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Giacomo Puccini

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Classical iconoclast

July 12

Serpent Lady ! Alfredo Casella : La donna serpente

Classical iconoclast This April, Teatro Regio di Torino honoured Alfredo Casella, born in Turin in 1883, with a  a staging of his opera La donna serpente, 1928/9, first staged in Rome in 1932, conducted by the composer himself.   Casella was cosmopolitan; in his capacity as pianist and concert performer he travelled extensively. He was very much a modernist, well aware of the creative ferment in his times like Futurism, and modern art in general. With Malipiero and D'Annunzio, Casella founded the Corporazione delle Nuove Musiche La donna serpente thus emerged from the heady background ogf the 1920's: think Ravel and Stravinsky rather than Puccini. Indeed La donna serpente sends Puccini up. The plot is ludicrous, even Dada, though it is based on an 18th century play by Carlo Gozzi  Miranda. A fairy princess falls in love with Altidor, the King of Teflis. The catch is that, should she ever upset her husband, she'll be destroyed. Wagner adapted the same original for Die Feen (read more here), setting it relatively literally as an early Romantic fantasy. For Casella, however, fantasy provides cover for riotous adventure.  Things go wrong in the kingdom of Teflis, large crowds march, sometimes cheering, sometimes rebellious, Altidor believes his wife has killed their kids,  activating the curse that turns her into a snake lady. Nothing verismo about La donna serpente! There are lovely set piece arias and duets, and parodies of commedia dell'arte, fake oriental potentates,  and gloriously lush choruses, but this is most definitely a "modern" opera. Given that it was written while Mussolini controlled Italy, its anarchic energy is also subversive, hiding its kick beneath exuberant good humour.  The orchestral passages are vividly dramatic: in many ways they "tell" the story more pointedly than the vocal hijinks.  The overture to the third act, for example, describes Miranda as serpent, slithering like a snake. Her legs have been taken away with her identity.  After the many beautiful passages suggesting "fairy" lights and sumptuous luxury, the music is sinister, but we feel sympathy for Miranda, destroyed through no fault of her own.   In the end, Miranda is restored, and the crowds sing "Liberta!" but it's a near thing.  Fairy tales, indeed.   The staging in Turin was simple, with strong angular outlines suggesting Cubist and Futurist influences,  illuminated with intense, jewel-like colours. A light show, in many ways.  Gianandrea Noseda conducted.   He's billed as a Casella champion, because he's recorded the orchestral interludes to the opera, but if you want a much livelier, punchier performance all round, track down the recording from 1959 in Milan, conducted by Fernando Previtali. 

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

July 18

Breaking: Puccini maestro is forced out

Alberto Veronesi resigned today as music director of the Festival Puccini Torre del Lago. He had been under pressure for weeks over his political connections and the disaffection of musicians in the orchestra.




Royal Opera House

July 14

BP Big Screens: Experience live ballet and opera for free

Selfies at BP Big Screens © Instagram / (from left-right) @tamsandeman/ @yolandbosiger/ @kfong88/ @gibbs_sophie/ @tamsandeman/ @noseyparkers What is a BP Big Screen? A BP Big Screen is your chance to see opera and ballet – for free. The first Big Screen was in 1987 and saw Plácido Domingo perform in John Copley ’s production of Puccini 's La bohème . Almost thirty summers later, we continue to bring three Royal Opera and Royal Ballet productions to BP Big Screens around the UK each year. All audiences need to do is find their nearest BP Big Screen and show up. No booking, no tickets – the screenings are open to all. Picnics at past BP Big Screens Instagram and Twitter @alhvocalist / @caroline1990 /@VirginiaStuartTaylor / @douglasnatasta / @sallyharman /@madammalarky Bring a picnic, take a selfie We keep our fingers crossed the English weather doesn’t let us down – but even with a spot of rain (and a free waterproof poncho), no BP Big Screen is complete without a well-stocked picnic. Bring some plastic glasses and pop a bottle of prosecco for an indulgent touch. Rain or shine, we want to see picnics from across the country! So when you're settled in, send us your selfies for a chance to win Royal Opera House goodies. Post your picture on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag announced during the show. The best snaps will be broadcast on the screen during the interval and the presenter will announce the winner at the end of the performance. Dominic Peckham interviewing Katy Bathos at the La Traviata BP Big Screen in Trafalgar Square © ROH 2014 Watch exclusive behind the scenes films featuring the cast and creative team Each BP Big Screen brings you closer to the production with an exclusive look behind the scenes. Films feature interviews with the cast and creative team and offer glimpses of the rehearsal process. Join presenter Dominic Peckham live from the BP Big Screen in London’s Trafalgar Square. This is our largest venue, which can hold up to 8,000 people. Here conductor and choral expert Dominic speaks live to members of the cast and crew, who have popped over from Covent Garden in the interval, and will also lead the crowd in dance and sing-a-longs. Trafalgar Square during the live relay of Tosca on BP Big Screens. © ROH / Elliott Franks 2013 Where’s my nearest screening? From Aberdeen to Plymouth – there are several BP Big Screens located around the UK. Find your nearest BP Big Screen . If you're not in the UK, BP Big Screen relays are occasionally live streamed online too, as is the case with Il trovatore, available to watch online from 6.45pm BST on 14 July 2016 . What’s coming up? We'll be showing Verdi’s Il trovatore this evening, 14 July, at 6.45pm - don't miss out. All live screenings are classified 12A by the BBFC. Any child under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Tribuna musical

July 12

Renée Fleming returns: the autumnal charm of a great artist

August 18, 1991. First performance at the Colón of the revival of Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" in a new production by Sergio Renán. An Argentine-Spanish cast except for the Countess: a beautiful young American called Renée Fleming at the start of her international career. With a crystalline lyric soprano timbre and impeccable line, she proved to be a charming actress as well. Unfortunately, that was her only operatic role in BA. We missed her in such operas as Massenet´s "Thaïs" and Dvorák´s "Rusalka", but especially in Straussian parts (the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier", Arabella, the Countess in "Capriccio"), for she was a leading interpreter of all the mentioned operas. It´s useless to speculate about the reasons, but the Colón has had strong ups and downs and established artists want reliable theatres. After two decades, she finally came back during the García Caffi years; however, it was for a recital. It was quite successful and varied, and the voice was still in good condition. And now she came back, inaugurating the so-called Abono Verde. This time the charm and the savvy are still there, but her career has entered the autumnal phase, as demonstrated by what´s happening at New York´s Met, her home for so many years: last season she didn´t sing a difficult opera but an operetta, Lehár´s "The Merry Widow"; and now she has announced her goodbye to opera, with May 2017 performances at the Met of "Der Rosenkavalier" (fortunately it will be seen here on the Met´s direct transmissions at the Teatro El Nacional organized by the Fundación Beethoven). In this recital she was admirably accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore (debut), an expert singing teacher who has worked with Fleming for many years (and with several other famous artists) and has prepared operas for the Met, Covent Garden, Opéra Bastille, La Scala, and such festivals as Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence. What a coincidence that his first name and his surname should be the same as those of the ultra-famous Gerald Moore, the greatest accompanist during golden decades. Anyway, G.M.M. gave precious support during the Colón evening. I have my reservations about some of the choices in the programme. First, I was sorry that there were no Lieder, not even from Richard Strauss. Second, I believe that singers in recitals should stick to their sexes: a woman should sing texts clearly designed for women, and a man those that are evidently masculine; self-evident, the reader may think, but often disregarded by artists; and there were several instances in this case. Third, she is a singer for joyful or melancholy music, but not for stark drama: the terrible content of "L´altra notte in fondo al mare", from Boito´s "Mefistofele", in which the mad Margherita , imprisoned, says that she was wrongly accused of killing her baby and her mother, needs a true tragedian such as Callas was. Finally, there was a bit too much Broadway in her gestures on certain pieces, in themselves rather crossover. A moot point is whether you like or not that artists should speak to the audience; I think it is a wrong trend, concerts are just that, music played or sung. She talked a good deal in a very American way (like Joyce Di Donato). She started with, yes, "Porgi amor", the initial aria of the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro", in evident reminiscence of her Colón debut; the result was tasteful but the voice was not settled yet. Two Händel arias followed: a fast, humoristic one from "Agrippina", early and Venetian-influenced; and the lovely "V´adoro pupille" sung by Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare in Egitto"; she did well in both. Then, two welcome Massenet items: "C´est Thaïs, l´idole fragile" from the homonymous opera (neglected by the Colón since 1952), and the sad "Adieu, notrre petite table" (with its previous recitative) from "Manon". She felt quite comfortable in both. Saint-Saëns wrote 120 songs but they are little-known; "Soirée en mer", strophic, on a Victor Hugo text, seemed to me beautiful and fluid; both artists were fine. And then, a tribute to that delicious 1930s singer, Yvonne Printemps: the sensual "Je t´aime quand même" from the operetta "Les trois valses"; in it Fleming waltzed, singing with abandon. The pithiest part of the night was the fine selection of Neo-Romantic songs by Rachmaninov, who deserve wider recognition; of the five songs I mention three: "Oh cease thy singing, maiden fair", an orientalised melody (I have the recording of tenor John McCormack); "Lilac" contrasts a fast piano segment with an airy soprano tune, and "Spring waters" is expansive and better-known as a Russian miniballet. Fleming was really good in all this group, her voice firm and brilliant. Apart from the Boito, the Italian pieces were light and though agreeably sung not idiomatic: "O del mio amato ben" (Donaudy), "Aprile" (Tosti) and "Mattinata" (Leoncavallo). I liked Fleming in the famous song "Estrellita" by the Mexican Manuel Ponce (the tune fits her like a glove) but she was over the top in "La morena de mi copla" by Carlos Castellano Gómez. Encores: lovely in the "Moon aria" from Dvorák´s "Rusalka" and melting in "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi", but not convincing in "I could have danced all night" from Loewe´s "My fair lady" (Julie Andrews was the right one for this). A nice sweet evening. For Buenos Aires Herald



On An Overgrown Path

June 30

The composer with a thousand faces

Kevin Scott has added this as a comment to my article about Havergal Brian, but it deserves a post to itself: No doubt that Havergal Brian has been, shall we say, "hyped" up, but in spite of all of this, bear in mind that many of Brian's symphonies have yet to be heard in this country. I should note that Bernard Herrmann was the first American conductor to perform anything of Brian's, and that was his Doctor Merryheart Overture with the CBS Symphony in the mid-1930s when Brian was practically unknown in this country. I'm sure Herrmann was familiar with some of the early symphonies, especially when he made frequent visits to England in the 1930s and 1940s, which I feel inspired, in part, his scores to the movies "Mysterious Island" and parts of "The Battle of Neretva". That said, it would be nice if an enterprising conductor took on Brian's early symphonies, such as the epic Third with its two concertante pianos, the gargantuan fourth symphony that was inspired, in part, by Brahms' rarely-heard Triumphlied, the dark and beautiful fifth symphony for baritone and orchestra whose setting of Lord Alfred Douglas' "Wine of Summer" is very moving, the dramatic and tempestuous one-movement "Sinfonia Tragica", and the passionate and thrilling seventh symphony, his most approachable large-scale symphony, apart from his boisterous twenty-fifth symphony that is part of the wave of the later symphonies he composed in his eighties and early nineties. Ditto the cello concerto and the Concerto for Orchestra, as well as his operas "The Cenci" and his own take on "Turandot," which I am sure is far and away different not only from Puccini's, but also Busoni's version as well. I doubt if we'll ever see "The Tigers" get mounted, but if any American orchestra or conductor wants to make a name for him/herself, they should program the "Gothic," not because it's a curiosity piece, but because they truly believe in the work's power and magnitude, structural deficiencies aside. That the press and everyone else wants to hype it up is bad enough, but a committed performance from all forces that are martialed together to bring it to the public will negate the over-excitement of the press, because it is the commitment to the music that will, in the end, win the audience over to Brian's vision.In my original post I described how "the Havergal Brian mythology is celebrated and has become a pseudo-event in its right". That resonated for me with Joseph Campbell’s seminal book on the importance of mythic traditions The Hero with a Thousand Faces. So I toyed with the title The composer with a thousand faces for that post, but it did not link to the sub-agenda of pseudo-events. So I am grateful that Kevin's erudite and thoughtful comment now allows me to use that rejected title. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Giacomo Puccini
(1858 – 1924)

Giacomo Puccini (22 December 1858 - 29 November 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Some of his arias, such as "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi, "Che gelida manina" from La bohème, and "Nessun dorma" from Turandot, have become part of popular culture.



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