Will it work? Lang Lang and Roberto Alagna on the same stage?

Posted in Reviews on April 1, 2011 by figarosi

It was a high-risk venture that finished as a major triumph in Paris on Tuesday night. The superstar pianist Lang Lang, as part of a week’s residency, joined with the French tenor Roberto Alagna in a program of rare French arias at the historic Salle Pleyel. But the success of this “carte blanche” evening for Lang Lang was not automatically assured.

The French have a history of neglecting their rich musical heritage and the arias, with one exception, have not been heard in Paris in living memory. While some of this repertory is beginning to appear in regional operas, only the aria, “Anges du paradis” from Gounod’s Mireille, has been heard at the Paris Opera recently when that opera opened their previous season. Would the audience, even with these star names, warm to this effort?

Another worry is sometimes the omnivorous musical appetites of Lang Lang leads him to say yes to a project he has not had time to sufficiently digest prior to the performance. There was no hint of that this night. There was a vibrant rapport between the two extrovert stars with Lang Lang, no mere “accompanist” here, relishing the lovely melodies which began each aria.

Alagna sang each aria with French style and clarity of expression uncommon on world stages recently. A tenor at the heights of his power, the hall rang with his generous passion for these musical treasures. Including the Gounod, there were arias by Adolphe Adam (“Mes amis, écoutez l’histoire” from Le Postillon de Longjumeau), Edouard Lalo (“Vainement, ma bien-aimée” from Le Roi d’Ys), Ernest Reyer (“La bruit des chants” from Sigurd), Giacomo Meyerbeer (“Pays merveilleux… ô paradis” from L’Africaine) and Alfred Bruneau’s passionate `”Le jour tombe, la nuit va bercer les grands chênes” (from L’Attaque du moulin), among others.

Toward the end of the concert, Alagna took a brief break to sip backstage tea (a result of Spring allergies) and the audience happily prodded Lang Lang into playing a second delicious Rachmaninov prelude. Lang Lang’s solo works, including Chopin etudes and a sensitive reading of Schumann’s “Träumerei.” were part of the evening’s program. With the unrestrained cheering at the end, Alagna and Lang, arm in arm, circled the stage like victorious bull-fighters, shaking hands and collecting bouquets of flowers. Clearly this music has strong appeal but could Parisian opera bosses still be unconvinced?

Alagna has an album of French Opera Arias (with Bertrand De Billy and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden) which has a few of the arias he sang this night. Lang Lang had a live transmission the following day from the Cite de la Musique in Paris streamed on Medici.tv. The concert was recorded by France Musique radio for later broadcasting with no date yet specified.

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Victoires de la Musique Classique – 2011

Posted in News on February 15, 2011 by figarosi

The prime-time live telecast Monday night, February 14, of the French show Victoires de la Musique Classique was already good news. In competition with other shows on the major channels, its traditional weak ratings always cause talk of taping it and showing it on off hours. This is the top awards show for classical music in France, comparable to America’s Grammy awards and focuses mainly on French artists.

This year, from the convention center in the city of Nantes, it headlined the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire and their engaging young American conductor, John Axelrod. Honorary awards were presented to veteran French pianist Brigitte Engerer and to Canadian mezzo Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who ended the program singing the aria ‘Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Saint-Saëns “Samson et Dalila.” This was, not incidentally, one of the arias on her new disk of French opera arias on the Naive label.

Presented by traditional duo of Marie Drucker et Frédéric Lodéon, the Lyric Discovery of the Year was 28 year old mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine with another mezzo, Katherine Deshayes, taking home the Lyric Artist of the Year trophy.

Pianist Bertrand Chamayou, 29, was named Instrumental Soloist of the Year and trombonist Fabrice Millischer, 25, named Instrumental Soloist Discovery. Composer Thierry Escaich won Best Composer honors for his work “Alleluias pro amni tempore,” his most recent composition for chamber orchestra and chorus. He was also a winner of the same award in 2003 and 2006. Best Recording of the Year went to Pierre-Laurent Aimard for his album of the Ravel Piano Concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.

Up with András!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2011 by figarosi

Hungarian-born Pianist András Schiff was given the Robert Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau. The award will be awarded on June 8, the day of the composer’s birth. This could be a needed recognition of his great talent.
Schiff has recently abandoned his native country, rejecting the right-wing and vaguely racist politics of the new government. He is a musical icon of Hungary and has toured with Hungarian orchestras for decades.
We hope he can return home one day.

Kicked upstairs!

Posted in Random Comment on January 29, 2011 by figarosi

Ulf Schirmer, conductor, was made General Music Director of the Leipzig Opera last year. Now we hear that he will also be given the title of “intendant” next year. It is not often that the music director becomes the manager also. At least he will be ready with his own second opinion in case anyone asks.

Autograph Hunters Alert!

Posted in News on January 19, 2011 by figarosi

Soprano icon Montserrat Caballé is planning a farewell tour when she turns 80 in 2013. The Spanish press reports she made the announcement at the press conference Monday for the Fifth “International Monserrat Caballé Singing Contest” to be held in Zaragoza, Spain from September. “I will have sung for  56 years (she debuted at the Liceo de Barcelona on January 7, 1962)” she announced and “my thought is to do a farewell tour in the places I have sung” she said. She would have to be selective, she observed, considering she would not have time to visit them all. Her 80th birthday will be April 12, 2013.

Just Fifteen Months Later.

Posted in Random Comment on January 8, 2011 by figarosi

We have been watching, with some amusement, New York critics deal with the new-to-them innovative stagings of opera which have been around Europe for decades are have now started arriving at the Metropolitan Opera. They have made a 180 degree turn since their lame reaction to Luc Bondy’s Tosca in September 2009.

The New York Times critic Tommasini still won’t admit he botched it. In this week’s review praising the new La Traviata – a much more radical treatment of a classic – he went out of his way to backhand the Tosca, linking it in his Traviata review with the phrase “Luc Bondy’s gratuitously modern and lame staging.” You can click on the link and read the review. This “characterization” does not appear in his September 2009 review. He doesn’t say anything about it being “gratuitously modern” – whatever that means – and lame does not appear as a concept. Here is most of what he said in September 2009:
“Still, the booing, if a little unfair, was understandable. Mr. Bondy’s high-concept staging featured stark, spare, cold sets and dispensed entirely with many of the familiar theatrical touches that audiences count on: Tosca placed no candles by the body of the villain Scarpia after murdering him, and did not exactly leap to her death at the
end.”
-and-
“Mr. Bondy is a substantive creative artist with a long record of achievement in the theater and the opera house, mostly in Europe. And the idea of bringing a sacred-cow-skewering perspective to “Tosca” is fine in principle. Turning this favorite over to an avant-garde director represents a bigger risk for the Met than does the company
premiere of Janacek’s bleak “From the House of the Dead,” which comes in November. But “Tosca” is one of the bread-and-butter works of any opera company…”

OK, got it. Something with “Dead” in the title can be allowed an “original” reading, but Tosca has to be a sunny pageant with all cliches intact. But Tommasini’s review was actually one of the more thoughtful, wondering whether New York audiences were ready for such “sacred-cow-skewering” which they, at the time, were emphatically not.

James Jorden, in the New York Post, was red-faced and huffing: “Bondy downplayed the glamour to evoke the horrors of torture as an interrogation technique.” Even if Jorden shares George Bush’s sunny view of torturing techniques, he still missed the “glamour” of the story, never bothering to do a body count at the end. “But Tosca is no highbrow psychological study – its an operatic slasher movie,” he concludes, astonished than anyone could have a differing view.
Now both he, Tommasini and the rest of the pack are going on at some length about Willy Decker’s five-year-old Traviata as a “highbrow psychological study.” Tommasini: “This is an involving and theatrically daring production that belongs at the Met.” Jorden’s analysis of Traviata on his Musical American blog is particularly interesting and thoughtful. What a difference fifteen months makes!

Minkowski moves in at the Mozarteum

Posted in News on December 19, 2010 by figarosi

The French conductor Marc Minkowski was named artistic director of the Mozart Week (Mozartwoche) in Salzburg, The Mozarteum Foundation, sponsor of Mozart Week, made the announcement Friday. The event is held around the composer’s birthday in January.

The foundation also named concert promoter Matthias Schulz as their future director. Both men take office on March 1, 2012 and will be responsible for the 2013 Mozart Week. Mr. Schulz will replace Stephan Pauly who leaves to take over directorship of the Frankfurt Opera.

Minkowski, after founding the Musicians of the Louvre in 1984, made a substantial mark with this historically-infomed baroque group. He has since expanded his range of repertory and, since 2008, has been music director of Warsaw’s Sinfonia Warsovia. In recent years he has conducted many of the world’s major orchestras and his recording of baroque repertory have drawn wide praise. He has already appeared several times at the Mozarteum but nevertheless remarked, “I do not see this nomination as a reward for work done, but a promise for future accomplishment.”