Tag: James Levine

The trouble with Tristan

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

We arrived at Lincoln Center this evening to find another phase of the Plaza renovation underway. In addition to the plywood fencing erected throughout, both the driveway and the Revson Fountain had been closed to accommodate the construction. Click here to view a short video of what the newly transformed entrance to Lincoln Center will look like when this work is completed.

Below, the banner for Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s landmark 1980 work about Mahatma Gandhi’s formative experiences in South Africa, set to text from the Bhagavad Gita. The Met premiere coincides with The Satyagraha Project, a public forum inspired by Gandhi’s philosophies of actively engaging the world’s ills through nonviolence.

Lincoln Center construction

Months ago, we had ordered these tickets to Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in heady anticipation of catching operatic dream team Ben Heppner and Deborah Voigt, singing together for the first time. Unfortunately, bad luck and stars’ illnesses plagued nearly the entire six-performance run of the Met revival.

To begin… Prior to opening night, Heppner, who the Times has called “the reigning Wagnerian tenor of our day,” was sidelined by an initially misdiagnosed blood-borne infection. His understudy, Canadian tenor John Mac Master, replaced him in the March 10 opener to mostly negative reviews and ill-mannered audience boos. (We disapprove!) For the second performance, Mac Master was swapped out for American Gary Lehman, who fared slightly better in his Met debut. Voigt, however, fell ill in the middle of Act II, and was replaced by Upper West Side native Janice Baird, also making her Met debut, resulting in the March 14 performance finishing out with neither of the originally billed singers in the title roles.

For our third performance on Tuesday night, Voigt was back on stage performing opposite Lehman, but the night was interrupted in the third act when an errant set piece raked the tenor into the prompter’s box. The opera was stopped while Lehman was examined by a doctor, who eventually cleared him to continue. Longtime conductor James Levine led the orchestra at our performance, and drew cheers from this New York crowd — one of the few constants in a run as unstable as a Tristan chord.

Performance #4 featured tenor #3: Robert Dean Smith in his Met debut — a Saturday matinee which was telecast in high-definition to theaters worldwide. When Heppner was finally cleared to perform the penultimate night, it was Voigt who was M.I.A. — laid low by the stomach ailment and fever that had plagued her during the second performance. (Baird, once again, stepped in as Isolde.)

And so, in an unprecedented and magnanimous move, and to celebrate the long-delayed Heppner-Voight pairing, the Met decided to stream the sixth and final Tristan und Isolde performance live on its website. Not quite the same as being there inside the opera house, but on a quiet Friday night, I’ll take it. Bravo!

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BSO’s Bolcom @ Carnegie Hall

Monday, March 3rd, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

Back in the second tier boxes for the third and final of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concerts at Carnegie Hall this season. The BSO’s current music director James Levine is dear to New Yorkers for his relationship with the Metropolitan Opera, where he has led the orchestra since 1971.

The program at Stern Auditorium was to include two works by Franz Schubert and the New York debut of William Bolcom‘s Eighth Symphony for Chorus and Orchestra on William Blake’s Prophetic Books. That piece, which was commissioned by Levine for the BSO’s 125th Anniversary, had its world premiere the week before, in Boston.

German bass-baritone Thomas Quastoff had been scheduled to perform a series of five songs by Schubert, but like SC, he was derailed by illness and could not appear. (In SC’s stead, JG valiantly stepped in to accompany me to this evening’s concert.) Quasthoff is most visibly recognizable for his physical disability; he has a full-size torso, but shortened, malformed arms and stands at just under four feet tall as a result of his mother’s Thalidomide use during pregnancy. (His life story has inspired a movie.) Quasthoff has won three Grammys for his Deutsche Grammophon recordings, and last month won a fourth with EMI Classics for “Best Choral Performance” in Brahms: “Ein Deutsches Requiem”, conducted by Simon Rattle.

So instead, we were presented with Brahms’s violin-less Serenade No. 2 after Schubert’s “Tragic” Symphony No. 4.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

After intermission, the stage filled to near-overflowing for the Bolcom piece, which called for full strings and winds, extensive percussion and keyboards, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. (The Times and The Sun weigh in, positively.)

Bolcom’s best-known composition is another Blake inspiration, “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” for which he won three 2006 Grammys, including “Best Classical Contemporary Composition.” The same year, the University of Michigan Professor of Composition was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

His Eighth Symphony began with a literal bang — jarring audience members in their seats — eventually settling into near musical rhythms. I was impressed that the chorus performed the whispering, wailing four-movement piece entirely from memory.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

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