Those who really know what's behind what actually happened here have so far remained strangely silent about it publicly and the press can offer only guess and conjecture concerning it, well-informed or otherwise. Our guess — and it's only a guess — is that it has something to do with Katharina's latest attempt to establish herself as a bona fide, contemporary-minded opera Regie with her new production of Tristan und Isolde which is to premiere at this year's (2015) Bayreuther Festspiele and which production, we're also guessing, is such an outrageously grotesque example of Konzept (Eurotrash) Regietheater (after all, she has to compete with the current outrageously grotesque Castorf Ring which is being presented again at this year's Festspiele) that half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, who has at least half a rational brain when it comes to such matters, felt she needed to make her objections known, if only within the confines of the Festspiele itself.
As we've said, only a guess.
Prompted by our rereading of Kafka's The Trial (we'd just added it to our Kindle after realizing it was missing from our Kindle library) we downloaded from Amazon Instant Video the 1963 Orson Welles film adaptation of the novel (about which more at a later time on our potpourri blog This & That) and were immediately struck by what might be called the film's theme music: a hauntingly tragic, meltingly beautiful piece of music we recognized instantly but could not, for the life of us, identify; either the piece or its composer although both are well known to us.
A Senior Moment, of course (being old really sucks but preferable to the only other alternative, we suppose). However, we knew the identification of both piece and composer would, as per usual, be given in the film's closing credits (as we typically do, we had let the opening credits roll by without giving them notice) but had to run those closing credits twice before spying the composer's name (but, amazingly, not the name of the piece which is not given anywhere) listed on a lowercase line headed "music:" and after the name of another composer both names listed not on their own "card" as might be expected but included in a list of other same-size credits: Tomaso Albinoni (1671–1751), on spying which name we knew instantly that the piece was none other than his justly famous G-minor Adagio For Strings And Organ. Since hearing that music anew it's refused to let us be and now plays nonstop on what we laughingly call our "sound system" and in our head as well.
Such "earworms", as they're called, are hardly unusual but there's something especially unsettling about this one; especially unsettling because, for starters, we can't quite puzzle out whether it's the hauntingly tragic, meltingly beautiful music itself that's responsible or its Welles-imposed association with and insinuation into Kafka's hauntingly strange, quietly but persistently and relentlessly nightmarish, unbeautiful tragic tale.
We're determined to work this through.
We just viewed our DVRed copy of Friday's new PBS Great Performances telecast of the inaugural concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra with its new music director the Latvian Andris Nelsons on the podium which concert took place last September in Boston's superb Symphony Hall and a gala event it was with star soloists the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais (who is also Maestro Nelsons's wife) and the superlative German tenor Jonas Kaufmann.
The first half of the program was devoted to works by Wagner and opened with the Tannhäuser Overture (Dresden version).
"The whole duty of a conductor," wrote Wagner, "is comprised in his ability always to indicate the right TEMPO [Wagner's emphasis]. His choice of tempi will show whether he understands the piece or not."
Absolutely true (and Wagner would know better than anyone as in addition to being an opera composer of transcendent genius he was also recognized and acknowledged in his time as a first-rate conductor and not merely of his own music) and by that standard Maestro Nelsons evidenced no understanding of the Tannhäuser Overture whatsoever.
Where did he go wrong? We can do no better by way of explanation than to quote our own good self from a 2004 S&F piece titled "A Question Of Rhetoric":
In the [Tannhäuser] overture's opening episode, the chorale (called the "Pilgrim's Chorus") represents merely the weary progress of Christian pilgrims, first toward, then away from an imagined physical point; i.e., a pretty much matter-of-fact affair. In the closing episode of the overture when the chorale reappears with a ff return to triple measure in the trombones rising above, against, and in opposition to the furious, frenetic, and insistent ff rapid runs of duple measure 16ths in the strings (representing the dithyrambic claims of the Venusberg), it's not merely a recap of the chorale of the overture's opening episode but its apotheosis, a declaration of the triumph and redeeming power of self-sacrificing love over the selfish, ensnaring claims of the flesh promoted within the Venusberg.
In all the readings of this overture we've heard to date [now including the present reading by Maestro Nelsons], the chorale's appearance in the overture's opening episode is taken almost as broad, slow, and triumphant (in the trombones) as its reappearance in the overture's closing episode, which is, of course, rhetorically absurd, both musically and dramatically, and, further, serves to blunt that closing episode leaving it nowhere to go dramatically except into the dumper. The Venusberg episodes (the overture's center episodes) are then taken too slow as well, both as a matter of proportion (to the too-slow opening chorale), and also as a misguided attempt at the sensuous rather than the dithyrambic for the Venusberg center as a whole, which is also wrong rhetorically, both musically and dramatically.
So much for Maestro Nelsons's reading of the concert's opening work.
Next came the aria "In fernem Land" from Act III of Lohengrin with Mr. Kaufmann as soloist who here turned in his typically superlative performance both musically and dramatically and by so doing all but forced Maestro Nelsons to get his reading right as well. Closing the concert's first half was the famous (and famously misnamed) "Prelude and Liebestod" stitched together from Wagner's great(est) masterpiece Tristan Und Isolde with, of course, Ms. Opolais as soloist who here acquitted herself competently and most bravely as did Maestro Nelsons.
The concert then undertook an abrupt descent from the sublime to the soapy and we were treated so some Italian opera goodies which delighted the audience no end and with which Maestro Nelsons seemed more at home. We were given, one after another, "Mamma, quel vino è generoso" from Act II of Cavalleria rusticana (Mr. Kaufmann); "Un bel di" from Act II of Madama Butterfly (Ms. Opolais); the "Intermezzo" from Cavalleria rusticana (the BSO); "Tu, tu, amore?" the love duet from Act II of Manon Lescaut (Ms. Opolais and Mr. Kaufmann); and "O soave fanciulla" the Finale from Act 1 of La Bohème (Ms. Opolais and Mr. Kaufmann). As we've only passing familiarity with all these works as with Italian opera generally we can say only that they all sounded just fine to us but, for the aforementioned reason, no great confidence can be placed in our judgment on this matter.
The concert closed in spectacular fashion with Respighi's spectacular orchestral tone poem The Pines of Rome complete with auxiliary brass choirs placed in several strategic locations around the great auditorium's balcony. Most impressive, both the work (which has one of classical music's most stirring closing movements) and the performance itself albeit, again, Maestro Nelsons's tempi were markedly on the draggy side.
All in all, an inaugural concert of which the BSO, Maestro Nelsons, and Boston need not be ashamed although it struck us as more than a little, um, curious that the inaugural concert of a symphony orchestra with its new music director on the podium should be programmed by that music director almost entirely with music of the opera and with opera stars as soloists.
Several years ago we made a New Year resolution that with each passing month since then, or so it seems, we find is becoming more and more difficult to live up to. This week we finally reached our breaking point and posted the following tweet to Twitter:
I challenge @alexrossmusic to defend (or at least explain) promoting this "music" by giving it notice.
The Twitter ID "@alexrossmusic" belongs to Alex Ross, one of the nation's most prominent and respected classical music critics, a best-selling author (The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century), and the classical music critic for The New Yorker, one of the nation's most prominent and respected journals, and the "music" referred to is this; something only a Cagean or Stockhausean fundamentalist gone off the deep end would or could mistake for music. Mr. Ross's responding tweet — deleted by Mr. Ross almost as soon as it was posted and which tweet we didn't think to make a verbatim record of simply because we never imagined it would be necessary — was brazenly and uncharacteristically arrogant and self-important and made no attempt whatsoever to either acknowledge or answer our challenge.
As Mr. Ross is hardly the only classical music critic, print and/or digital, professional or amateur, guilty of promoting cacophonous noise (literally noise) masquerading as music under cover of being "performed" by legitimate musicians and being declared music by one or more classical music critics, one might imagine we're here picking on Mr. Ross for personal reasons but in so imagining one would be wrong. We singled out this particular instance because it's so off-the-chart egregious and because Alex Ross is Alex Ross who in his intensified zeal to promote new music (a perfectly honorable, necessary, and, especially for one in Mr. Ross's position, obligatory enterprise) since the publication of his above noted bestselling book has here done all classical music a grievous disservice. No matter how illustrious one's professional stature, one cannot hope to convince or persuade a potential audience for classical music, whether classical music of the new or canonical sort, by treating that potential audience as if it were made up of tone-deaf idiots who can be persuaded that actual noise is actually music simply on the say-so, explicit or implied, of an acknowledged expert.
It's time, long past time, that classical music critics of all statures within the profession embarked upon a searching, brutally frank, no-holds-barred reassessment of their professional selves and the effect of their work upon classical music audiences both existing and potential.
[NOTE: This entry has been updated (1) as of 2:01 AM Eastern on 21 May. See below.]
The always worthwhile reading philosopher of aesthetics Roger Scruton has some apposite observations published on the Future Symphony Institute website regarding so-called Konzept opera Regietheater. His essay brought some interesting attached comments as well among which is one by Yours Truly (a reply to another comment).
Worth your time reading, we think.
Update (2:01 AM Eastern on 21 May): We suppose we should include here the full text of our above noted comment reply just to make a record of it here on S&F. Text follows.
IAN wrote: "How dare something like politics, imperialism, contemporary audiences or that Butterfly is a child interfere with all the twirling parasols and cherry blossoms out the wazoo! And a great big cheery hello to that evergreen bete-noire of people who’d rather spend the day with a recording and posting outrage on Opera-L than darken the lobby of an actual opera house, the Bieito Ballo."
And speaking of politics, imperialism, contemporary audiences and bêtes noires...
The first thing one must understand about so-called Konzept opera stagings such as the Bieito _Ballo_ horror noted above (or pretty much any Bieito Konzept opera staging) is that they're NOT undertaken to make an opera "relevant to modern audiences" although that's the most common defense/justification in behalf of such stagings as IAN's above remarks demonstrate. The very idea is preposterous. Konzept opera stagings are almost always undertaken for a dual purpose: to energize the jaded operagoer and to give the Regie the opportunity to establish himself (or herself as the case may be) as a unique and separate creative entity (i.e., separate from the opera's original creator) never mind that it always involves the hijacking of the work of the opera's original creator. And there's also a more practical reason for undertaking a Konzept opera staging: it's a piece of cake, creatively speaking, as opposed to coming up with a new and resonant Werktreue opera staging fully faithful in sense and spirit to the opera creator's original intent as made manifest in the opera's score (music, text, and stage directions). Any hack can do the former. It takes a Regie of genuine and uncommon creative gift to accomplish the latter. Unhappily, as Regies go, the former are legion, the latter almost as rare as unicorns.
Apparently determined to mount for the Bayreuther Festspiele an outrageous catastrophe even more egregious than the outrageously catastrophic 2013 Castorf Ring, Katharina Wagner signed up the famous German painter, sculptor, installation and performance artist Johnathan Meese to create and direct a new 2016 Bayreuther Festspiele production of Wagner's Parsifal (that's right; Meese never before directed any opera). As many of you already know, however, the Festspiele's commercial director Heinz-Dieter Sense put an end to that by cancelling the contract on the grounds that "Substantial financing problems emerged from the very beginning with regard to the planned stage sets and costumes. The available budget would have been substantially overrun and this is not acceptable." (We just love Meese's revealing response to the cancellation: "Meese has not failed Wagner but Bayreuth has failed Meese." Bloody self-important schmuck.)
Well, we suppose those of us who care about such things can breath a sigh of relief that Katharina failed in this her latest attempt to continue with her corrupting betrayal of the Festspiele's founding principle (i.e., to present model Werktreue performances of the operas and music-dramas of Richard Wagner) but our relief should be tempered by the sure knowledge that this failure will not dissuade her from making future such attempts. The only way the Festspiele can assure an end to the destructive path willfully adopted by Katharina is for the Festspiele's board to oust her permanently from her position as the Festspiele's Director and replace her with someone fiercely true to the Festspiele's founding principle and very raison d'être (as we've noted previously, since Katharina assumed the Festspiele directorship along with her now retired half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier not so much as a single Wagner opera or music-drama has made its way to the Festspiele stage). One would have thought the Castorf catastrophe would have given the board all the ammunition it needed to accomplish that end. Clearly not. It seems the only thing that will work is a catastrophe of Götterdämmerung-like proportions after which there would be no Festspiele left to save or resurrect.
And so it goes.
This 1996 New York Times piece by the awesome (literally) music scholar and critic Richard Taruskin (a piece included in his splendid 2009 collection The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays) is perhaps the most devastating, sly, and intellectually satisfying putdown of Roger Norrington's H.I.P. conceits you'll ever have the pleasure of reading.
It had to happen. As surely as the irresistible force had to meet the immovable object, as surely as Frankenstein had to meet the Wolfman [sic], Roger Norrington and his London Classical Players had to confront Richard Wagner, the fountainhead of everything against which Mr. Norrington, and all of Early Music, have been in constant zealous revolt. The resulting CD (EMI Classics 5 55479 2), which contains the Rienzi Overture, the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, the Prelude and "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, the Meistersinger Prelude, the Siegfried Idyll and the Parsifal Prelude, is one of the most fascinating recordings of the year just past, and one of the most important. Which is not necessarily to imply that the performances it preserves are any good.
After reading James R. Oestreich's piece for The New York Times yesterday ("Her Hands Lead, Her Voice Follows"), we decided to take a closer look at Barbara Hannigan, a Canadian soprano whose name was previously unknown to us. Late to the party again as per usual with us in areas outside our narrow regular domains of interest, we now see it's a name with which we should have been familiar. Her technically disciplined, musically and dramatically expressive, full-blooded lyric instrument is a joy to listen to, and her singing being done occasionally from the conductor's podium instead of from a recital stage is no circus act; is in fact more natural-looking than an instrumentalist doing the very same sort of thing (i.e., acting as both soloist and conductor).
Doubt our word? Here she is in a live performance of three Mozart arias with the Göteborgs Symfoniker. Several off-pitch notes notwithstanding, it's a fine performance all round and we herewith declare ourself in love with the multi-gifted Ms. Hannigan (who, in an embarrassment of riches, is also lovely to look at as you can plainly see).
As in the past, we post this summary of a discussion thread from the venerable opera forum (listserve) Opera-L simply for the purpose of making a record of it here on S&F.
We initiated the thread by posting this notice:
The woodenheaded board of Der Richard Wagner Stiftung Bayreuth has renewed Katharina Wagner's contract as (sole) director of the Bayreuther Festspiele through 2020. What further proof beyond her disastrous first (co-)tenure of the past six years do these idiots need to convince them Katharina's continued directorship of the Festspiele sounds the very death knell for this venerable institution, the world's oldest and most storied music festival?
To which a forum member replied:
"Death knell for this venerable institution"? Just what are you basing that on exactly? People who have actually seen what she has done there seem to continue to go.
To which we replied:
On what am I basing that exactly? Why, on actually having seen what Katharina's done there, of course.
And as to people continuing to go despite the artistic damage Katharina has already managed to inflict on the Festspiele, people will continue to go to the Festspiele in future no matter how grotesque the productions and less than first-rate the music-making if for no reason other than to experience the amazing Festspielhaus itself, to get a dose of real or imagined nostalgia, and as a kind of pilgrimage of sorts. Artistically, the Festspiele is already beginning to be considered of little cultural importance as well as being something of an embarrassment for Wagnerians, except, of course, inside Germany where other powerful, largely nationalistic forces come into play.
Things then began to get quite ugly.
MSM opera critic and Eurotrash champion and cheerleader James Jorden, posting under the screen name "La Cieca", responded with the following one-liner:
You haven't been to Bayreuth, you loudmouthed fraud.
To which we replied, exercising as much restraint as we could muster:
I never said I'd been to Bayreuth to see what Katharina had done there during her tenure vis-à-vis Festspiele productions (what an idea!), you Eurotrash-besotted, petty little shit. No need to go to Bayreuth for that purpose these days. The full-length presentation of several Bayreuth productions during Katharina's tenure were made available for all to see via YouTube and some also streamed direct by Bayreuth itself. Along with piecemeal video glimpses of several other Katharina-tenure Bayreuth productions, that was more than sufficient for one to make an informed, considered judgment. Needless to say, ALL the productions during Katharina's tenure — every last one of them — have been irredeemable, utterly unmitigated Eurotrash. Since Katharina assumed the Festspiele directorship (along with her Festspiele co-director half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier who has now stepped down) not so much as a single Wagner opera or music-drama has made its way to the Festspiele stage. No surprise there. Katharina is and has been a steadfast and devoted Eurotrash champion of longstanding (it was she, for instance, who was responsible for the über-grotesque "disintegrating bunny" _Parsifal_ of Christoph Schlingensief mounted at the Festspiele during her father's (Wolfgang's) tenure).
Do you have anything of value to add to this thread, little man? If so, let's hear it.
Apparently nothing of value to add as nothing further was heard from Mr. Jorden in this thread.
An extensive thread of posts concerning the cancellation of the Met's HD Live showings of the Met's production of John Adams's opera The Death of Klinghoffer developed on the venerable opera listserve Opera-L recently in which thread we offered our thinking not on that opera in particular but generally on operas grounded in real, historical events still alive in living memory. We reprint below what we wrote there simply to make it part of the S&F record.
I've never seen _Klinghoffer_ and was looking forward to the HD telecast of the opera just to discover what all the fuss was about. That now looks like an event unlikely to take place. There is, however, something I can say about such operas generally (i.e., operas grounded in real, historical events still alive in living memory which would include Adams's _Nixon_ and _Dr. Atomic_) which is that as intended works of art they're a really bad idea from the get-go. The reason for that is that it's all but impossible for a viewer to, at least subconsciously, NOT overlay and/or graft his thinking, biases, and prejudices concerning what was true or perceived as true about the historical case and its surrounding context onto the operas even though the operas themselves may not even so much as have touched on any particular point(s) in question. Once that happens, the work instantly degenerates into propaganda (agitprop) and so becomes, poetically and aesthetically, of little value or worth in its totality as an artwork. Such was true of _Nixon_ and _Dr. Atomic_ (the latter of which two operas has some sumptuous and genuinely beautiful music) both of which operas I did see.
Opera creators would do well to stay away — far away — from involving themselves in the creation of such operas — unless, of course, it's their intention to create such Brechtian-poisoned crap.
Here's another brilliant bit of opera commentary from the pen of the almost always on-target Heather Mac Donald. This about the jaded, perverted way of seeing Dvorák’s fairytale opera through the eyes of today's Brechtian-poisoned, postmodern "smart set" generally, and about the equally jaded and perverted critical response by two of New York's most Eurotrash-besotted mainstream media opera critics, James Jorden and Zachary Woolfe, to the Met's revival this past winter of the 1993 fairytale-magical and fairytale-lovely quasi-naturalistic production of the same work by director Otto Schenk and designer Günther Schneider-Siemssen.
We make no further comment preferring to let Ms. Mac Donald's piece speak for itself entirely as it says all that's pertinent.
[NOTE: This entry has been updated (2) as of 3:29 PM Eastern on 23 May. See below.]
Although there was relatively little comment on the matter to be found in the now largely moribund classical music blogosphere, the classical music niche of social media was afire with comment on the brutally frank criticism by five eminent Brit opera critics — the Financial Times's Andrew Clark ("a chubby bundle of puppy-fat"), the Independent's Michael Church ("a dumpy girl"), the Guardian's Andrew Clements ("stocky Octavian"), The Times's Richard Morrison ("unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing"), and The Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen ("dumpy") — of a badly physically miscast young singer (Tara Erraught) who plays the role of Octavian in the current Glyndebourne production of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier which young singer according to these same five opera critics both sang and acted the role admirably, even superlatively, well.
And so what was the social media firestorm all about? Believe it or not, the impropriety and bad taste of these opera critics' daring to comment on the opera singer's physical appearance(!), if one can believe such imbecile complaint coming from an otherwise presumably intelligent and informed opera-going public as well as from a few opera professionals. In an open letter for publication on Norman Lebrecht's website Slipped Disc, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote wrote a scathing condemnation of the comments of these eminent opera critics from which open letter we quote the following extract:
We ALL need to talk. Arts administrators, Directors and Conductors, Audience members, Conservatoires, teachers, Families, Friends, Singers and Press and Critics and Opera Companies… EVERYONE. All of you who have known and love Opera...and still do. All of you who know it to be the Art form that is about celebrating the human voice, the human voice at its most Olympian heights of expression. [...] [Opera] is not about lights, it is not about costumes, it’s not about sets, it’s not even about sex or stature… It is ALL about the human voice. [...] All the visual messages that a production and costume brings to an opera does not alter ( even though they can try very hard) the fact that it’s true success in moving and making an audience love the Art form lies in the voice that sails across the pit to the audience and into their ears. ... [Opera] is about and really ONLY about communication through great singing. [...] OPERA is ALL about the voice. Many of those who think they know me and may be surprised by this. But it’s not an opinion, it’s a FACT [all caps for emphasis Ms. Coote's].
This sounds like a rant coming from a TOF (TOF: True Opera Fan — like a teenage movie fan only worse; much worse), not an opera professional.
So, opera is all about the voice, is it? Well, in certain limited cases we suppose that's true, and most particularly true of those operas belonging to the so-called bel canto opera era. They are indeed "all about the voice" by design as, after all, there's precious little else there all the rest being nothing more than platform and pretext for the showcasing of voices and singing. But Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is no such opera. It's a genuine dramma per musica — a genuine music-drama — as are all Wagner's mature works and even several of his earlier operas (Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin) as well as all Mozart's mature works (the so-called Da Ponte operas and even his Singspiel, Die Zauberflöte). None of these stageworks are "all about the voice". They're all about the (music-)drama the singers and singing being just one part of the performance apparatus which exist solely to serve the central (music-)drama. And since when has it been improper and in bad taste to comment on the physical appropriateness of the (singer-)actors in a fully staged presentation of a (music-)drama? Answer: never. It's all fair game for, and in fact a professional obligation of, the professional opera critic to make such comment and has been since Day One. The problem in this particular case was not a fault of the critics but of the inexperience of Ms. Erraught and the advice of her advisors (not to even speak of the production's director) who should have known better than to allow her to accept the role of Octavian in a fully staged version of this opera even though she is more than up to the role vocally and acting-wise.
Update (4:35 PM Eastern on 22 May): It's astonishing how thoroughly legitimate and appropriate if brutally frank criticism by five Brit (male) opera critics of a simple but egregious bit of physical miscasting has morphed into being considered by some as a "sexist" crime against women (a crime perpetrated by "The Old Guard – those white European males we love to hate...." as one (female) American opera critic characterized these five Brit opera critics). Incredible PC/feminist gibberish.
Here's the honest way to do operatic Konzept Regietheater while saving it harmless from being, ipso facto, unmitigated Eurotrash.
“Life is a bitter, painful fight” – the words, coming from the cavernous bass voice on the platform, reverberate round the tent until [director Graham] Vick interrupts to explain the emphases he wants. The temperature may be chilly but the mood is collaborative, and the atmosphere starts to heat up when another operatic bass starts to declaim simultaneously from an opposing platform. The scene also involves two stagehands, who hold placards emblazoned with the slogans “Homosexuality is a sickness” and “Our simple freedom is the right to carry a gun”. Vick, pointing to the first singer, interrupts again: "Don’t sing to him – sing to the world."
It is doubtful that the 19th-century Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky envisioned such a scenario when he wrote Khovanshchina, his epic tale of social and political conflict – but it encapsulates much of what Vick’s work is about. A long-time Russophile, he wants to draw parallels between the society portrayed by Mussorgsky, riven by political and ethno-religious strife, and the world we live in today. The opera, which Mussorgsky left incomplete, is being sung in English under a new title, Khovanskygate: A National Enquiry.
As if in response to the announced death of Joseph Kerman the notable classical music critic and scholar who in his brilliant and seminal 1956 book on opera (revised, 1988) Opera as Drama (in)famously and deathlessly dubbed Puccini's Tosca "a shabby little shocker", PBS re-aired the Met's Live in HD film of the opera this past Sunday night. It's been years since we last heard or saw this Italian soap opera and found ourself seized by a perverse desire to watch the telecast.
Notwithstanding the first-rate vocal excellence of the three principal singers (Patricia Racette as Floria Tosca, Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi, and George Gagnidze as Scarpia), and despite the bland staging by Luc Bondy with its K-Mart furniture fittings, we confess we found the opera no more "a shabby little shocker" than a number of other Italian soap operas even as we deplored its totally unnecessary, filler-padded third act which padding was necessary to justify its setting off as an entire act rather than as the terminal scene of Act II and the entire opera which is what it should have been. Though Kerman was thoroughly contemptuous of Puccini as a composer of dramma per musica (a contempt we confess we share) we cannot help but feel he was being somewhat arbitrary in his designation of Tosca as a singular example of "a shabby little shocker" in the domain of Italian opera, for truth be told, it's no worse than other and better than most of its Italian opera brethren in that respect. We realize that's not much of an exoneration but, in all fairness, it's something we think ought to be noted.
Musicologist, author, critic, essayist, and emeritus professor of musicology at University of California, Berkeley Joseph Kerman is dead at 89 after a long illness reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Among his many notable papers and publications on music his slender but brilliant and seminal 1956 volume (revised, 1988) Opera as Drama, his first book which book (in)famously and deathlessly dubbed Puccini's Tosca "a shabby little shocker" and which book we first became acquainted with only in the early 2000s, reshaped the thinking of scholars, students, and serious fans of the artform everywhere concerning the structure and nature of opera and served us in particular for what turned out to be the book's incidental validation of our own less well formed and less than popular thoughts on the matter. Professor Kerman's critical voice will be sorely missed and we mourn his passing.
The Chronicle obituary can be read here.
Atque in perpetuum, Joseph, ave atque vale.
Her co-directorship contract set to expire in September 2015 along with that of her half-sister and co-director Katharina Wagner, the 68-year-old Eva Wagner-Pasquier has asked the board of the Bayreuther Festspiele, the world's oldest music festival established in 1876 by Richard Wagner himself, to not extend her contract as co-director of the festival but merely to involve her in future as "an advisor" to the festival, whatever that's supposed to mean. That would, of course, leave the 36-year-old, Eurotrash besotted Katharina in sole directorship of the festival, a position she would never willingly abandon or give up.
It seems to us this is the perfect time and opportunity for the board to relieve the perverse Katharina of her duties and install an entirely new directorship for the festival; one dedicated to the restoration of the festival's founding purpose, a restoration to go along with the present ongoing restoration of the physical Festspielhaus itself: viz., to present model productions and performances of the operas and music-dramas of Richard Wagner as Wagner himself ideally envisioned them in his mind's eye and ear during their creation but incorporating, mutatis mutandis, resonate contemporary imagery and today's very latest and most advanced stage technology.
Toward that end, the board should, in writing, set down two inviolable staging principles that must be met by any stage director/designer who desires a commission for the Festspiele stage:
1: No so-called Konzept stagings by the stage director/designer permitted. In each case, the only Konzept permitted is that of Richard Wagner himself as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions).
2: It shall be the stage director/designer's prime responsibility to realize onstage, in the most vivid and compelling manner possible, Wagner's concept and vision of the work to hand as made manifest in the work's score and the stage director/designer's involvement in anything beyond or other than that will be viewed as his operating in territory in which he has no business being much less messing about with.
Simple, straightforward, and to the point but requiring a stage director/designer possessing a prodigious creative gift to carry out effectively and successfully — a most rare commodity indeed but nevertheless no unicorn. Such directors/designers must be sought out as, next after the conductor and performing musicians, they are essential to the future artistic success of the Bayreuther Festspiele.