usual home has been the Avenida. Probably costs were the reason for this association. BAL will present only one opera at the Avenida (that overworked standard, "La Boheme"), and two chamber operas at the Picadero; their fifth title won´t be an opera but a concert at the Avenida. "Poppea"´s ample cast combines six Gods with nineteen Mortals; this version eliminates Pallade, Mercurio and Venere. The music is enormously varied: recitatives, ariosos, arias, instrumental pieces, duets, quartets, concertantes; laments, marches, brilliant and funny episodes, tragic ones (Seneca´s death). Not all of it is Monteverdi´s; e.g., the beautiful final duet of Nerone and Poppea was written by Benedetto Ferrari, otherwise almost unknown nowadays (his operas are lost). And although the instrumental music is all written out, there´s no specified orchestration. Of course, this means that they may change frrom one historicist interpretation to another, but with Marcelo Birman we were in safe hands: he has shown his worth in admirable premières and revivals of Baroque French operas with his Orchestra Compañía de las Luces (Company of Lights); Monteverdi proves to be up the conductor´s aisle. He used for the orchestra five violins, two violas, two cellos, bass, flutes, cornetto (a wooden trumpet), trumpet, three sackbuts (predecessors of trombones) and percussion. And for the continuo (in solo numbers), two harpsichords, two lutes and guitars, two theorbos, two harps, two viola da gambas and cello. The playing was excellent and the conducting, always flexible and expressive. Some words about Gian Francesco Busenello´s libretto, based on Tacitus´ "Annals" and Suetonius´ "Life of the Caesars". It is unabashedly licentious and cynical: here the bad ones win: Nero rejects and exiles his wife Ottavia, Poppea wins power through lust, the Stoic philosopher Seneca commits suicide by Nero´s orders (who didn´t tollerate his mentor´s sage counsels). And Ottone, clad as Drusilla, fails ridiculously to kill Poppea (whom he loves), instigated by Ottavia (the weakest moment of the libretto, otherwise interesting and well written). Two singers dominated: the Venezuelan bass Iván García (now resident here) was a powerful and noble Seneca; and the Brazilian mezzo Luisa Francesconi (debut, I believe) has important vocal material and gave her grieving but vengeful Ottavia much dramatic presence. I have enjoyed Cecilia Pastawski in Mozartian roles, but she lacks the arrogant sexiness Poppea requires and also some volume. Tenor Santiago Bürgi was a Nero alternately amorous and violent with less line than the Baroque requires, but he was a convincing actor. As in 2006, countertenor Martín Oro was Ottone, though this time I found him too mannered in phrasing and rather weak dramatically. Gloria Rojas, a Chilean contralto, sang Arnalta´s (Poppea´s wetnurse) lullaby expressively, but her later intervention was so absurdly marked by the stage director that I was sorry for her. I think the same about soprano Victoria Gaeta: as Drusilla she was fresh and musical, but in the Prologue her Fortuna was so over-the-top that I cringed. The Amore of Adriano D´Alchimio was well sung but terribly kitsch, whilst Rocío Arbizu did well as Vertue and Damigella (Maiden). The others were good: Josué Miranda, Agustín Gómez, Mariano Fernández Bustinza and Juan Pablo Labourdette. The seven dancers were accurate in the cabaret-ish choreography of Ignacio González Cano. As you may have inferred, I wasn´t happy with Marcelo Lombardero´s staging and kept thinking, De Letteriis come back! The Prologue (a dialogue between Fortuna, Virtú and Amore) was the wickedest sort of low kitsch. The three acts were compressed into two; that doesn´t bother me. But the recurring near-soft-porn, the lack of subtlety, the uncalled-for grotesque (clown´s noses in the final scene), the incongruities, are so dominant that the few dignified moments hardly compensate (Seneca´s death, Arnalta´s lullaby). True, Daniel Feijóo´s stage design does have some quality, but the costume designs of Luciana Gutman are mostly ugly and absurd, and the lighting by Horacio Efron sometimes was unhelpful to understand the action. For Buenos Aires Herald

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

May 19

UK musician love-bombs MPs with Brexit postcards

Anneke Scott plays horn with Europa Galante, John Eliot Gardiner’s ORR and other early music ensembles across Europe. She fears for her livelihood when Brexit comes around. So she’s taking a picture of every venue she plays and sending it to members of Parliament. So far she has sent around 270. Read all about it here.




Classical iconoclast

April 22

Formula saves the BBC Proms !

Formula saves the BBC Proms 2017!  This may be the beginning of the end for Sir Henry Wood's dreams of the Proms as serious music. Fortunately The Formula, perfected by much-maligned Roger Wright, is strong enough to withstand the anti-music agendas of the suits and robots who now run the Proms.  Shame on those who rely on formula instead of talent, but in dire straits, autopilot can save things from falling apart.  So, sift through the detritus of gimmick and gameshow to find things worth saving   (Read here what I wrote about The Formula)   Danierl Barenboim is a Proms perennial, for good reason, so we can rely on his two Elgar Proms (16 and 17 July) especially the Sunday one which features a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time, which at 25 minutes should be substantial  Pascal Dusapin's Outscape on 19/7, 28 minutes, also substantial Anotherr "regular" Proms opera, Fidelio on 21/7, with a superlative cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Ricarda Merbeth, tho' Juanjo Mena conducts  Ilan Volkov conducts Julian Anderson's new Piano Concerto on 26/7 , tho's the rest of the programme, though good isn't neccesarily Volkov's forte  On 29/7 Mark Wigglesworth conducts David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle  On 31/7, Monteverdi Vespers with French baroque specialists Pygmalion   On 1/8, William Christie conducts the OAE in Handel Israel in Egypt and on 2/8, John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists do Bach and my beloved Heinrich Schütz.  On 8/8 Gardiner returns with Berlioz The Damnation of Faust, with Michael Spyres. First of this year's four Mahlers is Mahler's Tenth (Cooke) with  Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra  Robin Ticciati, back with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on 15/8 with an interesting pairing, Thomas Larcher Nocturne-Insomnia with Schumann Symphony no 2.   Throughout this season, there are odd mismatches between repertoire and performers, good conductors doing routine material, less good conductors doing safe and indestructable. Fortunately, baroque and specialist  music seem immune.  See above ! and also the Prom featuring Lalo, Délibes and Saint-Saëns with François Xavier-Roth and Les Siècles on 16/8   Perhaps these Proms attract  audiences who care what they're listening to  Schoenberg's Gurrelieder on 19/8 with Simon Rattle, whose recording many years back remains a classic but may not be known to whoever described the piece in the programme "Gurrelieder is Schoenberg’s Tristan and Isolde, an opulent, late-Romantic giant."  Possibly the same folk who dreamed up the tag "Reformation Day" like Nigel Faarage's "Independence Day" Nothing in life is that simplistic  The music's OK, but notn the marketing. Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC SO in Elgar Symphony no 3 (Anthony Payne) on 22/8   Potentially this will be even bigger than the Barenboim Elgar symphonies, since Oramo is particularly good with this symphony, which may not be as high profile but is certainly highly regarded by those who love Elgar   On 26/8, Jakub Hrůša conducts the BBC SO in an extremely well chosen programme of Suk, Smetana, Martinů, Janáček and Dvorák   More BBCSO on 31/8 when Semyon Bychkov conducts a Russian programme  Marketing guff seems to make a big deal of national stereotypes, which is short sighted  These programmes cohere musically, but that's perhaps too much to expect from the new Proms mindset On 1/9,  Daniele Gatti conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Bruckner and Wolfgang Rihm  An odd pairing but one which will come off well since these musicians know what they're doing They are back again on 2/9 with  Haydn "The Bear" and Mahler Fourth  which isn't "sunny" or "song-filled".  It's Mahler,  not a musical.  Gergiev brings the Mariinsky on 3/9 with Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich Symphony no 5.  Another huge highlight on 7/9 : The Wiener Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding in Mahler Symphony no 6 - so powerful that nothing else needs to be added to sugar the pill   For me, and for many others, that will be the real :Last Night of the Proms   Party time the next day, with Nina Stemme as star guest     

Classical iconoclast

April 20

The Ghost of Sir Henry Wood? BBC Proms 2017

The 2017 BBC Proms Season, just announced, is a travesty, far adrift from the founding principles of the Proms, and indeed of the BBC itself.  Once the BBC stood for excellence, with its guiding principles to "educate, entertain and inform", the logic being that the public can tell good quality from bad, and value learning and self-development.  Now we have a Proms season whose priorities are not musical so much as an ad for a BBC that is itself dumbed down beyond recognition.  Will the ghost of Sir Henry Wood rise, like the Commendatore, to smite those who have despoiled his legacy?   The First Night is only 70 minutes or so, so it won't tax the attention span. True, Igor Levit will play Beethoven, and Edward Gardner will conduct John Adams Harmonium, a big, if limited, blast. so it won't be bad.  But once we could expect more. Daniel Barenboim brings the Staatskapelle Berlin to "launch this year’s cycle of Elgar symphonies". Direct quote from the BBC Proms website. What Elgar symphonic cycle? One on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Third, realized by Anthony Payne, is probably too outré for the new Proms market.  It's been pushed to the doldrums of late August. Thankfully, Sakari Oramo conducts: he does it well.   What kind of audience is this year's Proms aimed at?  Read the summary here.  Sure, it's good to have pop, light music etc. but not at the expense of serious music. One of the basic principles of marketing is to believe in what you're trying to sell.  Raise the bar, aim for excellence, and grow the market .Pitch below the lowest possible denominator, and kill whatever audience you already have while lowering standards and decreasing expectations.  If the primary product is music, then sell music,. All the gimmicky sales patter in the world won't make up for non-product.  If people really believe  Scott Walker is a "Godlike genius", good for them, but don't downgrade Beethoven. Why sacrifice an existing market to try selling to another which might have completely different priorities?  Or perhaps that is the hidden agenda. The Far Right, the commercial sector, and vested interests have everything to gain from dumbing the BBC down. Sir Henry Wood believed that people were able, and willing to learn. Now, we live in an era where any kind of expertise is sneered at. Getting ahead means dismantling the edifices of advancement.  There's a whole lot more at stake than just the Proms and the BBC. Fortuntely, some of the principles of Proms planning remain, since they follow rules so simple anyone can master them.  Add a few big names - Haitink, Christie, Rattle, Salonen, Bychkov, Gardiner - and the punters will pay.  Bring in the BBC orchestras, most of which are good enough to do serious music and do it well enough without scaring the unwary.  Mark non-musical anniversaries like "Reformation Day" a term Martin Luther would have baulked at, then throw in music that has little to do with one of the revolutions in European history.  Hire famous foreign bands like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, whom everyone loves, and a few cheaper ones. Throw in a few blockbusters like Schoenberg  Gurrelieder.(Rattle 19/8) .and  Handel Israel in Egypt on 1/8 (William Christie and the Orchestra oif the Age of Enlightenment), Bring along an opera (usually Fidelio which needs little staging) and import a ready-made from Glyndebourne and bingo! The formula works, like a well-oiled machine, running with minimal human intervention. Thus, for those who actually like music  there are other good things to seek out. Hidden under the banner "Take a musical thrill-ride from the chaos of creation" on 19/7 is Pascal Dusapin's new Outscape. Look out too for Thomas Larcher's Nocturne-Insomia on 15/8  New British works - David Sawer's The Greatest Happiness Principle on 29/7, and Mark-Anthony Turnage Hibiki on 14/8. Excellent younger conductors like François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles (16/8), Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (21/8),  and Jakub Hrůša (26/8 - good programme).  



Guardian

April 13

Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria review – compelling Monteverdi celebration

Colston Hall, Bristol John Eliot Gardiner’s ad-hoc company of impressive singers and musicians shine in a beautifully realised semi-staging that sounded totally assuredJohn Eliot Gardiner is celebrating this year’s 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth in the best possible way, by touring concert stagings of all three of the surviving Monteverdi operas with his Monteverdi Choir and the period instruments of the English Baroque Soloists. He has assembled a cosmopolitan company of soloists for his tour, which ranges right across Europe and the US, and visits the Edinburgh festival in August. The only other UK venue so far is Bristol’s Colston Hall; after this Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, L’incoronazione di Poppea and L’Orfeo will follow there next month.Gardiner has collaborated with director Elsa Rooke on the stagings. There’s no set but the modern-era costumes, credited to Patricia Hofstede – long dresses or suits for the deities, casual clothes for the mortals, a trench coat for Furio Zanasi’s Ulysses – and no props either, not even for Ulysses’ bow, used for the trial of the suitors, which is imitated instead by the arms and body of Penelope (Lucile Richardot), a really clever touch. And on Colston Hall’s platform, with its multiple levels and entrances, there was actually much more scope for movement behind and around Gardiner and the orchestra than there might have been in a more confining, artily designed opera-house set. Continue reading...

John Eliot Gardiner

Sir John Eliot Gardiner (20 April 1943) is an English conductor. He founded the Monteverdi Choir (1966), the English Baroque Soloists (1978) and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (1990). Gardiner has recorded over 250 albums with these and other musical ensembles, most of which have been published by Deutsche Grammophon and Philips Classics. Gardiner is most famous for his interpretations of Baroque music on period instruments with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, but his repertoire and discography are not limited to early music. Gardiner has served as chief conductor of the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and has appeared as guest conductor with such major orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Vienna Philharmonic.



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