Thursday, February 21, 2019

Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio (1805)


People who don't know anything about classical music (I mean, I'm not claiming to know much about it myself, but you know) have this idea that Beethoven is the ne plus ultra in the field. And, even if they don't really know anything about it, that perception exists for a reason. And that reason...is Schroeder from Peanuts. But another, secondary, reason is that he really is that good. I do not, god knows, have enough expertise to make definitive pronouncements, but I have never heard a Beethoven composition where I didn't think, goddamn. I am hearing something. As you are no doubt aware, Fidelio was his only opera.
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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Alexander Borodin, Prince Igor (1890)


Borodin was a chemist by trade (and also also a big agitator for women's rights, coolly enough); he just wrote music on the side as a hobby. He worked on this, his only opera (based on a medieval epic poem), on and off for eighteen years, leaving it unfinished at the time of his death: he'd written a lot of music (though some only in outline), but parts of it had no libretto, and parts weren't there at all. So his friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and his, Rimsky-Korsakov's, student Alexander Glazunov wrote extra music and pounded the whole thing into some semblance of order.
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Stanisław Moniuszko, Halka (1854)


Doggone right I watched this Polish opera. A first for me and possibly a last. These things are NOT readily available video, to my regret. BUT! This one IS available as a region 2 DVD, with English subtitles an' everything (slightly mangled English in places, but plenty good enough). I'll save my rant about the unforgivability of DVD coding for another day, but word to the wise: you can defeat it with VLC Player, which does not give a shit about your so-called regions. Unless you have a DVD-ROM drive where the coding is embedded in the hardware, in which case...you are out of luck.
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier (1911)


It's very impressive, really, how versatile Strauss was. He could write intense tragedies, but also this sophisticated romantic comedy, and then a kind of meta-opera with Ariadne auf Naxos (even if that last one is maybe not a total success). Quite a thing.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, Island of Point Nemo (2014)


This seemed like an incredibly fascinating book, just the sort of thing I'd like. Back-cover blurbs compare it to Murakami and Eco, and, you know, my Murakami fandom may be extremely ambivalent, but still, it's the sort of thing I want to like and, you know, that looks cool. It's about a stolen diamond. Kind of. And it leads into being a picaresque trip across Asia and Australia. The main characters are a drug-enthusiast detective, Canterel; a descendant (apparently) of Sherlock Holmes and his servant Grimod; and Canterel's one-time amour known as Lady MacRae. There are some others too, but that's the main lot. And there are a lot of, you know, enigmas. That could indeed lead one to think of Murakami. Secret codes. Mysterious killers. Lovecraftian...stuff. Also, a number of plotlines that connect tenuously at most with the main one: the Chinese owner of an ebook manufacturing plant who spies on his employees, a couple's persistent efforts to cure the husband's impotence, the owner of a shut-down cigar factor which morphs into a thing about a tradition of workers in cigar factories making the time go by with readings from novels and whatnot while they work. And like that.
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Christoph Willibald Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice (1762)


Man, no sooner do I say that something is the first opera I've seen with an all-female cast than I see another. Although admittedly, this one isn't as "pure" as Suor Angelica in that regard. Orfeo was originally sung by a castrato and is today sometimes sung by a countertenor, but here it was a mezzo-soprano. Also, there men in the chorus. BUT IT STILL COUNTS. Kind of. What to the evs, foax.
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Monday, February 11, 2019

Giacomo Puccini, Il trittico (1918)


So Puccini had a cool idea: how about the musical version of a triptych, three short operas with different takes on a common theme to be performed together?  And that...is this. I saw a version from Covent Garden in 2012.
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Thursday, February 07, 2019

Giacomo Puccini, Manon Lescaut (1893)


So...this was Puccini's first big success, although these days it's lesser-known than his real hits (Tosca, Butterfly, Boheme, Turandot). But it's still Puccini, yeah? You can't complain too much, can you? Well...sort of. But actually you can, and this particular production, from 2014 at Covent Gardens, compounds the issues, such that it's sometimes difficult to tell whether it or the opera itself is at fault.
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