Author Topic: Conrad Osborne: High Fidelity Critic/Blogger - Specialty: Opera  (Read 29446 times)

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Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: Jane's List of Modern Problems in Opera
« Reply #40 on: January 04, 2020, 07:15:04 AM »
I read this yesterday. Osborne's singer friend makes some very good points. It makes for rather depressing reading though.


It is possible that certain European countries might - might - be immune to some of the tribulations in her list.  There does seem to be at times an odd snobbishness against opera and classical music both here and in Europe. 

I recall being upbraided by a German exchange student 20 years ago or more, as I was about to crank up a section of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder for my advanced German classes.

"Ve do not like ziss music."  And why?  It was for rich and elderly people.  Young people do not like it, he said, because it is too slow and long.

Recently via YouTube I showed my 7th and 8th Graders Luciano Pavarotti singing Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck.  (A performance probably from the 1970's.)

"Why's he keep making those faces?" asked a student.

I explained: "His face is expressing the emotion in the text and in the music.  As an opera singer he also needs to be an actor."   Apparently for my student this was a new idea. 

I know that our Music teacher does an excellent job in offering Classical Music throughout the 9 years: I also know that she is told never to give homework, never to expect the kids to remember much, and is in general - and this is also the case with Art - not supported by the administration or by (most) of the parents, who are very worried about MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE.

And so students are taught by their parents that classical music is not important, or even irrelevant.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2020, 07:16:44 AM by Cato »
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Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: High Fidelity Critic/Blogger - Specialty: Opera
« Reply #41 on: January 04, 2020, 07:44:39 AM »
And as an addendum to the above: let me mention the inordinate and incomprehensible mania in the schools and among the parents about SPORTS of all kinds!

The amount of time and energy expended on children's sports today is appalling.   
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

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Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: High Fidelity Critic/Blogger - Specialty: Opera
« Reply #42 on: June 20, 2020, 04:20:57 AM »
New essays on the original versions of Gounod's  Faust and Puccini's Madame Butterfly :

https://conradlosborne.com/2020/06/13/butterfly-and-faust-the-originals-restored-part-1/

https://conradlosborne.com/2020/06/19/butterfly-and-faust-the-originals-restored-part-2/

Also, a classic recording of Manon Lescaut is reviewed:

Quote


The Manon Lescaut is a recent release from the St. Laurent Studio of the Metropolitan Opera performance of March 31, 1956. The romantic protagonists are sung by Licia Albanese and Jussi Björling, and the conductor is Dmitri Mitropoulos. This was a broadcast that acquired a legendary status among devotees, partly on its merits as one of those electric afternoons, partly for its presumed superiority to the RCA Victor studio recording starring the same protagonist pair, and partly as one of the relatively few complete opera broadcasts by Björling, who had dismayed us with frequent cancellations.



https://conradlosborne.com/2020/05/08/manon-lescaut-the-famous-albanese-bjoerling-mitropoulos-broadcast-newly-released-a-personal-report/
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: Apologia pro Charpentier's "Louise"
« Reply #43 on: April 17, 2021, 03:26:29 PM »
Conrad Osborne writes about the merits and neglect of Gustave Charpentier's Louise:

e.g.

Quote


"..."Louise" is true verismo, both in subject matter and musical style—the only French example of that genre to achieve a lasting success. Its composer, Gustave Charpentier, called it a “musical novel,” and it does suggest both a Zola-esque naturalism and a Balzacian ambition,


.... Here in New York, it is one of five operas that had been fairly regularly in the repertory of the Metropolitan through the 1940s but vanished abruptly as of 1950, never since to return. (The others: "Mignon, Lakmé, The Golden Cockerel"—but sung in French, as "Le Coq d’or"—and "L’Amore dei tre re".)

All five were given some life support by the New York City Opera at one point or another, with "Louise" and "Golden Cockerel" (with the Sills/Treigle team) getting the best response, and the San Francisco Opera staged "Louise" for Renée Fleming as recently as 1999. But Louise is now no more than an antique curiosity for American opera-goers, and not much more than that even in France. Which is a shame..."


See:

https://conradlosborne.com/2021/04/16/mia-g-charpentiers-louise/6/


Mahler knew Charpentier and conducted the opera:

Quote



"...One day in January (Mahler) told me (i.e. Alma Mahler) he had had a very remarkable
opera sent him. "It doesn't inspire great confidence in the piano
score, but the full score is brilliant and dramatic. Couldn't be
otherwise. It was the hit of this year's opera season in Paris...."

 


See:

(Scroll down to #52)

https://archive.org/stream/gustavmahlermemo00mahl/gustavmahlermemo00mahl_djvu.txt
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: Apologia pro Charpentier's "Louise"
« Reply #44 on: April 20, 2021, 02:15:31 PM »
Conrad Osborne writes about the merits and neglect of Gustave Charpentier's Louise:

e.g.

See:

https://conradlosborne.com/2021/04/16/mia-g-charpentiers-louise/6/


Mahler knew Charpentier and conducted the opera:


See:

(Scroll down to #52)

https://archive.org/stream/gustavmahlermemo00mahl/gustavmahlermemo00mahl_djvu.txt


YouTube offers a performance from about 15 years ago:  (The National Opera of Paris)

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/vsaEh8QtBq4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/vsaEh8QtBq4</a>

"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: New "Jazz" Opera at The Metropolitan
« Reply #45 on: October 15, 2021, 04:25:25 PM »
Here is the link to Conrad Osborne's (fairly negative) review of the opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones by an American composer not known for "classical" works, Terence Blanchard:

http://conradlosborne.com/2021/10/15/fire-shut-up-in-my-bones-re-opens-the-met/



Some salient excerpts:

(After listing several operas using Jazz (e.g. Krenek's Jonny Spielt Auf )...

Quote
"...But those were works by white composers, incorporating jazz sounds into what were then modern-classical or music-theatre styles, and the jazz was that of The Jazz Age itself. Blanchard’s is contemporary and prevailingly laid-back. At times it establishes mood effectively, but having set in place a sort of timbral bedding and putting in motion often repetitive rhythmic patterns, it seems content with itself. I almost never caught it in dramatic action, or heard it either generating gestures that might be followed through in the vocal writing on one hand, or adding accompanimental urgency on the other.

With respect to the vocal writing, Blanchard has said that he’s sought to make it sound as close as possible to everyday speech, repeating the lines to himself to discover their inflectional rise and fall. This effort to fashion a singing line from the “line readings” of the spoken language has an honorable pedigree, with Mussorgsky, Debussy, Janáček, and Berg the most commonly cited referents for it—though as soon as one starts to actually deal with their music, one discovers how unlike speech most of it (including the best of it) actually is, and how interlocked with melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic happenings in the orchestra.

Blanchard seems not to have much explored his line readings for their poetic or dramatic potential; they are pretty bare. In search of emotional emphasis, he takes the voices higher and into a more songlike mode, but without the  build that would make that sound organic. “Destiny” and “Loneliness” are given passages of sustained singing, listenable but unmemorable..

...Fire could be said to be constructed on a through-composed, accompanied-recitative-and-arioso model, but with the constituent parts of only moderate interest on their own, and insufficiently fused to develop any sustained musico-dramatic force...

...The cumulative effect (of the vocal writing, spoken sections. and the performances thereof) is that in an opera founded on word comprehension, and with principal singers doing their best to fulfill the “diction” mandate, one can’t follow the plot in any moment-to-moment sense. (And the program synopsis, borrowed from the St. Louis materials, was the least helpful I have ever read.) In none of the many English-language operas I have encountered on first hearing in our auditoriums, including many far less speech-centered than this one, have I encountered equal difficulty with respect to basic comprehensibility....

(Concerning why this opera was chosen by The Metropolitan Opera to be performed)...

... It is patent on the face of it that nonartistic considerations influenced the first decision, and were determinant with the second. That was a disservice to the piece, which, if it had a viable future, would certainly have found it in a smaller venue, let us say the Rose Theater, where the Met could still have acted as presenter, but the auspices would have seemed less pretentious and the standing of the work vis-à-vis the canonical repertory would not have been on people’s minds. (One friend suggested it belonged on Broadway, but it would not have thriven there—no good tunes.)


...In an evening marked mostly by subdued, tentative applause at widely separated junctures, there were two genuine ovations. They were of a sort I associate with the annual high school musical, cheering on that quirky or sexy classmate doing his or her thing up there with heady bursts of “WOO!” over furious clapping, but they were ovations, nonetheless. One was on the appearance of the evening’s conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in a garment of many colors—”WOO!”—and the other at the conclusion of a step dance number in the hazing scene...



"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline Cato

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Re: Conrad Osborne: High Fidelity Critic/Blogger - Specialty: Opera
« Reply #46 on: July 11, 2022, 12:47:34 PM »
Conrad Osborne has recently offered an angry quasi-eulogy for The Metropolitan Opera of New York: my emphasis in bold.

Assorted excerpts:

Quote


...My last two visits to the Met of the 2021-2022 season—the new Lucia, the old Turandot, a week apart—left me feeling not merely disappointed or angry (though both of those), but despondent. Between them, they describe with painful exactitude the principal sources of our operatic agony: in production, a choice between a post-operatic Demolition Derby that gorges on the energy of cultural displacement, or a plainly exhausted, mechanical gesturing after “tradition”; in performance, a shocking diminution of vocal presence and quality and of the creative spark in interpretation, with an orchestral contribution to match; and with the two in tandem, the submergence of performance in production, of the aural in the visual.

New direction at the Met could make some headway against these powerful crosswinds (especially with respect to production), but I think it would be in modest increments. Where, after all, would one go in search of directors and designers of creative imagination, strong operatic background, and technical mastery who are not the products of postmodern education and the autereuristic mentality? Where would one venture to discover some lost tribe of singers of power, grace, and expressive urgency? Or conductors of fiery and/or profound inspiration, and the means of evoking same in their players?

And then, how might the Met, a mammoth institution embedded in a beleaguered social, economic, and political environment that is somehow sclerotic and disruptive at once, heave itself about toward a yet-to-be-discovered way of working toward a goal it has not defined?


For the first time, I have found myself in serious conversations with devotees and professionals who are not among the merely disgruntled or rebellious, yet believe the Met should close up shop, should clear the deck for new efforts. And fervent believer as I am in the necessity for a large-scale institution of social continuity dedicated to the vivification of the great body of rich, deep, and uplifting works of our operatic repertory (to say nothing of my long personal attachment to this one), I have found myself in difficulty trying to disagree with them...

...The New York Times has a new chief music critic! The NYT is another central, once-vital institution that has lost track of itself ... and its engagement with classical music has been stripped of rank long since. Nevertheless, its influence—locally, nationally and even globally—is impossible to overestimate, and that is as true in the arts as anywhere else, given the virtual annihilation of daily journalism.

The “new” critic... is not really new—Zachary Woolfe has been on the premises for a long time, both as critic and as editor. ... (He) appears to guarantee continuance of the Arts and Leisure section’s standing apportionment of 90% Leisure to 10% Arts, with the former frequently mislabeled as the latter.

Naturally, the Times‘ announcement warmly commends “Zack” to us, partly because he’s good at “demystifying” classical music for us, but more importantly because he comes to grips with the “major issues confronting the field,” which are said to be “The continuing obstacles female conductors face; the lack of diversity in major orchestras and on podiums; the ways classical music should change in an era of racial reckoning; and the field’s complex, fraught relationship with Asian and Asian American musicians.”

In other words, the “major issues” of classical music and opera aren’t artistic at all, or even economic/existential! They are instead the leading components of the social justice narrative that has come to define this hegemonic newspaper’s identity (though remarkably, one of its key components, LGBTetc. inclusion, goes unmentioned), and if Zack knows what’s good for him, he will continue to push them forward...

...he will not, I predict, slip the bonds of the paper’s self-imposed “major issues” mandate, which is to view all artistic effort in the light of Diversity.

It is this same mandate that, in a sort of Declaration of Dependence, has been proclaimed by the Met...

...My point is not that the Met should never mount contemporary operas, but that the openings for them among the canonical works, which collectively have established the standards, should be jealously guarded, and above all that they should be selected on the basis of artistic merit, not for their conformity to the demands of Diversity...Diversity has nothing to do with artistic merit. It is neither pro nor con, but irrelevant to it. I would call it artistically neutral...


Throughout the rest of Part I, the author laments the trend of hi-jacking the original text and story of an opera (or anything with a text e.g. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony ) and replacing it with contemporary political sagas in an attempt to make classical music "relevant."


See:

https://conradlosborne.com/2022/06/10/where-are-we/5/

Part II of the essay is a series of book reviews, one especially good one on Thomas Mann's Reflections of a Non-political Man and other things about Thomas Mann.
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)