Tag: Berlioz

Bavarian Radio Symphony / Carnegie Hall 5-16-14

No Strauss in Chicago for me today or tomorrow (get well soon, Frau R!) but thanks to the generous Dr. T, who gave me some Carnegie Hall tickets she couldn’t use, I did hear some music this evening. Also, I apologize in advance: if this account of this concert seems somewhat disjointed, it is because as I write this, there are three moderately sloshed biologists painting 3-D models of molecules in my apartment and talking about things that do not have to do with orchestras, like getting fished out of the Gorge at Cornell in one’s underwear. This is not an excuse; it is merely an explanation.

One thing about that big auditorium – what a racket you can make in there! Many varieties of racket. I still have very fond memories of hearing Joyce DiDonato there in 2012, who created a delightful baroque racket that still makes me smile whenever I recall it (not to mention more recent baroque rackets). But tonight’s racket was of the Romantic variety. I sometimes complain about the nineteenth century and its many egregious lapses of taste, but they did invent two very good things: trains, and ginormous modern symphony orchestras.

The program was essentially Three Very Loud Pieces for Large Orchestra, in reverse chronological order. The first was John Adams’s “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” of which I retain no clear memory other than that there was a massive amount of sound. I have not heard a real live full on balls-to-the-wall symphony orchestra in some time, and this involved not only normal instruments, but also three xylophone players, four xylophones, a piano, and an electric keyboard. It was DELIGHTFUL.

Next was Richard Strauss’s Don Juan, and after the intermission Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. In both cases, I particularly enjoyed the solo woodwinds, but most of all the thrill lay in the sheer volume and complexity of sound produced. In the Berlioz, when the theme representing the elusive beloved woman first appears in the woodwinds, I was startled by how loud the accompanying strings were. There are aspects of this piece that I had completely forgotten about because I haven’t heard it live in like forever. By the end, my impressions had degenerated mainly into 1. This is fun! 2. God damn, this is loud! It was great.

 

Berlioz – Les Troyens / Metropolitan Opera 12-26-12

When we reached the end of this thing at about 11.45 last night, the person I went with turned to me, took off his glasses and said, rubbing his eyes, “well, I guess we got our money’s worth!” Which is certainly true, both in terms of minutes of opera per dollar spent (this is one where they start early, at 6.30, so as to be able to wrap things up by midnight) and in terms of fun in a general kind of way.

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Berlioz / Les Troyens / Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet) 2003 – 4

[Parts one, two, three and four.]

I admire Susan Graham. I liked her as Sesto in Clemenza, and as acting (as distinct from singing) goes, she’s not bad at all. In Clemenza the scenes with Tito work well, and there are a few really charming moments, e.g. the bit in “come ti piace imponi” beginning at about 0.55 here where Sesto clearly just melts on seeing Vitellia get all political. (I am more and more a fan of Catherine Naglestad, but this has nothing to do with Les Troyens so I’ll drop it.)

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Berlioz / Les Troyens / Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet) 2003 – 3

[Parts one, two, three and four.]

In terms of the production, this Les Troyens has its moments.

Acts I and II are the best in visual terms. The stage is bare and relatively empty. Behind and above it is a large mirror, which sometimes shows us the rooftops of Troy and sometimes reflects the stage. The latter works very well – it makes the stage seem bigger, allows for some visually striking entrances and exits, and at one point provides the audience with the best view of the action : there are some wrestlers/tumblers/dancers who are surrounded by the chorus on stage, but we can see them in the mirror. And it is only in the mirror that we see the horse. The horse looks fierce. When Cassandra pleads with her fellow Trojans to just “search the monstrous horse” already, you sort of feel for the woman. It seems so obvious, right?

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Berlioz / Les Troyens / Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet) 2003 – 2

[Parts one, two, three and four.]

As noted, this sounds very much as you would expect an opera by Hector Berlioz to sound. Much of it has that feverish quality that is characteristic of his music, e.g. in Cassandra and Chorebus’s duet from Act I, particularly after 5.40 or so. Don’t get too attached to either of these characters, because they will both shortly be dead. I could make an argument here that this variety of dramatic discontinuity is an effort by Berlioz to force us to focus on the music alone, but I think what is really happening is that when you adapt bits of the Aeneid into an opera, it is hard to work the thing so that no one ends up dead before the end of whatever section of it you’re adapting. Like Schubert, Berlioz sometimes struggled with the limitations of his source material. Anyway, here is the duet:

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Berlioz / Les Troyens / Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet) 2003 – 1

[Parts one, two, three and four.]

I had cause recently to think about smut, specifically smut in music. Because I have the mind of a twelve-year-old it led me to mentally review all the ways that I have seen the erotic depicted in opera. Sometimes things remain in the realm of the metaphorical. Such as the Marschallin and Octavian’s plates of pie, for example, or Donna Elvira’s cigarette and general air of satisfaction. I believe that if we were going to get picky, Donna Elvira’s cigarette is a metonym rather than a metaphor, but this is an opera blog and not Literary Criticism Smackdown, so probably we don’t care all that much one way or the other.

Anyway. There are productions that handle sex via metonymical cigarettes and there are productions that are more direct. I’m sure we can all think of one or two of those. But I am not going to talk about them. I ended up recalling what may be the most cringe-inducing representation of sex in any DVD of opera ever, and as a result I decided to write about Berlioz.

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Berlioz / Chicago Symphony 1-7-12

Much of Berlioz’s orchestral output is ‘program music,’ that is, music that purports to describe something or to tell a story. Some people loathe this kind of thing, and I understand why. Depending on how you like to listen to music, being asked to imagine a little story while you’re listening can be irritating. My solution to this problem is often just to ignore the ‘program.’

I always forget how much depth live performances have, just in terms of the spacing of the sound. In this instance there were also a few extra sounds that I could have done without, e.g. all the people clapping between the movements of Harold in Italy. On the other hand, Chicago’s symphony hall managers did something very clever which was to place a large container of cough drops in the foyer. Have you ever noticed how there is always, always someone who basically coughs up a lung either between movements of pieces or during the applause? I have no idea who these people are, but they appear to be over-represented in concert audiences. Or perhaps as a perennially healthy person I am being unfair. Anyway, handing out free cough drops is actually a very good idea and the managers of the theater are to be commended for coming up with it.

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