Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

The Canadian Opera Company is getting some great publicity from the Toronto Globe and Mail this season. I don't recall such extensive coverage in previous years. Today's piece is on the upcoming production of Die Entf├╝hrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) composed by Mozart at age twenty-six (he started composing operas at age eleven, so this is a mature work). The article goes into some depth (for a newspaper) on Mozart's Janissary band style, the spoken dialogue and the vocal virtuosity.
The music that Mozart wrote for Abduction (at 26 years old, believe it or not) is not for any old cast of singers. Packed into one opera are all the technical skills that opera singers work for decades to perfect. You'll hear dizzying displays of scales and arpeggios: The lovesick Belmonte kicks off Act 1 with more notes than you ever thought possible from a tenor.
You'll hear basses plunging into to their profound depths: Lean forward and listen as Osmin, right-hand man to the overseer of the harem, dives down to a low D and soars back up as high as an F – this is no droning bass role.
Most memorably, the sopranos of Abduction may cause your ears to pop by hitting impossible heights of their range. In particular, the character Blonde is tasked with singing a few much-anticipated – and freakishly difficult – high Es in her first aria. Konstanze may not rise up quite as high, but she makes a flashy entrance with her first aria, Ach, ich liebte ("Oh, I was in love"), twinkling like a beautiful banshee up on high Bs and Cs.
The way Mozart writes for sopranos is a mix of worshipping their skills and testing their limits – and Abduction is such a extreme example that Milos Forman included it in Amadeus, his 1984 film about Mozart's life. We catch a depiction of the debut performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Vienna, 1782, as soprano Caterina Cavalieri, the diva who first sang the role of Konstanze, flaunts the behemoth aria in Act 2, Martern aller Arten ("Tortures unrelenting").
The production runs until February 24 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

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This is Mozart opera week as tonight our local production of Don Giovanni opens. I have to confess that while I have been at a number of performances of this opera, I have always viewed it from the orchestral pit! Yes, I took up the mandolin just to play the obbligato part in one of the arias one year. It was a great experience even though my chair was right up against the tympani! In any case, tonight I will be seeing it from the audience for the first time.

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Salzburg has had the good sense to turn down the empty symbolism of being named a European "City of Culture." Slipped Disc has the details:
The city council voted overwhelmingly last night not to apply for the EU’s rolling title of City of Culture.
The reason given is that it will cost tens of millions of Euros that could be better spent on culture itself, rather than the trappings of a title.
Salzburg’s decision suggests that the title has been hopelessly devalued by being rolled around provincial fishing and mining towns in obscure corners of the EU under some all-must-have-prizes rule.
This illustrates rather well the futility of official boosterism. Salzburg is about as cultural as a city can get and certainly needs no Euro-stamp as validation. When I was last there, they had twelve concert halls and one (1) cinema!

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Also at Slipped Disc is a quote from a piece by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post about how she sees her job as critic:
Think of the experience as a conversation: The evening offers a point of view, and you respond to it. Is it a conversation that you want to continue, by going back and hearing that music again? Is it one you’re glad to have behind you? Is it something you want to talk about to other people — and can another person change your mind? All of this is part of the experience we have with any art form. And it’s a lot more fun to become an active participant than it is to receive the music in reverential, passive silence.
The comments are also worth reading.

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Quincy Jones, legendary music producer, gets nasty in his latest interview with Vulture (warning, he uses some strong language): 
What were your first impressions of the Beatles?
That they were the worst musicians in the world. They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it. I remember once we were in the studio with George Martin, and Ringo had taken three hours for a four-bar thing he was trying to fix on a song. He couldn’t get it. We said, “Mate, why don’t you get some lager and lime, some shepherd’s pie, and take an hour-and-a-half and relax a little bit.” So he did, and we called Ronnie Verrell, a jazz drummer. Ronnie came in for 15 minutes and tore it up. Ringo comes back and says, “George, can you play it back for me one more time?” So George did, and Ringo says, “That didn’t sound so bad.” And I said, “Yeah, motherfucker because it ain’t you.” Great guy, though.
Were there any rock musicians you thought were good?
I used to like Clapton’s band. What were they called?
Cream.
Yeah, they could play.
Well, I agree with some of that! Not the Ringo stuff, though. Ringo was perhaps the most musical and original drummer in rock. And Paul? A bad bass player? Quincy, whatcha been smoking?

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 If you are interested here is a "new" musicology analysis of the theme music used on Canadian and US tv for the Olympic games:
Melding disparate musical sounds into one new work is part of the CBC’s mandate. In the early 2000s, the network was under pressure to make their programming more multicultural and so they shifted their focus to incorporate more “fusion programming.” This involved bringing together musicians from different cultures, styles and languages to see whether they might be able to find new ways to collaborate.
While the CBC’s intentions may have been good, the results have been mixed. According to ethnomusicologist Rebecca Draisey-Collishaw, the musical output has not served to reflect creative and multicultural “meetings” between different musical traditions. Instead it more often represents — musically — cultural minorities being assimilated into mainstream, white, Anglo codes that serve to reinforce the status quo.
Ah yes, those "white, Anglo codes" that oppress every other musical tradition... Damned C major!

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 Our envoi today is the overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart. This is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Fabio Luisi:


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