All in Reviews

Copenhagen's "Ring": Why "Eurotrash" Isn't the Whole Story

Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Regietheater Bomb. I sympathize with people who spend hundreds of bucks on tickets and end up with a two-headed Wotan, an Alberich who’s a gaudy pimp or Supreme Court Justice Fricka. But consider this: you can stage these things in your mind, and I don’t just mean closing your eyes in the theater.

I like boxes. You know, compendiums of classical music consisting of 30 or more cds, at prices averaging under $2/disc.  I don’t listen to ‘em, necessarily, but I pile them on the piano and look at them from time to time. There are amazing deals out there, incl. Bayreuth’s old Sawallisch (what a Lohengrin!) and Bohm (What a Tristan!) records…33 cds in a pretty box.  Or “Berlin Alexanderplatz”; a deluxe Criterion 7 disc set of the greatest film ever made, with a book included as well. And a very pretty box.

Nobody with any sense is gonna dispute the above purchases. You’re probably no longer reading this, because you’re madly scrambling to order these items for yourself. But now for the insane part of this narrative. Cue the ominous music, let’s say Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” or Weber’s Wolfglen music. Or on second thought, don’t bother. The facts are scary enough. Joining Bayreuth and Fassbinder on the piano is the 37-disc set of Karajan conducting the Berlin Phil. in complete editions of Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Tchaikovsky symphonies.

From tchaikovsky-research.orgSome comments concerning my rereading of Richard Taruskin’s chapter “Tchaikovsky and the Human” from his book Defining Russia Musically. Taruskin’s contention is that Tchaikovsky’s explicit advocacy of autocratic rule and its social structure, coupled with his determination to provide musical entertainment rather than dragoon a listener into the creator’s private egotistical orbit makes Tchaikovsky’s agenda an 18th century one.

Taruskin’s claim that Tchaikovsky is essentially an 18th century composer needs to be taken seriously; not because of his (neoclassic) pastisches, not because of his adoration of Mozart, and certainly not because of some similarity of technical means or stylistic profile — but because Tchaikovsky’s explicit aims and vision of the prupose of art is so consonent with Mozart and his colleagues’ musical aims. But what a composer wants to accomplish isn’t necessarily what he does accomplish.

I can affirm most wholeheartedly that Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis absolutely succeeds outdoors on a balmy June evening, as proved last night by the Chicago Grant Park festival and its capable conductor, Carlos Kalmar. I’m too lazy to look it up, but was it not so long ago that outdoors summer festivals avoided pieces like the Missa? In any case, any and all times and places are right for this engrossing and highly accessible work.

Every winter it seems like “something’s going around at work” but this is ridiculous! Six singers have made unscheduled Met debuts in the past two weeks, and one, the American tenor Robert Dean Smith, offered a Tristan that ought to go down as one of those “Were you there?” moments.