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If you have the slightest interest in contemporary opera or modern drama, you must see Philip Glass’sAkhnaten, scheduled for one more performance by Long Beach Opera on Sunday, March 27. It is a brilliant update of Wagner’s idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, in which Glass’s music, staging by Andreas Mitisek, choreography by Nanette Brodie, and video projections by Frieder Weiss all combine into one amazing whole.
At the heart of the work is Glass’s monolithic score and libretto. The story itself is a series of tableaux depicting the rise (Act 1) and fall (Act 3) of Akhnaten and his dangerous idea—there is only one God, Aten, the Sun. (Act 2 is devoted to Akhnaten’s implementation of monotheism). Glass’s repetitive music, with its Brucknerian phrase lengths and static textures, creates a deep sense of ritual underlying each scene.
The modern operas favored by most American companies strike me as unsatisfactory hybrids in which a recent contemporary musical vocabulary is poured into a 19th-century dramatic form. With the typical American opera libretto adapted from a novel, film, or conventional play, the narrative is linear, the presentation of material straightforward, rarely employing any 20th-century dramatic innovations. What Glass did with his Einstein/Gandhi/Akhnaten operatic trilogy was to bring opera up to date with contemporary dramatic thought. Even though Akhnaten is almost 30 years old, it seems fresh and novel compared to the retooled verismo of so much recent American opera.
Another problem for me in contemporary opera (although it’s a problem over 100 years old) is that of vocal parts consisting of continuous recitative or through-composed arias or whatever you want to call them. In the Baroque through Romantic periods, an aria sung by a character operated according to clear structural principals—the da capo aria or classical number aria. What has replaced that organizing device in modern operas? Complete formal freedom—in many contemporary operas, the characters sing in a continuous recitative. Berg solved the problem by shaping the scenes in Wozzeck according to the principals of multi-movement instrumental music.
Glass came up with a somewhat similar solution in his operas—the sung vocal lines are an integral part of the musical process. The vocal parts in Akhnaten are like instrumental lines, an essential part of Glass’s overall musical fabric. The intellectual rigor of his writing allows orchestral instruments to be substituted for the voices in the Akhnaten excerpt of Jerome Robbins’s ballet, Glass Pieces, (Act 1, Scene 1) without any loss of musical sense or drama.
This vocal writing flies in the face of the American operagoer’s expectations. What, no high C for the soprano? No cadenza for the tenor? (The lack of big stage moments for singers is probably one of the reasons Akhnatenand similar operas are rarely produced in the U.S.).
This is not to say that there aren’t highly dramatic moments in Glass’s vocal parts. The first note sung by Akhnaten is one of the most startling entrances in all of opera. We see Akhnaten for an entire scene during his coronation, but it is not until the last scene of Act I that we finally hear Akhnaten sing; what comes out of his mouth is not the heroic tenor or deep bass we expect from an operatic king, but rather a hooty A above middle C sung by a countertenor. Yes, we knew Akhnaten was a countertenor when we first took our seat, but that does not mitigate the unnerving violation of our expectations when this figure of grandeur opens his mouth and issues forth a sound which would be more appropriate for a giant boy soprano.
Jochen Kowalski sang the title role with a vibrato so wobbly that he could be an honorary member of the International Workers of the World. Paul Esswood, who created the role of Akhnaten for the Stuttgart premiere and the subsequent recording, sang with little vibrato in a style more typical for an early music concert than an American opera stage. Akhnaten was a physically deformed man, yet Kowalski looked like, and played him, as an imposing authority figure. Kowalski’s attitude was firm, his blocking well-defined, his postures exact; it was too bad that his sense of pitch did not share these characteristics. Let’s hope his singing is more disciplined on Sunday afternoon.
The other two prominent roles were ably sung by alto Peabody Southwell as Nefertiti and tenor Tyler Thompson as the Amon High Priest (not “Amon” as the program identified him—Amon was the god). A recent graduate, Southwell already possesses a solid tone and a confident stage presence, and one suspects audiences will see even more of her as her voice matures.
The Amon High Priest is the focal point of the funeral scene and the attack on Akhnaten’s city in Act 3, and Thompson understood Mitisek’s minimal, gradual staging (not always easy for a tenor to do) for both these scenes. His part is accompanied by a bass (Ralph Cato in the role of Aye, Nefertiti’s father) and baritone (Roberto Perlas Gomez as the General, Horemhab). They sing nearly all the time in rhythmic unison, yet Thompson was in his upper range during these trios and stood out from his companions (who provided admirable support). His vocal part in the Temple scene of Act 2 is more independent, and underscored by a tritone-fourth dissonance that must have struck listeners in the 1980s as some of the most chromatically inflected music Glass had written up to that point. Even today, the harsh dissonance in the context of the triadic language Glass uses in Akhnaten is a striking effect. Akhnaten’s key is usually A minor; could this clash in the harmony (Ab-Eb-Bb) represent the conflict between Akhnaten’s monotheism and the establishment pantheism of the priests?
The chorus is a key component to the opera; the choruses Glass composed for the opera are some of the most rousing or beautiful choruses in contemporary opera (right up there with the choruses from Nixon in China andDeath of Klinghoffer). The Long Beach Opera Chorus was remarkable for its tight ensemble and terrific intonation, all sung while building a city or storming its walls in stylized battle.
Andreas Mitisek (designer, director, conductor and artistic director) is probably the hardest working man in American opera, outside of Placido Domingo. His reading of the score with Glass’s unusual pit ensemble (no violins–an orchestration decision arrived at by figuring out how many instruments could fit into the Stuttgart theater serving as a temporary home for the opera there) was heartfelt, his tempos well chosen. At times his musicians weren’t quite up to their task; the low brass had difficulties in several places, and the viola section on occasion sounded like—well, a group of violas trying to play in tune. Overall, the instrumental and vocal performances did justice to Glass’s score.
In Glass’s expansively scaled music, the introduction of a new pitch, harmony or timbre becomes a significant marker. Mitisek’s staging and Brodie’s choreography is likewise slow, but goal-oriented. In the opening prelude, dancers stand frozen left to right across the stage, assuming the stylized shapes of Egyptians as depicted in their ancient art. Slowly a character (a goddess? a priestess?) moves from right to left across the stage. As she passes each dancer, their stance and limb posture slowly moves into a different position, and one by one they follow her back across the stage to exit on the right as the music comes to a close. In Act 2, Scene 3 dancers and chorus members construct the city of Akhetaten in devotion to the Aten. Brick by brick, abstract columns, walls, and arches are built up until, by the end of the scene, an abstract representation of the city has emerged.
The real jaw-dropper in this show, however, was the interactive video projection by Frieder Weiss. In a quarter-century of attending theater and opera, I have never seen video so well integrated into a production. A field of stars projected on a scrim parts when characters move across the stage, as if they were pushing through the points of light. Rectangles slide down a large ramp, as if falling, and when singers slowly walk down the ramp, they appear to be somehow moving even though their feet are firmly planted on the ramp. Bolts of light drop from the heavens into characters’s outraised hands. In the final scene, Akhnaten, his mother, and his wife ascend the ramp, raised one story above the floor, its end terminating in air. As Glass’s music comes to rest on A’s and E’s (no third), projections on the singers make them appear to dissolve into ghost-like blurs, which then evaporate into blackness. I have never seen video work like this—it was absolutely mesmerizing.
A few technical issues blemish this remarkable show. Foremost was the speaker buzz which rudely interjected itself over the music. Glass requires a narrator who describes, in the audience’s language, what the characters are singing (he used ancient languages and Hebrew for most of his sung texts). Pete Taylor did a fine job acting as the “translator” or tour guide (the last scene is set in modern times among the ruins of Akhnaten’s city, and Glass used a Fodor’s travel book as a text). However, the incessant hum from the speaker undercut the solemnity of Taylor’s narration.
Long Beach Opera makes magical things happen on a miniscule budget, but couldn’t they have found or devised props that resemble stone blocks instead using folded cardboard boxes? The seams were painfully obvious.
Glass devised Akhnaten with a three-act structure, but LBO crams Acts 1 and 2 together without any intermission, blurring the obvious formal structure of the acts and overly testing the patience of listeners unable to adapt to Glass’s time scale. It would have been nice to have that intermission, but the opera still works without it.
That said, if you want to see an opera-a damn fine opera- in which all of its components—music, libretto, staging—are thoroughly contemporary, go to Long Beach and catch the final performance of Akhnaten.
- Si no lo mide no puede mejorarlo.
- Si no lo mide probablemente no le interese.
- Si no puede influir sobre ello no lo mida.
Pasen un buen fin de semana.
Every Friday, Christ Episcopal Church (3481 Hibiscus Street), in Village West, gives out 80 bags of food to needy families. They also give out clothing.
They give out the food and sometimes prepare hot food at Gibson Hall, which is behind the church, on church grounds. Families must qualify to receive the donations.
For those interested in receiving donations or for those who are interested in donating, please stop by 3481 Hibiscus Street (in the back) or call 305-442 8542 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. They also accept donations for Haiti relief. The little pink church is 108 years old.
There is no way I was going to turn down an invitation for a private tour of the new Frank Gehry concert Hall in Miami Beach. A “behind the scenes” tour before the building opens to the public in January.
For those that don’t know, I’m not “symphony” inclined, although I come from a long background of musicians. Maybe it’s rebellion of hearing the 3 B’s growing up: Bach, Beethoven and a third that escapes me (that probably caused my grandpa to stir up in his grave). Either way….I’m very visual and very “architecturally inclined”, thus the interest in the “ungherified” concert hall. I will also like to add that my elementary school in Venezuela was a music school, where the principal, Emil Friedman, when he found out I had become an architect, told me that “architecture was crystallized music”. Very apropos for this experience.
The story behind the new building….shortened for brevity’s sake, is that Michael Tilson Thomas (Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, aka MTT), was babysat by Frank Gehry, who ended up designing the building because of their long established friendship. Miami Beach would get a top notch architectural landmark because of MTT’s influence! There were 3 aspects to the project: a parking structure, the actual concert hall, and a public park. Frank didn’t want to do the parking structure….DUH! why in the world would the City of Miami Beach commission a parking lot to a renown architect? But the city pushed and Gehry ended up doing the parking lot and the building, the budget then did not allow for the park, Gehry withdrew from the project and someone else did the park (West 8, a Dutch landscape architecture firm) <<< I’m over-simplifying here but want to get to the important part of the story, which is the building itself.
Of course I was bummed out that Gehry didn’t get to design the most important aspect of the project. The public park will be the key ingredient to incorporating the building into Lincoln Road’s existing life – if not done correctly, the city and the NWS will have to go back to the drawing table to make the space work. When I asked why a talented local like Raymond Jungles was not commissioned for the space, I was at least happy to hear that he had been hired to do the Rooftop terrace.
To understand the building and its program, here’s a brief history about The New World Symphony. The NWS is like none other in the planet – it’s not a professional orchestra but a fellowship program. It offers 3-year fellowships to graduates from places like The Juilliard School. Then fellows get jobs all over the world. MTT’s vision is to turn these musicians into community leaders that will spread the word of music (music evangelists of sorts). Another very ambitious goal is to get people like me, who wouldn’t be interested in music, to attend concerts and see what the fuss is all about. He communicated his goal of getting more participation from different generational and cultural types to Frank Gehry who then created his work of art.
I started documenting the “Gehryfication” of the structure from the moment construction began and to my and others’ surprise, it was pretty damn boxy. FOR REAL? A Frank Gehry building that did not have his signature? Especially when he’s known for “turning his pencil against traditional box-shaped buildings”**. What in the world was going on?
As the box continued to get finished, I hoped that the gehryfication happened in the interior and that’s why I was so happy to go on the tour. I am happy to inform you that it DOES happen in the interior and once you hear the concept, it all starts making more and more sense. According to Gehry, this was to be a “program driven building”, and as you can tell by the complicated program, this would be no easy task.
The building was purposely not “gehriesque” on the outside. It was not to be a “precious building” with his typical titanium clad. It was supposed to be a building that was inviting, that would tell people to come in and experience the music, it was to provide a different concert experience. The outside was to stay within the architectural language of Miami Beach, but in the spirit of engagement and wanting people to be curious about the building, a glass facade would reveal the interior functions. Gehry talked about the idea of “the building putting on a performance” – you can see the interior gehriesque shapes and these would become the players on the stage, the glass would be the proscenium of stage and audience would be the people in the park. The building would be a glass box, where people could see the transformation of music and be drawn to participate. Talk about a romantic architectural concept! Which can be extra exciting when it actually works….can’t wait to see the people/building interaction.
Craig Hall, vice president for communications, and tour guide extraordinaire, explained the most intricate details behind the planning of the space including MTT’s vision and actual realization of his goals. I found the circulation concept to be fascinating, with the idea of visual access between public and private areas within the concert hall – the audience can see the fellows in action in the “back of house” areas. The concert hall would be one of the most flexible in the world with round seating, satellite stages, interchangeable main stage with 10 movable lifts and platforms to change configuration, and acoustic panels or sails that receive projection. The audience would be surrounded by music, would not be detached from it and the furthest seat from stage would be 13 rows away. The hall also has retractable seating to accommodate different events and we were even told about one of their performance ideas or new cultural experiences – we are psyched to go in February when they try it out.
Club style concerts (pulse) from 10PM to 2 AM with a dj spinning in the center platform, portable bars around it and club lighting – interrupted every so often with a small chamber ensemble or soloist with a 10 minute concert of short contemporary classical music similar to music spun by dj – show people that like club music that they may also enjoy classical music.
Needless to say, walking into the space and smelling that new construction scent gave me goosebumps. The drywall work was pretty fantastic and so unlike Miami workmanship (except for a few places here and there that need fixing). I caressed wooden handrails, undressed the radical angles and sensed the building’s yearning to be alive. I could also recognize some apprehension and heavy burden from it trying to realize its creator’s ambitious goals – like a child wanting to impress his teacher but not sure if he could live up to the master’s expectations. I have a feeling we will be surprised by the organic growth and development in the coming months. Like all new buildings, some new uses will appear on the way and some others will be quickly discarded. One thing we can’t deny is The New World Symphony’s creative ideas on reaching its audience.
My great friend Frank Gehry has designed a building that embodies everything we stand for. It offers the serious, technologically advanced resources we have long needed to showcase our depth of talent. At the same time, it’s playful, inviting, and yes, life-affirming – very much in keeping with the community we call home.”
- Michael Tilson Thomas, co-founder/artistic director
The thrill for me is to invent with Michael – almost a member of my family – a new kind of facility, one that works for what he is bringing to music and, I hope, what I can bring to the experience of music with my architecture. I’m very excited about doing this.
- Frank Gehry, architect
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You’ll love the watermelons surprising!
But you’ll love the eggshells!
These shells were cut with a high precision laser intensity. This gives us a very good idea of what can be achieved with laser technology. We can imagine what is laser surgery when performed in someone’s eye. After seeing this, is there any doubt about how somebody’s vision can be improved in just a few moments? Science is sometimes wonderful, and is still in the frontier of gaining new knowledge. It’s amazing what can be done with an eggshell and a laser!
No es una escena del remake de los cazafantasmas, es la cruda realidad de la ciudad rusa de Cherepovets, un fantasmagórico panorama que ven sus habitantes cada día. La desoladora imagen de despertarte cada mañana viviendo en uno de los lugares más parecidos a Mordor que existe en la Tierra no debe ser muy agradable.
Cherepovets es una de las ciudades más contaminadas del mundo, debido a que es uno de los principales asentamientos de fábricas de hierro y acero de Rusia, convirtiéndose así en una de las principales ciudades industriales de Rusia pero también en un infierno para sus ciudadanos.
De hecho Cherepovets puede traducirse como “ciudad de calaveras” un nombre no muy amigable pero que viendo el panorama parece acertado.
Me acuerdo que cuando era pequeño cada vez que iba a Madrid me sorprendía esa especie de cúpula de humo que la cubría y que se veía en el horizonte al llegar por la autopista, pero si hubiera visto algo como en la foto de arriba seguro que me habría traumatizado.
Viendo estas cosas uno se plantea si este consumo desmedido y afán por producir millones de cosas, incluidos gadgets, no nos estará llevando inexorablemente a que un día a Tierra se canse de que la sigamos chuleando y acabe con todo de un plumazo… ¿En el 2012 tal vez?— Dani Burón [DRB]
EAC RIP | FLAC + CUE + LOG | HQ Scans | 468mb
CPO | Recorded: 2008 | Released: 2008
Das Kleine Konzert – Hermann Max
|“||Alessandro Melani, who was born in Pistoia in 1639 and died in Rome in 1703, is a representative of the transition between the styles of Cavalli and Alessandro Scarlatti. As music director of two churches in Rome, Melani produced a large body of sacred music, including 10 oratorios, numerous motets, six masses, three requiems, and more than 100 litanies and other sacred works. He also wrote 10 operatic works, including the first opera on the Don Juan legend. His music, both sacred and secular, is full of appealing melodies. Judging by the works on this disc, his works are well worth getting to know. Melani is not well represented in the current catalog; in fact, this is the only disc devoted entirely to his works.|