terça-feira, dezembro 26, 2006
The ‘Ring’ Recycled, the Met Revitalized
LOOKING back over the year, I tried to compile a list of highs and lows in classical music. But call me irresponsible; I simply found too many exciting and meaningful achievements to dwell on the disappointments. So here are some of the most memorable events:
From left, Laura Whalen, Allyson McHardy and Krisztina Szabo in the Canadian Opera Company’s staging of “Das Rheingold.”
1. On paper a Britten evening may not have seemed the most daring way for the English tenor Ian Bostridge to begin his Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall. But that program, in Zankel Hall in March, presented this adventurous artist in Britten’s mercurial song cycle “Winter Words,” on poems by Thomas Hardy, and in the neglected Canticles, five unorthodox works for voices and instruments on texts ranging from Jacobean metaphysical poetry to T. S. Eliot. Mr. Bostridge gave haunting, deeply expressive and keenly intelligent performances.
2. The Shostakovich centennial was celebrated by the Emerson String Quartet at Alice Tully Hall and the Alexander String Quartet at the Baruch Performing Arts Center with competing cycles of the 15 quartets, performed in chronological order. It was a special privilege to hear the dynamic Alexander performances in Baruch College’s intimate 176-seat auditorium. Seldom have these anguished, playful, ironic and masterly works seemed so profoundly personal.
3. Two notable new productions of Wagner’s daunting “Ring des Nibelungen” came in close succession. In July, the Bayreuth Festival in Germany introduced an engrossingly modern staging by the playwright Tankred Dorst, which presented the gods, dwarfs and mortals as souls forgotten by the world who keep trying to relive their stories. The production was dominated by the organic, intense and insightful conducting of Christian Thielemann. Then, in September, the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto offered an imaginative production with each opera staged by a different director, conducted vibrantly by Richard Bradshaw. But the big news there was the company’s splendid new home, an inviting, sleek and intimate house that seats just 2,000.
4. Peter Gelb, the new general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, deserves credit for his overdue, energetic and multifaceted public outreach efforts. And bringing Anthony Minghella’s visually arresting, highly stylized production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” to New York in September was a bold way for Mr. Gelb to inaugurate his tenure.
5. The dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt had a career milestone at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with her first staged performances of the title role in Strauss’s “Salome,” beginning in October. After a long period of adjusting to her slimmed-down postsurgical body, Ms. Voigt looked vibrant and acted with abandon. But what mattered more was that she sounded vocally secure and confident, singing with unforced power, shimmering sound and supple phrasing. Imagine this punishing role actually sung, not shouted.
6. This month at Zankel Hall, the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard brought his staggering technique, searching intellect and fantastical imagination to a program of 24 études that was itself an artistic creation. It was fascinating to hear musical resonances among varied works by Ligeti, Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Bartok and Liszt. As a last-minute surprise, Mr. Aimard also played the premiere of an impetuous, finger-twisting piano piece, “Caténaires,” by Elliott Carter, who was there to take a bow on his 98th birthday.
7. Happily, the year brought new recordings to assuage a loss. In July the incomparable mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died at 52. Two recordings released this year will enhance her legacy while enriching the repertory with recent works by her husband, Peter Lieberson. A highlight of a Lieberson recording on the Bridge label is a live 2004 version of his quizzical and harmonically spiky “Rilke Songs,” with Ms. Hunt Lieberson accompanied by the incisive pianist Peter Serkin. And just this month Nonesuch released a live 2005 recording of Mr. Lieberson’s “Neruda Songs,” settings of five love sonnets by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. This is music of subdued intensity and aching beauty, sublimely performed by Ms. Hunt Lieberson and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Levine.
Sadly, there were other notable deaths as well, including several legendary women of opera: the sopranos Birgit Nilsson, Anna Moffo, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Astrid Varnay, as well as the supremely gifted, if often chaotic, conductor and stage director Sarah Caldwell. Gyorgy Ligeti, a composer who loomed over the last decades of the 20th century, also died. Together, these artists gave us countless highs.