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Serguei Prokofiev

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Tribuna musical

June 15

Bellini´s different bel canto view on Romeo and Juliet

Tribuna musical The story about Romeo and Juliet comes from Medieval times in Italy but until it was taken up by Shakespeare it didn´t have so much repercussion, apart from Verona (where tourists are now led to a fake house of the lovers). Shakespeare´s play had immense success. I was impacted by the wonderful films of Renato Castellani and Franco Zeffirelli and horrified by Luhrmann´s version in contemporary Miami. In music, there are at least four great "R and J": Tchaikovsky´s great tone poem; Prokofiev´s ballet; Gounod´s charming opera; and the 90-minute dramatic symphony by Berlioz, a marvelous score only played here in 1973. I am glad to anticipate an unofficial but very probable revival this year by the National Symphony. Back in 1971 the Colón offered Bellini´s "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", based on the same old Italian "novelle" that had inspired the English playwright but with many points differing strongly from Shakespeare. Of course, his play is vastly better than Felice Romani´s libretto as there are nowhere in it the poetic insights of the play that have become so famous, but some aspects are interesting. Shakespeare tells us of a terrible feud between Capulets and Montagus, but Romani adds an essential ingredient: the former are Ghibellines, the latter Guelfs, thus fully putting the action during the Thirteenth Century. From the Encyclopedia Britannica: "The split between the Guelfs, sympathetic to the papacy, and the Ghibellines, sympathetic to the German (Holy Roman) Emperors contributed to the chronic strife within the Italian cities". Both are derived from German sources: Guelfs from the Welf family, Ghibellines from Waiblingen, a castle of the Hohenstaufen. The main source of both Shakespeare and Romani seems to be Matteo Bandello´s Late Medieval " The unfortunate death of two unhappy lovers", translated later into French and English. However, Romani was also influenced by the 1818 tragedy written by Luigi Scevola (based also on Bandello). And there is a further fact: the libretto was concocted for an earlier opera by Nicola Vaccai and adapted for Bellini. Now some words about the Colón´s 1971 version. There´s a vexed question: the Bellini original casts Romeo as a mezzosoprano, apparently due to a suggestion by Giuditta Grisi (who sang it at the Venice première on March 11, 1830). There are at least four recordings of "Capuleti" and three of them respect the original; but one, with Scotto and Aragall, conducted by Claudio Abbado, transposes the mezzo writing to a tenor. And so did the Colón: Scotto with Renzo Casellato. Aurally the mezzo version has its charms: in my recording the combination of Beverly Sills and Janet Baker is refined and beautiful. But the Romantic tryst feels truer with soprano and tenor. Frankly, it strains credibility that a fifteen-year-old could be the Guelfs´ "condottiere"; his opponent is Giulietta´s father, Capellio. But such is Romani´s libretto; in Shakespeare things are more logical: Romeo, as so many teenagers in those days, plays around with a sword and does impish pranks with his friend Mercutio, in Romani nonexistent. In Bellini´s production one opera dominates: "Norma", of course; a powerful drama blended with pure bel canto. "I Puritani" has beautiful music on a poor libretto. And then come "La Sonnambula", "Il Pirata", "I Capuleti e i Montecchi", "Beatrice di Tenda" and "La Straniera". "Capuleti..." has its merits, although Romani´s libretto is mediocre (he was the most famous in those times, but this time he wrote well below his capacities). One positive fact, however: Tybalt (not Paris as in Shakespeare) is in deep love with Giulietta, and when he and Romeo, who were crossing swords, learn of her "death" (apparent), there is a moving scene where both stop fighting and reveal their despair. Curiously, for Bellini´s main gift was for vocal melody, the preludes to the scenes are distinguished by lovely solos (horn, clarinet, harp, cello). There are some beautiful arias and duets, but there´s too much recitative and the choruses are weak. Although the conductor Jorge Parodi states in an interview there are no cuts in his version, there is a small but crucial one, in which Capellio says that he suspects Lorenzo and will confine him: that explains why Romeo doesn´t know that Giulietta´s death is simulated and drinks the venom that kills him. In the silly ending, she dies of love... To survive this opera needs the right voices and production; that didn´t happen at BAL. Rocío Giordano was disappointing, for her high register was painful to hear; a pity, for she looks the part and in some lower passages she gave expression to her lines. Cecilia Pastawski, slim and agile, made the change of sex plausible and sang with intensity, though her voice is small for this role. Santiago Ballerini, with the ease of his splendid high notes, and ameliorated acting, was a fine Tybalt. Capellio may be detestable, but it was richly sung by bass Walter Schwarz. Sebastián Angulegui gave compassion to his Lorenzo; however, his timbre sounded gritty. Parodi got adequate results from the orchestra (fine solos) and Juan Casasbellas did the best he could with the uninteresting choral parts. But Marcelo Perusso´s staging (producer and stage designer) neglected the necessary Medieval ambience (and Stella Maris Müller followed his orientation with modern costumes) even if he solved well the relationships of the characters (but why those three veiled women in the final scene? Voyeurism again...). For Buenos Aires Herald

Guardian

June 9

Bartosz Woroch: Dancer on a Tightrope CD review – compelling risk-taking

Woroch/Foo (Champs Hill)This 20th-century programme from the UK-based Polish violinist Bartosz Woroch is full of intriguing repertoire. It starts with Grażyna Bacewicz’s 1924 Solo Sonata No 2, a fierce and brilliant piece, powerfully played. At its centre is the title track, a 1993 work by Sofia Gubaidulina in which Bartosz’s violin stretches and pirouettes, yearning for flight; underneath, the piano offers a kind of safety net, its strings at first set eerily vibrating from within the instrument using a glass tumbler, then more conventionally played. Mei Yi Foo supplies this and the insistent, disembodied-sounding keyboard part in John Cage’s eerie Six Melodies. In between there are two more solo sonatas, Hindemith’s Op 31 No 2 and Prokofiev’s Op 115, and Schnittke’s Fuga for Solo Violin. Everything is played with a focused intensity and a sense of risk-taking that make for compulsive listening. Continue reading...






Tribuna musical

May 29

Our three main orchestras are in good shape

In just two weeks our three main orchestras offered free concerts at the Usina del Arte (two) and at the Blue Whale (one). And all three were in pretty good shape. C Let´s start with the Usina and its slow transition with a new team led by Marcelo Panozzo, substituting Gustavo Mozzi who is working at the CCK. He has had important former posts: BAFICI´s Artistic Director (2012-5), editor of Penguin Random House and of La Nación´s ADN magazine, as well as Entertainment editor of Clarín. But nothing that indicates an interest in classical concerts. Of course, in this case the change of guard is within the same political party, which should make it easy, but up to now things are going very slowly and the logistics leave much to be desired. Item: you will look in vain in their Internet site for a telephone or a mail address. As to programming, up to now the Usina is saved by the Colón, which may have many faults but it has a yearly programme and a booklet giving all details. What´s relevant and positive is that the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, apart from its subscription series at the Colón, is giving no less than eleven programmes at the Usina, with completely different programmes than the ones at the Colón (last year they were similar, so the new policy is quite a gain). No less commendable is the fact that the Estable (Resident) Colón Orchestra is taken out of the operatic pit and will offer seven concerts at the Usina. The Usina hand programmes , except for one line that reads "Usina del Arte", are clearly the Colón´s: its authorities are stated there, not the Usina´s, a mere venue. (By the way, they are very poor, with no commentaries on the music played). I had recourse to the Colón to obtain my press tickets for the concert of April 30. Once I arrived at the Usina, I finally got the press contact and the telephone I needed and now things are normal, but it´s an ABC of communication whenever there´s a team change to send a presentation mail to habitual newspaper reviewers. One of the great mistakes of the Usina in preceding years was that it didn´t have a year schedule: you got the information one month at a time, and generally you were informed, say, about June in May´s last week; hardly the right way to run a concert-giving institution. Up to now, things haven´t changed, and the other non-Colón activities haven´t been interesting in the field of classical music. Meanwhile, a useful piece of news: a parking lot has just opened. There should also be a system at the Usina to be able to call for cabs, they are quite absent in that zone . And more security: Caffarena is very dark. But now to the good things. On April 30 Francisco Rettig conducted an attractive combination: Richard Strauss´ "Duetto-Concertino for clarinet, bassoon and orchestra" and the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz. The Duetto, rarely played here (though it has at least nine recordings), is a charming piece written in 1947 when the composer was 83; completely tonal and nostalgic, it has no pretensions: just pleasant but individual writing, a bit too repetitive. It was beautifully played by Carlos Céspedes (clarinet) and Ezequiel Fainguersch (bassoon). As to the "Fantastic", created in 1830 just three years after Beethoven´s death, after dozens of performances I remain amazed: it opened a new world of sound both in the richness of its ideas and the ceaselessly innovative orchestration. The Chilean conductor showed his mettle in a faithful rendition of the score´s many moods, and the Orchestra responded with considerable virtuosity. On May 12 it was the turn of the Phil under Javier Logioia Orbe and with the return of a much loved pianist: Ralph Votapek. By now he must be seventy and he has lost none of his splendid musicality and command; also, he looks 55. Prokofiev´s Third Concerto (his best) is notoriously a great challenge, with its mixture of lyricism and savagery. The pianist gave us impeccably the relentless dynamism of the climactic passages and the delicacy of its dreamy bits. Logioia is a firm and studious conductor, though he has a tendency to force the sound and this was felt both in Prokofiev (he also conducted the short March from "The Love for Three Oranges") and in Elgar´s wonderful "Enigma Variations", certainly well understood and expressed, but at times too clangorous. However, my seat in the very last row and under a roof may have had an acoustic influence on what I heard. Finally, the National Symphony at the Blue Whale gave a splendid concert on April 13. Two valuable works were played with a degree of technical accomplishment and artistic comprehension that speaks highly of the orchestra, their conductor Günter Neuhold (who has come several times to BA in preceding seasons) and the pianist of the orchestra, Marcelo Balat. Ginastera´s Piano Concerto Op.28 (1961) is extremely difficult; its aesthetics are Expressionistic with a touch of Argentine rhythms. Balat played marvelously. Shostakovich wrote a 55-minute masterpiece in his astonishing Tenth Symphony (1953, the year of Stalin´s death). Neuhold showed an admirable grip on the phrasing of chamber passages and the buildup of climaxes, and the Orchestra responded with stunning impact. For Buenos Aires Herald

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