I just finished watching a really infectiously enjoyable performance of Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten. This is that broadcast from Salzburg that, after a great deal of monkeying around and a certain amount of technical assistance I managed to coax from 3Sat’s website.
You ever have one of those days when you fully intend to do all kinds of interesting and important things, and then you realize midway through the afternoon that you’ve spent the last hour or so watching clips of things that you’ve seen many times before? Possibly clips that you yourself have posted on YouTube? And you feel a bit silly?
Yeah. That kind of day.
(Detailed impressions of the production and the performance of the 17th here.)
This time I had a slightly better seat, in that I was on the left side of the hall towards the middle rather than in the section behind and above the stage. The sound was different – the orchestra did not sound flipped around, but rather reached my ears as a really rich warm bloom of sound with a lot of detail.
That Bach B minor mass from last March? It’ll be broadcast tomorrow (or, I think tomorrow 5-23 is what Iowa’s NPR station means by “this Thursday.”)
I will be traveling and will miss it – if anyone, uh, plans to record this or anything and would be willing to share, that would be lovely.
(thanks to M @MostlyClassical for the timely info!)
I am not sure that I formed a coherent picture of this production as a musical performance, because I was sitting behind the stage, so while I could see most of what was going on, the orchestra had a weird reversed quality and usually the singers had their backs to me. On the other hand, remember how they had to issue me and several other people different tickets because they had to put a thing where we were originally seated? Well, turns out that the thing was the chorus. Half on one side of the hall, half on the other, in the last rows of seats. They were directly behind me. Never have I heard the women’s chorus parts in such, ah, brutal detail. Sort of fun, though.
(Previous section here.)
One more thing about the Cherub and Cherubino. I was reminded yesterday (thanks, Rob!) of the moment in Act I when Cherubino finds one of the Cherub’s feathers on the floor and then reaches back, startled, to feel behind his own shoulder as if to check if something is missing. As if the names didn’t make it plain enough, he has a special connection to this other character. After all, Cherubino is sort of an odd and ambiguous little thing, right? He’s a boy played by a woman; he’s neither a child nor an adult; he exercises a rather strange erotic pull on the Countess; he infuriates the count, who accidentally kisses him at one point in the story; his relationship to Susanna seems almost sisterly, but then he tries to either kiss her or grope her or some variation thereof when he meets her in the garden in Act IV; he is consistently places he should not be and causing problems others would rather not deal with. Given both the Cherub’s role in this story and Cherubino’s identification with the Cherub, it makes a certain kind of sense that the Count and Figaro basically torture the kid during “non più andrai” at the end of Act I. Figaro slices him up with a piece of glass and the count gleefully joins in the mayhem. Figaro and the Count are at odds, but the type of things that the Cherub/Cherubino pair represent are in the interest of neither of them.
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This production has an additional character, listed as ‘Cherub.’ The Cherub is a young man (the performer’s name is Uli Kirsch) who is dressed in the same clothes – navy shorts suit, gray knee socks – as Cherubino, although he has wings. He leaps in via the window during the overture. On stage at this point are three couples, all frozen still: Bartolo and Marcellina, Figaro and Susanna, and the Count and Countess. Bartolo is reading something; Marcellina’s attention is elsewhere; Figaro is mentally measuring something and Susanna is thinking; the Count is nervously mopping his face and the Countess is gazing out into space towards the audience looking as if she is going to cry. The Cherub places an apple near each of the pairs, and moves his hands over them. Everyone seems to wake up. Marcellina moves toward Figaro, Susanna wanders up the stairs toward the Count, who turns to look at his wife, who walks, as if in a trance, up the stairs. Everyone’s unadmitted and even unwanted desires, in other words, have been unlocked.
This appears to be the function of the Cherub in this production. He releases the aspects of the characters’ selves that make them uncomfortable. He literally rides around on the Count’s shoulder at one point, and in general is often to be found pushing or pulling or otherwise influencing the characters. Whenever someone does something that might cause some confusion or trouble (Figaro’s plan in Act II, or Susanna’s “deh, vieni”) the Cherub sometimes stands with his back to the person in question, so that that character is for that moment “wearing” his wings. No one can quite see him – like the touch of the feathers he blows or lets fall, he’s just barely perceptible. (Susanna writes the note in “canzonetta sull’aria” with a feather from one of his wings, and during “deh, vieni” picks up and toys with a Cherub feather. The feathers seem to communicate how the emotions the Cherub awakens seem to the characters: sometimes just barely perceptible, sometimes blowing in gusts; these are objects that convey a physical sense of being touched by something that might not actually be there at all, and which if it is is certainly not something you want to rely on. And if you try to grab it you might end up with nothing but fuzz. Feathers might actually be a good metaphor for subtext, when you think about it.)
The Cherub appears to have quite an influence on Cherubino in particular. When Cherubino enters in Act II the Cherub draws him into the room, and the Countess stares at him as if he’s the most amazing little thing she’s ever seen in her life. He stares back. He tries to flee to avoid singing his song, but the Cherub stops him. Cherubino sings “voi che sapete” and – well, ladies and gentlemen, this is one magic pageboy. Both the Countess and Susanna rest against the wall, looking dazed. The Countess in particular has an expression on her face that suggests she is, for the moment, in a very, very happy place. The effect is more than ably assisted by the truly lovely sound of Christine Schäfer’s voice – here and elsewhere in this performance she is sheer happiness to listen to. Later, during “venite, inginocchiatevi” Susanna strips Cherubino down to his shorts and t-shirt, but does not dress him up in girl’s clothes. Rather, all three of them take turns stretching out on the count’s fur-lined coat on the floor and everyone feels up Cherubino. And the two women take turns lying down so that Cherubino can touch them. (Cherubino, once he’s gazing down, rapt, at the Countess, clearly knows where he wants to put his hands, but doesn’t quite dare; he settles for a snog instead.) The point is, Cherubino is a particular focus of the Cherub’s attention and seems to communicate it to others as well. In addition to this he is often completely overwhelmed by what is going on around him. At the very end of the opera, when all the couples have been appropriately paired up again, and the Cherub despite all his efforts cannot wrest them apart, which causes him to leave, Cherubino – after a parting caress from the Cherub – collapses onto the floor. Poor little guy.
So, the Cherub is a sort of external expression of everyone’s mixed desires. He’s a figure of disorder and temptation and desire (all those apples!). It’s worth noting that the one person he has no effect on at all is Basilio, who – as his aria in Act IV expresses; this is one of the few productions I’ve ever seen where this aria really seems to do something – has long ago settled on being duplicitous, and as such, is so thoroughly fake that he apparently has none of the sort of self-deception or ambivalence which allows the Cherub an in with the other characters. Whereas Cherubino is the opposite: he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants or what he’s doing half the time – he’s the perfect access point.
(Next section here.)
Based on my unscientific sampling of 1. YouTube comments and 2. people I know on the internet, this production tends to elicit strong reactions. Some of us squealed with delight from the very first viewing. Others could only sit there, knees to chest, shivering and rocking back and forth and hugging a tattered program from the Metropolitan Opera for comfort. Still others of us engaged in a certain amount of snide commentary while nevertheless buying the DVD and watching bits of it over and over. I was in the third category. I have been known to squeal and jump up and down in certain opera-related situations, but I didn’t – initially – for this. And I am not a booklet-cuddler under any circumstances.
(Detailed impressions of this concert from the performance on 3-13 here.)
This time around I was sitting in the middle of the orchestra section, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way back from the stage. The sound was distinctly different here. I could hear the harpsichord, for one thing. In addition, aside from everything in general being a little louder, I could hear all the individual brass and woodwind parts with much more clarity. The solo oboe was particularly impressive – both in the first mezzo solo and in the bass aria towards the end of the Credo.
This was one of the most absorbing live music experiences I have had in a while. Well, at least since last Friday – it’s been rather a red letter week in terms of concerts. As far as last night is concerned, Alan Gilbert and the NY Phil and the singers did BWV 232 full justice.
Some kind soul alerted me to the existence of these on YouTube, for all those who missed Röschmann singing Strauss on the radio on Monday night. If it has never occurred to you to wish that Antonio Pappano was see-thru, you may be in for a new experience here.
The quotation in the title was something I overheard from someone sitting behind me. I didn’t hear more than that, but I thought it was an apt description of how Röschmann seemed to inhabit every song she performed – the sheer dramatic intensity of this recital was truly wonderful.
I was excited to get a chance to see this performance, for reasons – or rather a reason – that you’d probably guess. I love how Dorothea Röschmann (here, the Marschallin) sings, and I have never had the pleasure of hearing her live before.
I found out something interesting today. You know Dorothea Röschmann’s recording of Handel’s Nine German Arias? I had thought that that recording was out of print, and I was sad, because it’s nice – but I discovered that it’s actually available as part of a boxed set that contains a lot of other (non-Röschmann-y) goodies as well. This makes me feel better about the world.
(Previous section here.)
Röschmann is not the only one emoting in this performance. Werner Güra sings an “un aura amorosa” that is very easy on the ears, and in general gives the impression that Ferrando gets sucked into the game more than his friend does – by Act II Ferrando appears to mean what he’s doing. “Fra gli amplessi” is wonderfully intense (and we get bonus reprise of the gardening shears!). I enjoyed Röschmann here too – Fiordiligi’s “giusto ciel . . .crudel!” (the held high A) was great.
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In some productions of Così the two women are costumed to look very similar, almost interchangeable. Here they definitely are not. Physically the women are difficult to mix up – Katharina Kammerloher (Dorabella) is at least six inches taller than Dorothea Röschmann (Fiordiligi), and they’re distinguished by wigs as well. Dorabella’s is blonde, and Fiordiligi’s is black (the wigs belong to the characters – they come off by Act II).
I guess I should get the obvious point out of the way first: if you have ever wanted to watch Hanno Müller-Brachmann caper around in nothing but a Legolas wig and a pair of tighty-whiteys, this Così is for you. If you have never wanted to watch Mr. Müller-Brachmann caper about so attired – if the thought had never even really occurred to you – if the idea leaves you bored, indifferent, or even vaguely uneasy, rest assured that this production also contains Werner Güra shirtless, a very agitated Dorothea Röschmann armed with gardening shears, and a lot of pot. Are you sold yet?
So, I amused myself for a while yesterday afternoon listening to a concert, the one from the BBC that included Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and 12 of Mahler’s songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The orchestra was the LSO under Manfred Honeck, and the soloists were Dorothea Röschmann and Ian Bostridge.