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Hans Werner Henze: The Last Interview?

Months before his death, he reached back 50 years in his mind to talk about his "odd, old Elegy."

Arnold Schoenberg survived Nazi Germany, Vienna and Hollywood. But Boston?

Opera thrives on iconic figures, whether from mythology or history. But maybe composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) hasn't been gone long enough - or was never outwardly heroic enough - to fill Tod Machover's new opera Schoenberg in Hollywood, premiered Nov. 14-18 by Boston Lyric Opera. Schoenberg was the springboard for modernism in the second half of the 20th century; though he died in 1951, he cuts a Moses-like figure, leading serious music beyond atonality, creating a system by which its complete freedom could be managed, and taking the … [Read more...]

I have my come-to-Arvo moment

Arvo Pärt, disarmingly, lacks barriers. He hides nothing. Evasion, irony and pretension are unknown in his music. The 80-something Estonian composer is, however, the master of implying far more than he says. At its most spare, his music seems to barely exist. And that's probably why I've had such a long road to the full appreciation of this internationally acclaimed composer whose devotional works led to the coining of the term "holy minimalism." Arvo Pärt: The Sound of the Sacred — a concert on Nov. 12 at the Church of St. Ignatius … [Read more...]

Glass’ Satyagraha imported from Sweden with stunts under precarious circumstances

Philip Glass used to say he was never composed opera per se, but ended up rubbing shoulders with Verdi and Wagner because opera houses had the needed theatrical apparatus. Was he buying time while figuring out how to write recitatives his way? Was he creating a hybrid? Both? Whatever the case, Glass’ first mainstream-ish opera, Satyagraha, was no easier to define Nov. 4 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a Sweden-imported production by Folkoperan and Cirkus Cirkor  after 37 years of making the opera-house rounds. It looks, sounds and … [Read more...]

Life gets lush: Gregory Spears meets The Crossing

Finding one's voice is an elusive matter for composers - a combination of circumstances that may or may not be in their control, plus the unpredictable factor of artistic evolution. Somebody like Jennifer Higdon doesn't necessarily wake up in the morning and declare herself ready to write, say, a tuba concerto. People come to her with those kinds of requests, and if the Higdon genie can inhabit that bottle, everybody ends up happy. In vocal works, words, drama and prescribed scoring dictated by the performers at hand merge with what the … [Read more...]

American musical theater mythology: What does it say? What can it say? How much do we care?

The quickest way to the public's heart is through the manipulated past. Politicians through the ages have played upon the public's national identity by conjuring up nostalgia for an age that never quite existed but has a close-enough resemblance to one that did. Then comes the promise of recapturing that lost world. (I'm sure you can think of examples.) In theater, however, the repurposed past can reflect much of what's going on now, particularly when re-repurposed in the face of the looming mid-term election. Specifically, I'm talking … [Read more...]

Sympathy for the monster: Frankenstein opera-in-progress debuts at Green-Wood Cemetery

After walking through David Lang's Mile Long Opera on the High Line last week, Gregg Kallor's double bill of The Tell-Tale Heart and still-in-progress Frankenstein at the Green-Wood Cemetery catacomb almost seemed mainstream. Well, somewhat. There was a genuine acoustic, a real piano, cultivated singers and a literary base line in operatic works drawn from Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley. The catacomb is a narrow hall with vaults along the way, all dimly lit, with a miniature stage at the far end where the opera unfolded with a small … [Read more...]

The near-accidental eloquence of The Mile-Long Opera by David Lang

Walking into The Mile-Long Opera by David Lang, I thought I knew what opera is. Well, the definition didn't change. But the piece, performed last week on New York's elevated walkway known as The High Line, changed the boundaries of opera, theater and artistic expression, and in ways that I couldn't have imagined before taking the elevator up three floors and then trudging from 14th to 34th street. This Pulitzer Prize-winning composer is making a life's work out of writing music to be heard outside the typical venues and … [Read more...]

Soon-to-be Met composer Missy Mazzoli merges her selves in ‘Proving Up’

When Metropolitan Opera czar Peter Gelb dashed from the Miller Theatre to a waiting car after the Friday performance of the opera Proving Up, I would've given more than a penny for his (unfiltered) thoughts. Only days before, he and new music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin announced the first female composers to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and one of them being Missy Mazzoli, who has long been considered a paragon of edgy Brooklyn artistic chic. Her third opera Proving Up arrived for two performances Sept. 26 and 28 - at … [Read more...]

Anthony Roth Costanzo on Glass, Handel and “putting it together.”

Opera singers aren't brought up to be as enterprising as Anthony Roth Costanzo. But few have his resume: He's a child Broadway star-turned Princeton student-turned countertenor. My first meeting with him immediately told me an extremely distinctive spirit was behind that voice. It was in a Manhattan rehearsal for Wolf-in-Skins, a mythology-stepped, still-in-progress dance opera staged by Christopher Williams where wolves and men morph into each other. Costanzo immediately stuck out his hand - in what was more than a meet-and-greet but the … [Read more...]

The Guardian in action: A great newspaper is ready upon the death of a great public figure (this time, Neil Simon)

Important public figures always have their obituaries written in advance. I did this one on Neil Simon years ago and was allowed to give it time, thought and research. Excellent editing was another plus. Then, this past Sunday, hours after his death was announced, the piece appeared on line. It's another one of those things that newspapers do better than other media outlets. An even better example was Peter Dobrin's obit on philanthropist Gerry Lenfest in The Philadelphia Inquirer several weeks back. The world would be a rather less-informed … [Read more...]

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