OperaWatch

Essentials

by BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT

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Jerusalem and Behrens in Met Siegfried
© Beth Bergman 2011
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© Dario Acosta 2011
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Essential Philip Glass Documentary: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. Scott Hicks, the film's director, gets to spend ample time with the composer as he prepares his Symphony No. 8 and his opera Waiting for the Barbarians and is privy to some personal circumstance as well. In the 2007 documentary, Glass seems particularly playful around his two younger children, in good spirits talking about his metaphorical "river under the ground" while at his Nova Scotia vacation cabin and in decent shape doing tai chi at age seventy. (Glass's time spent with Dennis Russell Davies is especially entertaining: Davies comes across as the musical warm iron to Glass's wrinkled linen shirt.) But disconcerting comments from Glass's fourth wife Holly Critchlow offset the atmosphere that Hicks lulls us into. And we're not the only ones disillusioned: in Part Eleven, Critchlow announces that they're separating. spacer Coverage of this month's Satyagraha from The Met: Live in HD begins on p. 39. 

Essential Long-Form Philip Glass Joke: Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread, by playwright David Ives. Short-form versions go something like this — Q: How do you know when a piece of music is a minimalist piece of music? A: When it takes the musicians longer to perform it than the composer to write it. Ives's humor, however, takes a higher road. The work (available in the fourteen-play compendium All in the Timing from Vintage) takes the titular mundane task and breaks the conversation down, word by word and syllable by syllable, à la the 1-2-3-4 motif in Einstein on the Beach. As in all Ives's plays, the humor is in the execution and timing. The darker comedy here is that four actors have to memorize it. 

Essential Siegfried Idyll: In 1991, OPERA NEWS's F. Paul Driscoll asked a number of experts to name their least favorite opera. Manuela Hoelterhoff, at the time a Wall Street Journal critic, mulled over the possibilities, then replied, "When one is asked a question like this, Siegfried just sticks in the mind and won't go away." Even in a good performance, Siegfried can feel like an endurance test at best, a funny-as-a-crutch joke at worst. Despite its remarkable passages, this is one opera that can make us want to rip our arms out of our sockets, just for a diversion. That's why many of us prefer to listen to the Siegfried Idyll and call it a night. Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and John Barbirolli acquitted themselves beautifully with this work, but we're partial to the performance by the Munich Philharmonic, led by Hans Knappertsbusch (out of print, available as an MP3 album from DG). It's both exhilarating and blissfully peaceful: listen to it, and we'll be surprised if you aren't smiling by the end. spacer For The Met: Live in HD coverage of this month's Siegfried, see p. 38. 

Essential Faustian Bargain Gone Wrong: Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. In 1951, following a string of disappointing films, Hitchcock made a spectacular return to form with this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's superb and wholly original novel. In a chance meeting on a train, dapper nut-case Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) proposes to tennis star Guy Haines (Farley Granger) that they each bump off someone the other wants out of the way, thus providing each other's alibis in the process. Guy laughs off the idea, but Bruno carries it out, strangling Guy's troublesome wife in a thrilling carnival sequence that justly became one of Hitchcock's most celebrated set pieces. Even if the wooden Granger doesn't bring much to the party, the movie is a witty meditation on the Faustian bargains that we all fantasize about — and, like Guy, so few of us have the guts to follow through on. spacer David J. Baker examines Faustian bargains gone right, "Life in the Faust Lane." 

Essential Kevin Puts Primer: The Composer's Voice. This live recording (available on Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's house label) features two Puts compositions, his violin concerto (2006) and his Symphony No. 3, "Vespertine" (2003), based on a 2001 Björk album. If you pardon the violin playing of Michael Shih, which is either sloppily performed or poorly miked, the Paganini-style "Caprice" second movement of the violin concerto displays an inspired Orange-Blossom-Special-meets-Tchai­kovsky's-Violin-Concerto panache. The Symphony No. 3 makes us think about what would have happened if Benjamin Britten had lived long enough to experience Björk.spacer Michael Slade looks into Puts's first opera, "A Leap of Faith." 

BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4