I will preface this with the statement that I am not religious and my appreciation for church music is purely, well, musical. But I do like this motet, performed by Dorothea Röschmann and the Violons du Roy. It was recorded in 1994.
Emma Kirkby is one of those singers whose appeal, in intellectual terms, I understand. I can appreciate her artistry and the quality of the musicianship and even why people enjoy her voice itself. I also appreciate what she did for the whole ‘historically informed performance’ thing. And back in the 70s-80s she had some seriously badass red hippie hair.
At the same time, there is some combination of the voice and the style that just rubs me the wrong way. I am in the minority here, and that’s fine. But there it is.
I was reminded of this effect Kirkby has on me when I listened to this recording recently, which is of Dorothea Röschmann and a few other people singing three of Bach’s secular cantatas. Emma Kirkby is not on it, but there is a connection between it and her.
So, I was thinking about Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella. I should make this clear: I buy bootlegs of things only when there is no available commercial recording. Otherwise I cough up the money for the disc. Like Malin Hartelius, I am classy.
Anyway. I have been listening to my bootleg recording of Schubert’s opera, and I think I’ll have more to say about it later. Serendipitously, the score arrived from Interlibrary Loan on the same day that the CDs turned up in my mail, so I will have the advantage of actually knowing what the hell is going on in the thing. Bonus! Although I grow tired of the whole ‘soprano clef’ thing. Just. Put. It. In. Treble. Clef. Perhaps I will get used it, but the constant ‘remember that that is not an E, it’s middle C’ is driving me nuts.
I am about to engage in a fairly bizarre analytical exercise in the service of what I hope is a slightly less bizarre one later.
There are things that you do not in the normal course of things expect to hear very often. Such as German sopranos singing de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas:
This is another bootleg recital CD, and when I saw what was on it my reaction was: Beethoven – fine; Schumann – obviously; Brahms – oh, yes; Wolf – duh; De Falla – what? But it works. And in the context of this particular recital, it’s completely straightforward as a program choice. (The songs cluster around the theme of love and getting fucked over or otherwise disappointed by love. And she ends with Wolf’s Wie schon war immer mein Verlangen which is pretty much a perfect choice. Then again, if you listen to the BBC intros to each set and to the recital itself, you may come to suspect, as the BBC evidently does, that the pianist, Graham Johnson, is not only entirely responsible for the success of the program but is in fact the main attraction.)
Handel’s Rodelinda is one of my favorite operas. For me, it began with this DVD about which I should write some day, because I have basically memorized the thing, and I’d hate for all that obsessive listening to go to waste (It’s Roeschmann, Palmer, Chance et al. at the Munich opera in 2004).
Anyway. I went looking this past summer for additional recordings of Rodelinda. There is this one conducted by Alan Curtis with Il Complesso Barocco with Simone Kermes as Rodelinda, which is nice although sort of chilly (but I like Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Unulfo). I like live recordings, though, and other than the Munich DVD referenced above there aren’t many really good ones.
Except the one I got from these nice people at the Goettingen International Handel Festival. It’s of a performance from 2000, conducted by Nicholas McGegan with Robin Blaze as Bertarido and Dominique Labelle as Rodelinda. It took about two months for them to send it because the person who ran their shop was on holiday when I submitted the order and by the time she got back my one Europe-friendly credit card had expired so it didn’t work, and we had several very polite emails about that, and then I gave her the new expiration date and paid for the thing and she sent it to me. Anyway. I liked it.
For those whose boats are floated by this type of thing, here are the points about it that stood out to me:
Sometimes I have a look at the statistics on all the random stuff I post on YouTube. It occasionally surprises me what gets the most views. For example, this video of part of a gala concert from Berlin in 1997 beats all my other clips hands down. It’s Roeschmann and René Pape singing ‘la ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni. As I said, this is less a recital or a concert than a festive occasion (there is a magician mingling with the audience) and musically, this is the heaviest-weight item on the program.
This is not actually a piece that I go looking for concert versions of. I’ve seen it turn silly or schlocky too many times, and in terms of the music, I’m happier to hear it within the context of an actual recording or performance. But this version is fun. Sort of sweet. (Comment by friend looking over my shoulder as I was watching this: “What’s his problem?” Me: “He’s Don Giovanni. Shush.” Friend: “I think I had that dress back in high school.” Me: “Shhhh.” Friend: “She looks . . . . squirrelly.” Me: “Philistine.”)
Two versions of one of my favorite parts of Don Giovanni, “Ah, chi mi dice mai . . .Madamina, il catalogo e questo.” The first is Dorothea Roschmann (Donna Elvira) and Erwin Schrott (Leporello) at Salzburg in 2008. The second is Joyce DiDonato and Kyle Ketelsen at the Royal Opera also in 2008.
I was thinking this afternoon of humor. Specifically, jokes in musical compositions that are purely musical – i.e. not staged as in opera.
There are things that are on the boundary between musical jokes and stage jokes. Such as this rendering of ‘Da tempeste’ from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, where at 3.05 or so the singer plays on the fact that a type of vocal ornamentation used in opera sounds like the noise kids make when they play at shooting one another with machine guns.
So, I was in Auburn, AL this weekend, visiting my friend R who teaches at the university there. She had actually had Dead Crow Figaro on her Netflix list (yes, we are talking about that damn DVD again) and since I own the thing, I brought it with me and we watched it together. R likes opera, but she’s not as obsessive about it as I am, and also does not have the time to be as obsessive about it as I am, because she is teaching 3/2 and has had to give up caffeine and everything carbonated b/c she ended up with an ulcer last year due to stress. Apparently pretty much everyone in that department is either ulcerous, depressed, or in therapy.
But the climate’s nice.
Anyway. Highlights of me and R watching Le Nozze di Figaro:
I’m not sure why, but I own that DVD of the sad depressing Figaro with the leaves and the dead crow and all that. I watched it again this evening, and possibly this is a failure of sophistication on my part (and in academia, such failures can get you fired) but this production really does manage to suck everything that is good and sweet out of that opera. And Figaro is sweet, not in a cloying way, but in a pleasant way – not too sweet. But even on a third or fourth viewing, this particular version is seriously depressing. The moments that are normally funny fall like lead; the audience knows that they are not supposed to laugh. The only part where they do is where the count stalks into his wife’s room with an axe (to open a locked door), and I believe that it’s specifically an axe is in the libretto, so presumably most of the audience has seen this before and knows it’s coming, but it’s still usually pretty effective as a gag. In this case it’s a big axe, and the laughter ends quite quickly when said axe is aimed at the countess. Bo Skovus’s height is an advantage here. One gets the sense that the count could very easily crush his wife, which I suppose is the point. The threat of violence is just serious enough that it feels out of place in this story. There are productions where he slaps her, but here it’s more of the I-will-knock-you-to-the-floor (which happens once), drag you by your hair (ditto) and/or squeeze your breasts so hard it will probably hurt rather a lot (ditto) sort of thing. On the other hand, Roeschmann’s countess appears to be kind of into it. Again, this is not ordinarily a BDSM-y sort of opera.
Harnoncourt’s sepulchral tempos, though, do tend to call attention to details of the orchestration that you (meaning me) might otherwise miss. But still, the fact that I had to write the phrase “not ordinarily a BDSM-y sort of opera” indicates the territory we are in here. (If anyone can give me an example of an opera written before 1900 that is normally fairly BDSM-y and was written that way, I will, in the spirit of this depressing production of Figaro, send you an apple and a handful of feathers.)
Also, I could have done without the camera above the staircase and with far less Countess-sprawled-on-the-floor: I swear, this production has more unintentional (?) cleavage than I have seen in a while.