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My DVD Review for WholeNote of The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ a choreographed opera

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Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen – The Picture of Dorian Gray Radley; Best; Bobby; Thiele; Hansen; Vinther; Skarby Riddell; Chorus of the Danish National Opera; Aarhus Symphony Orchestra; Joachim Gustafsson Dacapo 2.110415

The ideas behind this DVD made me curious because, as a longtime operagoer, I wondered how you could have an opera choreographed and with the singers offstage. The Picture of Dorian Gray succeeds on both counts and throws in more appealing aspects to boot. The Oscar Wilde story is rife with juicy themes around secrets, corruption, the role of art and, of course, the Mephistophelian premise of Dorian Gray selling his soul in exchange for eternal beauty and youth. The production of Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen’s opera has plenty of eye and ear candy that doesn’t discombobulate the viewer with unstaged singers as much as highlight them. Cutaways to singers in the orchestra pit are as intriguing as Met in HD backstage entr’actes. The transformation of the picture of Dorian Gray is effectively conveyed with video art, replacing the need for extensive set use, and the costumes range from modified period pieces to something out of Cirque du Soleil. Although I don’t have much knowledge of dance, I could appreciate this non-literal interpretation of the tale, which shared the dual role of representing the characters’ sung parts, which was stage director/choreographer Marie Brolin-Tani’s goal. Surprisingly, spoken lines and frequent Broadwaymusical-like interludes did not make me protest that this was not opera. The entire production somehow coalesces into a new multi-art genre, and whether that is due to the direction, choreography, score, artists or all of those, it was the type of offering CanStage might co-present. Hmm – must text Matthew Jocelyn…

This review originally appeared on page 75 of the November 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Stravinsky Choral Works ~ Mass and Cantata

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This CD comprises works Stravinsky wrote after he was Orthodoxically reborn in 1926. The discretely composed parts of the Mass run from celebratory to sparse, and even the two Credos are contradictory: one is stalwart and modern, the other urgent and sounding slightly more like traditional English church music. The Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral is joined by youngsters from the dedicated choir school, as the composer had intended the Mass to be sung. The blend is wholesome.

The Cantata is based on Middle English songs on Christian themes but likely with secular origins. Soloists Ruby Hughes’ and Nicholas Mulroy’s voices complement each other and so in turn do the choral Versus refrains of A Lyke-Wake Dirge, which recount the voyage of the dead from Earth to purgatory. The setting of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day was new to me, as was the controversy of the inclusion by Stravinsky of the anti-Semitic middle verse, which is outlined in the liner notes. The a cappella Tres Sacrae Cantiones, some of the partially lost pieces of late-Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, were “finished off” by Stravinsky, at a safe remove of 300 years!

Duncan Ferguson deftly conducts  soloists so that the two larger pieces are accompanied in the truest sense of that word; they go alongside their singing companions rather than merely support them. This would be a lovely addition for collectors of Stravinsky, jack-of-all-eras.

This review originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.

My CD Review for WholeNote of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

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Park Avenue Chamber Symphony/David Bernard. Recursive Records #RC2057001

 

Did Bugs Bunny ruin the Barber of Seville for you? How about Merrie Melodies’ The Three Little Pigs with Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #5? I have a particular eye/earworm of The Rite of Spring: I can never unsee the gorgeous choreography of Pina Brausch when I hear this piece. The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony’s recording is bright and clear and complements the rather dark storyline of the ballet. The First Part is a vital description of nature and leads with some urgency to the undeniable corporeality of the Second Part. The backbone of the piece, however, is Track 2, although I prefer my Augurs of Spring to be a little more heavy-handed than David Bernard’s version, such as the Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez’s take on it; I think this reflects Bernard’s interpretation, though, and does not make Stravinsky an inappropriate choice for this orchestra. (The Augurs of Spring always strikes me as a misplaced climax, though.)

The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, known as a soloistic piece, also has a pure sound, which emanates from the musicians themselves and is perhaps also enhanced by the fine recording engineering. Again, the chamber symphony easily handles the piece’s gravitas with aplomb. Apparently, the movements’ tempi listed on the back cover differ from their historical provenance and this made me curious to hear it live under another baton: fortuitously, this will be possible when the TSO performs it on May 4, 2017 in a matinée, led by Peter Oundjian.

This CD offers two excellent examples of early 20th-century eastern-European composers who still captivate us technophiles with these elemental pieces that were based on European folk song.

This review first appeared in the October 2016 issue of The WholeNote magazine.