Voices of SummerS

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 330 | July 22 – 28, 2004

CLASSIC MUSIC/REVIEW

TONE TEST

American Opera Projects

Clark Studio Theater

Lincoln Center

July 22-24, 8:30 p.m.

$35, 212.721.6500 or lincolncenter.org

MOSTLY MOZART

Louis Langrée, musical director

Lincoln Center

July 29-Aug. 28

Tickets at 212 721 6500 or lincolncenter.org

NEW YORK GRAND OPERA

Vincent LaSelva, artistic director

Central Park Bandshell, 72nd St., mid-park

Aug. 11, 19 & Sep. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Free

Voices of Summer

Opera concerts grace Lincoln Center, Central Park

Lincoln Center Festival collaborates with the innovative American Opera Projects in presenting Nicholas Brooke’s “Tone Test” July 22-24 at the Clark Studio Theater (above the Walter Reade and Juilliard).

“Tone Test,” by Nick Brooke, is a piece for two performers (Dina Emerson and Gregory Purnhagen) and a phonograph. Emerson and Purnhagen enact inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his favorite––possibly romantically as well as vocally––the soprano Anna Case (1889- 1984). Case, the pretty daughter of a New Jersey blacksmith, sang Fyodor and Sophie respectively in the Met’s–– indeed, the country’s—first “Boris Godunov” and “Der Rosenkavalier” in 1913, and tried her hand at silent movies, but is best remembered for her concert and recital work later in her career. Her singing ended fortuitously when she married New York media tycoon Clarence Mackay in 1931.

Stepmother to Irving Berlin, Case endowed a generous scholarship for younger singers. She led quite a life. Part-spoken and part-sung, Brooke’s work concerns Edison’s forgotten “tone tests” of the 1910s and 1920s. In several highly staged events in major concert halls, Edison invited audiences to compare the tone of Case’s records to her live voice––this before Memorex! The stage was arranged to resemble a living room, the lights dim so that Case was barely visible, and tunes were tossed back and forth between phonograph and soprano—who, as it later emerged, had learned to lipsynch and mimic the sound of the phonograph––this before Janet Jackson. Brooke crafted both words and music for this intriguing-sounding event, and David Herskovits directs.

The Mostly Mozart Festival, mercifully freed of its longtime baton-wielding albatross Gerard Schwarz, has been doing notably well musically under new conductor Louis Langrée. The air conditioned, relatively low-priced concerts make a nice oasis in Manhattan’s summer.

Opening Night August 3 (with a repeat the next night), Langrée indeed programs exclusively Mozart, featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman in the splendid 24th Piano Concerto, plus the imposing Jupiter Symphony. The gorgeous Prague-born mezzo Magdalena Kozená, a stunning Met Cherubino and a notable recording star, offers a generous if rather predictable selection of Mozart’s magnificent concert arias: “Ch’io mi scordi di te… Non temer, amato bene” (with as assist from Bronfman), “Al desio di chi t’adora”, “Vado, ma dove?” and “Alma grande e nobil core.”

This year’s staged opera (a tradition I hope has taken root) is more Mozart: the ever-welcome six-hander comedy “Così fan tutte,” its painful and touching libretto penned by adoptive New Yorker Lorenzo da Ponte. (He had an even more improbably varied biography than Anna Case.) Jonathan Miller’s production was seen last year at BAM with a different cast (The acclaimed veteran stars of those performances, Helen Donath and Sir Thomas Allen, are repeating their roles this summer at Salzburg).

Miller tosses aside 18th century Naples for the world of urban yuppies in Prada and Kenneth Cole: Despina goes from maid to a smart personal assistant working a cell phone. If you’re a TV-head who thinks you don’t go for opera, this version—and indeed this piece, a gorgeously scored ancestor of the sitcom—may be just the thing to change your mind.

Covent Garden’s eternally youthful Lillian Watson seems a good substitute for Donath as Despina, and Andrew Shore should be at least a droll Alfonso.

But—and this is a question all of Lincoln Center’s artistic directors might ponder—why so many Brits? Was there no American soprano likely to be more commanding in Fiordiligi’s murderously showy music than the decent, musical but light-voiced Susan Gritton?

The rising Canadian mezzo Krisztina Szabó appears as Dorabella. As the two guys who (on a bet) tempt their own fiancées away from one another, Gordon Gietz and Nathan Gunn should satisfy eye and ear alike: the boy-next-door Canadian tenor has the musical savvy for the demanding part of Ferrando, and the dashing American baritone has aced Guglielmo on one or two outings at the Met and two runs at the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The stylish Bernard Labadie conducts the fine early music orchestra Les Violons du Roy. “Così” plays August 10, 12 and 14 at John Jay College’s LaGuardia Concert Hall.

For my tastes, Germany’s Christoph Prégardien is one of the few genuinely exciting recitalists among current classical singers, one of few worthy of the great traditions of Ameling, Arkhipova, Baker, Gramm, Souzay, and the rest. The much-recorded Prégardien, a “low tenor” with wonderful phrasing and dynamic control, offers a classic Liederabend at Alice Tully Hall on August 26. Featured are Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” and works by Beethoven and Mozart (including the composer’s single greatest achievement in the genre of song, the melancholy “Abendempfindung.”

The next two evenings Legrée offers Avery Fisher audiences an intriguing choice. Mozart’s unfinished, sublime “Requiem” will be juxtaposed August 27 with improvisations based on Indian and Persian traditional repertoire, crafted by Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh), Shujaat Husain (Khan sitar, vocals), and Sandeep Das (tabla)––who will also discuss the innovative program with Langrée at 7 p.m. The next night it’s back to all-Mozart, with the “Requiem” preceded by Piano Concerto No. 25 with Jeffrey Kahane. In the “Requiem,” Prégardien is joined by two excellent singers, the agile bass Nathan Berg and out, deep-voiced mezzo Jill Grove. In lieu of any number of first-rate American lyric sopranos, we get Scotland’s Lisa Milne, in my experience an acceptable Marzelline in Paris and a poorish Micaela in Glyndebourne’s televised von Otter “Carmen.” But, don’t you know, “British is better!” The Riverside Choral Society takes part in this season-closing program.

Another tradition is represented by New York Grand Opera’s absolutely free staged opera performances. Those on limited budgets or who prefer to savor their opera outdoors at a picnic take note. NYGO’s longtime maestro Vincent La Selva conducts Italian opera very well indeed, though sometimes his orchestras and sound systems are not worthy of him. However, the company returns this summer to its home of many seasons, the Central Park Bandshell at 72nd Street in mid-park just south of the Bethesda Fountain (of “Angels in America” fame). The all-Verdi and Puccini season is skewered a little later this year, but that may guarantee better weather. La Selva will lead “Turandot” (August 11), “Rigoletto” (August 19) and “Tosca” (September 9). All performances start at 7:30 p.m. Polish soprano Maria Knapik, who sings Liù in “Turandot” and the title role of “Tosca” is one of NYGO’s finer discoveries. Arrive early with your low-carb repast and get a good place to sit.

MOZART FIGHTING AIDS

On Friday, August 20, the Mostly Mozart Festival and Lincoln Center host a benefit for Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, which in 11 years has raised more than $5 million in support of people with HIV and AIDS nationwide. A portion of all tickets sold ($30, $40, $50) goes to Classical Action, and the evening’s performers themselves, from orchestra members and Langrée to violin soloist Joshua Bell (offering Mozart’s fifth Violin Concerto and Sarasate’s showy “Zigeunerweisen”), are contributing generously as well. Kodály’s crowd-pleasing “Dances of Galánta” completes the program.

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