I was hoping to attract some comments to my last post, and thanks to Opera Vivente's John Bowen for commenting. Yes, there are updates and then there are updates. Perhaps more on the subject later. Right now, I'm on my way to opening night at Little Patuxent Opera Institute. There will be two more performances this weekend: Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
The comment thread on Tim Smith's latest post about rarely performed music, this time on music by Latin American composers, mentions some operatic repertoire. Ginastera's ballets might be better known in the United States, but apparently there's a lot of opera from Central and South America waiting for a chance on North American stages.
Of course, there's also a lot of unsung opera by American composers and composers from many other countries. Check out, if you can, the latest interview on the CD attached to Gramophone's July issue. Christopher Hogwood (wasn't he an early music specialist?) talks about Bohuslav Martinu. Martinu is held to be one of the best of 20th century composers, but how often do we hear any of his music in concert? Then there are his operas: one composer dictionary I have lists up to nine (there might be more).
I sometimes wonder, if opera companies are trying to revitalize the opera stage and get away from the so-called museum-piece look, instead of monkeying with the stories and settings of the core repertoire, why not explore some of this rarely performed stuff? (And without monkeying with it, please.)
My house has been a miniature construction zone this week while contractors install new windows, patio sliders and storm doors. This was not a case of remodelling to fix things that were not broken -- this upgrade was long overdue, and hopefully I'll get better sound and temperature insulation with the new fixtures. Ollie is being boarded at his "resort" during this work, so this makes the house seem even more alien. My antidote has been to dip into a stack of new DVD's in the evening after the workers have left....
"Sideways" was a welcome second viewing, after I saw it in its theater release a few years ago. It was even funnier and more touching than I remembered....I thought I hadn't seen director John Landis' film-noirish "Into the Night" before, but as I watched it, certain scenes were familiar. This DVD has one of the better extra features I've seen that come in DVD packages: a documentary with generous music video of blues singer, B. B. King, whose music graces the soundtrack of "Into the Night"....The newer film in my stack, "Valkyrie", proved still engrossing a second time around....I also pulled out my Jurassic Park set and watched that awful spinosaurus chasing Sam Neill, William H. Macy and friends around the jungle again.
Also waiting to be watched: Woody Allen's "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" -- saw it once long ago and remember some beautiful photography. And a curiosity I picked up in Border's bargain bin last night: "The Darjeeling Limited" -- three American brothers on a journey by train across India. Really not sure what to expect after reading the review on Border's database, but it looks interesting. Oh, one other: "My Cousin Vinny".
Besides Borders, the Suncoast DVD store in the Columbia Mall has a steady stream of items heavily discounted, and you can find some gems among them. I also hit Daedalus Books down on Gerwig Lane near the southern end of Snowden River Parkway. Talking to my friends, it seems Daedalus is not as well known as I thought. If you're a serious collector of books, CD's or DVD's or just need a few coffee table books and don't want to spend a lot of money on them, Daedalus is a great source for heavily discounted items. It closes at 7pm (6pm on Sundays), so we can't consider it a place for late night browsing.
Later today: All the window and door work is done, and they did a fantastic job. Ollie is back home, so he can watch the rest of those movies with me.
I must make mention of critic Michael Steinberg's passing here. His books have been a significant guide to the world of classical music for me. Add to "The Symphony", "The Concerto" and "Choral Masterworks" one other: a 2006 collection of essays with colleague Larry Rothe called "For the Love of Music".
Exploring Roger Ebert's blog and review web site, I found out that "Sita Sings the Blues" was released finally, some time earlier this year. Back in December 2008, Ebert posted on his blog about the movie being finished but held up in a copyright fracas over the soundtrack: "Sita" is a animated retelling of an ancient Indian epic set to the jazz vocals of an American singer named Annette Hanshaw. Ebert made a good case for this seemingly improbable combination, and I was persuaded further by a clip included in his post. Here is Ebert's more recent review, apparently written after the legal snag was resolved and the movie was released.
I'm not aware that "Sita Sings the Blues" was shown in Maryland or the DC area, but if you saw it, please feel welcome to comment.
"Cheri" and the Japanese movie, "Departures", are also on my list of movies that I must see, but I might have to wait until I find them on DVD, too. I know that "Cheri" is in the arthouse cinemas in the city now. Any chance that one of our suburban megaplexes can spare a screen for this one?
There are about 20 companies in the region listed on my page of opera links, counting opera and operetta (and now zarzuela!), chamber and larger companies, conservatory, professional and semi-professional -- and that's for companies active in the regular season, not the summer opera listed at the bottom of the page. Opera Baltimore is still in the planning stages (no news from them lately), and Baltimore Opera Theatre (no web site in my searches) still plans to open its first season at the Hippodrome with Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia". That's also the opera which will open Washington National Opera's season, but I'm looking forward more to Verdi's "Falstaff" and Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos" later in WNO's season.
According to their web site, the new Chamber Opera of Washington continues to plan a Halloween night production of Britten's "The Turn of the Screw", suggested for adults only, which I think would apply to any production of this opera. Apparently, they are still looking for singers to audition. (I'm now wondering if this group is still active and will try a query by e-mail.)
I'm looking forward to projects by Opera Vivente, American Opera Theater and Peabody Opera, but looking around at other web sites, I found some things that could draw me away on road trips in the upcoming season:
-- Pittsburgh Opera will open their season in September and October with Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin", sung in Russian with young Russian soprano Anna Samuil as Tatiana. Dwayne Croft will be Onegin. (A favorite. I still remember Baltimore Opera Company's beautiful production, also sung in Russian, and I saw Gergiev and company in a performance at the Kennedy Center.) Later in Pittsburgh's season is Britten's "The Rape of Lucretia".
-- Opera Company of Philadelphia's season includes Samuel Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra" in a Curtis Opera Theatre (Curtis Institute) production next March. Gluck's "Orphee et Eurydice" in French also entices, and should I go see the Tan Dun work?
That's all for now. I might edit this post as I get more information.
...He believed they were cowards until he saw them fight, scavengers until he saw them kill; and after the first time they cornered him in the Jeep, he began to take more notice of the local stories: their big-eyed curiosity, their unnerving persistence, the relative ease with which they let themselves into gated villages."
--from "The Laugh" by Tea Obreht in the Atlantic Monthly's Fiction 2009, which just appeared on magazine stands. Obreht's story is a whopper to follow Tim O'Brien's essay, "Telling Tails", on what makes a story interesting. No problems here. I sat down last night and read "The Laugh" straight through.
(The Atlantic has been publishing a special fiction issue every summer since it stopped including a short story feature in its regular magazine. It's full of stories, poetry and essays by established and new writers. This is very good reading for only about six dollars.)
After hearing and almost being persuaded by a very negative view of Artscape from a businessman headquartered in Baltimore's Mount Vernon neighborhood, I'm very pleased to find this brighter summation by American Opera Theater's Tim Nelson. Nelson was experiencing Artscape for the first time.
I think Artscape is one of those happenings from which you take what you want. There is so much going on, and you can either strike out and experience new things or stick to what you know you enjoy.
A couple of albums I've had for a while and some new acquisitions which I'm exploring:
~ Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela on their "Fiesta" album (DG, 2008). The "Fuga con Pajarillo" by Aldemaro Romero rocked my car on the Interstate a few times during my recent vacation.
~ Guitarist Philip Hii in "New Transcriptions for Guitar" of J. S. Bach (GSP Recordings, 1995). I was so taken by Hii's rendition of Bach's great Toccata and Fugue (on guitar?) in a WBJC 91.5 FM broadcast a couple of years ago, I sought out the album for purchase.
~ Henriette Renie (1875-1956): Trio for harp, violin and cello and works for harp solo played by harpist Xavier de Maistre, violinist Ingolf Turban and cellist Wen-Sinn Yang (Harmonia Mundi's budget series, "musique d'abord", 1999/2008). I stumbled on this album in the bins at Borders in Columbia last week. Composer and repertoire are completely new to me.
~ "Canciones Argentinas" by Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Guastavino, Luis Gianneo, Abel Fleury, Carlos Lopez Buchardo.... Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and bass-baritone Marcos Fink accompanied by Carmen Piazzini on piano. Piazzolla and Guastavino I know from orchestral (and bandoneon) works, but this is more new repertoire. Found this single copy while browsing at An die Musik last weekend. (Harmonia Mundi, 2006)
~ Stephen Hough in three piano sonatas by Schubert (Hyperion, 1999)
Deux en Harpe (Harp Duo) performed at An die Musik in Baltimore last night. The two young ladies who form the duo met at the Conservatory of Lausanne in Switzerland and decided to promote the literature for harp duo. Celine Gay de Combes hails from Switzerland, and Lindsay Buffington was born in Baltimore and grew up in Glenwood in western Howard County. While last night's recital certainly included much pretty music, it's obvious that the harp duo literature has much to offer for the listener curious about the lesser known veins of classical music. Only two out of the six pieces on the program and the one encore were transcriptions or arrangements from other sources:
Song in the Night -- Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961)
French Suite in E major, BWV 817 -- J. S. Bach, transcribed by Salzedo
Parvis -- Bernard Andres (b. 1941)
Ma Mere L'Oye (Mother Goose) -- Maurice Ravel, arranged by John B. Escosa
Grand Duo for Two Harps in E flat minor (Allegro con brio; Adagio; Allegro con spirito) -- John Thomas (1826-1913)
Two Dances: Tango; Rumba -- Carlos Salzedo
An encore: Salzedo's transcription of one of Granados' Spanish Dances (No. 5?)
The works by the more recent composers took advantage of the full capabilities of the harp, exploring more of its sonorities than we usually hear, but they were very engaging works without sounding experimental. Much like classical guitarists, Buffington and des Combes even used their sound boards for percussion effects in some parts of the scores. I particularly enjoyed Andres's "Parvis", which I might describe as the harp duo's answer to Honegger's "Pacific 231" (the musical depiction of a steam locomotive). Indeed, "Parvis" became very busy and exciting, reminding me of some film music I've heard.
The conservative sonata-form work, Thomas's Grand Duo, reminded me of some classical guitar works written by 19th century composers. Obviously influenced by the great composers of familiar overtures and symphonies, these works always sound to me like a fresh perspective on that type of music. The Adagio here especially sounded like high romanticism on harps.
Buffington and des Combes seemed to play this extraordinary repertoire effortlessly and looked like they were enjoying themselves. I think they had good rapport with the audience, and it was so nice to have that encore in addition to everything else.
I spent a full day in Baltimore yesterday, not all of it at Artscape. Ollie, my cat, is not impressed, and I must stay at home and give him the lion's share of attention today. Weather this weekend is fabulous, and we're so lucky not to have typical steamy July weather for Artscape. On the down side, some building interiors were not so comfortable and it really felt much nicer outside.
A few notes on Artscape and more as I experienced it:
I always seek out a favorite ceramic artist, Mea Rhee of Good Elephant Pottery, and I bought a captain casserole from her yesterday. I notice that many potters advertise the functionality of their wares, and Rhee seemed disappointed when I suggested that this handsome casserole dish with lid that functions as a bowl would be relegated to a display case. When I thought about it later, the dish could serve as the perfect combination oven and dining ware for a single person trying to cook for himself at home. I just want to make sure I don't break it! From an earlier Artscape, I have a set of Rhee's crab fossil coasters -- these are out on a table and getting used, but they also look splendid, a sea creature motif in an earthy fossil-like setting. (The four square drink coasters can be set out in a larger square to form the complete fossil and a pad for larger containers.)
I enjoyed a short organ recital in Corpus Christi's beautiful Gothic Revival church. Unfortunately, without the a/c working, it was becoming far too stuffy for me to stay for other events. I wish that MICA's Brown Center with its excellent little theater had been used for the operatic-type performances as in past Artscapes.
While downtown, I had a look at the Herman Maril painting exhibit at the Walters Art Museum. Maril is completely new to me but is definitely an artist to take note of, and I'll be back for another visit.
City Cafe has completed its remodelling and looks absolutely fabulous. (Unfortunately, in the process it lost some wall space formerly used for exhibitions of local artists.) The cafe was a nice refuge from the bustle of Artscape, and I had brunch and dinner there yesterday.
I even took in a concert at An die Musik in the evening. I'll enter a separate post about that soon.
One of the guests at the inn where I stayed last week was a soldier on leave from duty in Iraq. He was with his significant other (wife? fiancee?). When his line of work was revealed at the breakfast table, he ended up unintentionally dominating the conversation as we asked questions and he spilled more details. I think we got a slightly different picture from what we're seeing in the news, or perhaps it was a more personal picture that had deeper impact. It certainly was jarring amid all the luxury of the B&B, and he had the whole room's undivided attention. That's all I'm going to say about it here for fear of causing difficulty for someone else, but I shared the soldier's stories with some of my friends.
Little Patuxent Opera Institute at Howard Community College, Columbia. Master classes free to the public on July 16 and 23. Performances of opera excerpts and Puccini's "Suor Angelica" with admission charge on July 31 and August 1 and 2.
James Jorden, a.k.a. La Cieca and writer of Parterre Box (included in my blog roll and most other opera blog rolls), is interviewed by Brian Kellow in the August issue of Opera News.
Peabody Opera has posted a preview of its 2009-10 season. Click on the special link on the Peabody Opera page.
There is a lot of summer opera and operetta in this area, and I'm afraid I make it to very little of it. (As I learned last summer, don't try to go to Wolf Trap Opera without buying a ticket well in advance.) I am planning to go to Artscape coming up this weekend in Baltimore and sample some of the free opera or opera-like events. Later this month is the Little Patuxent Opera Institute almost next door to me at Howard Community College in Columbia. Opera Vivente's John Bowen writes more about Artscape and the LPOI here. In addition to opera excerpts, LPOI will perform Puccini's one-act "Suor Angelica".
I was so excited about the fledgling Opera Baltimore, but from reading on the web I see that Baltimore Opera Theater continues to make plans for performances at the Hippodrome. There is also Baltimore Concert Opera, not a company for fully staged performances but set up to provide a forum for singers after the fall of the Baltimore Opera Company. I don't want to view this like some kind of a race or contest, but I'm hoping that Baltimore can have one larger professional company with fully staged performances and an orchestra in the pit once again.
[July 11: Rather than start a separate post about my stay in Asheville and the 1889 WhiteGate Inn and Cottage, I added more details below.]
I've spent two nights at the WhiteGate Inn, and no sign of Miss B. -- or Mrs. B as I think she is correctly called -- or any other ghosts. Not to worry. If she doesn't show, there's still so much else to do and see here. I even asked about the availability of my room and booked an extra night, something I recall doing the last time I was here, so wonderful are both the WhiteGate and Asheville.
I skipped the Biltmore on this visit and saw the North Carolina Arboretum instead. There is a fantastic bonsai collection there, and ongoing construction hints at more to come in addition to what already exists. The Quilt Garden, for example! Also tried to see Pearson's Falls, a natural garden area featured in a guide to NC gardens I'm using, but it's apparently closed with the access road undergoing improvements; however, it's not clear whether it will open to the public again. Came home via Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway, so the day wasn't ruined.
By the way, does Black Mountain mean anything to any music specialists who might be reading? The artist community is near Asheville, but my brain only connected the dots regarding Black Mountain College since I arrived on this visit.
Later: I added the Botanical Gardens at Asheville to my itinerary. The Gardens, attached to the University of North Carolina at Asheville, emphasize native species that grow in the southern Appalachian Mountains. On my garden tours I carried a notebook to record species of interest, both native and exotic. I also had to take notes during one of my strolls around Ralph Coffey's garden at WhiteGate Inn.
Last breakfast at the WhiteGate before I headed for home on Friday morning, July 10: citrus slices marinated in Grand Marnier and vanilla; oatmeal creme brulee; Ukrainian poppy seed croissant. I also remember the mound of French toast covered in strawberries and strawberry syrup on another morning. The menu for the next day's breakfast is a bigger secret than the ghosts who haunt the house. Brenda and Noland are now the chefs at the WhiteGate. Innkeeper Frank Salvo might not prepare all the dishes as he did previously, but he supervises the kitchen staff. Breakfast always ends with some great conversation with Frank and maybe Ralph and Brenda or Noland, assisted by Frank and Ralph's two corgis. I also liked the way this conversation offered a chance to get staff recommendations and compare notes with other guests about places to visit in the Asheville environs. There was more of this at the early evening wine social, if you were around for it.
~ I'm also on the edge of my seat here waiting to see what Peabody Opera has in store for 2009-10.
~ I did not see Wolf Trap Opera's "Cosi fan tutte" with a clinical-researchers-in-white-coats concept, but it reminds me of a favorite movie I have on DVD: the Australian film, "Cosi", which is about a social worker hired to supervise some of the inmates of a sanitarium in an amateur production. One of the more forceful personalities in the group prods the project towards a colorful performance of Mozart's opera.
Following is excerpted from the "What's New @ Peabody" e-mail newsletter:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A new initiative by the Naxos record label will support scholarships for Peabody Conservatory brass students. Naxos will contribute one dollar for every Peabody Wind Ensemble CD purchased through Naxos Direct. Two recordings by the Peabody Wind Ensemble, led by Harlan D. Parker, are currently on the Wind Band Classics series and a third comes out this month. The new release, titled Trendsetters, includes Hindemith’s Symphony in B-flat, Holst’s First Suite in E-flat; Joseph Schwantner’s ... and the mountains rising nowhere, and Percy Aldridge Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy. Pre-production for all three recordings was done at Peabody. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Link to Naxos Direct online purchasing service. I have enjoyed the Peabody Wind Ensemble's earlier "Collage" album from this series.
Like our totem animal, we at "Felis pushkini" (we being myself and Ollie the Amazing Wonder Cat) are curious about many things, and we will pounce on any opportunity to further our education and entertainment.
I'm anticipating a short vacation in Asheville in the mountains of western North Carolina. Lodgings will be at the WhiteGate Inn B&B, owned and operated by Frank Salvo and Ralph Coffey. I stayed at the WhiteGate on previous visits, though it's been a while. (On more recent visits to Asheville, I tried some larger downtown hotels and will return to the B&B scene this time.) The WhiteGate is reputed to be haunted, and I found out in a roundabout way. On my second or third stay, I had a room where a door that had allowed access to the neighboring room had been blocked up with a panel of wood and painted over. The head of my bed was against the wall beside this blocked doorway. On the first night, I woke up in the middle of the night with the distinct sensation that someone had just come through this doorway and passed along the side of the bed. My back was turned to that side, so I rolled over with the urge to make sure there really wasn't anybody else in the darkened room. Of course, I saw nobody there.
I went back to sleep eventually and spent the next day going around Asheville and maybe Biltmore Estate thinking nothing of the night before. That is, until the WhiteGate's guests gathered for a wine social held in the garden by our innkeepers. In the middle of party conversation, people suddenly started asking about the WhiteGate's ghost. One of the innkeepers -- I think it was Frank -- explained the story of Miss B., who had been an overseer or head nurse during a time in the house's history when it served as a tuberculosis clinic. It is rumored that Miss B. continues to wander the rooms at night to check on her patients. She is supposed to be a benevolent presence, but she still scares guests. There are a couple of amusing stories, if you ever visit, and there is also a second, more tragic, ghost in the basement.
A few things I will admit:
-- It's possible that I had heard about Miss B. on a previous visit and completely forgot about her. (I think it's interesting that I may have had an encounter with a ghost -- whatever a ghost might really be -- without my imagination being stimulated by stories.)
-- It's also possible that falling asleep with the awareness of that blocked doorway nearby could have stimulated dreaming. (Yes, that's what happened.)
-- During my upcoming investigations, I most likely will be heavily distracted by the fantastic gardens and gourmet breakfast at the WhiteGate Inn.
So, I will be staying at the WhiteGate in a few days. Wish me luck. (Ollie will be on his own vacation with some friends.)