Alice’s Adventures in Opera

Another big anniversary this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!  What better way for us to celebrate than with Unsuk Chin‘s opera Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?  Below, the Mad Tea Party scene performed by the Seoul Philharmonic:

The Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrated this sesquicentennial with a staged performance in collaboration with the Los Angeles Opera.  This was the work’s belated LA premiere, since the LA Opera was one of the original commissioners of the piece, which ultimately premiered at the Munich Opera Festival in 2007.

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho for Los Angeles Philharmonic

Photo by Lawrence K. Ho for Los Angeles Philharmonic

The reviews I’ve read have been excellent, which is pleasantly surprising as I’ve heard mixed things about the opera with its bristly, modern musical language and elliptical, playfully obtuse libretto by David Henry Hwang.

The production, by English director Netia Jones, matched that darker tone by animating illustrations from British satirist Ralph Steadman‘s 1972 edition of the book.  Jones has used this technique with the LA Phil before, animating Maurice Sendak’s own Where the Wild Things Are illustrations for a performance of Oliver Knussen‘s operatic adaptation of that work.

At any rate, an interesting recent development is that the Royal Opera House in London has commissioned a sequel opera by the same team of Chin and Hwang, based on Through the Looking Glass!  This is scheduled for the 2018/2019 season, so I wonder if that will add fire to the second wind that Wonderland seems to be having…

Hansel and Gretel Give Thanks Too

In honor of Thanksgiving sort of, a couple of new black and white horror stories, aka fairy tales, one dealing with classic German frightening forests and witches, the other with dictatorships and boarding schools…

Toon Books' new Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattoti

Toon Books’ new Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattoti

Hansel and Gretel’s enduring popularity might obscure the horror of the original telling, when the parents agree to “lose” their children in the woods since they’re unable to feed them, but modern fabulist Neil Gaiman brings back that heart-wrenching element in his latest telling of the tale put out by Francoise Mouly‘s enterprising new Toon Books imprint of adventurous comics and illustrated adaptations designed with the current pedagogical needs of school-age children in mind…  Hunger and desperation are at the center of this story, and the dark tone is clear from Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattoti‘s moody, inky drawings.

Another stark story about unfortunate children is Arcady’s Goal by author and illustrator Eugene Yelchin.  This book’s protagonist is separated from his parents when they’re deemed enemies of the state by the Soviet Russian government and is sent to an isolated school for other such political orphans.  Seems like a similarly mature situation, and one the protagonist has to try and improve on his own…

Children pulling themselves up by the bootstraps has a long literary history, from fairy tale protagonists to Dickens’ street urchins to gangs of mystery solving kids, and, like these two books, these stories can take a dark turn with kids abandoned and orphaned, comforts we take for granted cruelly stripped from them, and normalcy a very big bootstrap-pulll away if that…  At any rate, this seemed somehow relevant to Thanksgiving…  In that it’s, like, the total opposite…

Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Arcady’s Goal by Eugene Yelchin

As long as we’re talking about Hansel and Gretel, let’s end with a bit of German composer Engelbert Humperdinck‘s charming 1893 operatic adaptation!  Besides the sort of macabre inverse-relation to Thanksgiving as the holiday of plenty, this opera is also very popular around Christmas-time, so it’s extra-holiday appropriate!  Also, there are sure to be several performances popping up this time of year (including at the Met Opera where the below clip is from)…

The opera of course also deals with the themes of hunger and need, and this production in particular is centered around food, both its absence and excess, as demonstrated here when Hansel and Gretel’s wildest dreams are shown to revolve around a sumptuous banquet.

A Week of Free Early Music

Early Music Festival NYC LogoGreat news for early music fans like myself!

Starting tomorrow is the Early Music Festival NYC, with multiple free concerts a day in venues across the city between Friday the 13th and Thursday the 19th.

The schedule and programs are listed on their site for your planning pleasure (though really, how wrong could you go?), and the Festival gets off to a big start tomorrow with cellist Paul Dwyer performing all six of J.S. Bach‘s Cello Suites in five venues across all five of New York’s boroughs!

There are also quite a few vocal concerts in the line up, including…

No shortage of offerings as you can see!  And that’s not counting many other purely instrumental concerts!  So hope you enjoy!

PS: Sorry for my long absence from the blog!  I sorta let it go as I was on the job hunt but realized it might be a good thing to keep going when it was brought up during one of my interviews!  The comic / opera theme seemed to amuse people, haha…

 

AltOpera Fest, now actually accurate…

Next week is InsightALT, American Lyric Theater‘s mini-fest of new opera.  The centerpiece of the event are three concert readings of new operas, running the thematic gamut of Alan Turing, war vets returning home, and a Mexican drug “queenpin”.  Click here for full descriptions, and a special code for $5 off single tickets!

The composers being featured are Jeremy Howard Beck, Justine Chen, and Jorge Sosa (triple J’s, nice), a pretty diverse crew, which is nice to see in the world of opera.  Today I’ll start with Jeremy Howard Beck.

MASSIVE EDIT: Turns out there are two composers named “Jeremy Beck” and the one in InsightALT is Jeremy Howard Beck.  I feel like an idiot, but seriously, what are the odds!  Well as it turns out, they’re pretty high…  Anyway, here’s my revised post:

Based on the memoir of the same name by Brian Castner, former Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit member in Iraq, The Long Walk is about veterans’ struggles on adjusting to life back home after returning from war.  Should be interesting stuff…

Here’s a performance of Beck‘s 2009 piece Awakening, by it’s commissioners, trombone quartet The Guidonian Hand.  A trombonist himself, Beck says the piece was inspired by the then-recent passing of Proposition 8 in California (overturning the legalization of gay marriage there) and its concurrence with the Jewish high holidays, with their use of the shofar horn.

And here’s the InsightALT trailer, reproducing an interview with Castner by BBC.  Their YouTube channel, has features from past events too, so good way to get a feel for InsightALT generally.

Cellists of Lincoln Center, Unite!

Cellists at Chamber Music Society. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Short notice, but the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will be live streaming tonight’s cello-only concert on their website at 5pm.  From Gabrieli to Villa-Lobos to Pärt, it sounds like an interesting, wide-ranging program, and who doesn’t love the cello?  In fact, these cellist concerts are so popular that tonight’s performance was apparently added on to the season after the other performances sold out.  So don’t miss it!  CMS live stream here.

Seven Last Words, One Week Early

Here’s a 1951 performance of the Amadeus Quartet playing Haydn‘s Seven Last Words of Christ in its later reduced version for string quartet (in addition to the original full orchestra version and later choral and piano versions).  Haydn composed it in 1785 for Good Friday celebrations at the Cádiz Cathedral in Spain, explaining the unique experience as such:

The walls, windows, and pillars of the church were hung with black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging from the centre of the roof broke the solemn darkness. At midday, the doors were closed and the ceremony began. After a short service the bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced the first of the seven words (or sentences) and delivered a discourse thereon. This ended, he left the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. The interval was filled by music. The bishop then in like manner pronounced the second word, then the third, and so on, the orchestra following on the conclusion of each discourse. (source)

We’re a bit early for Good Friday, but the reason I bring this up now is that there’s a performance at the Metropolitan Museum this Friday at 7pm featuring Salzburg Chamber Soloists in yet another adaptation, for string orchestra.

In keeping with the original multimedia experience, the Met invited Israeli-born, New York-based artist Ofri Cnaani to create a video installation using prints from the Met’s collection.  Best of all, the event will be live streamed, so you can enjoy it from home.

Opéra and Comiques

Charpentier David et Jonathas illustration by Dégé

Wow, I’ve had quite a comics-heavy run lately, so let’s ease the transition with some opera-themed illustrations…

Somehow I stumbled upon the season illustrations for the Opéra Comique in Paris, which are adorable.  They’re by Guillame Dégé, and I don’t know what vegetables have to do with any of the operas, but I’m loving it.

The line-up is quite interesting too, with about half baroque repertory and half early modern repertory, but all pretty off-the-beaten path.

For example, I’d heard of Reynaldo Hahn ever-so briefly as a composer of song, but he wrote opera too!  Lucky for us, his 1923 operetta Ciboulette is up in full on YouTube:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeW6GhKCzBY&w=350&h=300]

Link to part two.  ( Also, get this: Hahn was born in Venezuela to German-Jewish and Spanish descended parents, and was maybe in the closet, so a Hispanic, Jewish, gay, immigrant?  Jeez, quadruple minority threat. )

Mârouf by duCaire illustration by DégéAll Images Copyright Guillame Dégé

I had never heard of Henri Rabaud though, but he’s there too, with the delightfully orientalist sounding Mârouf, The Cairo Cobbler, drawn from The Arabian Nights.  Opéra Comique gave its premiere in 1914,and and it even made it to thMetropolitan Opera by 1917, so it had its moment.  Here are some orchestral dances taken from the opera:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiWmHM2y4Yk&w=350&h=300]