More Manhattan moments

I liked Holland Cotter's description, in the New York Times a few weeks ago, of Giorgio Morandi's still lifes, many of which are currently on view in an extensive exhibition that the Metropolitan Museum has dedicated to the man whose reputation as one of 20th-century Italy's most significant painters now seems indisputable. Cotter described Morandi's myriad variations on arrangements of bottles, vases, and the like as "stanzas of a single long poem, a kind of 'Divine Comedy' of the tabletop, with epic but miniature heights and hells; a meditation on time, art, isolation, self-preservation and the ordinary mystery of all of that."  I trust that the Met, under its incoming director Thomas Campbell, will continue to provide the sort of stimulation that it has given visitors during Philippe de Montebello's long reign, and that Campbell will be able to weather the financial hurricane that will almost certainly beat down on all not-for-profit institutions in the all-too-near future.

Across Central Park at the other Met, I found Louis Langree's conducting of Don Giovanni technically capable but lacking the sort of emotional grip that can raise a decent performance to an excellent or even memorable one.  Ultra-fast tempi like Langree's in the last part of the first-act finale or the peroration of the sextet do not necessarily create drama, and in this instance they seemed actually to trivialize the musical and theatrical discourse rather than heightening its impact.  Ditto for the often ultra-leisurely pace of the recitatives.  Erwin Schrott has the makings of an outstanding Don Giovanni, but for my taste his singing in the performance I heard was often rhythmically undisciplined and his acting hammy -- although the latter defect must have had a lot to do with the stage direction of Marthe Keller: much of the action throughout has a sit-com-like tinge that cheapens the production.  The role of Donna Elvira may not be ideal for Susan Graham, but she is such a fine and intelligent artist that hearing her nuanced interpretation of it was stimulating as well as a pleasure.  Matthew Polenzani was an excellent Don Ottavio.  To my ears, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo sounded monochromatic as Leporello.  But mainly, as I was leaving the theater after the performance, I found myself thinking that no matter how much and how deeply I love dozens upon dozens of operas written before and after those of Mozart, there is simply nothing greater in the genre -- as music, as theater, or as a summation of the inner workings of the human animal -- than the three Mozart-Da Ponte masterpieces.

I also attended a performance ofSalome in the much-hailed Jurgen Flimm production, with Karita Mattila in the title role.  Her voice sounded strained and tired in the performance I heard, but it was a Saturday matinee, which singers generally find more trying than evening performances.  Besides, I can't think of anyone I would rather hear in this part, and all the other singers (especially Joseph Kaiser as Narraboth, Kim Begley as Herodes, Ildiko Komlosi as Herodias, and Juha Uusitalo as Jochanaan) also did excellent work.  The production itself, which showed Roman soldiers in plain outfits, Jews in Hassidic garb, and the toffs -- Herod, Herodias, their dinner guests, and Salome herself -- in modern formal dress, it made my mind go back, as it often does when I sit in the theater, to something that the great Italian director Giorgio Strehler told me years ago.  He said, more or less, "We can do Shakespeare with everyone in tails or everyone naked, or some of each, but we have to remember how miserable our ideas will appear next to the greatness of that text."  This statement can and should be applied to the interpretation of most works for the stage.  I don't mind radical interpretations if the director has turned every idea over in his/her mind for a very long time before deciding whether the realization of that idea will deepen our understanding of the work or will merely provoke for the sake of provoking.  The acting in Flimm's production is very good, but most of the other visual aspects seem to exemplify the "Ya Gotta Do Something, So How About This?" school of opera staging.  In the "Mysteries of Conducting" department, on the other hand, the gestures of Patrick Summers seemed generic and imprecise, at least as viewed from halfway back on the main floor, but the Met orchestra played incisively and powerfully for him.  I can only assume that he rehearses well and that much of the orchestra likes him. 

Which brings me to a New York Philharmonic concert under the baton of Marin Alsop.  I had never seen Alsop before, and I enjoyed these performances very much.  Bartok's Wooden Prince Suite seemed to me well thought-out and beautifully realized by conductor and orchestra, and the same was true, on the whole, of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, which sounded fresh and powerful, not at all here-we-go-again-ish.  I disagree with the little caesura that Alsop introduced in the first movement: had it occurred only once, it might have sounded spontaneous and interesting, but when it happened the first time you knew that it would happen again -- and it did, and sounded artificial and corny.  In the finale, enthusiasm actually became a problem because it created too many climaxes: better to focus on rhythmic drive, of which there was plenty in this performance, and save the fortissimos and fortississimos for the very biggest moments.  Maybe Alsop forgot one of Richard Strauss's Ten Commandments for conductors: "Never look encouragingly at the brass."  But let's not be too picky: this was an enjoyable performance.  The central delight of the evening, however, was 23-year-old Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz's Philharmonic debut in Chopin's F minor (Second) Piano Concerto.  One could quibble that the finale lacked the sense of playfulness that some pianists brought or bring to it (I'm thinking of.recordings by Rubinstein and Ashkenazy), but Blechacz's playing was sensitive, intense, and technically impeccable throughout -- and with none of the extra-musical, look-ma-seventeen-hands shenanigans of some of today's other young keyboard heroes.  This is a very promising talent.

October 12, 2008 11:46 AM | | Comments (0)

Leave a comment

Me Elsewhere


Ensemble for the Romantic Century

(These are two organizations that any music lovers in the New York area should get to know.)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Overflow published on October 12, 2008 11:46 AM.

Relishing two Hamburgers was the previous entry in this blog.

Boh..... is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.