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Listen To The Entire Naxos/Marco Polo Catalog, for free, legally.

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 31 May 2011 | 11:25:00 pm

Someone sent me this information earlier. After testing it out I thought I might share.

If you subscribe to Toronto Symphony Orchestra's mailing list they will provide you with free access to the Naxos Music Library! (They call it "Beethoven On Demand)

Yes, I know it sounds "to good to be true. Oddly, I am already  a subscriber through my workplace -  won't bore you with the details. However, I have just checked it and it does indeed seem to work. Presently listening to the Neuhold's Gotterdammerung. 

I cannot guarantee of course that you won't get spammed to your email but I have not received anything else and given it is the TSO it would seem unlikely.

If you wish to try it out, go directly to the TSO "subscribe to email" page by clicking here (direct url:

If you don't trust direct links (yes I know people are paranoid) google "Toronto Symphony Orchestra" and on the home page, on the right hand side, click "Join The TOS Email Club"  Dirct link to page here

If you can, you might want to check out their performances while you are there.

Postscript: I just remembered, includes BIS and Chandos catalogs also - among others 

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SF Opera: Siegfried - Review Summery.

I love opera reviews, less for what they say about the production and more for what they say about the reviewers - and human perception in general. It would be easy to think that when we go to the opera we all see and hear roughly  the same things - allowing for  aging eyesight,  hearing, tiredness and alcohol consumption of course. But opera reviews (and indeed reviews of any medium) would suggest otherwise - but you know that already. It's for this reason that I very rarely take much notice of them - at least as far as deciding whether to see a particular performance. However,  if there is any "truth" out there and if that truth can be found amongst a number of different people, it will be when all of them find certain commonalities. With that in mind:

Over all, it would be fair to say the reviews have provided high praise overall (not that common with Ring Cycles and Siegfried especially). Common to all was praise for both Donald Runnicles and the  SF Opera Orchestra.

"The glory of the performance was the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, led by Donald Runnicles, who made his debut here 21 years ago with the “Ring.”
Wagner’s music is both big and intricately nuanced. Runnicles covered the extremes and everything between, leading near-perfect orchestral playing. For five hours, the strings were silk-smooth and together, the woodwinds sang freely and the brass impeccable". Janos Gereben - SF Examiner.(JG - SFE)
"...a powerhouse contribution from the pit from former music director Donald Runnicles, whose mastery of Wagner's music remains a thing of wonder and admiration".Joshua  Kosman - SF Gate (JK - SFG)
"Splendors of SFO’s Orchestra. .Runnicles may not be the most rapturous of conductors. Yet when he went for the gold in the final act, and unleashed the orchestra to convey the full glories of Wagner’s mature, post-Tristan und Isolde writing, the results were irresistible" SF Classical Voice - Jason Victor Serinus (SFCV - JVS)
"The orchestra played excellently under Runnicles’ sure and dramatic guidance, Wagner’s music portraying the story and unfolding in as eloquent and enveloping fashion as can be wanted. Altogether it was first class" SF Classical Voice - Robert P Commandy. (SFVC - RPC)
Of Jay Hunter Morris' Siegfried (WNO Tristan in 2012) there was a difference of opinion. Although none of it could be described as being  in anyway in the "negative', "size of voice" was noted. 

"Tenor Jay Hunter Morris, undertaking the title role for the first time, was adequate but never quite electrifying, his singing tender and thoughtful but one or two sizes too small for the task". said SF Gate, but went on to say, "What Morris did accomplish, though, was to inject a welcome note of humanity into a character who can too often seem thuggish and crude". However, SF Classical Voice said: "Morris sang a fine Siegfried, his voice focused and clear, softly burnished and, though not the strongest or most penetrating in the Heldentenor business, still consistently musical, expressive, and spirited".  This was repeated by the SF Examiner: "In the title role, Jay Hunter Morris has the best qualities of a heldentenor, with a forward sound, edge and natural high notes. He had a good day, in spite of what was lacking: a voice big enough to be both heroic and able to cut through the orchestra at all time".  It should be noted that with regards to comments about Morris shear vocal power, the SFCV reminded us that he is a very late replacement for Ian Storey and sang through the role in rehearsal for the first time only 1 week ago! As SFVC says"Yet his youthful physical buoyancy, near-heroic posture, and convincing naivete amid brutality (how American!) were a delight. Perhaps by the time he essays the role a second time on June 17, in the first of SFO’s three complete traversals of the Ring, he will have found the means to forge his sword with the power of a hero."

There was similar  praise, concerns,and disagreement (do these people attend the same performances?) - about Mark Delavan's Wotan: SFCV - JVC (Yes, SFCV sent two reviewers!) "While Delavan continues to display a winning gravitas, his power came more from emotional depth than sheer decibels". On the other hand SFCV's other reviewer found the opposite: "Delavan’s bass-baritone seems richer, darker, and larger than ever, and he sang commandingly, delivering a strong, dominating performance. He is also physically bigger, with his commodious outer coat heightening the impression. SF Gate found: Mark Delavan, who after a commanding "Walküre" Wotan seemed vocally hazy and physically ill-at-ease as The Wanderer (Wotan's undercover identity). Even for a moribund god, this was a less than authoritative showing" And yet The Examiner said that while  Delavan’s Wotan seemed: "... vocally restrained, but his musicality and superb diction came through again. His duet with Gordon Hawkins’ Alberich provided a rare baritone summit".

Far different was the unanimous praise for David Cangelosi's Mime (central to Siegfried in my opinion and a good or bad Mime really can make or break a performance. Get this right in the first act and your "in" get it wrong and it takes a long time to recover.):

"David Cangelosi, as the malevolent Mime, to dominate the first half of the opera, which he did with a dark, fluid and vividly imagined performance" - SF Gate.
"...the sensational Mime of tenor David Cangelosi..." SFCV
"David Cangelosi’s bright, penetrating tenor projected the highly characterized singing of the Mime part well. Playing the troll, he compensates for his height by crouching and bending, and tumbled and hopped about acrobatically." SFVC

And what of  Francesca Zambello's production? You have seen Ring productions? You know, including yoursel, that people never agree what is a "good" staging/"concept" - right? Well, that would make this Ring no different to the rest:

SF Gate, helpfully fills us in with some background - should we not have noticed during the first two parts of the Ring staged: "The overarching theme in director Francesca Zambello's conception is American history seen through an ecological lens; this is a "Ring," to put it too simply, about the management and mismanagement of natural resources." ""Siegfried" arrives in a contemporary world of oil refineries, scrap metal and natural despoliation - a combination of the worst of New Jersey and East Texas. Projected images during the Act 1 prelude set the scene with gently roiling clouds that morph into toxic fumes". SFCV , tells us a little more - and lets us know what they thought about it: "On Michael Yeargan’s opening set, Siegfried and Mime’s home looks like the post-holocaust ruins of a trailer park, while Jan Hartley and S. Katy Tucker’s projections during the orchestral interludes are choked with the refuse of humankind’s destruction of the natural world. If Zambello’s vision is so stark as to make Wagner’s apocalyptic Twilight of the Gods (Götterdämmerung) seem like an afterthought, the overwhelming impact of Wagner’s music nevertheless makes us eager to return for more." The SF Examiner found the whole thing just a little "tiring" but at least not "Eurotrash" : "Zambello’s “decaying American landscape” and “world ravaged by greed and neglect” — on Michael Yeargan’s sets with piles of garbage, polluted water and smoke-belching chimneys — is OK, given that the production remains focused on the music. The staging is not outrageous, compared to some European excesses, but it is tiresome" . Well, there you go. And SFCV's other reviewer? "..the best aspects of Francesca Zambello’s direction that more than compensated for elements of the Modern-Times-in-a-Desolate-America production that stretched to Make a Statement (Zambello’s Achilles’ heel).Zambello’s best work focused on the crucial confrontations in Siegfried, searching out the dynamics of the relationships and interactions, building the final climax to the most powerful of these."

And now to those late appearing female roles in Siegfried.  We have seen variance in a opinion with many aspects of this production but this is not, generally, reflected with it's female performers. Indeed, the SFVC says - in bold and large font: "Thank Goddess for the Women". Of especial note is the gushing praise from all, for Stemme's Brünnhilde. Some examples below. Should you want to find out who-wrote-what, I have included the links to the original reviews at the bottom of this post.

Here at last was the combination of assured, muscular vocalism and focused theatrical vibrancy that Wagner's music dramas require. As the rebellious Valkyrie roused at last from her magical slumber, Stemme unleashed a stream of potent, silvery sound that pierced the orchestral texture without a hint of strain.
Stemme sounded marvelous, being in even better form than when she debuted as Brünnhilde in SFO’s Walkürelast June (while suffering from a sinus infection). Possessing the biggest voice onstage, she easily negotiated her character’s huge range. She also summoned forth multiple colors to make believable her character’s wide range of human emotions. With Flagstad, Nilsson, and Varnay no longer with us, we Wagnerites can rejoice that we have another great Brünnhilde to maintain the tradition. 
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Bayreuth In A Garden:Longborough Festival Opera 2011

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 30 May 2011 | 8:04:00 am

That most unusual of British Opera festivals is due to start, and I will be covering it in more detail soon. But while Siegfried hunts for a suitable bear, I thought this feature from The Times last year, deserved reforging for now. Of course, Walkure was launched successfully and this year it is Siegfried's turn but if you can, the Graham's still need your support.

Richard Morrison: the great British eccentrics and the Ring

Richard Morrison - April 30, 2010

When I come to write the definitive history of English eccentricity — a subject I have lived with all my life — I will definitely allocate a chapter to Martin and Lizzie Graham. Other people have shrubs in their garden. The Grahams are growing something a little larger: a bicentenary production of Wagner’s Ring. All four operas and 15 hours of it. Staged in a converted chicken barn in rural Gloucestershire.

It will cost them about a million quid, plus the rest — because nothing with the word “Wagner” attached comes budget-priced. They don’t get a penny of public subsidy, and have precisely three years to raise the money, because for some reason the Germans are insistent that Wagner’s bicentenary can’t be shifted from 2013. The whole project is blissfully barmy. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Longborough Festival Opera.

The Grahams are an engaging couple. Martin grew up in Longborough,didn’t excel at school and became a builder’s mate. He’s now one of the leading property developers in the Midlands. He met Lizzie, a former English teacher, at a party. “I was impressed by his talk about literature,” she says. “Only later did I find out how few books he had actually read. He marshalled his knowledge extremely cleverly.”

In the 1990s both became fascinated by opera in general and Wagner in particular. But whereas most Wagner obsessives spend their summers in Bayreuth and try to lead normal lives for the rest of the year, the Grahams felt the urge to do something much stranger. They decided to present Wagner in their garden. “I thought ‘This is so simple’, because we already had the barn,” Martin says.

The obvious people to consult were Georg Solti, the greatest Wagner conductor of his day, and George Christie, the owner of Glyndebourne, the oldest country-house opera festival. “Solti wrote back saying ‘You must be bonkers’ and Christie said, ‘I think you need help’.” What sort of help he didn’t specify.

Undeterred, the Grahams set about converting the barn into a theatre. A friend suggested that they give it a fake Palladian front — in pink. Cotswold District Council went collectively apoplectic, but the Grahams finally prevailed. The 480 seats came as a job lot from the Royal Opera House, which was being refurbished.

And the rest? Well, each year Martin adds another little touch to his grand project. Statues of great composers over the portico. New loos. Fancier boxes. A deeper orchestral pit (“I’ve dug out a bit more this year,” he says). More dressing rooms. Brick by brick, his old barn is looking more and more like a real opera house. And, because it’s on a ridge, the views are breathtaking. Emerge from Figaro and you can see three counties laid out like a map in front of you.

The annual festival runs for six weeks from mid-June and stages everything from Mozart to Britten. But the gleam that started the whole thing — Wagner’s Ring — hasn’t been sidelined. In 1998 the Grahams presented a “pocket” Ring: an ingenious condensing of the score by the British composer Jonathan Dove. But that was just a warm-up. In 2007 they mounted a full-scale Rhinegold. “To call it a triumph would be an understatement,” I enthused in these pages. Some props looked as though they had been plucked from a car-boot sale. Bayreuth it wasn’t. But it was sung and staged with a thrilling, almost ferocious passion.

Now the second instalment of Longborough’s Ring is ready. On July 24 the Valkyrie will swoop on the Cotswolds for three performances. In keeping with the incongruity of the place, Wotan will be played by a former fireman — a brilliant Welsh baritone, Jason Howard. The plan is that Siegfried will follow next year,Götterdämmerung in 2012 and two cycles of the whole Ring in 2013.

It’s breathtakingly risky. The Grahams have raised their ticket prices for Die Walküre: £70-£145, rather than the £35-£110 range for non-Wagner nights. But that will produce a box-office take of only about £125,000 — and the show’s budget is £225,000. The gap has to be covered by donations. For the Ring in 2013 the gap will be much bigger. “We will need a £1 million injection,” Lizzie says. “But it can’t be put off,” Martin adds firmly. “We have to take the plunge.”

Three cheers for that. The arts world is far too corporate these days. Committees, consultants, assessors, accountants, boards, bureaucrats: it sometimes seems that no performance can happen without years of discussion by hundreds of bean-counters. Longborough is heartwarming evidence that, with a dash of “can do” spirit, a lot of resourcefulness, energy and an endless supply of English eccentricity the mightiest cultural projects can flourish, on a shoestring, in the oddest places.

But they do need that million quid. The last time I looked, the Cotswolds were full of weekending City types stashing their million-pound bonuses. I don’t wish to cast aspersions. But wouldn’t a donation to Gloucestershire’s very own Ring cycle be a good way to show that you aren’t socially useless after all?

Read more at The Times Online
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Birgit Nilsson - Mon 27 May 1963 - Desert Island Discs. What and whom did she select?

Desert Island Discs is a long-running BBC Radio 4 programme first broadcast on 29 January 1942. As it's name would suggest, an invited guest selects 8 pieces of music (originally records that they brought with them) , a book and a luxury item they would take if they were stranded on a desert island. The final piece of music was the one they considered most essential.

On May 27 1963 Birgit Nilsson appeared on the program. What follows (with some musical examples) is her selection. It's interesting to note of those records she selected 6 of  her own performances. Now that's a true Diva.

Broadcast: Mon 27 May 1963,  Roy Plomley presenting


Carl Maria von Weber
Leise, leise, fromme Weise (from Der Freischütz)
Soloist: Birgit Nilsson Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra Conductor: Heinz Wallberg

Franz Schubert
Die Forelle (The Trout), D550
Soloist: Elisabeth Schumann

Birgit Nilsson
I Could Have Danced All Night

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Wagner's Ring: Worthless and Irrelevant? Roger Scruton thinks not

"Nietzsche invites us to see Wagner's characters as one-dimensional people, sick remnants of the bourgeois order, dressed up in heroic costumes and enjoying a spurious sovereignty over their fate in a fairy-tale world. The whole thing, in Nietzsche's view, is a fake, a blown-up bubble of nothingness."
"The time of heroes was a mythical time-and mythical time is now. Myths do not speak of what was but of what is eternally. They are magical-realist summaries of the actual world, in which the moral possibilities are personified and made flesh"
"Everybody with ears knows that the Ring is full of meaning, that plot, character, music, and motives are to be understood as multi-dimensional symbols, and that there unfolds on the stage, in the words, and through the music a complex argument about the nature of human life, about the hopes and fears of our species, and about the cosmos itself. Yet what exactly does it mean?"

In a letter to The American Spectator (to what else would he write) Scruton answers Nietzsche's often cited  condemnation that ultimately the Ring is worthless, because at it's core it is nothing.And Scruton's conclusion? Partly things heard before and partly conclusions that could only be drawn by the ever idiosyncratic Scruton. Agree or disagree at least it is an interesting read - once you have gotten through the first few paragraphs of the usual defense of Wagner  (I have excluded these here but they can be found with the full article here). You have been warned. By the way, if you haven't already you might want to read Scruton's arguably wonderful examination of Tristan und Isolde: Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde

The Ring of Truth

By Roger Scruton from the May 2011 issue of American Spectator

As a convinced Wagnerian, who honestly believes The Ring of the Nibelung to be not only the greatest work of art conceived in modern times, but also the one that contains, as no other work contains, the truth of what we are now living through, I want to defend the composer against the tide of detraction that flows across his memory. I want to protest with a resounding "so what?" So what is so bad about these vampires who suck our blood in order to remind us (what we are always in danger of forgetting) that our veins really do contain some? So what if Otto Wesendonck's wife was loved by someone who immortalized not only her, but the name of Wesendonck, in music whose beauty will never until the end of time be surpassed? How lucky for Minna that, her second-rate promiscuous character notwithstanding, she has gone down in history as the abandoned wife of someone worth being abandoned by (Note by The Wagnerian: It is thankful that Wagner was never promiscuous.); how lucky for the mad King Ludwig that he ruined the public purse of Bavaria on behalf of someone who turned mortal money into immortal music (Note by The Wagnerian: Ludwig was capable of ruining the public peruse on his own one would suspect). How unlucky for Germany that more of its petty monarchs did not follow suit, but instead chose to invest in the worst of all possible causes, namely the war on France which was to lead in due course to the temporary destruction of Europe and the permanent psychosis of Germany. 

BUT I KNOW THAT the excuses don't quite carry conviction, either their conviction or mine. Wagner's justification lies in his art and nowhere else, and the best excuse that can be made for him is that his creative labors required not only the enormous sacrifice that he made on their behalf, but also the sacrifices that he demanded from everyone else. But how to persuade the skeptics, who have such a powerful advocate in Nietzsche, the only great artist who has taken another artist as a target, and set out to destroy him? Nietzsche invites us to see Wagner's characters as one-dimensional people, sick remnants of the bourgeois order, dressed up in heroic costumes and enjoying a spurious sovereignty over their fate in a fairy-tale world. The whole thing, in Nietzsche's view, is a fake, a blown-up bubble of nothingness.
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Verdi and Wagner: Contrast and Compare.

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 29 May 2011 | 7:28:00 am

In his video series, Anthony Tommasini contrasts the dynamic duo of 19th-century opera: Verdi and Wagner.

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Royal Opera and The Met announce cinema seasons - 2011-2012


Opera houses announce productions to be broadcast globally

 (Thanks to Opera Peru)

Nine Covent Garden productions, and 11 productions from The Metropolitan Opera,New York are to be
shown in cinemas around the world later this year.

The Met, which has been running a cinema season since 2006, will be broadcasting shows live including Wagner’s Siegfried, Philip Glass’s Satyagraha and Massenet’s Manon.

The Royal Opera House’s (ROH) programme, meanwhile, includes productions from the Royal Ballet, including Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty on 15 December, as well as operas such as Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) in January 2012, starring Joyce DiDonato.

Other highlights from the ROH include Bryn Terfel in Puccini’s Tosca, to be screened in November this year, and Angela Gheorghiu in Adriana Lecouvreur, to be broadcast this October.

Both houses will be broadcasting productions of Gounod’s Faust – Gheorghiu stars in the Covent Garden production while Jonas Kaufmann and Marina Poplavskaya will be singing among the lead roles in New York.

The Royal Opera House cinema season will be shown in more than 140 cinemas in the UK and more than 600 cinemas around the world. They launched their first cinema season in 2008, following the success of the Live in HD scheme run by the Metropolitan Opera.
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SF Opera Ring Festival 2011: "What happens if you just fall right over her?" asked Francesca Zambello.

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 28 May 2011 | 2:02:00 pm

In S.F., Francesca Zambello completes 'Ring'

Siegfried dropped his glass and swaggered toward the couch. Gutrune eyed him knowingly as he moved in and perched above her.

Photo: Liz Hafalia
The director, watching from her rehearsal hall chair, offered a suggestion. "What happens if you just fall right over her?" asked Francesca Zambello.

Ian Storey, who's playing Siegfried in San Francisco Opera's new production of Richard Wagner's "Götterdämmerung," tried the tumble a few times. It didn't feel right to him. He got back on the couch and repositioned himself, looking down the body of Melissa Citro, cast as Gutrune, instead of into her face.

Zambello nodded her approval as Storey ran his hands up onto Citro's knees and thighs. "Legs do it for all of them," the director said. "I like it."

After a few more takes, Zambello asked if everyone was comfortable with what they'd just accomplished before continuing the scene. A pianist churned on through the score. Forty minutes later, the rehearsal hall, one of three in use that afternoon, was reconfigured for a duet from "Siegfried" with Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme) and a younger Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris) clambering around on some rocks.

Zambello has been doing a lot of these hairpin turns, working 12 hours a day seven days a week to get all four operas of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ready for the company's deluxe Wagner summer season at the War Memorial Opera House. Opening today with the local production premiere of "Siegfried," followed by the premiere of this "Götterdämmerung" on June 5, the season features three complete "Ring" cycles, each one compressed into a single week (June 14-July 3).

A broken ankle, which required a brace, wasn't about to slow the single-minded Zambello down. Brisk and straightforward, she brushed off any concerns about her enormous task. "We've got a battle plan," she said in a dinner-break interview, ignoring a boxed salad. "Once you've got the whole thing in your head, you don't get lost. You focus on what's in front of you."

Known for her ability to balance the sweeping view with telling psychological and emotional details, Zambello is finally about to reveal the full scope of an American-setting "Ring" that's been in the works for a decade. She and San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley first discussed the idea when he was still running the Houston Grand Opera. When financial woes scuttled an American "Ring" in Texas, Zambello found a new home for the idea at the Washington National Opera, which mounted "Das Rheingold" in 2005 and "Die Wälkure" in 2007. But the D.C. company, too, was destined not to see the entire project through.

Now, despite its own financial constraints, it's San Francisco that will realize the full vision of a "Ring" that invokes everything from the California Gold Rush and a gleaming 1930s Manhattan skyline to bleak freeway overpasses and the winged Valkyries as Amelia Earhart-styled aviatrices parachuting in from above.

Local audiences got their first sense of Zambello's American "Ring" when "Das Rheingold" played here in 2008. "Die Wälkure" followed in 2010.

Her "Siegfried," the director said, "comes out of the American spirit of the outsider, whether it's Jack Kerouac or James Dean - the kind of free spirit who knows no boundaries." As for "Götterdämmerung," it will be set in a near future "when the actions of the characters have destroyed the natural order, and we've come to a time of such corruption that cannot be restored except by Brünnhilde's self-sacrifice. I see it as a time where all nature is dead." (more)

Continue Reading...

All images Lea Suzuki unless indicated otherwise
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August 1935 - Gramophone: "My trouble with Parsifal is that I am incapable of accepting Wagner's sincerity of belief."

I found this editorial from Gramophone 1935 interesting, especially given Katharina Wagner's recent remarks about  Parsifal and "religion".

EDITORIAL: August 1935, Gramophone


After many years of writing I have learnt most of the provocative statements of opinion, and one of the most provocative of all is to say anything derogatory about Parsifal. So I was not surprised when our esteemed Madrid correspondent, Señor Nueda y Santiago, wrote to rebuke my slighting allusion to it. To Señor Nueda Parsifal is not only "the most beautiful, superb and astonishing masterpiece of music ever written, but the most beautiful, superb and amazing masterpiece ever produced in any art." Now, Señor Niieda has written an extremely interesting book on the oestheties of music, Dc Musica, with most of which I should agree, and he on his side cordially approves of my choice of music for that imaginary desert island. Equally we should agree absolutely with one another in our admiration of the Ring, and yet Parsifai affects us both quite differently. Señor Nueda does not mind whether Parsifai be Christian, heathen, Buddhist, or theosophist." In the dedication to Richard Wagner with which he prefaces his book he writes " My mother taught me to pray and to believe. In materialin I learnt to doubt. You restore my faith, because when I enjoy your divine music I am aware of my soul and I believe in it."

My trouble with Parsifal is that I am incapable of accepting Wagner's sincerity of belief. He takes a great Christian legend and theatricalises it. It is not a dogmatic necessity for a Christian to believe in the Holy Grail, but if a Christian believes in the dogma which inspired the legend he finds it impossible to forgive the distortion of it in Wagner's treatment. Nietzsche's attack upon Parsifal gave Parsifal a kind of religious kudos, but an orthodox Christian ought to agree with much of what Nietzsche said about it. It is impossible to imagine Nietzsche's attacking the music of Palesirina any more effectively than a clothes'-moth could attack a granite monolith. Nevertheless, although I shall never myself derive any emotional, intellectual, or even purely musical pleasure from Parsifai, the very reasons for which I condemn it compel me to recognise the right of its admirers to claim a magic for its influence.

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WAGNER By Peter Latham: Aesthetics and Orchestration. Gramophone 1926

An article published in Gramophone, June 1926. Latham discuss, Wagner, Gluck, Music -Drama, Aesthetics and Orchestration.

WAGNER himself never wished to be regarded as a composer pure and simple. He protested with some justice that his achievement covered many fields, and that any estimate of it must be based on a general survey and not merely on the music that constituted but one element in the complex whole. Even the modern opera-goer (andthe opera-singer, too) is far too apt to forget all other considerations in his anxiety to appreciate to the full the music that the composer puts before him ; and if this tendency is common to-day, it was almost universal when Wagner lived and wrote. For though the obvious truth that an opera is a combination of music and drama has never been entirely forgotten since it was first stated by the group of Florentines among whom this form of art originated, yet the ideal blend of the two has not proved easy to discover. Music has always had a way of asserting her pm-eminence at the expense of the plays with which she has been associated, in spite of all the efforts of theorists and reformers to keep her within legitimate bounds. Even the redoubtable Gluck himself could not always resist her imperious demand for freedom to develop unrestrained along her own lines, and during the seventy-five years or so that elapsed between Iphigenia in Tauris and The Rhine gold she succeeded in reducing the sister art to a condition of almost complete subjection. Mozart and Beethoven, it is true, never failed to give due consideration to the significance of the scene they were setting, but the bent of their minds towards purely instrumental compositions made them illfitted to continue the work of Gluck, even if the sheer splendour of their genius had not been such as to overwhelm by its very magnificence the dramas to which it lent its lustre. Their deep sense of artistic fitness did, indeed, lead to the creation of an operatic tradition that was to develop through Weber till at last it bore rich fruit in the work of Wagner himself. But before this consummation could be reached a period had to be traversed during which the original ideals of dramatic music seemed to be obliterated in a flood of lyric eloquence and vocal virtuosity. This is not the place for an estimate of the operas of Spontini, Meyerbeer, Auber, Donizetti, Bellini, and a host of others, all famous in their day and not by any means forgotten even now ; but it will be generally conceded that in their work it was the music and the singers that mattered. The very inanity of so many of their libretti is sufficient evidence of the small store they set on dramatic considerations.

Such being the operas to which audiences were accustomed when Wagner appeared upon the scene, it is not surprising that he should have decided that his theories required some explanation if they were to prove acceptable to the operatic public. His hearers, he felt, must be made to see that his mature work, however novel it might appear, contained nothing that was not perfectly logical and easily intelligible once the standpoint from which he regarded the artistic problem was properly appreciated, and consequently we find him in his writings insisting again and again on the essential unity of the true "Music-Drama," in which literature, acting, and stagecraft should all play their part with the music in achieving the desired dramatic result.
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Richard Mills: Conducts The Ring And Takes Over Melbourne's Victorian Opera 2013

CONDUCTOR Richard Mills is apparently unstoppable: in 2013 he will take over artistic leadership of Melbourne's Victorian Opera as well as conduct for the first time the most demanding work in the repertoire, Wagner's four-part Ring cycle.
 Mills was yesterday named artistic director of Victorian Opera, succeeding Richard Gill, who founded the company in 2005.
"The Victorian Opera's commitment to new Australian work will continue, and I have a long record of commissioning new work," Mills said yesterday. "It's one thing I am passionate about."
He will step down from WA Opera, where he has been artistic director since 1997, at the end of next year.
The Melbourne appointment follows an acrimonious episode in Perth in which Mills sacked his head of music at WA Opera.
Brisbane-born pianist and voice coach Scott Curry, who returned to Australia from Germany to take up the post, claims he was unfairly dismissed three months into his probationary period. "There was no problem from management," Curry told The Weekend Australian. "It's all the work of one person (Mills)."cycle, which Mills is due to conduct in a $16 million production for Opera Australia.
"I know this Wagner and Strauss thing inside out," Curry said this week, ahead of his planned return to Berlin on Monday.
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Tannhäuser: An opera for those that have felt outlawed because of their sex?

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 27 May 2011 | 9:07:00 am

Tim Ashley, examines Tannhäuser and finds it to be not only  a favorite to such a diverse group of individuals as Freud, Oscar Wild and Queen Victory, but also  that it became a totem to the "counterculture" and  especially to those  outlawed because of their "sex"

Tannhäuser in the kingdom of the goddess Venus, by Henri Fantin-Latour. Photograph: akg-images

In chapter 11 of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's hero goes to the opera. As transgression and excess begin to rot that famous portrait, the piece to which he becomes obsessively drawn is Wagner'sTannhäuser, the only named musical work in a passage widely viewed as a catalogue of the trappings of decadence. Wilde describes the "rapt pleasure" Dorian takes in "seeing in the prelude to that great work of art a presentation of the tragedy of his own soul".

Dorian was by no means alone, for it was in Tannhäuser, more than any of Wagner's other operas, that many in the late 19th century found a reflection of their moral and sexual concerns. Its admirers included Queen Victoria, Baudelaire and Freud. It inspired major works both of literature and pornography, and was interpreted as everything from a justification of normative values to a fierce celebration of counterculture extremes. It appealed above all to those who were – or felt – outlawed by their sexuality.

The opera's starting point is the dichotomy between flesh and spirit, as refracted through a variation on the medieval legend of the troubadour Tannhäuser, who strayed into the Venusberg, or kingdom of the goddess Venus, whose lover he became. Sexual satiety provoked his return to the world of men, where shame impelled him to seek salvation by undertaking a self-mortifying journey to Rome to beg absolution from the Pope. The latter, however, rejected his request: damnation awaits those who have enjoyed the pleasures of Venus; Tannhäuser has no more chance of achieving salvation than the Pope's staff has of beginning to flower. Yet after the troubadour left, the Pope's staff did, indeed, miraculously, begin to flower. But too late for Tannhäuser's soul: he had returned to Venus with whom he will remain until he is damned on judgment day.

Wagner, the self-styled musical redeemer par excellence, made drastic changes to this tale in order to affect his hero's salvation. On entering the Venusberg, Wagner's Tannhäuser abandons his relationship with the virginal Elisabeth, niece of the Landgrave of Thuringia, who loves both him and his music. Back in the world of mortals, he is asked at a singing contest to improvise a song on the nature of love. But he breaks into an explicit hymn to Venus, which exposes both his erotic secrets and a world of extreme sexual experience beyond the comprehension of prudish Thuringian society.

Elisabeth, refusing to accept his social ostracism, demands he be offered the potential for salvation, and in his absence also begs the Virgin Mary to take her from this earth to intercede directly with God on his behalf should he fail. Her prayer is granted. Tannhäuser, once more seeking Venus, is held back from the Venusberg by mention of Elisabeth's name, and dies as news of the miracle in Rome reaches mourners at her funeral.

Wagner was never satisfied with the score of Tannhäuser, which has the most complex editorial history of all his operas. There are two major versions: the first more or less gives us the piece as it was heard at its Dresden premiere in 1845; the second, the so-called Paris version, presents us with the revision that Wagner prepared for the first performance in France, which was planned as part of his attempt to conquer the French capital in 1860/61.

Both scores follow the same narrative outline and derive their dramatic power and unity from an underlying vision of sexuality and spirituality as antithetical yet mutually dependent. In the opera's world, the idea of spirit cannot exist without the idea of flesh, and the lofty moral implications of the redemption of Tannhäuser's soul are balanced by one of the most extreme depictions of sex attempted in music.

Within these polarities, Elisabeth is neither naïve or girlish, as some have supposed. Virginity endows her with powers of self-determination strong enough to take on a gang of armed men on Tannhäuser's behalf. Sainthood embodies tremendous fixity of will, in contrast to the promiscuous desires of the Venusberg, which bring in their wake the allure of the profane, linguistically as well as musically. Decorum dictates that the word "Venusberg" is left in its original German in English-language discussions of the opera. But it translates out of the Latin mons veneris and into English as "mountain" or "hill of Venus". Wagner reportedly became embarrassed when anyone pointed out the opera's erotic nomenclature. But he knew what he was doing, and the libretto is full of puns about being "in" or "penetrating" the hill of Venus that were not lost on its first admirers.

Both versions of the score bring the sacred and the profane into disturbing proximity, however, by allowing flesh and spirit to speak the same thematic language. The strings' first entry consists of a rhythmic octave leap followed by four descending chromatic notes. The phrase is later associated with pilgrims singing of "the burden of sin", but in the Venusberg its component parts, now sundered, are also identified with the limitless expression of desire. The leap, prefaced by bounding woodwind, juts impertinently upwards, while the chromatic descent, thanks to the addition of an extra note, has mutated into a yielding moan.

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Pocket Sized Rigoletto? Scottish Opera at T In Park? What would Verdi Say?

Off topic a little but, far to interesting not to mention.

T In The Park is a music festival more at home with acts like Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, The Darkness (operatic in their own way I suppose) and Foo Fighters but this year Scottish Opera will "introduce" a little (literally) Verdi. It will be a little more "lush" than  Ikea I suppose

Scottish Opera performing A Little Bit of Rigoletto at Kible Palace, Glasgow Botanic Gardens (Pic by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan)
Scottish Opera hopes to attract new audiences
 with its "pocket-sized" opera
A mini opera will be performed for revellers at Scotland's biggest music festival this summer.
Organisers of T in the Park have asked Scottish Opera to bring a "pocket sized" version of Verdi's Rigoletto to the event at Balado, near Kinross.

Its 20-minute performances are part of a drive by the opera company to reach out to new audiences.

Other acts on the three-day bill include Beyonce, Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Coldplay.

The opera performances at T in the Park, called A Little Bit of Rigoletto, will feature a storyteller, singer, harpist and cellist.

The company has previously taken the mini opera on tour and performed at Edinburgh Castle, the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow, in car parks and in an Ikea store.

It will be doing several shows in the Healthy T tent at Balado.

Scottish Opera has announced its new programme for the next 12 months, which will include eight new shows, two classic revivals, six collaborations and 105 performances.

Director, Alex Reedijk, said: "What's exciting about this season is the adventurous range of dramatic, passionate and humorous stories on offer, which I hope will give audiences the opportunity to revel in some old favourites, but also to try some new opera experiences.

"We remain committed to producing top quality performances that appeal to those who know and love their opera, but we're also fascinated by the opportunities for us as a company in testing the traditional opera boundaries to seek out new audiences."

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Grange Park Opera, 2011. First Tristan und Isolde. Also Bryn Terfel In Recital, Rusalka and more

It's nearly that time again and with their first staged performance of Tristan (looked at in a little more detail here),  two nights of Bryn Terfel in recital and a production of Rusalka, I thought it might be time to provide an overview.

Full details from Grange Park Opera here: Grange Park Opera: 2011.

Note: Tristan update here

Bryn Terfel discusses the Grange

Verdi: Rigoletto

Conductor: - Toby Purser
Director: -  Daniel Slater
Designer: -  Angela Davies
Choreographer: - Ben Wright
Lighting Design:-  Simon Mills

Duke of Mantua: -  Marco Panuccio
Rigoletto: -  Damiano Salerno
Gilda:-  Laura Mitchell
Maddalena: -  Carolyn Dobbin
Sparafucile: - Timothy Dawkins
Monterone:  - Andrew Greenan
Giovanna:  - Karina Lucas

2, 4, 10, 12, 16, 19, 21, 24 June, 1 July 2011

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Conductor:  - Stephen Barlow
Director & Designer: - David Fielding
Lighting Design: -  Wolfgang Goebbel

King Mark of Cornwall: - Clive Bayley
Tristan: -  Richard Berkeley-Steele
Isolde: - Alwyn Mellor
Brangäne:  - Sara Fulgoni
Kurwenal:  - Stephen Gadd
Melot: -  Andrew Rees
A shepherd/a sailor: -  Richard Roberts

The English Chamber Orchestra

3, 11, 17, 22, 25, 30 June, 3 July 2011

Dvorak: Rusalka

Conductor:  - Stephen Barlow
Director & Designer: -  Antony McDonald
Assoc Costumer Designer: - Gabrielle Dalton
Lighting Design:   - Wolfgang Goebbel
Movement: -  Lucy Burge

Rusalka: -  Anne-Sophie Duprels
Vodnik, her father: -  Clive Bayley
The Prince:  - Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
A Foreign Princess:  - Janis Kelly
Jezibaba: -  Emma Carrington
The Gamekeeper:  - James McOran-Campbell
Kitchen Boy: -  Karina Lucas

The English Chamber Orchestra

15, 18, 23, 26, 28 June, 2, 4 July 2011

Dvorak Rusalka Grange Park 2008

Bryn Terfel: In Recital


27 & 29 June 2011

More  Details here: Grange Park Opera: 2011

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Dallas Opera: Tristan und Isolde - 2012 Clifton Forbis - Tristan, Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet - Isolde

Dallas opera will present a four performance, semi-staged production of Tristan und Isolde in 2012. featuring projections by , Elaine McCarthy.

Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet

Clifton Forbis


Tristan                             Clifton Forbis

Isolde                              Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet

König Marke                   Kristinn Sigmundsson

Kurwenal                        Jukka Rasilainen

Brangäne                        Elizabeth Bishop

Ein Hirt                           Aaron Blake

Ein Junger Seemann         Aaron Blake


Conductor:                    Graeme Jenkins

Stage Director:              Christian Räth
Lighting Designer:          Alan Burrett
Video Design:               Elaine McCarthy
Chorus Master          : Alexander Rom


16, 19(m), 22, 25 February 2012

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Dresden exhibition sheds light on Nazi persecution in the theater

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 25 May 2011 | 2:13:00 pm


Note: You might also, if you haven't already, check out Enrique Sanchez Lansch's extraordinary,  often depressing,  frequently uncomfortable and profoundly disturbing: "The Reichsorchester: The Berlin Philharmonic". Trailer below::

The Semperoper dismissed accomplished
 musicians for their opposition to the Nazis
The impact of Nazi "cleansing" policies on Germany's opera houses and theaters has largely been left unstudied - until now. An in-depth look at persecution of artists, musicians and actors is on display in Dresden.

"Decent behavior is even more important than making good music," Fritz Busch, a prominent conductor and musical director of the Saxon State Opera during his life, once said.

Busch was not a Jew, but he was opposed to Nazi ideology. This attitude resulted in his dismissal in 1933, five weeks after Hitler's rise to power. His story is one of the most well-known among 50 others that make up the current exhibition "Silenced Voices," which deals with the expulsion of Jews from the opera and theater scene between 1933 and 1945.

For the last five years, historian Hannes Heer and music scholar Jürgen Kesting have been dedicated to researching the project. Initially on the request of the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper and the Hamburg State Opera, they started investigating the stories of Jewish and "politically untouchable" artists that worked in German theaters during the Third Reich. One of the sources of information they are using is biographies of prominent composers, conductors, directors and singers, as well as the stories of expulsion from various theaters.

One part of the exhibition documents the fate of 44 prominent composers, directors, singers, and actors - the victims of racist Nazi politics. Another section specifically deals with the expulsion of members of the Semperoper and the Dresden State Theater. A labyrinth of columns and billboards in the foyers of both houses helps to emphasize the dismal nature of these people's fates. Descriptions and photos present well-known and not-so-well-known artists, choir and orchestra members, artisans and stagehands. Visitors can also listen to musical extracts.

The 'threat' of contemporary art

In a detailed catalog, Hannes Heer discusses the source of anti-Jewish sentiments in Germany after 1918. The German Empire had gone through a political change following World War 1, when it became a federal republic. At this time, German culture - described by some as the best and the most beautiful of all - was seen as the only unifying aspect that could be used to forge a new national identity. This automatically excluded all modern artistic movements, which in turn forced theaters to give up on artistic experiments and contemporary works. The new, compulsory focus was on the canons of culture.

One of the goals of this national stance was to convey the message that it was Jews who were to blame for the revolution, for the defeat in World War II and for economic troubles. A "security scale" was devised with regard to theaters and operas, indicating which institutions had the most subversive tendencies. Berlin was at the top of the list, as it was traditionally open to all modern influences, but avant-garde theaters such as those in Leipzig and Darmstadt were also being monitored.

Drastic methods

The propaganda was spread in a very direct manner, including methods like stink bombs and chanting to prevent certain performances from taking place. There were also press campaigns against specific individuals, as well as those that called for the resignation of certain directors and those that aimed to influence operatic and theatrical repertoires.
Hannes Heer and Jürgen Kesting have made an important step forward in their research work in Dresden. For the first time, documents have been uncovered that prove that prisoners of war had worked at the opera house.

"We have made quite a sensational discovery in Dresden," said Heer. "It is personal journals that contain names and where people came from. From 1941 onwards, a large number of musicians and stagehands were foreign workers."

The Semperoper and Dresden State Theater invite visitors to discover the context of the historical events connected with the expulsion of Jews from the city's cultural scene. Lectures, films and cultural presentations complete the program on offer. A CD documentary gives the sound back to those "silenced voices."

The voice of Fritz Busch was never fully silenced, however. After his dismissal from the Semperoper he went on to work in South America, Scandinavia, England and New York. In 1935, he wrote in a letter to the mother of his deceased friend Max Reger: "What counts is that today I can make the most beautiful music and have remained a free person and can serve my fatherland better in this way than in others."
Although not Jewish, Fritz Busch
 was forced out of his job

The "Silenced Voices" exhibition runs at the Semperoper and the Dresden State Theater until July 13.

Author: Gudrun Stegen

More: - Silenced Voices
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Listen "On Demand": Jonas Kaufmann And The Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Artfeast, Harpa, Concert Hall - FREE

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday 24 May 2011 | 11:30:00 am

On 21May 2011 Kaufman gave a concert as part of The Reykjavík Arts Festival. 

The details were as follows:

Puccini                  Tosca                      Recondita Armonia 
Bizet                    Carmen                    La Fleur Que Tu M'avais Jetee 
Massenet             Werther                    Pourquoi me Reveiller
Mascagni            Cavalleria                 Addio a la Madre
Zandonai             Giulietta e Romeo     Giulietta son Io 
Ponchielli             La Gioconda            Cielo e Mar 
Wagner               Lohengrin                 In Fernem Land

It was broadcast on RAS 1. and it seems to still be available here . Now, I don't speak Icelandic but trying to make sense of the site, I believe that it will remain available for 6 days after the concert, but I might be wrong. Listen while you can.

Listen Here (click)

Review from the Telegraph:
The star of the festival’s opening weekend was the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann. To an audience that included the president and minister of culture among other VIPs, he performed a relatively predictable selection of Romantic opera arias, mostly French and Italian, to show off his talents.
 Kaufmann can claim to be one of the world’s finest tenors, and he just keeps getting better. He has a particularly rich, chocolatey bottom register, but every part of his voice is firm and focused. His pianissimos are delicate, his fortissimos ringing, and he gives the impression of having power in reserve.
He was accompanied by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, which will now be based at Harpa along with Icelandic Opera. It has waited a long time for a home of its own – it previously played at the university cinema – and its enthusiasm was evident in its vigorous if not always highly disciplined playing under Peter Schrottner.
Telegraph: Reykjavik Arts Festival, Harpa,

Note: I attempt to try things out in different  browsers before posting. This doesn't seem to work well in Chrome, but is fine (with me) under firefox and IE (in Windows)
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ENO, Goethe's Faust, Terry Gilliam, Audio Interview. Download

Occasionally, I will put up "none" Wagner related posts (when the mood takes me) However, in my defense, there are obvious connections between Wagner and Berlioz and Wagner and the Nazis. Plus, I like Terry Gillian's films.

I'm not hosting this download but instead the link is hosted by the BBC. I have no idea  how long the BBC will continue to make this available so download while you can.

Music Matters: BBC Radio 3 - Saturday 7 May 2011

Sara Mohr-Pietsch talks to Terry Gilliam as the former Python and cult film-maker makes his opera directing debut with Berlioz's controversial take on Goethe's Faust, set in Nazi Germany. Also, Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets - a "diary of his soul", said his widow. We hear from Wendy Lesser, the author of Music for Silenced Voices, who traces the real composer, but also from expert performers: Eugene Drucker from the Emerson Quartet and Alan George from the Fitzwilliams. Also, the folk music world pay tribute to The Singing Englishmen, a seminal concert from the 1951 Festival of Britain, we talk to those involved: Andy Mellon & Pete Flood from folk group Bellowhead, fiddle player Lisa Knapp, and Dave Arthur, biographer of Bert Lloyd, who curated the original gig. And we visit the University of Plymouth's Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research to discover pioneering projects combining music and technology, including a piece for sax and artificial whales.

Download the podcast from the BBC By right clicking here and "saving as.." Running Time: 49 mins

Direct link to download:
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