Real concert announcement

I have to take it easy the day after I work from 6:30 AM to
9:30 PM at the elections. I have material to talk about from
that, but it will have to wait. For today, you can read the Cantabile
Band Post
, which collects all the information about the
January 30 concert, and points to all the posts about the
December 17 concert.

You should also note that I made several proofreading errors
putting together the flyer.
The version I uploaded at about noon today has
both the correct date and the correct day of the week.

Concert Announcement

It looks like we are going to be able to repeat the concert we worked up for December 17 at the Boston Public Library for the ALL Gallery in Lowell. I’ll have more details later, but it will be early afternoon on Saturday, January 30. The Gallery is at 246 Market St.

The length of the concert is not as constrained as it is for a middle of the day concert, so we’ll probably put back some of the stuff we dropped for length reasons. We may drop some of the carols set, although that wasn’t really very Christmassy (more “Life of Jesus” than “Birth of Jesus”), and was among the audience favorites in December.

Addition: the Concert will be at 1:30 PM. Here’s a flyer.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

I enjoyed this
DVD
quite a lot, although it’s probably a bit long to be a
good introduction to Wagner if you don’t already know you want
to watch him.

With my memory refreshed on my previous viewing of the opera by
my post
last Monday
, I could see that the Bayreuth organization
and Werner Herzog (who did the stage direction) had to struggle
with many of the same problems that the Met touring company so
flagrantly failed to overcome.

Of course, the DVD had electronic means of overcoming any
imbalance between the singers and the orchestra, but probably
they hire singers to sing live at Bayreuth who have the right
vocal equipment. This is less rare than the right vocal
equipment for Hynes Auditorium, since Wagner designed his
theater very carefully for exactly that kind of production,
whereas Hynes Auditorium was designed for something else. (I’m
not really sure what, but it wasn’t Wagnerian opera.)

They coped with the problem of opera singers not always
grabbing the right end of the sword in the heat of all the other
things they have to think about by giving them “swords” that were
like wiggly light-sabers, which could be held anywhere along the
length of the weapon. The sword fights weren’t particularly
elaborately staged, but they did always seem to attack with the
“point”. The light-sabre conceit made some good lighting
effects possible.

The Swan was a stuffed Swan head and wings on the actor playing
the non-singing
role of Gottfried. And lots of lighting. As I remember the
Hynes Auditorium production, it wasn’t at all clear where the
dopy looking boy came from at the end. In this production, you
wonder why you can see the boy with the stuffed swan on his head
when none of the characters can. It’s one of the places where
I’m sure Wagner would have loved Hollywood special effects.

I thought all the singing was quite good. The acting was a
little more variable — Elsa was very good; Ortrud was
monochromatically angry; the men all verged on being a bit
wooden, with Lohengrin the best of the bunch. In general,
we shouldn’t expect opera singers who have been trained to act so that the
third balcony can see what they’re feeling to suddenly be subtle
in a film closeup. And I’m not sure we have the cultural
training to reproduce 19th century depictions of ancient
cultural figures in their public personas. We might well have
thought King Henry was wooden when he was addressing his
people if we had seen the real thing.

The scenery, lighting, and camera work were all quite good,
which you’d expect with a famous film director in charge. The
costumes were what I’ve seen in other Bayreuth-produced DVD’s —
nightgowns in attractive colors. This is one of the areas where
the production ignores explicit text in the libretto —
Lohengrin should have been wearing shining armor instead of a
vaguely steel-colored nightgown.

In general, I don’t believe people staging an opera from a
century and a half ago should feel compelled to follow all the
stage directions, or even all the staging explicitly called for
in the libretto. But I do wonder why they don’t change the
libretto when they’re changing the staging. Another place where
this production ignored Wagner’s writing was in the final scene when Lohengrin is
leaving his Sword, his Horn and his Ring for Gottfried when he
comes back. He does leave the light-sabre, but his costume
doesn’t have a horn, so he just sings about it without actually
putting anything down. This isn’t as irritating as when Brünhilde
is calling for her horse, and then talking to it for several
minutes and there isn’t anything remotely resembling a horse on
stage. But I do think they should address the problem when they
change something.

I spent a good part of the third act thinking what lousy wife
material Elsa was, aside from being able to deliver the Duchy of
Brabant. Before the wedding, she goes on and on about falling at
his feet and worshipping him. Then as soon as the ceremony is
over, she starts nagging him about telling her his name, which
is the one thing he’s asked her not to do. The marital
relationship between Ortrud and Friedrich is actually fairly
well-drawn, but virtuous women weren’t really Wagner’s strong
point.

There are other reviews: of this DVD at wagneropera.net,
and of the production as seen live (with a different cast) in The
New York Times
. I don’t disagree with much that they say,
but I think the wagneropera.net reviewer was a little harsh on
the acting.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=laymusicorg-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B000YD7S2Q&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Lohengrin at Hynes Auditorium

I notice that Netflix is finally shipping me Lohengrin as
directed by Werner Herzog, so I’ll tell you about the only live
performance I’ve ever seen, to explain why I wanted one with a
real director.

It was sometime in the 70’s; I remember discussing it with
people I worked with in 1976, so probably then, although I did
stay in touch with those people for a while afterwards.

I thought the idea of Wagnerian opera was wonderful, but I’d
never had a chance to see one. I didn’t have an operagoers
income, but I decided that when the Metropolitan Opera was going
to do Lohengrin in Boston, I should buy a ticket
anyway. My sister wanted to come too, although for her it was both more
money than she really had and a fairly long drive into Boston.

We didn’t get the top price tickets, but they were fairly good
seats — pretty close to the front, with a pillar you had to
move your neck to see around occasionally.

James Levine had just become music director of the Met, and had
a fine reputation as a conductor. The orchestra in this
performance was wonderful.

The minor roles were also well-cast. I particularly remember
Mignon Dunne (Ortrud) fondly — I had previously seen her as a
magnificent Carmen who threw things. In this, she was a
magnificent Ortrud who threw things. I don’t know whether he
has a wider acting range than this, but it’s a pretty good skill
for a mezzo-soprano. In any case, the fact that we had no trouble
hearing either the mezzo or the baritone or the bass indicates
that a properly selected soprano and tenor should have been
audible.

They weren’t. James Alexander played Lohengrin. In addition
to being largely inaudible, even as close to the stage as we
were (probably closer than 80 or maybe even 90 percent of the
audience), his stagecraft left one wondering whether he knew
which end of the sword to hold on to.

Elsa was played by a singer whose name I’ve forgotten, but at
the time I was excited about hearing her because she had been a
good Countess in a recording of The Marriage of
Figaro
that I’d heard. I probably would have still
been excited if I could have heard her, but her Mozart soprano
voice was completely inadequate to the demands of singing over a
full Wagner orchestra in Hynes Auditorium.

The staging in general was pretty ludicrous. In the scene
where armed men break into Lohengrin and Elsa’s bedroom, and
Lohengrin needs to get his sword out of the chest, Wagner’s
stage directions say that Elsa hands it to him. They don’t say
anything about her needing to run around him to get to the chest
first so that she can obey the stage direction to hand it to him.
The staging of the subsequent sword fight would have embarrassed
any decent high school theater production.

The Chorus sang well enough, but stood in sections facing the
conductor, even when they were allegedly imitating a bunch of
happy guests at a wedding.

The first thing most reviewers mentioned about this production
was that there was no swan. It was just a spotlight in the
reeds at stage rear. I suppose better acting could have made
you believe that the characters were seeing something
transcendant in that spot of light, but I didn’t.

I had studied the libretto carefully before going to see my
first Wagner opera, and it reminded me that the chapter that in
literature and music textbooks is called “Romanticism”, in
history books is often titled “The Rise of European
Nationalism”. In Lohengrin’s farewell speech, he says:

Deutschland sollen noch in fernsten Tagen
des Ostens Horden siegreich nimmer ziehn!

Never, not even in the most distant future,
shall the hordes from the East rise up in victory against Germany!

I thought it would be appropriate for a modern audience to hiss
and boo at that point, but I couldn’t hear the words well enough
to know when it came. I don’t know a lot of German, but both
Deutchland and Horden are in my vocabulary.

So in conclusion, when the Met decided a couple of years later
to discontinue touring to Hynes Auditorium, I wasn’t
disappointed, and I had the impression that a lot of the people
who said they were hadn’t actually ever attended a performance
there. If you search the Times Archive, you will find
complimentary reviews of this production, but they all have
bigger names in the star roles. If the Met touring company had
put enough energy into casting and staging it would probably
have been more successful, although I doubt that Hynes
Auditorium would have ever made anyone’s list of the great opera
houses of the world.

Another concert excerpt

I did take pictures of the tree, and I’ll figure out how to let
you see them tomorrow, but I don’t have time to struggle with
wordpress and images right now, so here’s another vocal from
Thursday’s concert. Come,
Sirrah Jack, Ho
is about the joys of smoking. It’s
one of the ones people use to teach voice independance — the
middle line is really hard if you haven’t gotten the idea that
your voice is completely independant of the others. But if the
other parts are together, and you just start your part one
quarter note after there’s, it turns out to be easy.

Here’s Come,
Sirrah Jack, ho!
the
sheet music
if you want to play it yourself.

A good three-voice vocal from Thursday

No, just because we had 20 pieces on our program
doesn’t mean I’m going to get 20 posts out of it, but I will
give you some highlights. And tomorrow it’s likely you get
pictures of the Christmas tree, which I’m about to go buy.
After all, if someone’s going to try to both blog and celebrate
the season, you have to expect blog posts that fall out of
celebrating the season.

Love
learns by laughing
was the ending number. A
friend who saw the program posting emailed me that her recorder
group always ends with that when they play Morley. We agree
that its a really good ending number. The
sheet music
is on SerpentPublications.org
if you want to play it yourself.

How it went yesterday

Yesterday, of course, being the concert
I’ve been telling you about for a couple of months.

The short answer is, pretty well. There were about 50 people, including 6 who came
because we told them to. They seemed happy — we felt completely
justified in doing our encore. I thought we lost them a bit in the
middle, but there weren’t any loud snores and they came back for the
end. I didn’t have any disruptive coughing fits, and although there
were some flubs, we didn’t completely lose it at any point.

We did take some pictures, but I don’t have them yet, because
they’re on someone else’s camera. I’ll probably get several
daily posts out of snippets from the recording, so today I’ll
just give you the one that has the best recorder playing on
it.

It’s the Ricercada
Primera
by Diego Ortiz. I’m playing my G alto recorder by
Ralph Netch. I decided last summer that I needed to get more
comfortable on it, so I spent the whole summer playing English
Country Dances on it, both using C fingerings and using G
fingerings, which involve playing up into the third octave.
The bass line is played by Ishmael Stefanov on his 5-stringed
fiddle by Alan Carruth.

I started working on this piece last September, when we’d first
scheduled the concert. I asked my recorder teacher what solo
recorder piece he’d recommend for a concert like this (we didn’t
of course know very much about the actual program then), and
this was what he suggested.

If I’d been using the 465 body, I’d have hit the low G, and I
was hitting it most of the time in rehearsal on the 440 body,
but I flubbed it in actual performance. But otherwise, this is
the kind of Renaissance recorder playing I’m capable of these
days. A year ago there would have been a lot more unintended
spaces and forced (and therefore sharp) high notes.

Gibralter and Christmas

We like to end the three-hour West Gallery Quire
meetings with something rousing that we know well, so that even if
we’ve been struggling with unfamiliar music where the words are on
a different page with the notes, we can go home feeling like we
sound good when we’ve worked through those difficulties.

Last Sunday we were concentrating on Christmas music, much of
which was new, and even the stuff we’ve been playing for years we
mostly haven’t played since last January. There are a couple of
rousing pieces suitable for ending on, but we’d sung those already
when it got to be time for the last number. So our director
suggested that we end with one of our really common (because it’s
really good) ending numbers: Gibralter.

The text is part of Isaac Watts version of Psalm
72
:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Does his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

People and realms of every tongue

Dwell on his love with sweetest song;

And infant voices shall proclaim

Their early blessings on his name.

Blessings abound where’er he reigns,

The pris’ner leaps to lose his chains;

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blest.

Let every creature rise and bring

Peculiar honors to our King;

Angels descend with songs again,

And earth repeat the long Amen.

Bruce was apologetic about Gibralter not being a
Christmas piece, but I said, “It has ‘infant voices’ and
‘angels’ — it’s a lot like Christmas music.”

He added, “Prisoners?”

I don’t see why you couldn’t make a really good Christmas card
with the prisoners leaping to lose their chains.

Final Program for Thursday Concert

It’s one of those jobs that expands to fill the time allotted
to it. But I just emailed the program to the director of the
series, who will print it, so it’s now cast in wax, if not
concrete.

We needed another round of cuts, which took some negotiating,
since all three of us had our agendas for this program, which
were close enough that we work together pretty well, but
different enough that deciding what to cut took some
discussion. One person objected to cutting any country dances,
but had no trouble cutting Christmas carols. Another person
thought cutting verses on Christmas carols would make the
program more esoteric for the audience. I thought there was too
much serpent playing, but would rather have cut the country dance
playing than the one Morley Fantasia which I’d worked hard on.
But I think everybody’s reasonably happy.

I think it’s going to be a good program. We’re calling it “I
will laugh without that care: Music of Celebration and
Fellowship from Renaissance England.” The Cantabile Band will
play and sing madrigals, country dances and fantasias by Morley,
Weelkes, Ravenscroft, Ortiz and others on serpent, five-stringed fiddle,and recorders.

If you can come, it’s
at 2 PM on Thursday, December 17, at the Boston Public Library,
700 Boylston St., Boston, MA, USA. The library is at Dartmouth Street T stop
on the Green Line. The concert will be in the Rabb Lecture
Hall.

Here’s the program,
and these are the lyrics
to all the vocal numbers. Most of the music is at SerpentPublications.org,
if you want to play it.