Read my latest reviewof a night at the Kennedy Center that revolved around Benjamin Britten. Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten; Britten’s Violin Concerto, Op. 15; and Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 10: a heavy program but worth the lift.
“The role of art during wartime usually revolves with broad strokes around reminding us of our humanity. Less so, perhaps, do we feel the strain put on the artist by ruling regimes, the subtle moments of defiance and camaraderie that emerge embittered yet hopeful.”
Today I’m thinking of Carlisle Floyd, who died on Thursday. In 2016, I previewed his world premiere of Prince of Players at Houston Grand Opera, and, after opening night, recall feeling very lucky that I’d experienced one of the American living greats at work. He leaves behind a treasured legacy.
Like so many of us, the last time I was at the Kennedy Center to hear live music was in March 2020, and what a first concert back! Lang Lang playing Beethoven’s third piano concerto and a world premiere from Peter Boyer drawn from Henry Kissinger’s life–it was fascinating, inspiring, and undeniably emotional. Read my review at Bachtrack.
I’m teaching Aldous Huxley’s 1923 essay “Water Music” this week and having been thinking of other water music I know and love. Finding a serious through-line is a stretch, but I did laugh when I saw the line-up: Maybe Handel’s Water Music, Aldous Huxley’s Water Music, and John Cage’s Water Walk relate more than I thought? (The latter two perhaps…) At the very least, what an opening line!
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how bizarre Willa Cather’s work is–namely, while I’ve been re-reading her 1915 novel The Song of the Lark. Take this passage, for instance, when Thea attends her very first concert (with Wagner and Dvořák on the program):
“First memories, first mornings long ago; the amazement of a new soul in a new world; a soul new and yet old, that had dreamed something despairing, something glorious, in the dark before it was born; a soul obsessed by what it did not know, under a cloud of a past it could not recall.”
For a narrative defined by chronological development—the protagonist’s rise from country girl to international opera sensation—this temporal fluctuation between past and present strikes me as out of place in a beautifully haunting idiom: a soul both new and old, dreaming something “in the dark before it was born,” yet obsessed with a “past it could not recall.” Rather eerie and uncommonly experimental for an author we generally associate with prairies and plains, no?
I am so excited to announce TWO cfp’s for MLA 2022 from the Forum for Opera and Musical Performance, the second of which is in collaboration with the Forum for Drama and Performance. We’d love to hear from any opera scholars across disciplines.
Many librettos are written in a language other than that of their source text. What interesting results arise from the movement between languages (as well as into a musical register) in operatic production and reception?
American musical theatre and classical Opera both have a complex relationship to questions of race and representation. How does innovation in performance reimagine this history? How might embodied and vulnerable performances effect political intervention?
It’s a creation by David Li: “We developed a machine learning model trained on the voices of four opera singers in order to create an engaging experiment for everyone, regardless of musical skills. Tenor, Christian Joel, bass Frederick Tong, mezzo‑soprano Joanna Gamble and soprano Olivia Doutney recorded 16 hours of singing. In the experiment you don’t hear their voices, but the machine learning model’s understanding of what opera singing sounds like, based on what it learnt from them.”
My thanks to music critic and dear friend Theodore Bale for dropping me a note about this fascinating production of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten, available on youtube here (I think for a limited time). It is directed and choreographed by Lucinda Childs, who also choreographed Einstein on the Beach. Among the many warm and wonderful things about escaping in this production, it also stands as a remarkable testament of what humanity has managed to produce during a pandemic.
Amid the holiday kitsch, how about discovering your poetic animal alter-ego in this quiz I wrote for the Federation’s holiday page? Writing it reminded me of all the many creatures that appear across poetry from the obvious (Poe’s raven) to old favorites (Moore’s jellyfish) to the less obvious (Dickinson’s two butterflies, completely forgot about those!). Go down your own rabbit hole here.