randy_byers: (blonde venus)
Thanks to my neighbor, Elonna, who has been volunteering at the Seattle Opera this year and then offering me a ticket to the dress rehearsals of the operas, I got to see Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos on Tuesday. (This was after a brain-meltingly brutal day at work when I had to work a little later than usual, and I had put the opera outing on the wrong day on my calendar, so when she innocently texted to ask if I'd be ready to go by 6:20, I was thrown into a panic. A pre-opera martini was good medicine.) The only Strauss opera I had previous seen and heard (on DVD and CD) was Salome. The only thing I "knew" about Ariadne was that it was a comedy. But as I said to Elonna on the way to the opera house, my memory of the Ariadne mythos was that after she helped Theseus find his way out of the labyrinth of the minotaur, he, in true Greek hero fashion, dumped her. It was hard to imagine how the story could be fashioned into a comedy.

Ariadne Deserted on the Isle of Naxos by Hans Schuler.jpg
Ariadne Deserted on the Isle of Naxos sculpted by Hans Schuler


Well, it turns out to be quite a bit more complicated than that, and the opera is one of the odder and more delightful works I've seen yet. It feels quite post-modern in its way, and that may be partly a reflection of how it came to its present form. It starts with a Prologue set in the manor of a wealthy patron who has hired musicians to entertain his dinner guests that evening. The Composer (a male character played by a female singer) has written a tragic opera about Ariadne. He is horrified to discover that the wealthy patron has also hired a commedia dell'arte troupe, lead by the coquettish singer Zerbinetta, to perform some comic numbers before (or after, I can't remember) the opera. Much comedy ensues around this clash of highbrow vs lowbrow, culminating in the wealthy patron announcing that because dinner has run late, the opera and the commedia dell'arte act need to be combined. Eventually the Composer and Zerbinetta confront each other, and the Composer is seduced in a marvelous soprano duet. Nonetheless, he's left in a miserable mood at the thought of his profound musical poetry being polluted by clowns.

After an intermission we get the combined performance of the opera and commedia del arte, with the wealthy patron and his guests watching from tables at the sides of the stage. We begin with Ariadne waking up on Naxos and lamenting Theseus' cruelty in a Wagnerian aria. She longs for death. The clowns and Zerbinetta take the stage and try to cheer her up, telling her that she'll find another man and forget the jerk, Theseus. Ariadne is not buying it, and she leaves the stage. Zerbinetta sings a remarkably acrobatic song about her fickle heart and short memory for the many men who have passed through her life, and this is played out as a charade in which the four clowns woo her. They all leave, and Ariadne returns with her longing for death to take her in his arms. Bacchus arrives on the island, and due to a confusion of identities (she thinks he's Hermes coming to take her to Hades, and he thinks she's Circe, who has just given him a magic potion), they fall in love. Thus the advice of the clowns has inadvertently been followed, and Zerbinetta and the Composer watch from the audience to the side of the stage, holding hands.

Ariadne auf Naxos.jpg
Harlequin and Zerbinetta console an inconsolable Ariadne


I was completely wowed by the way Strauss was able to pull off the unlikely combination of tragic romance and romantic comedy. The comedy is laugh out loud funny and goofy, and the serious love story is soaringly, poetically beautiful. The way that both strands weave with the other is deft and seamless. The performers were astoundingly good, and the music they were given to sing was gorgeous, with some very tricky parts for Zerbinetta in particular. (On a first pass, I far prefer this music to that of Salome.) The sets were also pretty much perfect, and I loved how the serious characters in the opera-within-the-opera wore 18th century costumes, giving the production a feeling of mixed eras as well as mixed genres and musical styles. Really, it's just a fantastic production all around, and I highly recommend it.

Regarding how the opera arrived at its odd structure, it was originally commissioned by the famous German theater director Max Reinhardt, who was putting on a new production of Moliere's The Bourgeois Gentleman, which is about a pretentious nouveau riche who is trying to convince everyone that he's sophisticated. Strauss and his librettist, Hofmannsthal, were to provide a short opera that would exhibit this man's questionable taste. This superproduction failed to enchant audiences, so Strauss and Hofmannsthal created the Prologue to replace the Moliere play as an explanation for the opera. What results is something like the backstage musicals that Hollywood has always been so fond of. Yes, kids, it's the Singin' in the Rain of opera!
randy_byers: (blonde venus)
Another note for future reference: Tom Service's list of "The 10 best operas by women". I've only seen one of these: Kaija Saariaho's L'amour de loin, which I've watched on DVD and found completely transporting. I've heard of Unsik Chin's Alice in Wonderland, but other than that these are all new names and titles to me.
randy_byers: (blonde venus)
Pyramid Sellers is listed as playing the valkyrie Gerhilde in the 1990 Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner's Die Walküre. It's the only reference to her I can find on the web. Pseudonym? One would hope!

As I think I've mentioned before, I'm making my way through the DVDs of this production of the Ring. So far I'm having pretty much the same reaction to the individual operas that I had when I saw them live at the Seattle Opera last summer. I liked all of Das Rheingold and I liked the first two acts of Die Walküre (especially the scene in Act 2 where Brünnhilde first appears to Siegmund in the moonlight) while finding large parts of the third problematic (although I do like "The Ride of the Valkyries" at the beginning and the magic fire music at the end.) The problematic part of Act 3 is the long discussion between Brünnhilde and Wotan about why (or whether) she betrayed him by trying to protect Siegmund against his professed will. The substance of the argument itself is interesting, but I find it overlong and much of the music not so interesting. Still, there were a couple of moments where the vocal work of now Brünnhilde and now Wotan were very beautiful even in this section. Over all, however, I got pretty bored and fidgety again, and that's even though I watched the opera in two different sittings, split about midway through the second act.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Work has continued to be ... oh, I dunno, challenging? Heavy? Hard? No, not really hard (other than the stuff I wrote about last time). Just heavy, I guess. I'm looking forward to taking a week and a half off in November.

Other than that, this and that. We're working on the next issue of Chunga. Mostly waiting for solicited artwork at this point, although I'm also finally editing the lettercol.

Last Thursday I saw the Seattle Opera's new production of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment. Once again this was thanks to my neighbor's boss, who gets passes to the dress rehearsals but was unable to make it to this one. This time my neighbor joined me. The opera was a delightful truffle -- sort of a variation on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs about a young woman who was orphaned and raised by a regiment of French soldiers. I don't know much about Donizetti, but apparently he was massively popular in his day. This one was first produced in 1840, so it says something that people still want to see it nearly two hundred years later. The setting for this production was updated from the Napoleonic wars to World War II, and I believe the nationality of the romantic tenor was changed from Tyrolean to American.

Last night I watched the DVD of James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera's 1990 production of Wagner's Das Rheingold -- the first opera in the Ring Cycle. My article for this issue of Chunga is about seeing the Ring Cycle last summer. As I wrote here at the time, 15 hours of music is a lot to absorb, and I borrowed this DVD set from [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond to try to get a better handle on it. I listened to the DVDs (with an occasional peak at the video) while I was writing my article; now I want to watch them. As before, I found a lot of music to like in Das Rheingold, and I'm fascinated by the fantastical, high fantasy nature of the thing. Just a tad different from the frothy romantic comedy of The Daughter of the Regiment!

I don't know what else. My raspberries have been incredibly productive this month. I picked a collander full on Saturday, and I can't remember ever picking them this late in the year before. Then again, I'm terrible about keeping a gardening journal, so I don't really know. I don't even know whether this has been an unusually warm October.

Oh, and I was also completely fascinated by an article in the Grauniad, "Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?", particularly the concept of soshoku danshi ("grass-eating men"), which is a term of disparagement that some men have embraced. One of them defines it as "a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant." I wouldn't agree with the "unimportant" (quite the opposite, really), but I do identify with the mindset that makes do without and that finds process of establishing and maintaining a romantic relationship incredibly complicated and fraught. For me this has nothing to do with the kinds of socioeconomic conflicts this article is about, but I still recognize the psychosexual terrain being discussed. "Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction," says one demographer. Life on the cutting edge, eh?
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Wagner's opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, is the fourth version of this story (or parts of it) that I've read or seen. The first version I read was Nibelungenlied, which is an anonymous medieval epic poem that I read in a prose translation published by Penguin. I remember that I really enjoyed it, along with Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parsifal, which I read around the same time. Sometime later I read a Norse version of the story, probably Völsunga Saga. I don't remember anything about it. More recently I've twice watched Fritz Lang's two part silent film, Die Nibelungen, which is based on Nibelungenlied.

Wagner's Ring Cycle incorporates elements from several different versions of the story, and his version of the Siegfried story is quite a bit different from the one in Nibelungenlied. In Wagner, Siegfried is led to Brünnhilde by birds after he slays the dragon, and the two of them swear oaths of love to each other. When Siegfried travels to Gunther's castle afterwards, he is given a love potion that makes him forget Brünnhilde and fall in love with Gunther's sister Gudrune. In Nibelungenlied Siegfried travels to Gunther's castle first and falls in love with Gunther's sister Kriemhild. Only then is he recruited by Gunther to woo Brünhild for him. In this version, there is no love between Siegfried and Brünhild. This is the heart of the difference, although there are many other variations. Probably because I came to the other version first, and had it pounded home by Lang's brilliant films, I prefer that story to the one Wagner tells. Nibelungenlied is really Kriemhild's story, and the second half of it is all about her revenge on her brother and his half-brother Hagen for their murder of Siegfried. For Wagner it instead becomes Brünnhilde's story, in concert with Siegfried. If it's not really Wotan's story instead.

This is a very Germanic story of the Will to Power, and it's actually interesting to consider Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as a response to Wagner. Wotan learns that the Will to Power is a desire for self-destruction, which is the only way to be released from desire. Before he learns this Wotan first tries to achieve his will to power by creating avatars in his child, Brünnhilde, and grandchild, Siegfried, but he cannot escape his own self, his own will, other than by intentional self-sacrifice, embodied in Brünnhilde's self-immolation on Siegfried's funeral pyre, which then sets fire to Valhalla and destroys all the gods as well. That's still too much will for Tolkien, who sees the destruction of the will to power only in Gollum's providential self-destructive power grab on Mt Doom. Gollum has the role of Brünnhilde in that he carries the ring into purifying fire, but he doesn't do it through noble self-sacrifice but through a final spasm of will to power. Tolkien's view is less romantic than Wagner's: There is no escape from the will to power via resignation or letting go. It only happens through providence, or through the will to power finally consuming itself.

Well, I've probably gotten myself in over my head on the philosophy there. I'll spare you the comparison to Star Wars and the Jedi ideal of letting go of self and trusting the Force.

I'm tempted to say that unlike Die Walküre and Siegfried, where I liked the first two acts and was bored by the third, in Götterdämmerung I was bored by the first act and enjoyed the second and third. But while there's some truth to that, I'd actually say (as a variation on what I said above) that I prefer Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen to Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, which cover the same story. Lang is grimmer and darker, while Wagner is more exalted and romantic. But another way to say it is that my enthusiasm for the Ring slowly drained away over the course of the four operas, and while I was still watching with analytical interest in the end, I wasn't getting caught up in it. I wasn't finding much of the music of interest, although that may be through unfamiliarity. It's a lot of damned music to absorb! But it didn't help that I continued to find the vocal music not very interesting, and in general just kind of shouty and pummeling and unmelodious. (There's a trio at the end of the second act of Götterdämmerung that's remarkable for how stridently unharmonized the three voices are. It only occurs to me now that the three characters all end up enemies of each other, so perhaps this was intentional. Compare and contrast the various trios sung by the Rhine maidens, which are much more melodious.)

There's no denying what a huge influence the Ring has had. There's no denying that there's a lot going on there, and for me to pronounce judgment after a single time through would be foolish. If nothing else, it has made me want revisit all kinds of things to see and hear them with post-Wagnerian eyes and ears: Lang's Nibelungen movies; the music of Richard Strauss, Mahler, and Schoenberg; the Nibelungenlied and Völsunga Saga; Debussy's opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, which was another attempt to wrestle with the legacy of Wagner. (How I prefer Debussy's uncertain dreaminess!) Shall I say that the music was too brassy for me, or that it often sounded incredibly cheesy? How much of the perceived cheesiness derives from the fact that it has been pilfered endlessly by Hollywood composers looking to jack up the melodramatic tension? Well, I'd love to find a site that's streaming these operas and go through them again just listening to the music this time. Next time I have fifteen hours available to me, ahem.

I mentioned in another post that I feel as though I've been living at the opera house in recent days. As is my wont, I even started to develop routines. One of them was that as soon as I had picked up my ticket at the window (usually I had to wait in line for a bit), I'd head to the ground floor bistro and get a turkey sandwich and a glass of wine, then I'd read a chapter of Iain M. Banks' Surface Tension while I consumed my little meal. Reading space opera in the opera house just seemed like the right thing to do. I highly recommend it.

Siegfried

Jul. 31st, 2013 11:24 am
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
I'm not sure I have anything coherent to say about this -- the third opera in Wagner's Ring Cycle, which I saw last night -- but I'm going to put down some notes in case I want to write about the whole shebang at some point. I went into Siegfried with the idea that it might be the least interesting of the four Ring operas, so is it a surprise that I came out feeling that way? At the same time I'm not sure why I felt it was the least interesting. As with the other two Ring operas I've seen so far, there were things I liked and things I didn't. Why did I feel dissatisfied overall with this one, where I mostly liked Die Walküre (except for the third act)?

Well, I think I found the music less interesting overall, although there were still some bits I liked. The orchestral interludes were kind of a letdown, whereas they've been the best part of the previous operas. I've had problems with the vocal parts in all the operas, but I really found little to like vocally in this one. Beyond the music, however, I just found the heroic and romantic ideal held up in this one completely ridiculous. Siegfried as the ideal man just wasn't cutting it for me. All the rampant phallic symbols (which have been there all through the cycle) became laughable. The love duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde, with all its high-minded hogwash about "light-bringing love and laughing death," gave me a headache, whereas I found the love duet between Siegmund and Siegelinde in Die Walküre quite beautiful and delicate.

That said, much as with Die Walküre there were plenty of things in the first two acts that I *did* like. The sense of humor is great, and there's a goofy side to Siegfried that's much more appealing than his stalwart heroicism. Mime is one of the more interesting characters in the cycle as well, and he gets plenty of room to shine in the first two acts, before Siegfried finally offs him. The riddle scene between Mime and Wotan is great fun, and a clever way to deliver exposition about what has happened in the previous operas. Wotan is in great form in Siegfried, and his appearances in all three acts are pretty much the highpoints (although in the third act he basically delivers a big expository lump to poor, passive Erda -- mansplaining!)

As I said in my previous post about the Ring, the production is a big part of the fascination for me, so another reason Siegfried may have felt a little disappointing is that we had seen three of the four sets in the previous two operas. The spectacle therefore wasn't as fresh. One of the sets had been re-dressed with a large rotting log in an attempt to make it look different. The two others that we'd seen before I think were supposed to be the same locations as before, so it made sense. I say "I think" because in one case -- the set where Siegfried slays the dragon Fafner -- my only reason for thinking it was the same place where we had seen Hunding kill Siegmund is that I thought there was a bloodstain from where Siegmund died. However, this wasn't really commented on, so I'm not completely sure about that. I do think we saw Siegfried finger the stain at one point, which seemed significant to me. The argument against it being the same spot is that the dragon wasn't living there before. Maybe it moved in later?

Anyway, the one new set was a cliffside that looked like it could have come out of the Crooked River Canyon in Central Oregon. Considering the fact that many of the forest sets have reminded me of the rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula, it made me wonder if the set designers were consciously going for a Pacific Northwest look. I could imagine them traveling around the peninsula going, "Ooh, there's a great tree. Let's copy it!"

I was curious how they would do the dragon, and it was a nice piece of work. Basically they showed the tail coiled in a cave and snaking out to bop Siegfried in the face, making him think it was the whole dragon, and then the head and one huge wing hove into the gap between hillocks in the set. I kept expecting it to shoot fire out of its jaws, but no. It wasn't the greatest special effect in the operas, but it looked cool. Actually, I did wonder how they got the "blood" on Siegfried's sword when he stabbed the dragon, because I didn't see how it happened. (In some ways the best special effects in this episode came when Siegfried reforged the sword, Nothung, although I found the martial, hammering rhythm of this section just as dull and annoying as pretty much of all the more emphatic, thumping music in the whole cycle.)

Again, I saw and heard lots of things that have been echoed in later pop culture. Perhaps a stretch, but Wotan's wayfarer's hat reminded me of the hat Gandalf wears in Jackson's Lord of the Rings, but actually I suppose the influence could be in the other direction in that case, since costuming is not described by Wagner, as far as I know, so the costume designers could have taken their ideas from anywhere. Musically, there was an instance of Siegfried's theme that I'm pretty sure John Williams stole note-for-note for the scene where Luke Skywalker walks out of the family home on Tattooine and looks at the double suns on the horizon. In general John Williams used leitmotifs in a very Wagnerian way in the Star Wars scores. The other familiar notes I spotted were in the music for the dragon, bits of which were borrowed by Max Steiner for King Kong (1933). Very appropriate, too, because Fafner is an intelligent, feeling monster, just like Kong.

I'm really having a hard time with a lot of the vocal lines in Wagner. Twice now I've gone home after seeing one of these operas and listened to a bit of Schoenberg's Gurre-lieder, and the orchestral music sounds very similar but I far prefer Schoenberg's vocal music. I find Wagner's vocal music very stentorian and declamatory, and it wears me out. I've also been thinking I need to listen to Mozart's The Magic Flute again, because it's another German-language opera that's a fantasy with ritual overtones, yet I remember the vocal music being much more beautiful. From what I've read, Wagner was trying to move away from the more Italianate tradition of opera, unlike Mozart. Wagner apparently found traditional opera too feminine. After a major dose of heroic masculinity in Siegfried (in which even the one female character, Brünnhilde, is male-identified and has her very own phallic spear), I say bring on the feminine. Give me Susanna matching wits with the wily Figaro in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

Okay, I'm going on and on here, but I also wanted to say something about the Ring experience as a whole so far. I mentioned the ritual aspect. In some ways it feels like a hazing! It's an ordeal that bonds us all together in our devotion of time and attention and aching asses to this damned thing. (I spent seven hours at the opera house yesterday! I feel like I've been living there the past few days.) People are way into the communal aspect, and it feels very fannish in many ways. It feels like we're at a convention. There are silly costumes and T-shirts with funny in-jokes! One of the T-shirts they're selling says Gotterdammitslong. I may have to get one of those just to show the world that I've been initiated into the tribe.

Also, other people are loving these performances. Huge applause last night for Stefan Vinke, who played Siegfried, and also for Greer Grimsley as Wotan and Dennis Petersen as Mime. People are having a great time, although our numbers last night were diminished compared to the first two nights. Some heroes have fallen by the wayside, alas. No doubt they are drinking martinis in Valhalla even now.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
The past week has been quite a dose of culture. Last Tuesday Samuel R. Delany gave a reading at the downtown Seattle Public Library as part of this summer's Clarion West festivities. Delany is a terrific reader, and he was in fine form for this. He read from his latest novel, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, and he also read from Phallos -- a novella that has recently been rereleased in an expanded version. (All of Chip's work is seemingly constantly under revision.) He introduced himself as our favorite dirty old man (the house was packed with enthusiastic folks), and both readings were blatantly sexual, although part of the joke in Phallos is that it's about a pornographic novel of uncertain provenance in which the sex has been censored to make it safe for the internet.

In many ways the Q&A session after the reading was even more entertaining. Somebody asked a question about "Aye, and Gomorrah," which won a Nebula Award in 1967. I can't even remember what the question was, but Delany called the politics of the story "trogdolytic" in its portrayal of queerness as something tragic and lugubrious, in short nothing like the life he was actually living in those pre-Stonewall days. He launched into a wonderful story about how he'd made his first trip to Paris in 1966 with two straight friends and had immediately run into a man masturbating in the Tuileries Garden and went home with him. This man was a medical student from Senegal, and the next day he and his friends (all of them gay Africans) invited Chip and his friends over for dinner. Well, it was all very much like a scene out of one of Chip's later stories, and it was completely delightful.

I confess that Chip's sex-drenched and socially-expansive stories left me feeling very wistful that evening. I've been in a mild funk since Westercon due to a new confrontation with my own sexual and social disabilities. Nothing very profound, just some ancient frustrations and confusions that I've long lived with. My life as an anxious introvert, I guess. I envy Chip the carefree attitude he projects in public.

Anyway, on Friday I went to SIFF Cinema Uptown to see the silent version of Hitchcock's 1929 film, Blackmail. (It was simultaneously filmed as his first sound film.) This was part of a traveling show called the Hitchcock 9, which features the nine surviving silent films by Hitchcock, all of which have been restored by the British Film Institute. Blackmail looked absolutely amazing. Hitchcock was already an accomplished visual stylist by this point (the influence of Murnau and Lang is plain to see), and this print (or digital file) was taken directly from the negatives, looking very sharp and pristine. The story was prime Hitchcock material: a Scotland Yard detective's girlfriend (played by Anny Ondra, who reminded me of Fay Wray in her mannerisms) goes out on a date with another man behind her boyfriend's back. The man tries to rape her, and she kills him. Another man knows she did it and tries to blackmail her. The layers of guilt are properly convoluted, but the story sags a bit in the middle when Hitchcock doesn't seem to know what to do with the characters except have them brood and leer at each other. Still, it was gorgeous to look at, and if it comes out on DVD I'll pick it up. I also enjoyed the minimalist, almost ambient accompaniment by the Diminished Men at this showing.

My plan coming into the weekend had been to catch another of the Hitchcock 9 on both Saturday and Sunday, but then another option presented itself to me. My neighbor's boss offered her a pass to the dress rehearsals for the Wagner Ring Cycle that the Seattle Opera is about to put on. My neighbor couldn't use it, so she offered it to me. I've always wanted to see the Ring, but never strongly enough to actually, you know, go. Here it was, handed to me on a platter. After examining the schedule, however, I wasn't sure I really wanted to devote that much time to it. The first opera in the cycle, Das Rheingold, is two and half hours long, but the other three are all over four hours apiece.

Well, I decided I'd go to Das Rheingold on Saturday at the very least, and so I did. I also went to Die Walküre on Sunday, and am now leaning heavily toward seeing the other two as well. Suffice it to say that I'm enjoying it so far, although not without some reservations. But there's something very thrilling and epic about it that cannot be denied. As a production, it is absolutely spectacular, with amazing sets and special effects and costumes. It also feels like a blast of our culture. It connects to so many different things, from the modern heroic fantasy genre to Star Wars to the music of Mahler and Schoenberg that I've been listening to in large doses lately. Listening to the music I can hear the echoes in so many things I've heard before. Last night at Die Walküre I was hearing the music from the 1939 Wizard of Oz, for example.

I liked Die Walküre better than Das Rheingold, although there was plenty of music in Das Rheingold that I really, really liked. There was singing in both of them that I didn't care for very much. (I think I like the singing in Italianate operas better than Germanic ones in general.) As much as I liked Die Walküre, I didn't care for the third act very much. My biggest problem with these operas so far is probably that there's too much declaiming of exposition, as the characters explain things to each other at great length. This leads to some strange staging as secondary characters move around aimlessly and strike poses just to try to make it seem like something is happening when nothing is really happening except exposition.

But then a magical moment will arise: Brünnhilde appearing to Siegmund in the moonlight, or Loge and Wotan tricking Alberich into turning into a frog in the dark gold mines. I can't begin to describe how splendid the sets and the production are. They've created the most beautiful forest sets! In the opening scene in Das Rheingold the Rhine maidens are "swimming" in the air -- essentially wirework in realtime, swooping up and down and floating across the stage and doing somersaults in midair. Simply amazing.

I could go on and on about things I've liked (much of the music, although not all) and haven't liked (some of the more emphatic, thumping music, for example), but I also want to talk about how much fun it has been going to the opera house. I wore my suit on Saturday, only to reacquaint myself with the fact that the slacks need to be taken in. So on Sunday I wore a shirt and tie with jeans. I've been admiring the women in their finery. It's like going to a costume ball. Because the tickets are first come first serve, you're advised to show up an hour and a half early. That has given me time to sit in the bistro and drink wine and people watch and read a book (Banks' Surface Tension, which coincidentally opens on an opera stage). The crowd is very enthusiastic. There's a lot of excitement in the air. People wonder aloud if Tolkien based Lord of the Rings on the Ring Cycle. (I refrained from telling them that Tolkien was influenced by the original mythology and actually detested Wagner.) And I hadn't been to McCaw Hall since it was remodeled, and it is quite a beautiful building itself. It's all a great deal of fun just as an event.

Meanwhile, on top of this epic flood of culture I'm also painting the backside of the house. I have been a very, very busy boy, I tell you. The weather has been brilliant, and I'm sure I've been flooded with Vitamin D as well as with culture. The physical activity has left me feeling energetic. To hell with mild funks and old frustrations. I'm having a ball!
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Yesterday's music post was mostly a list of names of composers I'm currently listening to. Here are a few words about some of the music.

Considering how much I like Debussy, I'm not at all sure why it has taken me so long to dig into Ravel. I guess it's a bandwidth problem, amongst other things. So much music, so little time. Previous to this I was most familiar with Bolero and the string quartet. Now I'm listening to Daphnis et Chloé (the full version), and it instantly leaps into the pantheon for me. This is exactly the melodic, sensuous kind of music that I love! And of course I can hear all the ways it has been influential on later composers, too. In particular I'm struck by how much Jerry Goldsmith borrowed for his score for Ridley Scott's Legend (1985). (A score that was replaced in the American release by one by Tangerine Dream, but can now be heard in all its considerable glory on the alternate version of the film released to DVD a number of years ago.) Goldsmith borrowed parts of the wordless chorus, some of the harp washes, and some of the eerie crescendos. Fairy music! Well, he also borrowed from Bartok's Music for String Instruments, Percussion and Celeste, which I'm also now listening to. (Update: Just watched Miyazaki's Ponyo again, and Joe Hisaishi's score quotes Daphnis et Chloé as well, including the eerie wordless chorus.)

Then there's Alban Berg's opera, Lulu. I've only watched it once (it was the 1996 production at the Glyndebourne Festival), and I almost gave up on it in the first act. Musically I didn't find it very appealing, particularly the vocals. Unmelodic, that's for sure. What kept me going were some non-musical factors (although to be fair I was also interested in the music for non-musical reasons). I was interested in the story, because it was based on two plays by Frank Wedekind that were also adapted by G.W. Pabst into the brilliant silent film, Pandora's Box (1929), with Louise Brooks. So it was also interesting to me that this production of the opera consciously modeled the look of Lulu after Louise Brooks in the movie, starting out with her famous bob and later slicking it back in a more severe style that was also used in the film. (Berg composed the opera after the film came out, but I don't know whether he was influenced by it at all. His idea for the opera, which he didn't complete before he died (it wasn't completed until after his wife died in 1976), was to have a silent film interlude at one point to cover Lulu's time in prison.) I also found the costuming and mechanically elaborate stage interesting, and Christine Schäfer, who played Lulu, was fascinating in the role. Very sexual, of course, but in a much more forbidding way than Louise Brooks. The opera covers a lot more ground than the movie, but it does cover most of the events in the movie, with slight variations. Well, some not so slight. In the movie, for example, it's ambiguous who pulls the trigger when Dr Schön is killed (he and Lulu are wrestling over the gun), whereas in the opera Lulu plainly shoots him several times in the back. The Lulu in the opera is more of a monster than the Lulu in the film, although still with the "earth spirit" quality (Wedekind's first play about her was called Erdgeist) that makes her seem like a force of nature.

So while I found the music occasionally trying (especially since the opera is three hours long) and mostly not interesting even when not trying (with the exception of a couple of instrumental interludes), I did actually find Lulu interesting over all. I might even watch another production of it at some point, who knows. One thing that struck me about the music was that the style of the vocal lines was probably an influence on Kaija Saariaho in L'amour de loin, particularly the final scene where Clémence rails against God but then seems to transfer her anguished love to Him (Who offers her the ultimate "love from afar"). I'm not savvy enough to describe what I found similar, but Saariaho's music also avoids melody and the vocal lines have a similar plangent, anguished, abstract quality. What's different about her score, which makes it more appealing to me, is that it's more lush and chromatic than Berg over all. Berg not only lacks melodies, but he lacks anything that I can identify as harmonics as well.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
Well, since I last wrote about Daniel Catan I've gone on another binge of listening to opera and classical music. Digging through past posts I see that my current trajectory through this area of music started as far back as 2007 when I fell in love with Sibelius' 7th Symphony and started looking for "more like that" with the help of various folks here, most prominently [livejournal.com profile] calimac and [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond (who had turned me on to the Sibelius piece to begin with). I picked up symphonies by Samuel Barber, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Vagn Holmboe, Aulis Sallinen, Einojuhani Rautavaara, and Alan Hovahness in that period.

What I didn't remember was that it was actually *after* that, in January 2008, that Ron gave me the recording of Catan's opera, Florencia en el Amazonas (and that he did so as a memorial to our friend Anita Rowland, who had just died of cancer). This was a momentous gift, because it ultimately led me to pick up a recording of Catan's first opera, Rappaccini's Daughter, and my love for these two operas led me to begin an investigation of 20th Century opera, including Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande, Dukas' Ariane et Barbe-Bleu, Strauss' Salome, Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and John Adams' Nixon in China.

Catan has continued to drive my interest in both early 20th Century music and contemporary music. It was listening to and watching his last opera, Il Postino (which I've written about on my blog), that got me to delve into modern opera again, this time including Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, Puccinni's La Boheme, and another one that I wrote about, the contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's L'amour de loin, which premiered in 2000. (It was interesting to see that Saariaho's opera had popped up on the list Alex Ross compiled of great music composed between 1980 and 2007 that I posted about in October 2007 at more or less the beginning of this journey.)

Fascinated by Saariaho's debt to Debussy, who is a favorite of mine, I picked up a recording called Trios, which contains all her chamber music written for three instruments. Unfortunately I haven't been too thrilled with these pieces (too shrieky!), although I haven't given up on them yet. But I had also started to read about other contemporary composers and again pulled out the Rautavaara and Sallinen music I had. All these Finns! Another Finn, Esa-Pekka Salonen, kept popping up in my reading, both as a composer and as a conductor. Salonen has championed early 20th Century composers like Debussy, Ravel, Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Bartok. I really haven't listened to much Ravel, so now I've picked up a recording of Daphnis and Chloe, as well as two of Bartok's best known orchestral works (conducted by Salonen). I've picked up a disk of Salonen's compositions, and I've got my eye on a contemporary Swedish composer named Anders Hillborg as well.

It's endless, of course. My sense of classical music in the 20th Century is beginning to deepen. I'm not sure why it has taken me this long to get into it, other than the fact that a lot of what I've heard over the years hasn't particularly appealed to me. But really there are so many different streams of composition in the 20th Century that it's impossible to make generalizations. As I've been reading recently, I've been reminded, for example, of the connections between minimalism and the ambient music of Brian Eno that I've been happily listening to for the past thirty years. Electronic music has changed the game in so many ways -- it fluidly crosses, if it doesn't destroy, borders between art music and pop music -- and is itself a massively tangled scheme of threads.

But I guess what is fascinating me right now is early and late 20th century -- and early 21st century -- opera and orchestral music. Discovering Alex Ross' list again gives me more ideas of names to investigate. I like melodic, sensuous music more than stern, demanding (shrieking!) stuff, but here sits Alban Berg's opera, Lulu, at the top of my stack o' DVDs, ready to test my prejudices. (I had always assumed that I wouldn't like Bartok's opera, and I sure was wrong about that! What was I thinking?) My Netflix queue contains another opera by Britten (the most popular opera composer of the 20th Century after Puccinni) and one by Rautavaara from this millennium. I've finally discovered that -- duh -- DVDs are better than CDs for opera. The discoveries keep coming. And so onward.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
L'Amour de Loin


I've been on another opera jag lately, inspired once again by my love of the operas of Daniel Catán. This time I've been listening to Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Korngold's Die tote stadt, and Puccinni's La Boheme and trying to get deeper into Strauss' Salome amongst others. Last night I watched a DVD of Kaija Saariaho's 2000 opera, L'amour de loin, which has been praised as "the first great opera of the 21st century". The French libretto by Amin Maalouf is based on the poetry of the 12th century troubadour Jaufré Rude and concern's Jaufré's love for Clémence -- a woman he has never met and who lives across the sea from him (thus "l'amour de loin" -- "love from afar"). I'm still a relative neophyte when it comes to opera, so I can only go by what I know, and this opera reminded me frequently of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, both musically and in the spare story about painfully idealized love and gloomy uncertainty.

The music is far less romantic than Catán, but it does share some similarities with Catán's first opera, Rappaccini's Daughter, which is also indebted to Debussy. I've been reading about Saariaho this morning, and she's quite an interesting figure. The Wikipedia article says she was influenced by a movement I had never heard of called "spectral music," which Wikipedia describes as "a musical practice where compositional decisions are often informed by sonographic representations and mathematical analysis of sound spectra. ... Proto-spectral composers include Claude Debussy, Edgard Varèse, Giacinto Scelsi, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Theoretical predecessors include some of the composers mentioned and Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, and Paul Hindemith." The result is haunting and ethereal. Spectral is a good word for it.

Saariaho has composed two more operas since this one, and she's written quite a lot of other music as well, including string quartets and other chamber music. I'm very curious about her now and an eyeing some of her other recordings. The Guardian has a good overview: 'The brilliance of her works that fuse electronics with instruments is the way they melt the divisions between both worlds. The electronics become a halo around the instruments, amplifying their sonic palette yet indivisible from them. Your ears are seamlessly taken into another realm, a place that's both ethereal in its sheer, rarefied beauty yet grounded in the real world of instruments and voices.'

And so my musical education continues. Opera DVDs that I have on hand include John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer and Aulis Sallinen's The Palace. (Sallinen is another Finn, and Saariaho does remind me of him at times.) In the Netflix queue is Alban Berg's Lulu, which I've always been curious about because it's another adaptation of the same play that formed the basis for Pabst's silent film classic, Pandora's Box.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
I wrote recently about discovering that the composer Daniel Catán had died over a year ago. Catán, who was born in Mexico but eventually became an American citizen, was best known for his operas. I've long been a huge fan of Florencia en el Amazonas and Rappaccini's Daughter, and since learning of his death I've been slowly absorbing the last opera he completed, Il Postino.

I've also been digging into the intertubes to try to find out more about him, and the deeper I dig the more I run into people who are at least mildly disdainful of his music. You can see the nature of the beast in a memorial article by LA Times music critic Mark Swed, "An Appreciation: Daniel Catán, caring composer":

He had a sterling music education and received a PhD in music composition from Princeton University, where he studied with the ultra-Modernist master of complexity and taskmaster Milton Babbitt. Soon after, Catán returned to his hometown of Mexico City for a while and it looked as though that he might become a kind of Mexican post-Modernist. That certainly seemed the case in 1991 with his rhapsodic "Rappaccini's Daughter," his first opera. Based on the writing of the Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, it heralded what many of us had hoped would be a much-needed new voice in Latin opera.


You can probably already see where this is going:

Catán had moved to the Los Angeles area by the time of his second opera, "Florencia en el Amazonas," written for Houston Grand Opera. After the 1996 premiere, a German colleague who had flown in from Frankfurt to cover it joined me for a drink in a Houston hotel. He was distraught. How, he bewailed, was he going to explain to his editor that he had spent all this money to come to Texas for what he called in English "Puccini soup."


There are a couple of things about this that strike me as hilarious. First, "Puccini soup' is a great phrase. But beyond that, and beyond the petty pathos of the betrayed avant gardist, when I look at the Seattle Opera's upcoming season, what do I see? Three works by Puccini. And so Swed goes on to remark:

Catán had changed. But despite a Magic Realist-manqué librettist and too much pretty music, this proved attractive and effective opera, fresh in its lack of cynicism, that resonated with audiences for a reason. Still, I figured "Amazonas" would be a slight detour demanded by Houston. Catán, after all, was a Princeton progressive with Milton Babbitt's stamp of approval. But what Catán later told me was that what Babbitt taught him was to be himself. With "Amazonas," Catán had achieved the courage of his convictions.


"Too much pretty music." Heaven forfend! But there's another interesting aspect of this to me as well. Catán is compared to Puccini probably more than to any other artist, but to my relatively uneducated ear there's also a lot of Debussy in his music. This mostly has to do with the chromaticism and the swelling, upwelling dynamic structures, but I was reminded of something else when another critic said he wished Catán were in fact more like Puccini and less like Debussy. His complaint was that the arias, while extremely lyrical, are not something you can pull out as a single great song. Thus they are more like Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande where there isn't any recitative, but where there aren't really any arias either. Every vocal line is melodic, but never in a songlike, verse-chorus-verse structure.

Which I think exhausts my knowledge on this subject for the present moment. So far I'm not as keen on Il Postino as the other two Catán operas I've heard, but I'm still digesting it. The best parts (particularly the finale) are just as wonderful, and I'm fascinated by it as a work of adaptation as well.
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
1) Ten Essentials for Hiking: After my excellent (and overly anxious) recent hiking expedition on the Olympic Peninsula, I made a list (in a phone app called Evernote) of items to acquire before I try something like that again: 1) Rain gear; 2) Multi tool; 3) Flashlight; 4) Walking stick; and 5) First aid kit. So I started doing some internet research on rain gear for hiking and was amused to immediately stumble upon the page linked above, which lists these ten essentials for hiking: 1) Map; 2) Compass; 3) Water; 4) Extra food; 5) Rain Gear and Extra Clothing; 6) Firestarter and Matches; 7) First Aid Kit; 8) Knife or Multi-Purpose Tool; 9) Flashlight and Extra Batteries; 10) Sun screen and sun glasses.

I had #s 3, 4, and 10 with me on my long hike, as well as Extra Clothing from #5. I'd also thought of matches but failed to put them on my own list. I'd also cursed myself for not having a map. So a compass was really the only thing that hadn't occurred to me in just thinking about what would be useful. They don't mention a walking stick, even in the ancillary items at the bottom of the list, but I still think I want one.

2) I was very sorry to learn yesterday of the death of the Mexican composer Daniel Catán. He is best known as a composer of operas, and I saw his Florencia en el Amazonas at the Seattle Opera in April 1998. It's based on the work of Gabriel García Márquez, particularly Love in the Time of Cholera, which is a book I loved. I eventually acquired a recording of the opera, and some time after that I acquired a recording of his first opera, Rapaccinni's Daughter, which is based on Octavio Paz's play adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's somewhat science fictional short story. I loved it just as much as Florencia, although it is a much darker, more brooding piece of music.

Over the years I've kept an eye out for recordings of a third opera, Salsipuedes, and thus became aware that he had recently completed a fourth opera, Il Postino, which was based on the film about Pablo Neruda. Yesterday I thought to check again for recordings of either of those operas, which is when I discovered that he had died in April 2011, after attending a rehearsal for Il Postino in Houston. He was 62.

Turns out there's a DVD of a performance of Il Postino, and I've ordered that. He didn't compose a lot of music in his lifetime. I have a partial recording of Obsidian Butterfly, for soprano, chorus, and orchestra, also based on the work of Octavio Paz. I've loved everything I've heard by him. I was saddened by the news of his death, and so I note it here.

3) I've been blogging about films at Dreamland Cafe for over a year and a half, and I think I've only gotten at most a half dozen comments from people who don't know me personally. However, I've also gotten email from two people inquiring about screencaps they'd found on my site. One was from an American poet who wanted to use an image from Maurice Tourneur's The Wishing Ring (1914) to illustrate a website with an audio album of poetry. Another, just received yesterday, was from a British writer of military history, who is writing about the Siege of Fort William Henry and was interested in the screencaps from Maurice Tourneur's The Last of the Mohicans (1920) for possible use as illustrations.

I'm delighted that anyone is finding the screencaps possibly useful, even if only in an ornamental sense, but I'm downright thrilled that in both cases the screencaps are from the films of Maurice Tourneur, who is still relatively obscure in the annals of film history. He (like his better-known son, Jacques) was a great pictorialist, so perhaps it's fitting that even stills taken from his films are considered striking. As an obscure blogger in the annals of film history, I'm pleased that I'm playing a small part in disseminating knowledge of (or at least exposure to) Maurice Tourneur to the non-cinephile world.

ETA: 4) Don't look now, but Mitt Romney's share of the popular vote is shrinking toward 47% as more ballots are counted. This was an outcome I hoped for as soon as his infamous comments were publicized.

QOTD

Feb. 4th, 2011 06:20 pm
randy_byers: (2010-08-15)
"It is perhaps scarcely an exaggeration to claim that, in this opera, the entire 'natural' musical order of things is inverted; 'inverted' being the operative (and in this case appositely loaded) word, since the result of inverting a perfect fourth is a perfect fifth, and what is the musical meaning of 'Quint' but a fifth? I am aware that this is in effect asking the reader to accept that the entire musical structure of The Turn of the Screw was motivated by a pun; and while I feel that Britten must have been aware of the musical implications of Quint's name, I think it likely that they unconsciously, rather than consciously, influenced his choice of vocabulary. Whatever the facts of this matter, we should not be chary of recognising Britten's achievement (a) in creating a sense of all-pervasive evil through the very musical formulas normally and naturally (but there is nothing 'normal' or 'natural' about The Turn of the Screw) associated with all-pervasive good, and (b) in avoiding totally the cliché of the augmented fourth/diminished fifth, the conventional, traditional diabolus in musica."

-- Christopher Palmer, "An Inversion of the Natural Order" (liner notes to Britten's original 1954 recording of the opera on Decca/London Records)
randy_byers: (Default)

Oberon prepares to ensorcel Tytania


Britten's opera centers on the fairy world, opening with Oberon and Tytania (as her name is spelled here) ill-met by moonlight, which is the beginning of Act 2 in the play. This 1981 film of a production at the Glyndebourne Festival features a wonderfully dark, mysterious forest in which the fairies, the mechanicals, and the lost lovers roam. One weird element of the production design is that some of the trees are played by people wearing tree costumes who move around the stage. The tree on the left in the still above is such a one. It's one of several things in this production that made me think of Tolkien, who was famously critical of Shakespeare's diminutive fairies. Britten's fairy music is eerie, brooding, and lyrical. I would love to hear his music for Tolkien's Lothlorien and Fangorn, although as a pacifist Britten probably wouldn't have been too interested in the battle scenes in LOTR.

I've been trying to read up on 20th century opera, but I'm still not very knowledgeable. What I'm getting so far is that people who like Britten like his operas, but a A Midsummer Night's Dream, while admired, isn't rated as highly as some of his others. People who like opera acknowledge Britten as an important figure as far as 20th century composers go, but A Midsummer Night's Dream doesn't really rear its head in their calculations, which tend to focus above all on Peter Grimes and to a lesser extent on The Turn of the Screw and Billy Budd. Haven't seen or heard any of those, so for all I know they really are that much better. However, I love the music of A Midsummer Night's Dream, so if the others are better, they must be truly great. I've ordered Britten's recording of The Turn of the Screw to check it out next.

It's true that the opera radically restructures Shakespeare's play, although almost every word is taken from it. (One line was created to bridge cut material.) Theseus and Hippolyta aren't seen until the third (of three) acts. The lovers lines are probably cut next most, leaving the fairies and mechanicals least reduced, with Bottom and Tytania's tryst at the center of the action. I can't honestly say if the story works as well in the opera as in the play, because I've mostly just been listening to the music without focusing on the story. The Glyndebourne production is beautiful both musically and visually, but since I watched Act 3 a day after the first two, I wasn't sure how well it connected. Half the appeal is just hearing Shakespeare's familiar words set to such beguiling music.

By the way, I got this DVD from Netflix, which seems to have a lot of opera DVDs. I could go hog wild just on opera, if I had the time.
randy_byers: (2009-05-10)
Anybody have feelings pro or con about Benjamin Britten's opera, A Midsummer Night's Dream? Recommended recordings?
randy_byers: (Default)
Last night I saw Monteverdi's opera, L'Orfeo (1607), at the Moore Theater with carl, Scott, and Scott's friend, Amy. It was performed by Ensemble La Venexiana, although I'm unclear if that's just the musicians or if it includes the singers too. Maybe it includes everybody but the guy who sang Orfeo, Mirko Cristiano Guadagnini. La Venexiana won a Gramaphone award for Best Baroque Vocal Performance for their recording of L'Orfeo last year.

The musical performances were terrific. It was a period instrument performance, with various interesting instruments such as theorbo, sackbut (trombone), regal (a type of keyboard instrument), and cornet, along with harpsichord, harp, recorder, violin, viola, cello, and double bass (called violone in the program notes). The singers were great too. The costuming and staging, however, were a bit suspect. It was modern dress, and the half-hearted attempts to do modern dance moves here and there looked just plain ridiculous. There was coat rack on wheels that served as a multi-purpose prop, but never made much sense in any guise. Singers moving around the stage kept almost running into the harp. Some of the costumes and make-up in the Hades sequence were more interesting, especially Hades/Pluto himself in all white clothes and make-up, but there was a character called Hope (who had to be abandoned at the gates of hell in a painfully obvious reference to Dante that seems to have been in the libretto) who was dressed in thigh high '60s go-go boots and a silver bob wig that, again ... well, words fail me. WTF OMG ETC.

Still, the music was beautiful. I was particularly fond of an aria that Orfeo sings to try to persuade Charon to take him across the river into Hades, where his lines were answered by echoing pairs of instruments, first violins, then cornetti, then the harpist. Just gorgeous and haunting. This is considered one of the first operas ever, and it was interesting from that point of view too. Lots of telling without showing (for example, Eurydice dies off-stage and we are told about it by a friend who was with her), lots of fairly static poetry in praise of nature or in lamentation of cruel fate. In fact, I think the most common word in the libretto was "crudele," or maybe that's just one of those opera words I've come to recognize.

All in all, a lot of fun, despite horrifically uncomfortable seating in the Moore's balcony. Another Monteverdi opera is upcoming, about Ulysses, but it's in the middle of March when I will be consumed by Corflu.
randy_byers: (Default)
Speaking of opera, last night I listened to the recording of Florencia en el Amazonas that [livejournal.com profile] ron_drummond gave me for the New Year. I saw a production of the opera several years ago at the Seattle Opera House and was deeply impressed. It's loosely based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, and takes the form of a trip up the Amazon -- which becomes, as river trips always do, a spiritual journey.

The opera was written in 1996 by the Mexican composer, Daniel Catán, with a libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain. The music is very beautiful and lyrical, with very little dissonance. It reminds me in places of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, and in other places of Sibelius. (Did Sibelius write any operas?) In many ways this continues my exploration of modern classical music that began when [livejournal.com profile] calimac recommended some music that was like Sibelius' Seventh Symphony. Ron also gave me a DVD of Aulis Sallinen's opera, The Palace (1993), and Sallinen was someone that [livejournal.com profile] calimac had recommended.

I still haven't delved too far into the libretto of Florencia, and I don't remember what all happens in the opera. I seem to recall that a woman turns into a butterfly along the way, and that this was a rather spectacular moment on stage. I also remember loving how the river was suggested in the performance by dancers flowing across the stage with long gossamer blue and green scarves trailing behind them.

Did I mention that the music is gorgeous? It flows and ripples and swirls like a river. You can drown in it.

Update: "Although Catán studied under Babbitt, his own compositional voice is radically different, and his works incorporate the twelve-tone system only as occasional structural devices. Catán's music is composed for the heart and ear, and has been frequently labeled neo-Romantic or neo-Impressionist. Puccini, Strauss, Debussy, and Ravel are all names that frequently appear when people describe Catán's music; and though these are certainly apt comparisons, they should not detract from what is a very original and expressive voice. His melodies are rich and expansive, and often take some intriguing turns; drifting along like spun gold or rising into unforced and often blissful crescendos. His command of the orchestral palette is masterful, and his music fairly shimmers with delightful phrases and painterly surprises."

Unforced and blissful crescendos, yes, which is probably what reminds me of Sibelius at times. An ecstatic, yearning quality suddenly upwelling out of the flow.

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