Sunday, December 11, 2016

Kaspar Hauser's Song - Poem by Georg Trakl

He truly loved the purple sun, descending from the hills,
The ways through the woods, the singing blackbird
And the joys of green.

Sombre was his dwelling in the shadows of the tree
And his face undefiled.
God, a tender flame, spoke to his heart:
Oh son of man!

Silently his step turned to the city in the evening;
A mysterious complaint fell from his lips:
“I shall become a horseman.”

But bush and beast did follow his ways
To the pale people’s house and garden at dusk,
And his murderer sought after him.

Spring and summer and – oh so beautiful – the fall
Of the righteous. His silent steps
Passed by the dark rooms of the dreamers.

At night he and his star dwelled alone.
He saw the snow fall on bare branches
And in the murky doorway the assassin’s shadow.
Silvern sank the unborne’s head.

Monday, November 07, 2016



  Not his best, not his worst.  The piece has one big hit, the sextet and a mad scene but what opera of that period didn't?  Some have two, and arguably more, which makes me think of Lady Bracknell's line about losing one  parent is a misfortune, losing both looks like carelessness.  So the opera is what it is.  You're there for the singing. 
  As productions go Lyric's Lucia is not bad and an enormous improvement on the last one which was, as I remember, drearily conventional.  The singing was so-so to excellent.  Nothing was really bad except for the orchestra which I hate to call unresponsive because it is an insult to the truly brain dead.   They have played the piece many times and should understand how to phrase a musical line in Donizetti.   Hardly a challenge yet musical phrases went nowhere when they didn't end in a bump.   Their disdain for the opera is unmusical and unprofessional.   Could it be that the unfortunate inclusion of Broadway shows.  Probably not.  A good commercial pit can run on energy for months.  The Lyric orchestra can't make it through eight performances?  
  So on to what the show is all about.  The Lucia ( Albina Shagimuratova) has a nice voice with a certain amount of agility and a strong top.  She is not however a bel canto soprano.  I understand her taking these roles since she can get through them and they are good for her vocal health.  If Lyric is smart, which it is not, they would book her back in five years to do some of the lighter Strauss.  Unfortunately it is more likely in five years the season will be eight weeks of Sound of Music and eight of Fiddler on the Roof.   She would be a good Dafne and a possibly a great Arabella.   Add middle Verdi and Mozart Countess for vocal health, throw in some sensible curiosities and that gives you 10-15 years with voice intact.  Then you take chances.    For now her voice is too plushy for real  bel canto.   The intonation in the passage work was not always in tune.  She has this strange need to over vibrate at the top of a phrase that breaks the line which is what you must not do in this kind of music.  She can act a bit.  She'll probably end up blowing out her voice on inappropriate rep ( early Verdi, late Wagner and finally  screaming a Tosca). 
  The Edgardo ( Piotr Beczala)  was the real thing.  It was the only truly satisfying part of the evening.   The only reason I didn't bolt after act one was to hear his last aria and final scene.   I was glad I stayed.  Since he is so good of course it means we might never hear him again.    
  Enrico ( Quinn Kelsey) was all over the place vocally.   He started singing Verdi-ish  ok but ended up  rather struggling.  I don't know if he was tired or ill or what but as he sang worse  he "acted" more and he had a wig, that he kept pulling at, that made him look like Meat Loaf.  Doesn't anybody say anything to anyone over there?    Seriously.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

lump of coal

  The Danish Dance Theater put on an evening long entertainment called Black Diamond.   The minimal set was more entertaining than either the choreography or the dancing.                 
 In full disclosure I must say I am in awe of dancers.  I cannot perform the simplest steps of social dancing.  That they can remember all the physical movement and inject artistry is baffling.  That said my appreciation does not allow me to give a pass to sloppy dancing.  I never hold out much hope for the choreography;  I attend Hubbard Street performances for the high caliber of dancing not for what they are forced to do on stage.   The Danish company's dancing is simply not professional on a basic level.   I read the bios and it seems that none come from a classical backround.  Not that I want them on their toes but without that discipline they can't be on their toes.  For one thing, which I think is basic, they have no idea what to do with their arms.  Nothing is phrased.  The arms just fly up like in a second stringer's  floor routine at the Olympics.  There was one exception.  Some bald dude, who was not a principal, seemed to get it.  He filled the space and was the only thing worth watching when was on stage.  I suspect that he had the most classical training but then good dancing is good dancing.  I have seen "modern" companies that given six months for the women to get en pointe could do Balanchine.   It is not necessary to do Balanchine but the days of just dancing you little heart out have been over for fifty years.  I guess Danish Dance didn't get the memo.
 I am still waiting for something more than adequate choreography.  Surely there is someone with the vision and skill to put on something more than  circus acts with vogueing.  Awhile back a small troop came through with a mixed program which included Cunningham's Rain Forest.  The dancing was alright in the other pieces on the program but in Rain Forest it came to artistic life.  I remembered the piece when I first saw it as being very good.  It still is.   Cunningham and Taylor used to come to town regularly.  There was also MoMing bringing in guest artists to do pieces on their company.   You would go to performances with a sense of excitement and anticipation.   It frequently rewarded.    But the thrill is gone baby. 

  It saddens me that the young, who are not limited to their cell phone screens, will not have the pleasure of seeing their Paul Taylor.  I saw Cloven Kingdom when it was new.   And his Rite of Spring which was such a radical rethinking of the piece that it has haunted me for years.   The most depressing thing about audiences today is the lack of any general critical ability 
 to discern the difference between shit and shineola.  At the end of the Danish Dance performance half the theater stood up in ovation.  I see this a lot for the mediocre  but for a performance that was so shamefully poor it was disturbing ( they did flips, well, so can a  poodle).  There was nudity at the end ( too little to late).  Perhaps that was enough for many.
   In Jules Feiffer's play Little Murders the depressed photographer character tells how he became so successful that he figured he could take pictures of shit and they would sell.   So he did. When asked how that worked out for him he said he was doing the Vogue spring layout.   That is why he was depressed.
  Hardly satire now.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Therese Raquin

Use Your Indoor Voice.

  Tobias Picker is a very fine composer.  His orchestral writing can be quite beautiful and there is a great deal of it in his opera Therese Raquin which was recently mounted by the Chicago Opera Theater.  The libretto is skillful; the sets and costumes effective.  It should have made for a wonderful evening in the theater 
   Unfortunately the problem is Picker's vocal writing.   He has beautiful stretches of orchestral music with the voices pretty much screaming over it.   You wait for some moment where the text is not set to jagged vocal lines at the top of the singers range.  You are still waiting after two hours.   There is a section in the second act where Mr. Picker starts out with an orchestra interlude and you think there will be something lovely to follow but when the voices enter right off the bat they start howling out intervals that illuminate neither the text nor the mood.   A lesser problem is the lack of truly transparent music in the opera.  It is beautiful but condensed in a limited range of orchestral color and rhythmic vitality. 
  The singers were able to scream through their parts pretty well, I guess.  The orchestra was adequate except for the under powered violins. 
  The most disappointing thing about the piece is that it had a lot going for it.  But what is opera about if not communication with the voice.  Perhaps Mr. Picker thinks the more difficult the intervals the more serious the composer.  I would advise him to reconsider this notion after a thorough study of Pelleas.  

Ralph Boyd