Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Just Joking (Not Really!)

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By Jim Lange
 · June 14, 2013
minimalist joke
Pablo Helguera
NPR Classical had this cute cartoon. It is a blatant shot at the so-called "minimalists" -a name not embraced by Glass, Reich, Adams, Riley, et al.

While I'm sure the majority of NPR listeners are fans of contemporary classical music, there are certainly people who have a very narrow focus as to what is or isn't part of the canon of approved classics.

Dare I call them out?

Philip Glass is especially volatile on our airwaves. After airing what I thought was a delightful symphonic piece by Glass, I was asked by a listener why I liked Glass and since I did, was there something wrong with my mind? I have been threatened with broken fingers (A joke of sorts) if I dare air another Glass piece. I have one loyal listener, despite how many time we have discussed (in a very respectable and civilized manner) why he thinks Glass is a charlatan and my counter argument to all that. I have also been told that I wasn't to threaten people with promises of playing more "long-haired music." Huh? The point of that comment eludes me.

The real truth is I don't care what anyone else thinks about Reich or Glass. I like it (and millions worldwide agree as well) and that's that. Taste, as the Romans so long ago pointed out, cannot be argued.

I have come to realize that classical listeners are glacial when it comes to accepting new things. They want what they already know and I'm fine with that. I am here to please, not to torture you.

The kernel of truth that lies within the NPR cartoon is twofold. First, the early works of Reich and Glass are very repetitive. I get why that bothers people, but Glass and Reich are so far removed from their early works. They have evolved their approach and fans have followed. Besides, I like repetition in music. Always have, always will.
 

Secondly, this joke represents the "all cards on the table" openly degrading attitude that some classicists have about this style of music. As if to say, even a parrot can produce this style of music. Tsk, tsk, I say.

We cannot fast forward 50 years and I could say, "I told you so!," but I am firm in my convictions that history will realize the value of this music, even if some listeners do not share that opinion now. I am right and I know it.

Composers of a new style are always (without exception) met with hostility. Here are some real examples (Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective):

Anton Bruckner

"We recoil in horror before this rotting odor which rushes into our nostrils from the disharmonies of this putrefactive counterpoint. Bruckner composes like a drunkard!" 

Claude Debussy

"Debussy's music is the dreariest kind of rubbish.   

Richard Wagner

"Heartless sterility, obliteration of all melody, all tonal charm, all music... T 

Even poor Ludwig takes one on the chin-

  • "Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, which refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect." 
  •  
  • And as to the topic of "long-haired" music, I leave you with this picture of a young Franz Liszt. Should we exclude him? 
     

    long haired franz liszt
    Young Franz, isn't your long hair just a bit too much?

    Francesca da Rimini

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    By Larry Stickler
     · March 13, 2013
    Francesca da Rimini
    The Met's HD performance of Francesca da Rimini

    Francesca will be transmitted to 1900 theaters in 64 countries. Opera lovers in West Virginia at the Cinemark Theater at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville; Regal Nitro Stadium 12; Hollywood Stadium 12 in Granville/Morgantown and Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg as well as Cinemark Theater in Ashland, Kentucky. Cinemark will show the encore performance on Wednesday, April 3, at 6:30 pm.

     


    Parsifal

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    By Larry Stickler
     · February 28, 2013
    Parsifal

    The Holy Grail, the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper, and the spear used to pierce the side of Christ at Crucifixion are prominent symbols in Parsifal, libretto and music by Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

     

    Parsifal, Wagner’s final opera (1882), is the Live in High Definition simulcast from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York this Saturday, March 2.  Because the opera simulcast has an approximate running time of five hours and forty minutes, the opera will begin at twelve o’clock noon.

     

    The outstanding vocal cast includes Wagnerian (large voices) luminaries of today’s opera world. Munich native heldentenor Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role of Parsifal, the “innocent fool” who will find wisdom and bring redemption.

     

    Dresden native bass Rene Pape will sing the role of Gurnemanz, a noble Knight of the Holy Grail and Swedish baritone Peter Mattei will sing the role of Amfortas, leader of the Knights, who suffers from an incurable spear wound.

     

    The role of Kundry, cursed to be a seductress for laughing at Christ on the cross in a former life, will be sung by Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman. “The thing I like best about Kundry is that she is such a complicated character with a wide range of expressions both vocally and scenically.” (Dalayman in Opera News).

     

    Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin sings the role of the vengeful magician Klingson, who has now joined the dark side after being rejected as a Knight.  

    Wagner called Parsifal a “festival play for the consecration of a stage.” It was premiered at Wagner’s own theater in Bayreuth Bavaria, Germany. To blend text, music and action into one artistic whole was a lifelong goal of Wagner.

     

    Do not expect a string of memorable melodies, but do expect wonderfully dramatic orchestral music played by the excellent musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under the baton of Daniele Gatti. I dare you to count the number of times Wagner uses the “Dresden Amen.” (Check your hymnbook.)

     

    Anthony Tommasini in his review for the New York Times writes “the Met debut for French Canadian director Francois Girard presents Parsifal in a post-apocalyptic setting…two barren sun-baked dirt-gray mounds are divided by a river bed with just a trickle of flowing water, sometimes thick with blood.”

     

    Not for newbies, neophytes or the faint of heart because of the length, Parsifal also makes a lasting impression on the audience as well on cast members.  My first experience with Parsifal was when as a freshman I was conscripted to be a Knight in a production in the Indiana University Auditorium on Palm Sunday.  IU faculty members Charles Kullman, Ralph Appelman, Roy Samuelsen and Margaret Harshaw sang the major roles, Tibor Kozma conducted and Hans Busch was the stage director.  We started in the afternoon, took a dinner break and finished the opera in the evening.

     

    Wagner lovers in West Virginia can see the Met Live in HD simulcast of Parsifal this Saturday, March 2, at twelve noon at the Cinemark Theater at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville; Regal Nitro Stadium 12; Hollywood Stadium 12 in Granville/Morgantown; and Greenbrier Valley theatre in Lewisburg, as well as Cinemark Theater in Ashland, Kentucky.  The opera in three acts will be sung in German with English subtitles. Cinemark will show the encore performance on Wednesday, March 20 at 6:30 pm.

     

     

    Dr. Larry Stickler is professor of music at Marshall University.

     


    Rigoletto!

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    By Larry Stickler
     · February 13, 2013
    Rigoletto
    A hunchbacked jester, a philandering duke and a fathers curse provide the impetus for the action in the opera Rigoletto by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
     
     Usually set in sixteenth-century Italy, stage director Michael Mayer has updated the Metropolitan Opera's new production to Las Vegas in 1960. Think of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack at a casino in Las Vegas.  “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
     
    Rigoletto, a melodrama in three acts, is the live in high definition simulcast from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera into select movie theaters this Saturday, February 16, at 12:55 pm. The production will be shown in four theaters in West Virginia: Cinemark Theater in the Huntington Mall in Barboursville; Great Escape in Nitro; Hollywood Stadium 12 in Granville/ Morgantown; and Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, as well as Cinemark Theater in Ashland, Kentucky.
     
    Rigoletto was premiered in Venice on March 11, 1851, to rave reviews from the audience after some changes requested by the censors. The libretto (script) by Francesco Maria Piave was based on the French playwright Victor Hugo's tragedy Le roi s;amuse (1832). The King of France was changed to the fictional Duke of Mantua.
     
    Tenor Piotr Beczala will sing the role of the womanizing Duke of Mantua. One of the most famous operatic arias is the Duke's cavatina "La donna `e mobile," singing of the fickleness of women. Realizing that this tune would become popular, Verdi supposedly did not give the music to the original tenor until two days before the premiere so that the gondoliers on the canals of Venice would not hear the melody and sing it on the canals before the opera audience had heard the aria.
     
    Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic will sing the title role of Rigoletto, and soprano Diana Damrau will sing the role of Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter. "Caro nome" is Gilda's famous aria.
     
    Last May when I was teaching voice as an exchange professor in Brazil, I read an amusing article on Rigoletto that said “It has everything a good opera should: rampant adultery, a dreadful curse, corrupted innocence and one heck of a grisly ending. The same article gave the ten-second version as “sarcastic adultery-abetting hunchback gets his comeuppance in a sack of dead daughter.  Moral:  Lock up your daughters.
     
    Verdi wrote beautiful music and developed dramatic characters in this opera. I highly recommend that you attend. You will remember the experience. I remember clearly the first time I saw Rigoletto at Indiana University Opera Theater with my teacher baritone Roy Samuelsen singing the title role.
     
    Sung in Italian with English subtitles, Rigoletto will also have an encore performance at the Cinemark Theater in Barboursville on Wednesday, March 6, at 6:30pm.  The Met production has an approximate running time of three and a half hours.
     

      

    Dr. Larry Stickler is professor of music at Marshall University.  

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