Mercoledi Musicale

Last week I posted several music videos of Eileen Farrell, a crossover artists par-excellence from the past. And earlier this week my good friend David over at I’ll Think of Something Later posted several videos of Anita Rachvelishvili, the Georgian mezzo-soprano, who is well on her way to becoming one of today’s major opera stars. And if today’s MM is any indication a major crossover artist as well. They do say that Gershwin is a test of any singer and frankly in my mind she passes the test. And the work of pianist/conductor Nikoloz Rachveli and his crew is pretty damn fine on this and her other jazz recordings.

She first came to notice and notoriety in 2009 when as a 25 year old she opened the season at La Scala as Carmen along with tenor-heart throb Jonas Kaufmann in a controversial production by Emma Dante. I had thought of heading up to Milan but decided I really didn’t need to see another Carmen. More fool me – by the time I decided that maybe I should see what the buzz was about there wasn’t a ticket to be had! I had missed my chance to see two superstars of today’s opera world.

As David note she is a dramatic mezzo in the great tradition but rather than show the fireworks that she is capable of – and anyone who heard or saw her Amneris in Aida or the Princess in Adriana Lecouveur from the Met can tell you she has all the power and brilliance of a Roman Candle – I’d post a video that shows her in a more lyrical light. From a Bastille Day Concert in Paris she sing an aria from Sappho, a Gounod rarity.

Should I ever get another chance to see her on stage – and I never say never – I won’t be passing it up again.

February 27 is Anosmia Awareness Day.

Mercoledi Musicale

One of the selections at a recent Christmas concert was a version of Ave Maria, the angel Gabriel’s salutation to Mary at the Annuncition.  Several people mentioned to me that it was not the version they knew.  They were familiar with the Franz Schubert setting* of the Angelic Salutation but not the Bach-Gounod that was being presented.  Though both are beautiful I have always preferred the unlikely combination of the great Baroque composer and the French romantic.

In 1853 Charles Gounod took the opening prelude from Bach’s Das Wohltemperirte Clavier of 1722, altered it slightly and superimposed an improvised melody over it.  It was published as an instrumental piece with the title Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach.  In 1859 music publisher Jacques Léopold Heugel issued it as a vocal piece using the Ave Maria as the text.  It has since become a favourite of singers (instrumentalists) in arrangements for various instrumental combination from guitar to organ to full symphony orchestra.

Here is a version sung by Kathleen Battle with Christopher Parkening on guitar.

I thought it would be interesting to hear just the Bach prelude as it originally sounded.  It’s played here by Glenn Gould in that highly individual style that was a mark of all his playing but particularly his Bach.

And while searching around I found this rather amusing and ultimately touching version by Bobby McFerrin and the audience at a Montreal concert in 2005.

*It should be noted that Schubert’s piece was composed as part of a song cycle based on Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.  It is a setting Ellen’s prayer to the Virgin Mary from a German translation of this story of Scottish clans and clashes.  It was only later that it was adapted as a setting of the Latin prayer.  Like the Bach-Gounod it was never intended as a sacred piece or for liturgical use.

On this day in 1812:   The New Orleans, the first steamboat on the Ohio River or the Mississippi River arrives its namesake, New Orleans, 82 days after departing from Pittsburgh.

March Macabre

The tweets, blogs and sites that deal with the gossip around films were awash this past week with the first photos of Anthony Hopkins as that master of implied horror Alfred Hitchcock. I have to be honest and say I didn’t find he look all that much like Hitchcock and he looked even less like Sir Anthony.  Apparently this is all in aid of a movie that’s currently being made about making a movie – not just any movie mind you but that 1960s classic of subversive terror Psycho.   This was the film that had an entire generation avoiding taking a shower like..   well death.

It wasn’t until I read the entry on Wikipedia that I realized the behind the scenes drama involved in making the film.  The studio bosses felt that the material was just too strong for the sensibilities of the American public and Hitch had to fight to get it made.  Even then he had to finance it himself and in order to cut costs filmed in black and white and utilized the studio team he had working with him on his weekly TV series.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents was part of a legendary Sunday night line-up on CBS in the 1950s – it began with Lassie saving people and ended with Hitchcock bumping them off!  Though he seldom was involved with directing the show, for over ten years he served as a slightly sardonic host for a half-hour – later expanded to an hour – of murder and suspense.  And for ten years we were treated to  introductions that became as classic as many of his films.  As the lumbering first cords of Charles Gounod‘s March funèbre d’une marionette sounded the camera faded in on a simple eight line caricature – drawn by Hitchcock – of that unmistakable profile followed by Hitchcock himself in silhouette lumbering, like the music, on to the screen and eclipsing the drawing.  Then he’d turn and in that purse-lipped, plummy almost lisping voice wish us a “good evening”.  What followed were satirical or mocking jabs at the sponsors, network and general state of the Union as lead-ins to the commercial breaks.  There were times when Hitchcock’s brief appearances were more memorable than the episodes themselves.

It was during a discussion on the upcoming film with my colleague Lara that the topic of Gounod’s little piano piece – part of a larger unrealized suite – came up and as often happens with our discussions it led to a Google search.  As well as quite a few of those Hitchcock introductions we came across this fun piece of animation.  Created by Eric Fonseca – he scripted it, created the puppets and decor and filmed it – back in 2006, its almost like something out of Edward Gorey as directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  The perfect combination for a March Macabre!

This remarkable piece of animation was the first effort of Eric Fonseca and took him a year to make. He followed it up with The Fall of the House of Usher – a full length stop-animation feature that he completed in 2010.  A preview of what looks like an fascinating take on Poe’s tale of terror can be found here.

22 April – 1970:  The first Earth Day is celebrated.

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One Last Kick at the Can

One of the unexpected thrills of the past year or so has been reporting on performances at La Scala for my friends at Opera Britannia. On five occasions I have headed up to Milano,  approached the Box Office on Via Filodrammatici  and asked for my press ticket.  How cool is that?  Me with press tickets at La Scala! How I wish my father could have seen that. 

However as the time to leave draws closer I realize I am doing things for what is probably the last time.  This past Monday’s trip up to Milano was the last of that sort that I will be making to view and review a performance at what is arguably the world’s most famous opera house.  And the review, which was published last evening,  will most likely be the last I will be doing with any regularity for my friends at OB.   That trip had a bittersweet flavour to it and what would be more appropriate than Charles Gounod’s take on Shakespeare’s most bitter-sweet tragedy – Roméo et Juliette.  Not produced at La Scala since 1934 it also had the added interest of featuring the very talented Canadian conductor Yannik Nézet-Séquin in his debut at the house. A left click on the poster will take you to my views on the opening night performance.

I can’t thank Faye at Opera Britannia enough – first for taking me on as a member of her reviewing team and then for putting up with missed deadlines and using all of her editing skills to make my articles almost readable.  Big bunch of baci Faye and buon compleanno!

12 giugno – San Barnaba apostolo

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Hail Bright Cecilia

The Ecstasy of S. Cecilia by RaphaelThough I’ve always found her link to music just a bit tenuous – something to do with hearing heavenly music on her wedding day – Santa Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians and as a result incredibly beautiful music has been written to honour her.

I’ve always loved Charles Gounod’s Ste Cecilia Mass and particularly the Sanctus. And if every anyone was blessed by Cecilia it was the great Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling. Though the recording is old, the text is sung in English and the accompanying choir a bit shaky, the Saint has never been praised more beautifully than this:

22 novembre – Santa Cecilia