The stale idea that classical music is dead has been repeated so many times that it’s not really worth being bothered by anymore. But an article published on Slate today argues the grim notion with such narrow-minded certainty that I can’t help taking issue with it.
When Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in May of 1913, its thorny polyrhythms and pagan-inspired choreography completely unnerved the audience, whose booing and catcalls eventually erupted into a full-blown riot. Even after the police intervened, chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance as bar-room-style brawls broke out in the Parisian aisles, sending the evening into the annals of music history.
It was the evening after Christmas in 1900 when the Metropolitan Opera Company, on tour in Los Angeles, premiered La Bohème. It was years before Giacomo Puccini’s opera became widely acknowledged as the masterpiece it is, and, just four years old at the time, it was by no means an immediate success, still requiring the star power of soprano Nellie Melba. Ms. Melba, encouraged by the applause, as well as the box office, would return after the final curtain call to sing the grueling “Mad Scene” from Lucia di Lammermoore. These days, La Bohème remains one of the only operas that doesn’t require such gimmicks to keep the house full, as proved by its triumphant return to the Met this fall.
As concertgoers funneled out of Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night, a middle-aged couple kissed passionately on the first-tier balcony, earning hoots of approval from below. Earlier in the evening, a seemingly inebriated mink-wrapped woman sitting next to The Observer spoke to her husband at full-volume before unceremoniously slumping asleep in her plush seat.
Perhaps something had been slipped into the wine served at the preceding gala dinner, or perhaps the audience was simply overstimulated from the evening’s orchestral excitement. Whatever the cause, the classical crowd was in strange form, which only served to highlight the magnificence of the Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers” concert that took place.
As the members of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra stormed the stage, an older woman in front of us clapped in slow motion, her hands extended over her head, picking up the pace as Met maestro of the moment, Signore Fabio Luisi, made his entrance. Greeting the audience with a smile, the 52-year-old planted himself curtly on the podium, his greying hair neatly combed and his round spectacles perfectly adjusted.
fall arts preview
An announcement rang through the crowded halls of the Lincoln Center. “Diva coming through!” called an enthusiastic attendant as soprano Angela Meade was escorted to her dinner table after Sunday evening’s concert, her faced flushed with excitement. “It’s all been such a rush” she told The Observer, referring to a performance which had the roomful of donors still chattering excitedly as they took to their seats for the fall-themed meal.
Named after the legendary tenor who performed an impressive 724 times at the Met, the Richard Tucker Music Foundation has long been providing grants to support young opera singers well on their way to fame. Each year’s winner is featured at the gala, an event which annually impresses with lineups of opera’s greatest, such as Welsh bass-baritone Brynn Terfel, Bavarian tenor Jonas Kaufmann and past Richard Tucker Award-recipient mezzo Stephanie Blythe. Sunday’s concert was a veritable hit parade of arias and scenes, which skipped over the lighter repertoire – no Mozart or Handel here, folks – while still providing an opportunity for the stars to let loose in front of a receptive audience. “I think this year was the best year yet,” confided Tucker Foundation President and son of the late tenor, Barry Tucker.
Atys, Brooklyn Academy of Music
The show that BAM sees as having revived French Baroque in its 1989 run in Brooklyn returns to our shores. Atys, the late-1700s adaptation of Ovid, was a favorite of Louis XIV’s, France’s soi-disant Sun King. The show depicts the goddess of Spring and her nymphs—the perfect subject to watch with our September coat-and-scarf schmatte piled on our lap! (Watching an opera about the spring, let alone a Baroque opera in a time of austerity? It’s called escapism.) The opera, which has a gala performance Sept. 18 followed by four night performances, is co-produced with a number of French companies, including Opéra Comique and Opéra National de Bordeaux, and is to be directed by Jean-Marie Villégier, who is known for his work in France. If Roman Polanski can shoot Carnage in Paris and make it look like Brooklyn, Mr. Villégier can surely transport us to the Sun King’s France!
Last week the baritone Sanford Sylvan sat over coffee at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown, talking about the kind of New Yorker he used to be. It was the morning after Mr. Sylvan sang, for the first time in a decade, “The Wound-Dresser,” a Walt Whitman setting that John Adams composed for him in 1989. Read More
Despite dwindling audiences in a borough "more noted for its rap and reggaetón than its Rossini and Rimsky-Korsakov," the 60-year old Bronx Symphony Orchestra’s resolve still going strong, according to The New York Times. But a new New York City policy pits new and old small arts organizations against each other in a Read More
Alex Ross in The New Yorker:
News bulletins were declaring the classical-record business dead, but I noticed strange spasms of life in the online CD and MP3 emporiums. When Apple started its iTunes music store, in 2003, it featured on its front page performers such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Read More