Bard summer, post 4

Oh Lord, I'm so terribly behind on my blog and there's still so much to tell. Can you hear me saying that 'Lord' the way I normally do? Well, I've got news for you. I'm starting to pick up American accent.
My pronunciation is even more twisted now than it used to be, with the Russian and the British accents fused together with a touch of Polish. Say, this is Denise, my teacher of English here at Bard, giving Alex feedback on his blog:
If I were to say this sentence out loud spontaneously, I'd have it with "teach-uh", but "Barrrrd".
(Speaking of my English class, I got an assignment for today to tell about the music of Chilie; and while doing my research I came across this:

Most of you probably remember this song from the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, but it somehow slipped my mind just how much I love it.)
Never did I ever think that there are so many differences between British and American English hiding in the most unexpected places. Say, on Saturday I went to a town nearby called Tivoli
to see a local production of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and there was a garage sale there, so I thought I'd try my luck and get myself a mug (we have a kitchen at the dorm but are not allowed to take dishes up to our rooms, and I really like to have some tea before I go to bed but after I change into my pajamas – and although I brought a cup, it's not large enough). And know what? Nobody could give me a mug because... they do not know what a 'mug' is. Turns out I should have been asking for 'a really big cup', lol.
Speaking of Rocky Horror, the production turned out to be not so much of a production, but a kind of screening plus live action. A lot like what we used to do when we were younger ;)) jerome_morrow and ungern, if you are reading this... Those were the days!
While one can say this was a bit disappointing, I was not disappointed to the least. First of all, it was such a great fun to be there! The cast was very energetic and witty, and I felt the kind of passion for RHPS I never felt since my early 20s. And the audience was just terrific:
and very much engaged in the action.
But it's not just that: I've finally seen the small-town America I've been dreaming of. I'll refrain from posting every single picture of the town that I took, but here's just one I particularly like:
You really have to be here to feel it.
But back to life at Bard.
At the end of my last post I started telling you about The Wreckers and was getting to the point of how good it was to hear something like that right after Chausson's Le roi Arthus. It's funny how many hidden gems there are that we do not even know about. (Once again, I would like to refer to what Leon Botstein himself said on the occasion: 'There is initial prejudice against what we do here, which is, if it is not already famous there's something wrong with it'. But there is a good chance that everything is perfectly fine with the music and the plot of an obscure opera: it's like in a running competition, Leon said, where you only remember the name of the guy who came first – and the guy who came right after him might have missed him by maybe one tenth of a second, and that's pretty close!
What Leon also said was that we often fall under the spell of a well-known name.. 'Is this a better opera than Fidelio? Absolutely! I don't care if Fidelio id Beethoven, there's a problem with it! The plot is weak, the end is ridiculous and it gets absolutely unlistenable!' So much for poor old Mr Beethoven ;) But apart from me not liking Fidelio much and others loving it (hi belta), I do think Leon has a very valid point here.)
So, if we were to compare Arthus to The Wreckers, the first thing that comes to mind is of course the Wagner thing, and the influences that we could trace. But there's another thing that to me brings these two works much closer to each other. In Arthis, especially the way Philippe Jordan conducted it, you could always hear that Chausson was in essence a French composer. You could really feel how he writes in long cues much like Massnet's and uses a very similar type of harmonies and orchestra tinta. And that kind of outweighs all the German influences in there.
Now, Smyth was the child of Victorian England, and, as Leon put it, Queen Victoria, as well as Prince Albert, 'viewed music as a German art'. The most important composer was Mendelssohn, and there is no doubt Smyth was under this overwhelming influence as well. Then there are Wagner and Strauss, but also Brahms whom he knew personally (and some of whose scores she presumably saw even before they went to print).
On the other hand, you can hear the voices of Meyerbeer and Bizet, and even Debussy.
But what defines the sound of The Wreckers is Edwardian choral writing, say the scene at the end of Act 1 with the chorus offstage. It is in its essence a very 'English' piece.
BTW, speaking of direct influences on Smyth Leon did not name Tchaikovsky, which is probably right as you cannot hear it in the music itself, but there appeared to be aa Ethel Smyth scholar in the audience who said that Smyth was very much moved by Tchaikovsky's music.
This Smyth scholar turned out to be a young and very knowledgeable lady by the name of Amy Zigler; she asked Leon about whether he had access to any of Smyth's own notes when preparing the score for the production and was ready to go back to her seat, but Leon actually called her forward, handed her a mike and asked her to talk some more about her area of expertise. It was really a great thing to witness: Leon's ego was not hurt by the fact that there was someone who corrected him and filled in the gaps among the audience. On the contrary, he was happy to find an opportunity to learn from someone and share the knowledge with the people who came to the talk!
(My mind is wandering a bit, but have I told you that I'll be seeing Leon himself in a little more than an hour? Well, now you know! ;))
A bit more on The Wreckers and then I'll be dashing to catch up on my reading. Remember when Thomas Hampson said that he sees no problem with Verdian plots and the fact that most librettos are not self-sufficient? Because, said he, if you can do something without music, why need music in the first place?
Now, Leon said that The Wreckers is such a good opera because unlike most opera dramas the story actually is important here. 'Most operatic stories are ridiculously detached from our daily life – it's hard to identify with Wotan or Brünnhilde, there's only one human on the stage and that is Hunding, and he gets killed!' (I thought you might like this quote, bruenn_gilda, so I put it down ;)) The plot of The Wreckers is indeed very tight and the type of society that Smyth explores is really drawn from life, although in our lives we are unlikely to live in a closed fisher community at the Cornish rocks ;)) You know what I mean.
I guess that's pretty much it. There's an article in New York Times about The Wreckers that is quite insightful in terms of why and how this production came about at the SammerScape, so do take a look.
I might not be posting much more this week as we are going to New York on Thursday, where I'll be seeing Chicago (with Brandy Norwood) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with the real Benny from Rent OBC starring ;)). It's really hard to explain how I ended up not going to LesMiz or POTO. But I kind of thought, those are that things I can always do in London ;)) I hope I'll catch some mat performance in early August as both have mats on Saturdays, meaning I could go to NYC in the morning and come back at night – so keep your fingers crossed for me.
ungern, if you are reading this
не, я не ридинг, я нипаруски не понимаю.
О. А почему я не ходила на Рокки Хоррор? Не в Питере что ли?
Sono in Stati Uniti in questo momento. Questo e' perche non posso scrivere in russo (anche, non so scrivere in italiano, scusa ;)))
вот чуть что, так пинать "Фиделио" (((
Да ладно, прочные вещи можно и пнуть, только пыль повыбьется =)
(А драматическая традиция с тех пор же и правда стала другая).
I'm not sure 'Fidelio' is particularly solid, honestly. It's a shame far more solid pieces like, say, Schubert's 'Fierrabras' cannot reach the same level of popularity.
Вот научишься на "Воеводе", будешь "Фьеррабраса" продвигать ))
Alas! I'm afraid one cannot really pull it off. It was done twice at Salzburg, and broadcast widely, and released on DVD, but there's still no public interest in it. Maybe it just doesn't click.
I can't believe it! There was so much talk about it last autumn... But maybe you were studying too hard then ;) Do watch this recent production, it's staged by Peter Stein but it has a lot of amazing people in it, and I'm not talking about Schade or Roeschmann here – say, this have this brilliant young soprano called Julia Kleiter.
There's also a production by Claus Guth with Jonas in it which I did not appreciate much, and a production from the 80s which has TH in a comparatively minor part and a lot of other nice people too, but isn't particularly well staged (not staged at all, to be precise).
And that's it. No one approaches it.
There was a production here @ Bard at one of the recent SummerScapes, but you cannot get it to watch or listen as sadly they do not distribute or release any recordings.
Claus Guth - didn't he stage that Don Giovanni which looks like a psychological horror movie, with Maltman? I watched it recently and it was quite interesting, nice trees, but I will stick with Stein then. Stein is lucky to have such singers, everybody watches his productions! I will try to avoid the notion "some opera eye_ame thinks is better than Fidelio", haha :))
Yeah, you got it, that's the one. I do like him a lot, just not this time. He turned this whole plot into a kind of Schubert biopic, which kind of appalls me.
I don't really thing 'Fierrabras' is 'better' that 'Fidelio'. Both are a failure dramatically, and where Beethoven sticks to what he does best (rhythmic patterns, sophisticated work with form and tonalities), Schubert goes for what was his thing in vocal music, i.e. Lieder. Only what Beethoven is doing in 'Fidelio' is really quite forced to me, and it's a huge step back from what he himself could do at the same time with his orchestral work; and Schubert is honestly pushing forward in his composition, and tries to shape that 'German romantic opera' vision.
That's my view of it, anyway ;)) I hope I'm making sense here.
On a more serious note than tenor fangirling, I've always listened to Fidelio more like to oratorio with dramatic elements rather than an opera. As to comparing it to the symphonies idk - it was Beethoven's first work I properly listened to, and I already loved it when I grew to know his symphonies better. I think I see what you mean anyway, but I should listen to "Fierrabras" myself. Fascinating, I don't even know what to expect from Schubert there. I am speaking as if he wrote that yesterday, lol.
Never heard "Fierrabras" and it's nice how you can never listen to all the operas. As to "Fidelio", I got quite easily convinced because Windgassen was in. It's funny how it first works for most people because of the tenor. Your favourite tenor in prison => it can't go wrong.
That's a good example, you know, of how the name can work magic. I mean, it's not specifically about 'Fidelio', you can choose any piece you find overrated and ask the very same question, would I listen to it in a blind test? I think it's a very 'sane' point of view.
But I couldn't resist quoting this 'Fidelio' bit, obviously ;)
That's the way to do it: you kill off all the humans, then you kill off all the gods. Maybe it's Wagner's steps George Martin is following in? ;)))) (Yeah, I did gain some more knowledge of GoT lately.)