Saturday, January 21, 2017
The first black singer to appear at Bayreuth, Grace Bumbry has blazed trails of glory across the opera world for more than half a century. She made her debut in Paris in 1960 as Amneris. Wieland Wagner cast her as Venus in Tannhäuser in summer 1961. Jackie Kennedy summoned her to sing at the White House. Vienna upgraded her to soprano in Verdi’s Macbeth. She made a much-belated Met debut as Tosca in 1971, together with conductor James Levine, also on debut. In in 2013, she sang the Countess at the Vienna State Opera in Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame. Happy birthday, amazing Grace.
The New Jersey-based Montclair Orchestra has just announced David Chan as its first music director. David has been concertmaster at the Met for 17 seasons. Press release below. Montclair, NJ – The Montclair Orchestra has selected David Chan as its first Music Director, to lead the orchestra in its 2017-2018 inaugural season. The search process began in August, with nearly one hundred candidates from all across the globe applying to lead the development of the new ensemble. Mr. Chan is the concertmaster of the MET Orchestra in New York, where he is in his seventeenth season as leader of that renowned ensemble. Widely recognized as a brilliant violinist and one of the leading musicians of his generation, Chan enjoys a diverse career as soloist, conductor, chamber musician, and teacher. His concerts have taken him to leading stages in North America, Europe, and Asia, appearing as soloist with such conductors as James Levine and Fabio Luisi. He is highly sought after as a chamber musician, performing regularly at the most prestigious summer festivals as well as throughout the New York City area. Chan has a history of helping new musical institutions achieve instant success. In 2008, combining his interest in wine with his passion for music, he co-founded the Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot festival in the Burgundy region of France. As artistic director of the festival, which pairs wine tastings with first-rate musical offerings, Chan has overseen the growth of the event from a small, intimate gathering to a two-week extravaganza attracting many of the biggest international names in music, such as Yo-Yo Ma, Charles Dutoit, Joyce Di Donato, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Matthew Polenzani, Menahem Pressler, Cho-Liang Lin, Gary Hoffman, Marlis Petersen, and Ildar Abdrazakov. As a conductor, Chan brings his long experience working in opera along with a broad knowledge of the symphonic repertoire and a fluency with the music of our own time. He has conducted at Musique et Vin, where the festival orchestra includes musicians from the Metropolitan Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic, and all the top orchestras in Paris; he also works frequently with the student orchestras at New York’s Juilliard and Mannes conservatories, as well as at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Next season his conducting engagements include l’Orchestre Dijon Bourgogne in France as well as concerts in South America and Eastern Europe, in addition to his commitments with The Montclair Orchestra. “David has an incredible command of the intricate details of various genres of music, yet has the ability to make the music accessible and relevant to the diverse audiences The Montclair Orchestra seeks to engage,” says Andre Weker, President of the orchestra. “We are incredibly excited and proud that he has elected to help pioneer our vision as an organization, and engage new sets of audiences through his programming and collaborations with different organizations both directly in Montclair, as well as throughout northern New Jersey.” Equally noted for his work as a teacher, Chan has been on the faculty of The Juilliard School since 2005 and the Mannes School of Music since 2015. His wealth of experience in teaching and mentoring younger players will be an enormous asset in developing an orchestra that blends professional players with students still in the process of honing their craft. “I am deeply honored to have been chosen as the first music director of The Montclair Orchestra,” says Chan. “It is always exciting to participate in the birth of a new musical organization, and our goal is to bring not only the very highest level of music-making to the suburbs, but to offer concert experiences that are meaningfully different than what you find elsewhere, and in so doing appeal to new audiences. But above all, as a resident of northern New Jersey myself, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to give back to the community.”
In an article on the Met musicians’ website , the incoming music director reflects on his predecessor: I have a personal story to share: Back in 2009, many months before my Met debut with Carmen, I expressed a wish to perform the opéra comique version of Carmen (with spoken dialogue). Jimmy asked for a phone conversation with me. Of course, I was very impressed by this gesture, and I was looking forward to finally speaking with my hero! When we spoke, he told me that he understood my wish, but at the same time he explained why he thought that at the Met it was actually preferable to remain with the grand opéra version (with sung recitatives). He did this in such a collegial way, infectiously convincing, that I was convinced by his arguments! Of course, at the end of the day, he was the Music Director, but most of his colleagues in such a position would have done this in a very different, much less collaborative way. He talked to me with a blend of experience and a genuine feeling of dialoguing between musicians, which I think tells a lot about Jimmy’s human qualities. Full article here.
Sofia Fomina, Christophe Mortagne and Vittorio Grigòlo in Schlesinger’s Les Contes d'Hoffmann, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’, also known as the Doll Aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann , is infamously difficult to sing. It is sung in Act I by Olympia, a mechanical doll who the hapless Hoffmann believes to be human. For much of the act, Olympia simply says ‘oui’ (yes) to anything asked of her, but Offenbach more than makes up for this in her aria. Written for the French soprano Adèle Isaac – a star of Paris’s Opéra-Comique known for her interpretations of challenging roles such as Marie (La Fille du régiment ), Isabelle (Robert le diable ) and Juliette (Roméo et Juliette ) – it is a virtuoso tour-de-force, packed with stratospheric coloratura. Where does it take place in the opera? The Doll Aria takes place in Act I, when the inventor Spalanzani hosts a party at his Paris home. In the previous scene, the gullible Hoffmann – deaf to the warnings of his friend Nicklausse – is duped by Spalanzani into believing that Olympia is the inventor’s daughter. Spalanzani is helped in his ruse by the fiendish scientist Coppélius, who sells Hoffmann a pair of magical glasses that make Olympia appear fully human. When Olympia performs her song for Spalanzani’s party guests, Hoffmann is so impressed that he determines to marry the doll. What do the lyrics mean? The words of Olympia’s two-verse aria are self-consciously sentimental and repetitive, as befits her mechanical state. In the first verse she sings of how the songs of birds awaken thoughts of love in her young soul; in the second of how her loving heart is moved by songs and sighs. Both verses end with the coy refrain ‘this is the lovely song of Olympia’. Read Jonathan Burton’s translation below, created for The Royal Opera: Les oiseaux dans la charmille, Dans les cieux l’astre du jour Tout parle à la jeune fille d’amour! Voilà la chanson gentille, la chanson d’Olympia!Les oiseaux dans la charmille, Dans les cieux l’astre du jour Tout parle à la jeune fille d’amour! Voilà la chanson gentille, la chanson d’Olympia! The birds in the bower, The sun in the sky To a maiden everything speaks of love! This is Olympia’s pretty song. Everything that sings and echoes and sighs in turn Stirs a maiden’s heart that trembles with love. This is Olympia’s sweet little song. What makes the music so memorable? Offenbach’s music perfectly characterizes a mechanical doll, with a pretty melody sung to a waltz rhythm, and delicate harp and flute accompaniment reminiscent of the sound of musical boxes (possibly mimicking the real musical clockwork dolls popular in late 19th-century France). However, Olympia isno ordinary automaton; her melody line becomes progressively more ornate during the aria’s first verse (particularly in the flamboyant vocalise that ends its refrain) and by the second verse she’s in full exhibitionist mode, decorating her melody with as many trills, flourishes, roulades and stratospherically high notes as any coloratura soprano could wish for. She pays the price for this display though – during both refrains her mechanics run down, causing her to collapse until Spalanzani winds her up again. The second time, he clearly does his job rather too well, as Olympia soars to new heights in the hyperactive closing cadenza. Hoffmann’s other musical highlights Les Contes d’Hoffmann contains a glut of wonderful arias, duets and ensembles. The protagonist’s solo numbers include the Prologue’s ‘Chanson de Kleinzach’ in which the poet moves from wit to romantic reverie and back, and the hedonistic Act II aria ‘Amis, l’amour tendre et reveur, erreur!’. The devilish villains naturally get plenty of good tunes, including Lindorf’s cynical and boastful ‘Dans les rôles d’amoureux langoureux’. Among the duets, the best known is perhaps the sensual Barcarolle ‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour’ that opens the Giulietta act; a lesser-known treat is Hoffmann and Antonia’s poignant ‘C’est une chanson d’amour’, one of the opera’s few genuinely romantic episodes. Other highlights include the Prologue’s ebullient drinking chorus, Act II’s dramatic septet (sung as Hoffmann realizes that Giulietta has stolen his reflection) and Antonia’s nostalgic aria ‘Elle a fui, la tourterelle’ that opens Act III. Classic recordings Les Contes d’Hoffmann doesn’t lack good recordings. EMI’s bargain box-set conducted by André Cluytens features Nicolai Gedda as Hoffmann, one of his greatest roles; his duet with Victoria de los Ángeles ’s Antonia is unforgettable. Domingo fans can enjoy the 1972 Decca recording with the inimitable Joan Sutherland as the three heroines; another Domingo option is the 1981 live Salzburg recording , with José van Dam in devilishly good form as the four villains, conducted by James Levine . Kent Nagano ’s 2011 recording (Erato) features Roberto Alagna as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay on sparkling form as Olympia, among other delights. There’s a good choice of DVD recordings too, including The Royal Opera’s production with Domingo as Hoffmann . More to discover Offenbach’s only other opera (Die Rheinnixen ) hasn’t ever entered the repertory, but several of his operettas are easily available on CD and DVD. Orphée aux Enfers (with its famous can-can ) and La Belle Hélène offer a hilarious take on Greek myths, or you can luxuriate in the hedonistic Paris party scene with La Vie parisienne . La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is worth a listen too, particularly for the heroine’s rousing arias. On a more serious note, Massenet ’s opera Werther offers another take on the romantic artist searching for the ideal woman, as does Gounod ’s Faust , where the hero is prepared to sell his soul to the devil for love and youth. And if you’re after operas about artists and their love affairs, there’s always Puccini ’s much-loved La bohème . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs until 3 December 2016. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 15 November 2016. Find your nearest cinema . The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet and Mr and Mrs Christopher W.T. Johnston.
For me the tone and quality of media response to the American presidential election and UK EU referendum has been almost as shocking as their results. One beacon of light in the mainstream and social media darkness is the online Lion's Roar resource which sought the response of Buddhist teachers to Donald Trump's victory. Like all established faith traditions, Buddhism has its faults. But the reflections by these teachers on the US election result convince me that Buddhism can teach political parties and media pundits an awful lot about Truth. Here is one of the responses; it comes from Noah Levine of Against the Stream Here in the United States of Samsara ignorance is the status quo. The Buddha’s teachings guide us to go “against the stream” to develop wisdom and compassion through our own direct actions. As the path encourages, “Even amongst those who hate, we live with love in our hearts. Even amongst those who are blinded by greed and confusion, we practice generosity, kindness and clear seeing". Meditate and Destroy! Army of Tibetan Buddhist monks on its way to meditate and destroy was photographed by me at the 2014 Kalachakra Teaching by the Dalai Lama in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.