Tag: Dvořak

Aeolus Quartet / 6-14-15

I have been asked recently whether I am dead because I haven’t posted much. I am not dead. Very much alive and well, and in addition to the whole not-dead thing, I had the pleasure of hearing a recital by the Aeolus Quartet yesterday at Bargemusic; the program was Beethoven’s String Quartet #13 (minus the Grosse Fugue) and Dvořák’s Op. 81 Piano quintet (with pianist Rita Sloan). The Beethoven I’ve heard many times, but the Dvořák was new to me.

There was the odd slip and squeak and a few moments where the rhythm didn’t quite seem to hold together (e.g. in the cavatina of the Beethoven quartet), but on the whole this was an exciting performance. These musicians were at their best when they had something big and exuberant to tear into, like the presto (second movement) of the Beethoven, which elicited its own little round of applause (we were cheerfully informed by the first violinist that we could clap whenever we wanted, which turned out to be often) or the furiant in the Dvořák piece, which I thought was terrific – the four strings and the piano are passing around a series of little dance themes, and they did it in a way that really clicked. There were plenty of quieter moments too, like the rippling little theme of the Dumka (second movement ) of the Dvořák that were also really compelling.

I haven’t heard a live chamber ensemble since I think last summer, and every time I do, I remember why I like it so much. You can hear the individual parts far more distinctly than on a recording, and – well, it’s just fun. (I went home and went on a bit of a ticket bender for Mostly Mozart later in the summer. Yeah!)

Prague – Dvořák Museum

There is a small Dvořák museum here in a house that the composer never lived in, though based on where he did live, he would have walked past it a lot. I can now say that I have seen Dvořák’s wallet. And he was 178 cm tall as an adult.

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Also, did you know that he was a trainspotter? Apparently he used to take walks to the train station every day to catch the number of the Vienna-Prague express train. One day he knew he would not be able to make it, so he sent Josef Suk instead. Suk used opera glasses, but he was not an experienced trainspotter, so he wrote down the wrong number.

That is the end of the story, at least as explained in the English-language bit of the display.

Wednesday Handwriting Analysis

So I got a used recording of Dvořák’s Rusalka that turns out to have some writing in it. A deep discussion with a friend and much googling for pictures of Renée Fleming’s autograph followed. I was initially skeptical because I couldn’t find the accent mark over the e, but it was pointed out to me that it’s half hidden in the word above it. I remain skeptical, though, partly due to my ambivalence about autographs. On the one hand, why is it important that someone signs a booklet, or a concert program? On the other, in certain cases if I had the opportunity to ask and could be assured that I would not say something really embarrassingly stupid in the process, there would totally be some framed concert programs on my wall.

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Dvořak – Rusalka / Opéra National de Paris 2002 (3)

(Previous section here.)

Musically there is nothing here to complain about. Renée Fleming has (duh) a beautiful voice. In general, I am not always gripped by her style of acting. Not that it would make sense in this opera if she did, but she never seems to go for ’emotionally raw’ – the effect is always elegant and glossy and often very intense, but never in a “would you like to see the bleeding edges of this character’s soul now?” kind of way. But regardless of dramatic approach this is extremely high quality singing. Rusalka’s song to the moon (or in this case, song to the reflection of a bedside lamp) is stretched out as much as it can plausibly stretch, especially towards the end. Rusalka’s longing and sadness are beautifully done, both in that particular section and elsewhere in the opera; I could listen to Fleming sing this material for a pretty long time before I got sick of it.

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Dvořak – Rusalka / Opéra National de Paris 2002 (2)

(Previous section here.)

Rusalka-2 Robert Carsen’s production contains a lot of doubling. The first thing we see is a room lit in blue. Or rather two rooms, or a room and its mirror image. It is a spacious but anonymous looking bedroom, with a bed, two lit lamps and two chairs next to the doors on either end. The room is reflected as if instead of a floor, there was a mirror – or as if there was water there. The action in the first act takes place in the ‘inverted’ room below. What would be the moldings linking the walls to the ceiling here curve into the floor; it looks like we are at the bottom of a swimming pool. In the center there is a square opening filled with water.

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Dvořak – Rusalka / Opéra National de Paris 2002 (1)

Dvořak’s opera Rusalka is roughly the same story as “The Little Mermaid.” Rusalka is a water nymph who has fallen in love with a human prince. Her father warns her that this will be nothing but trouble, but Rusalka does not listen. She goes to the witch Ježibaba, who is willing to turn her into a human woman, for a price – her voice and her magic water nymph’s veil. She warns Rusalka that if she fails to win the prince’s heart, they will both be damned.*

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