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Georges Bizet

Friday, December 9, 2016


My Classical Notes

November 18

Music for Humor and Fun

My Classical NotesOne of the magical things about music is that it can represent a huge variety of purposes for a lot of different people. In this recording titled “In Jest”, the purpose is light-hearted fun and enjoyment dating back to,composers of the past and the present. In Jest – Comic Art Songs from baroque to contemporary: Aboulker: L’Inconstante L’Archet Bernstein: Piccola Serenata Bizet: La Coccinelle Bolcom: Amor George Brahms: Vergebliches Ständchen, Op. 84 No. 4 Bridge: So perverse Debussy: Fantoches Gershwin: Blah Blah Blah Goldins: Lomir singen Hoiby: The Serpent Mozart: Die Alte K517 Der Zauberer, K472 Poulenc: Violon Purcell: What can we poor females do?, Z429 Ravel: Sur l’Herbe Rosenthal, Manuel: La souris d’Angleterre Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre (song) Satie: La statue de bronze Schubert: Die Männer sind méchant, D866 No. 3 Wolf, H: Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten (No. 46 from Italienisches Liederbuch) Mein Liebster ist so klein (No. 15 from Italienisches Liederbuch) Nein, junger Herr, so treibt man’s nicht, fürwahr (No. 12 from Italienisches Liederbuch) All presented by Julia Kogan (coloratura soprano), with Tyson Deaton (piano) This is an exciting, varied program of fun and colourful songs ranging from baroque composer Henry Purcell to the preset day American composer William Bolcom. Featuring the award-winning soprano Julia Kogan, In Jest is a great example of the art of the coloratura soprano. Kogan shows off her virtuosic flare in a myriad of unforgettable songs. Here are some highlights from this collection:

Royal Opera House

December 6

Why Manon Lescaut launched Puccini into operatic stardom

Giacomo Puccini in 1907 By Studio Bertieri Until the premiere of Manon Lescaut , Puccini ’s career progress was erratic. His first opera, Le villi in 1884, was well received, but his second, Edgar , had a disastrous premiere in 1889. A successful third opera was essential if the composer was to keep his publishing contract. He triumphantly achieved it in 1893 with Manon Lescaut, which led him to be hailed as ‘an Italian genius’ and ‘one of the strongest, if not the strongest of the young Italian composers’. How did he pull it off? One major factor was Puccini’s enthusiasm for his subject. Puccini’s librettist Ferdinando Fontana came up with the relatively obscure scenarios for Le villi, based on the same European legend as the ballet Giselle , and Edgar, based on a dramatic poem by Alfred de Musset . Puccini’s muted reaction to both contrasts sharply with his excitement about an opera based on Prévost ’s popular novel L’Histoire du Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut . Even when his publisher Giulio Ricordi attempted to dissuade him on the grounds that Massenet ’s successful Manon (1884) was on the same subject, Puccini stood firm, declaring that while Massenet’s score was ‘all powder and minuets’ he would tell Manon’s story ‘like an Italian, with desperate passion’. As became evident later in his career, Puccini always found competing with another composer inspirational. Puccini’s operas are known for their vivid sense of place , but he seems to have got little inspiration from the medieval Germany of Le villi or the 14th-century Flanders of Edgar, and both operas have been criticized for generic rustic choral scenes and derivative writing (particularly Edgar, influenced by Bizet ’s Carmen ). By contrast, Manon Lescaut’s various settings inspired Puccini to wonderfully atmospheric writing, with particular highlights including Act I’s bustling crowd scenes, Act II’s neoclassical Parisian divertissements and the bleak opening of Act IV, where muted and tremolando strings, brass and harp evoke a barren wasteland. Puccini played a major role in shaping Manon Lescaut’s libretto , displaying the obsessive perfectionism that was to make his future operas so effective as music dramas. He had more or less let Fontana get on with the librettos of Le villi and Edgar unassisted – which he believed had contributed to Edgar’s failure. For Manon Lescaut, Puccini not only refused to work with Fontana but also gave constant advice to his team of librettists, dismissing one after the other as their work left him unsatisfied. Only when Ricordi paired him up with the experienced Luigi Illica was Puccini happy – and rightly so, as Illica invented Act III’s memorable embarkation scene. Musically, Manon Lescaut is more sophisticated than Puccini’s previous operas. Puccini heard Parsifal and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the 1888 Bayreuth Festival , got to know Tristan und Isolde around the same time, and in 1889 advised on cuts for Die Meistersinger’s premiere at La Scala, Milan . All this made its mark on Manon Lescaut. Manon and Des Grieux’s love music is infused with Tristan-like chromatic harmony and soaring melodies, and opera scholar Julian Budden has noted similarities between the solo string passage opening Manon Lescaut’s intermezzo and the start of Die Meistersinger’s Act III prelude. Puccini also makes inventive use of recurring motifs, the most memorable of which is a ‘Manon’ motif, which eventually fragments and dissolves in Act IV as Manon dies. But Manon Lescaut is no Wagner imitation: Puccini also maintained a distinctively Italian lyricism in the opera’s many melodies, particularly in arias such as Des Grieux’s ‘Donna non vidi mai’ and Manon’s ‘In quelle trine morbide’. Puccini employed the skills he’d developed in Manon Lescaut at an even higher level in his next work, La bohème . The libretto, written by Illica and playwright Giuseppe Giacosa , is more finely crafted: while in Manon Lescaut only the lovers are fully realized, in La bohème Puccini creates six interesting, believable and sympathetic principal characters. Musically the score is even more sophisticated, blending lyricism with elements of realism, including parlando and speech, and using motifs in a still more interesting way . In itself a magnificent achievement, Manon Lescaut was also the harbinger of Puccini’s even greater operas to come. Manon Lescaut runs until 12 December 2016. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with Shanghai Grand Theatre and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Cover Awards.




Classical iconoclast

October 5

Antony and Cleopatra, Schmitt : Oramo BBCSO

Florent Schmitt's Antony and Cleopatra (Suites no 1 and 2, Op 69, 1920)  with Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with movements re-ordered and interspersed with excerpts from Shakespeare, adapted by Bill Barclay of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, at the Barbican Hall, London. Lurid colours lit the stage, saturated washes of red and gold. Aquamarine lights shone on the platform floor, spotlights glowed on the sheets the musicians were playing from. The music was equally lurid, beginning with a wildly exuberant fanfare  Not a military display so much as statecraft as theatre. Perhaps Cleopatra, like many rulers since, knew you can dazzle others even if you don't have much in the way of firepower.  So spoke Enobarbus, describing Cleopatra to his fellow Romans :  "The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,  Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold " No wonder Ida Rubinstein - another  extravagant diva - wanted to portray her and asked André Gide to create a spectacular showcase. Stravinsky was asked to provide the incidental music since he, Diaghilev and Rubinstein has worked together since the early days of the Ballets Russe, For various reasons he demurred.  Florent Schmitt's Antony and Cleopatra quotes so explicitly from The Rite of Spring that one wonders what Stravinsky might have thought, particularly as the angular "primitivism" of the Rite is overlaid with elaborate decorative ornamentation.  Barely seven years before, the Rite of Spring had scandalized Paris, causing a near riot. In Schmitt's Antony and Cleopatra, the fierce chords depict the Battle of Actium so graphically that you can almost visualize ships battling on the open ocean.  Swashbuckling stuff!  Consider Erich Korngold's infinitely more original Die  tote Stadt which also premiered in 1920, with great success, pretty much inventing a new musical genre.   In the 1920's movies were silent, but spectacular. Consider Jacques Feyder's L'Atlantide (1921) where the Queen of Atlantis lives in North Africa. But what we now call film music had its roots in popular music for the stage. Orientalism in France has a long pedigree, dating back to Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt , bearing fruit in an enduring fascination with different exotic locales, which manifested itself in painting, literature and music.  Berlioz La mort de Cléopatre, and Les Troyens, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, Délibes Lakmé. Massenet Le roi de Lahore, and the songs of Maurce Delage and Jaubert.  Ida Rubinstein's Cleopatra was part of a huge surge of public interest in things Egyptian which influenced fashion, decorative arts and popular culture, which still prevails today. The French Shakespeare tradition goes back to Charles Kemble, and carried no cultural baggage. Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, for example, is very much an original work, not a setting of the play Thus Rubinstein's Cleopatra, via Gide, is part of a much wider cultural theme. This Antony and Cleopatra was part of a year-long celebration of Shakespeare all over Britain. Hence the high-profile production, with the BBC SO, the flagship of the BBC stable of orchestras.  Schmitt probably doesn't get luxury performances like this too often. Sakari Oramo conducted with panache, he and his orchestra clearly enjoying the big brass effects and theatricality. At one point, the actors "spoke" to Oramo, who is noted for his good-natured geniality. He beamed and acknowledged them without missing a beat.  "Purple the sails, and so perfumèd that The winds were lovesick with them. The oars were silver, Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made The water which they beat to follow faster, As amorous of their strokes" The actors were Janie Dee (Cleopatra), Simon Paisley Day (Antony), Brendan O'Hea , Cassie Layton and Tom Kanji. The Director was Iqbal Khan.  Shakepeare's Globe isn't Stratford but earthier.  there's not much you can do about staging at the Barbican,  but then Shakespeare's own productions seem to have been closer to Greek ideas than to Hollywood.  The concert was recorded for broadcast at a later date, but I'm glad I saw it live.



Tribuna musical

September 15

Sixth Ars Ballet Gala brought stunning Momix dancers

By now the annual Ars Ballet Galas at the Coliseo are as much a fixture as the rival Gala of the Colón, which will be seen eight days later. Ars is a society formed by Martín Boschet, Liana Vinacur and Diego Radivoy. From the start they have striven to give a balance between the traditional ballets and the contemporary dances, and have invited for the first time many artists of value coming from widely spread companies and aesthetics. And they have always included some Argentine dancers either living here or abroad. Each Gala has left some outstanding memories. This year two Momix dancers and a free-lance artist with the pseudonym of Lil Buck were the most stimulating, plus the inventive multimedia choreographies of David Middendorp. Decades ago our city received visits of a fascinating group called Pilobolus. Its founder and choreographer was Moses Pendleton, and he concocted exhilarating shows of great speed and precision as well as healthy humor. In 1980 he created Momix, a company of illusionist dance (it is thus defined in the hand programme), and it is still going strong. Apparently Momix holds a special attraction for its dancers, as they tend to stay for many years. Such is the case of the two that came here: Steven Ezra Marshall entered the company at 18 in 2003; and Rebecca Joy Rasmussen is there since 2006. Both are exceptional artists, as they revealed in duets from"Tuu" and "Dream Catcher". Pendleton works with other choreographers: Tin Acito and Solveig Olsen in the first, Craig Berman and Brian Sanders in the second. Pop music accompanies both. In "Tuu" both bodies are in close contact for several minutes and assume different shapes giving the illusion of abstract forms; the millimetric coordination and physical condition were astonishing. In "Dream Catcher" they mimetize with a geometrically complex sculpture (by Alan Boeding); they constantly interact with it with perilous climbs, at the end throwing it from one end of the stage to another with uncanny exactitude. Beautiful and intriguing. Lil Buck is really Charles Riley, a 28-year-old Chicagoan who has created a sui generis sort of street dancing. He doesn´t belong to any group. He has an incredible muscular control and his whole body seems to ripple. And he uses big white sneakers with which he performs prodigies of feet elasticity. Naturally he is his own choreographer (no one else does what he does). I don´t know what "Brostjour" means but that´s the name of his solo in the First Part, with completely monotonous cello music by Olafur Arnalds. In the Second Part we saw a strange hybrid: the famous Saint-Saëns "Death of the Swan" where one sees the (uncredited) Fokin choreography (with some changes) by Carolina Basualdo (from Bahía Blanca´s Ballet del Sur) interspersed with Lil Buck´s own version; the final thirty seconds are danced by both, each with a different choreography. I felt it was more a curiosity than a viable alternative, but it isn´t a parody, like last year´s Trockadero spoof. Good dancing by Basualdo, and in the only live performance of the evening, fine playing by cellist Lucas Caballero, accompanied by pianist Joaquín Panisse. And now, the Middendorp choreographies, both danced well by Violet Broersma and Antonino Milazzo: on unattractive pop music, the intense duets "Blue Journey" and "Flyland 2" got an extra dimension with admirable multimedia projections combining aerial dancing with imaginative elements from nature or geometrical forms , giving dynamism to the images. Lucio Vidal is an Argentine dancer who worked with Nacho Duato in Madrid, and now the choreographer has invited him to be a member of Duato´s new post, the Staatsballett Berlin. Vidal´s personality has no affinity with traditional ballet, as he showed in Duato´s "Herrumbre" ("Rust"), a tense duet with Japanese dancer Kayoko Everhart (from the Compañía Nacional de España, run by Duato during a long period, 1990 to 2010). Although I disliked the music (Pedro Alcalde, Sergio Caballero and David Darling), the piece has impact and the dancers responded with solid command and contemporary awareness (though the presumed connexion with the Atocha massacre escaped me). Vidal is his own choreographer on a solo, "Alien", on grating music by Mikey Woodbridge, with video projections. Unremittingly harsh, the dancer is strongly expressive and reflects the current disconcerted Europe. Two Colón artists, Gabriela Alberti, danced (in inverted order of what the hand programme said; no one announced it) the adagio Pas de Deux from Tchaikovsky´s "Swan Lake" (the Prince merely assists the Swan, interpreted with excellent technique) and a curious tango by Piazzolla, "Quicho", where the star is the bass (homage to Quicho Díaz); the artists did well in the adequate Julio López choreography. The "Carmen" Pas de Deux (Bizet arranged by Shchedrin) comes from the famous Alberto Alonso choreography in which Plisetskaya shone; based on the Flower Aria, it isn´t the best fragment and was routinely danced by Adiarys Almeida (from the Cuban Alicia Alonso technique) and Joseph Gatti (from the Orlando Ballet). Finally, two hoary and celebrated Petipa items: the lovely Second Act Pas de Deux from Adam´s "Giselle", poetically danced by Julieta Paul (of the Teatro Argentino) and Matthew Golding, a tall Canadian of the Royal Ballet. And the spectacular Trio from "The Corsair" (music by Adam and Drigo), where Almeida and Gatti were very good and Golding a bit less. A Gala with plenty of renovation. For Buenos Aires Herald

My Classical Notes

August 30

Grafenegg Music Festival – Austria

If you love music, this new DVD is for you: Grafenegg is celebrating its 10th birthday. Past, present and future come together in the Midsummer Night’s Gala jubilee. Having won over the audience at the very first Gala with his deeply resonant voice, Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is joined this year by the young Russian coloratura soprano Olga Peretyatko. Selections played are as follows: Bizet: Vasco da Gama: Ouvre ton coeur, with Olga Peretyatko (soprano) Donizetti: OAh! tardai troppo…O luce di quest’anima (from Linda di Chamounix) Quanto amore (from L’elisir d’amore), with Olga Peretyatko (soprano), Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone) Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D major, Op. 39 No. 1 Gounod: Mireille: Overture Ö légère hirondelle (from Mireille), with Olga Peretyatko (soprano) Le veau d’or est toujours debout (from Faust), with Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone) Lehár: Lippen schweigen (from Die Lustige Witwe Leigh, M: Man of La Mancha: The Impossible Dream Offenbach: La Vie Parisienne: Overture Verdi: Vanne, la tua meta gia vedo…Credo in un Dio crudel (from Otello) Weber: Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65 Konzertstück in F minor, Op. 79 for piano & orchestra, with Rudolf Buchbinder (piano) All supported by the Tonkunstler-Orchester, Yutaka Sado conducting Pianist and Artistic Director of Grafenegg, Rudolf Buchbinder, joins the celebrations at the piano. As is tradition, this atmospheric evening concludes with a fireworks display accompanied by Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” March. Here is the performance from Junee, 2016:

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