Sunday, January 22, 2017
We regret to report the death of Georges Pretre, an elegant French conductor who was popular wherever he went – nowhere more so than Vienna, which adored him. He died this afternoon, at home in France. Raised in northern France, Georges was director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris from 1955 to 1959. He was a stalwart of Chicago’s Lyric Opera, 1959 to 1971, and was music director of the Paris Opéra for one season, 1970-71. He was principal conductor of the Wiener Symphoniker from 1986 to 1991. He was a regular at La Scala (see below). Mostly he freelanced around the world’s leading opera houses, giving fun and having it. He was the acme of French style in all that he did, with an infallible sense of rhythm. In terms of leaving a mark on music history, he gave the world premiere of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine. His farewell performance: From La Scala: Georges Pretre, one of the greatest conductors of our time, had a fifty-year relationship with La Scala. He made his debute in 1966 conducting a legendary production of Gounod’s Faust with Mirella Freni, Nicolai Gedda and Nicolai Ghiaurov, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. Two years later he led Turandot directed by Margherita Wallmann, and, a few days later, Die Walküre with Régine Crespin and James King. In 1969, Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz with Liliana Cosi in the choreography of George Skibine, in 1970 Sanson et Dalila in Saint-Saëns with Shirley Verrett and Pier Miranda Ferraro in 1972 with Carmen Fiorenza Cossotto, in 1973 and 1977 Pelléas et Mélisande by Debussy directed by Gian Carlo Menotti in 1975 in Puccini’s La bohème, directed by Franco Zeffirelli with Luciano Pavarotti and Ileana Cotrubaş, in 1976 Massenet’s Werther with Alfredo Kraus and Elena Obraztsova, Madama Butterfly in 1978 and immediately after Manon Lescaut by Puccini with Sylvia Sass and Plácido Domingo in a direction of Piero Faggioni. In 1978 Ravel L’enfant et les sortileges and L’heure espagnole; back in 1981 for Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, directed by Zeffirelli with Domingo and Obraztsova and in 1982 for Les Troyens by Berlioz in the direction of Luca Ronconi. The last operatic commitments of Prêtre at La Scala were Turandot directed by Keita Asari in 2001 and Pelleas et Melisande directed by Pierre Médecin, but he continued to give countless concerts with the orchestra. His last, triumphant concert took place on 22 February 2016. Georges Pretre was due to return to the podium for the Symphonic Season of the Teatro alla Scala on 13, 15 and 17 March 2017.
Andris Nelsons © 2016 Marco Borggreve. Photo by Marco Borggreve Composer Richard Strauss saw the trio ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ as Der Rosenkavalier 's emotional highpoint. He loved this particular composition so much in fact, that it was sung at his funeral. The trio is sung by the love triangle at the opera’s heart: the Marschallin and Sophie, the sopranos, and Octavian, a young man played by a mezzo-soprano. Strauss was so enamoured with his composition that it was sung at his funeral – a performance which saw each of the three singers break down in tears with emotion. So what makes it tick, and so worthy of such adulation from its composer? Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ is sung towards the end of the opera, in Act III. Octavian’s successful plot to shame the womanizing Baron Ochs – and so save the young Sophie from a ghastly marriage – has caused considerable confusion. Octavian’s lover the Marschallin arrives, and persuades her cousin Ochs to give up his engagement. Sophie becomes aware of Octavian and the Marschallin’s relationship. She is distressed, and Octavian hesitates to choose between his old and his new love. The Marschallin realizes how much the young couple care for each other, and decides to release Octavian so he can marry Sophie. What do the lyrics mean? Each character initially expresses separate thoughts. The Marschallin recalls that she promised to give up Octavian when he fell in love with a younger woman, but regrets that it’s happened so fast; Octavian feels strangely remorseful and confused; Sophie is bewildered by the situation, and overcome by awe of the Marschallin. As the trio builds to its musical climax, the characters’ thoughts become more unified. Octavian and Sophie forget everything but their overwhelming love for each other, while the Marschallin hopes for their happiness and blesses their union. What makes the music so memorable? Strauss’s versatile writing for the soprano voice inspired him to wonderfully acute characterization in this trio. The Marschallin’s seamless lyrical phrases illustrate her nobility and thoughtfulness; Sophie’s soaring silvery voice reveals her innocent idealism; while Strauss conveys Octavian’s impetuosity and passion through quicker, shorter phrases, rising in pitch as his emotions intensify. Other memorable aspects of the trio include its beautiful melody – a noble reinterpretation of the comic waltz sung by Octavian earlier in Act III in his disguise as a maidservant – and the rich textures, soaring lines for Sophie and the Marschallin and sensual shift of key as the music reaches its climax. Finally, Strauss’s use of a host of motifs from earlier in the opera makes us feel that the characters have gained emotional wisdom through their experiences. Der Rosenkavalier’s other musical highlights Strauss adored the soprano voice, so it’s not surprising that some of the greatest highlights from the opera include Octavian and the Marschallin’s love duet in Act I, the Marschallin’s delicately-scored Act I monologue on the passing of time and Octavian and Sophie’s rapturous Act II love duet. However, there’s also plenty of good comic music, particularly Baron Ochs’s hedonistic monologue and rapid trio with the Marschallin and Octavian in Act I, and the farcical supper scene in Act III. And, this being Vienna, one shouldn’t forget Der Rosenkavalier’s glorious waltzes, above all Ochs’s ‘Mit mir’, which brings Act II to a brilliantly-scored, exuberant close. Classic recordings Der Rosenkavalier is Strauss’s most popular opera, so there’s a glut of excellent recordings. For an authentically Viennese experience, try Erich Kleiber ’s 1954 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic and the ardent Octavian of Sena Jurinac on Naxos. Other classic options include Herbert von Karajan ’s 1956 recording for EMI, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as a dignified, lyrical Marschallin and Otto Edelmann as a wonderfully sleazy Baron Ochs; or Georg Solti ’s 1968 Decca recording with a rather more passionate Marschallin from Régine Crespin , Helen Donath ’s exquisite Sophie and a cameo appearance from Luciano Pavarotti as the Italian Tenor. For a more contemporary take you can’t do better than Strauss expert Christian Thielemann ’s 2009 Decca recording with the perfect casting of Renée Fleming as the Marschallin, Sophie Koch as Octavian and Diana Damrau as Sophie. The wide range of DVD recordings includes John Schlesinger ’s Royal Opera production with the sublime Marschallin of Kiri Te Kanawa . More to discover Your best starting point is to sample some of Strauss’s other 14 operas. Ariadne auf Naxos shares Rosenkavalier’s mixture of comedy and profundity, but with a chamber orchestra scoring, and characters drawn from myth and commedia dell’arte. Arabella , set in 19th-century Vienna, contains some of Strauss’s loveliest duets. If you like your operas short and intense there’s much to enjoy in Salome and Elektra : emotionally charged interpretations of a biblical story and a Classical tragedy respectively. Other operatic treats include the sumptuous fairytale opera Die Frau ohne Schatten , and Strauss’s final sublime testimony to the power of music, Capriccio . Outside of opera, other wonderful Strauss works include a host of songs, several tone poems and the reflective Oboe Concerto . Looking further afield, Mozart ’s Le nozze di Figaro manifests much of the same wit and humanity as Der Rosenkavalier, while Wagner ’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg also tackles the theme of a charismatic older character who relinquishes the younger one they love, and contains a quintet equivalent to Rosenkavalier’s trio in beauty and intensity. There are also wonderful operas by Strauss’s lesser-known contemporaries: Humperdinck ’s beautiful Königskinder or Schreker ’s wild and passionate Die Gezeichneten to take but two examples. Der Rosenkavalier runs 19 December 2016–24 January 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York , and Teatro Regio, Turin , and is given with generous philanthropic support from The Monument Trust, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Susan and John Singer, the Friends of Covent Garden and The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund .
A member of the Hamburg State Opera from 1960 to 1993, the contralto Ursula Boese sang a variety of roles at Bayreuth from 1958 to 1965, notably Fricka in Wieland Wagner’s last Ring cycle. As a guest artist, or as part of the Hamburg ensemble, she went on to sing on all the world’s major stages, from Salzburg to the Met. Probably her starriest moment was a 1973 Ballo she shared in Hamburg with Luciano Pavarotti and Sherill Milnes. Ursula Boese with Stravinsky after a 1963 Hamburg performance of Oedipus Rex. (Photo: U. Boese)
Gianpiero Mastromei died on September 8 and was buried today in his home town, Camaiore. He sang Scarpia opposite both Pavarotti and Domingo and was recorded in Lohengrin with Christa Ludwig and Victoria de los Angeles. His greatest success on record was a 1975 Philips album of Verdi’s Il Corsar, with Jessye Norman, Monserrat Caballe and Jose Carreras.
Zubin Mehta was recently eighty-years-old. His father Mehli Mehta was the founder of the Bombay Symphony and gave Zubin his first training, but he was promptly sent to Vienna to study with the famous Hans Swarowsky. Mehta soon won competitions in Liverpool and Tanglewood, and at the incredible age of 25 he had conducted the Philharmonics of Vienna, Berlin and Israel! Well, just one year after (in 1962) he was in BA conducting the Orchestra of Radio Nacional and that of Amigos de la Música; with the latter he included no less than Schönberg´s First Chamber Symphony. It would be the beginning of the enormous amount of visits we had from him, certainly the most assiduous of the great conductors. He had already been named head of the Montreal Symphony (1961-7) and of the Los Angeles Symphony (1962-78). In quick succession he became musical director of the Israel Philharmonic (1977) and the New York Philharmonic (1978-1990). From then on he came innumerable times with the Israel and several with the New York. From 1985 to next year will have been his tenure at the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which he also brought to BA. One aspect of his intense life didn´t reach us: his strong connexion to opera, both at the MMF and from 1998 to 2006 Musical Director of the Bavarian State Opera (Munich). And of the mediatic connection as conductor of open-air concerts by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras). A gigantic career with special emphasis on Israel, as he is conductor for life of the Israel Phil. In recent years he has been interested in promoting young talents at the Bombay Mehli Mehta Musical Foundation and at the Tel Aviv Buchmann-Mehta Music School. And now, the other important anniversary, that of the Israel Phil. It was created in 1936 by Bronislaw Huberman and no less than Toscanini conducted the first concert. Surely an act of faith in a then not existing country prior to WW II; after it there were the turbulent times of the creation of the State of Israel and the orchestra stood fast, always accompanying the growth of an identity and building up a reputation as one of the great orchestras of the world. I witnessed in 1972 a splendid concert at the modern Tel Aviv Mann Auditorium (very good acoustics) in a memorable combination of Claudio Abbado and Isaac Stern. The players were admirable then, and generations after, with the influx of Jewish Russians but also of young Israelis, they keep their high standards and show love and discipline to their longtime Principal Conductor, now seconded during the season by the talented Gianandrea Noseda. Mehta has always shown a proclivity for the Late Romantic repertoire and the Impressionists, for in them an orchestra can fully show a variety of colors and textures, and the conductor has a sharp perception of such music. Also, he has a dynamic and strong personality that communicates enthusiasm to the players. But Mehta also adds a sense of form, a clarity of gesture that makes complex pieces transparent. He may not have been as attuned to the early German-Austrian School as to Tchaikovsky or Ravel or Strauss, but he has generally stuck to what he does best. In recent decades he has shown a growing interest in Mahler (I remember a memorable Second). At 80 he looks much younger and the stamina is still there, though with more controlled gestures. And the memory is still perfect. What he did in this concert was magisterial and he chose a programme that fits him ideally. More serene but with no loss of control or intensity, he brought to us the joyful "Carnival" Overture by Dvorák, the Second Suite of Ravel´s "Daphnis and Chloe" and Richard Strauss´ tremendous "A Hero´s Life" ("Ein Heldenleben"). Dvorák´s lust for life and exuberance makes this Overture a favorite, and it has a contrasting nostalgic melody. In fact it is the first of three contrasting overtures that form a beautiful cycle; the others, much less done but quite interesting, are "In the Reign of Nature" and "Othello". The "Daphnis" Suite is the absolute masterpiece of Impressionism, almost a miracle, and has often been done wonderfully in BA during the last half century. We can now add that of Mehta and the Israel players. The marvelous subtlety of dynamics and color, the virtuoso solo playing (Yossi Arnheim), the dionysiac final dance, were memorable. And I recall Mehta conducting the same piece with the Vienna Philharmonic in February 1964 with as great a comprehension and control as now! I know that "Ein Heldenleben" (1898) will always find its detractors for it is an egocentric act: the hero is Strauss... But it is also a 46-minute marvel of six connected fragments of sustained inspiration and orchestral science, fantastically orchestrated and with a command of intricate counterpoint with no paragon. It is a thing of beauty as well as a testimony of enormous intelligence. Mehta´s version was among the best I ever heard live. The long violin solos of Ilya Konovalov were ideal, and so was the last dialogue between him and horn player James Madison Cox. And the cohesion and precision of the whole with no loss of impact deeply moved me. Two encores, Dvorák´s Slavonic Dance Op.46 Nº 8, and Mozart´s Overture for "The Marriage of Figaro", ended an unforgettable evening. For Buenos Aires Herald
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