Monday, July 07, 2008

Compare and Contrast 10

The reviews are piling up for Die Soldaten:
  • Anthony Tommasini likes it ("a miraculous realization of an opera once deemed unperformable").

  • Martin Bernheimer likes it. ("It is good. Very, very good.")

  • Anne Midgette is unimpressed. (Detailed arguments too complex and interesting to be summed up or excerpted.)

  • Greg Sandow calls it "laughably bad."

  • Alex Ross is impressed and overwhelmed.

  • John Simon hated it.

  • Everyone in the comments section here loved it.

Well! I wish I'd been able to hear this. I'll reread all the reviews and try to reconcile them. I wonder which of these folks will be at Santa Fe for Adriana Mater, which I will have my own opinions about.

16 comments:

Bruce Hodges said...

Thanks for compiling these, Lisa. I'm seeing it on Friday night, and if nothing else, I can't imagine that the production alone won't be spectacular.

All week I've been revisiting the Teldec recording of the piece, with the Staatstheater Stuttgart conducted by Bernhard Kontarsky, and the score has many fine things in it.

Henry Holland said...

Wow, the absurd Greg Sandow and his wife didn't like it. I'll take that as a recommendation then! :-)

I have tickets for Friday and Saturday and I'm really looking forward to it.

Bruce Hodges, if you like the piece, you might want to try and get the first recording on Wergo, with Michael Gielen conducting, that was finally released last month on CD. I think, overall, that it's a better performance.

Will you be letting us know what you think about Adriana Mater when you review or can you give a hint? I personally thought it was kind of disappointing after the glories of L'amour de Loin but that's a pretty high bar.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, read Anne Midgette's review if you haven't yet. The points she makes seem entirely defensible and smart. I would definitely urge you not to lump her opinions and Greg's together.

No hints on Adriana Mater yet, since it's opening on July 26. I will have my review in to SFCV as fast as possible.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And thanks, both of you, for mentioning the recordings.

Brian said...

I saw Saturday's performance and thought it was brilliant as well. Of course I begin to worry about myself when I find that I disagree with Anne Midgette and concur with the likes of Martin Bernheimer.

Of course, what do I know. I'm just one of those internet dilletanttes that apparently is making the world unsafe for him and his legitimate peers from cleansing the unwashed masses of their aesthetic proclivities.

Go figure.

If the Santa Fe Adriana Mater half lives up to the Paris production, it will be a first-rate evening as well.

Bruce Hodges said...

Thanks Henry and Brian, for the additional comments and info on the newer recording. (Henry, you're going two nights in a row! Gotta admire that!)

If you'd like to say hi on Friday, shoot me an e-mail through my blog.

Henry Holland said...

Oh, read Anne Midgette's review if you haven't yet. The points she makes seem entirely defensible and smart.

That's true, but I was working off a body of work, actually. I'd read 3 reviews that were raves (+ Alex Ross' posting) by the time I read her review and if Martin Bernheimer had a(undeserved) reputation for not liking anything and nit-picking everything to death while he still wrote for the Los Angeles Times, I get that vibe from her. To me, she comes across as the perpetually disappointed critic, nothing is ever *quite* good enough. Mileage varies widely, obviously. And her line about "the vocal level was that of a respectable regional production" had me laughing, as if productions of Die Soldaten are as common as Carmen, that Opera San Jose will be doing their production soon.

There's also that weird thing that I've noticed in some of the reviews of criticizing the opera for what it isn't --a scathing indictment of war-- and for the brutality of the music. I even read one preview that took Zimmerman to task for bumming him out, by not providing some consolation or religiously tinted redemption at the end. That's one of the reasons I love it, because the vision is so bleak and grim, he doesn't cop out at the end and have Desportes sing a prayer of benediction or anything, all is death and brutality.

But take a gander of the odious homophobe John Simon's review. I mean, anyone who writes "Stephen Sloane and the uncredited secondary conductor do well enough with the Bochum Symphony's huge forces, the musicians doing the best they can do with what passes for music" (bold mine), isn't to be taken seriously at all.

Of course I begin to worry about myself when I find that I disagree with Anne Midgette and concur with the likes of Martin Bernheimer

Hahahahaha! I love Bernheimer, always have, I think he's brilliant at conveying what it was like to actually be there in a short space, something a lot of critics can't do. I love your reviews, BTW.

(Henry, you're going two nights in a row! Gotta admire that!)

Well, I figure that it's not coming to Los Angeles or the West Coast anytime soon, so I figured I should get as many performances in as possible! Thanks for the offer to say "Hi", stop by if you'd like beforehand. I'm here:

Orchestra Row BB, Seat 109

As a contrast, I'm going to the Saturday matinee of ABT's Giselle at the Met. :-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Henry, yeah, I was surprised by that comment about "respectable regional production" too, mostly because I've heard a couple of the singers and they're good. I'll have to keep an eye on her reviews to see if she's perpetually disappointed. One of Greg's points about the problems of classical, made long ago, was that "we don't play well enough." I think this is bosh, having heard only incredibly polished playing over the last few years, excepting some regional groups where there isn't much rehearsal time at all.

Jeez, I will take a look at John Simon's review.

Henry Holland said...

One of Greg's points about the problems of classical, made long ago, was that "we don't play well enough." I think this is bosh, having heard only incredibly polished playing over the last few years, excepting some regional groups where there isn't much rehearsal time at all.

Exactly; the Bochum Symphony has played Die Soldaten enough even before the New York premiere that they seem to "get it"; the clips I've heard from the DVD that was released of German performances of this production certainly indicate that. One of my favorite recordings ever is a two-act Lulu done in the 1950's on CBS (I think, I can't find the info).

It's a fascinating listen because it's obviously stretching the players and singers to almost the breaking point, because in those days that scary Second Viennese School stuff was still a rarity.

Fast forward to today, and I bet any opera house orchestra in Germany that plays it can do it with relative ease, with the proper style and in tune. I'm sure that when Lyric Opera does it in November that it'll sound wonderful, that incredible 12-note chord when Lulu is stabbed to death perfectly in tune.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I've read some comments recently about how much better orchestras today play Second Viennese School music than, say, 30 or so years ago. Rising technical standards of playing plus familiarity with the style go a long way with this stuff. One of the reasons my time machine includes trips to hear the first performances of Tristan and Rite is so I can hear how badly the orchestras massacred the music. :)

Henry Holland said...

Lisa, just back from the Friday performance of Soldaten.

First off, Greg Sandow is a total idiot, he's *exactly* the type of person Martin Berheimer mocks as "Internet crickets". His review is pathetic, a total embarrassment.

Secondly, Stephen Sloane *owns* this music. I met him afterwards, and he said he treats the score as "chamber music". Indeed!

It's a stunning production, the singing, though under-miked (I told one of the techs as the intersmission to "crank it up"), is stunning and the playing and conducting is to die for, exactly what someone who loves Zimmerman's score, as I do in spades, would want.

I also noticed quite a feminist subtext to the libretto.....

The Armory is incredible, it'll be perfect for Messiaen's Saint Francois when City Opera does it in 2009.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I mention that Greg Sandow has the credentials MB presumably respects: an academic background in music, a long career as a print critic of both classical and pop music, an active composing career. That doesn't make him right about Die Soldaten, of course.

I'm glad to hear your review; I wish I were there!!

Bruce Hodges said...

First, Henry, so sorry I missed you tonight: way too much "sensory overload," between the production itself and the huge, excited (and quite amazingly quiet) audience. I was sort of walking around in a daze at intermission, and am quite envious you are going again.

A composer friend and I just finished talking about the evening for some four hours, and we both agreed it was quite mind-blowing. I don't think I have ever experienced a room so electrified by the collaboration of so many people, to such an explosive and moving result.

If there were any justice they would have given it say, five more performances judging from the response.

In the program there is a photo of the Messiaen production, also from the Ruhr Triennale. Suddenly that festival is seeming like an absolutely necessary destination.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, Bruce!

Looks like Sandow and Midgette will be very much in the minority on this one.

Henry Holland said...

That doesn't make him right about Die Soldaten, of course.

The thing for me is, he's not even pretending to be objective: Die Soldaten represents the post-war avant-garde that he, Kyle Gann and the Sequenza 21 folks have been railing against for years. It's so predictable what they're going to write at this point about stuff like this; it's like sending me to review a Handel opera, I simply couldn't be objective because I dislike the style so intensely.

I once fired back at Kyle Gann "Give it a rest! Tonality *WON*, quit acting like it's 1958 and you're being attacked by a horde of total serialists sent by Milton Babbitt". I mean, in 2008, it's clear which side "won" that particular aesthetic battle, to fulminate about the existence of serialism and the post-war avant garde, still, is kind of...sad. I mean, I got over the fact that punk wiped my favorite style of music, prog rock, off the map in 1976, but these guys are still fighting the battles that were happening when they were composition students.

Re: Mr. Sandow's risible claim about the conducting. It's simply wrong, just because Mr. Sloane wasn't acting like Lenny "Twyla Tharp" Bernstein (he was seated, for one thing) doesn't mean he wasn't conveying expressiveness--he was, via arm movements and body language. To imply he was just beating time, like some 4th rate hack doing La Traviata is an insult; Mr. Sloane and this orchestra have played this piece enough that it doesn't *need* podium histrionics. I mean, the thing that blew me away about the conducting and playing is how much nuance and lyricism they dug out of a score that doesn't have much of either on the surface.

And he's wrong, the assistant conductor was listed in the program.

After hearing the cast twice, Anne Midgette's "respectable regional production" jibe is even more risible. I know this opera like the back of my hand and Gott in Himmel, what singing! Sure, they could have been louder, but Claudia Barainsky as Marie, Claudio Otelli as Stolzius and Peter Hoare as Desportes were terrific, not only hitting the notes but getting the words across and singing with as much lyricism as the music allows. I also really liked the chap who sang Mary.

Bruce, yeah, sorry I missed you, I was kind of stunned too and needed a beer and something to eat. :-) I have to say, the Saturday performance was marginally better and the collage at the end was much louder (which I liked). The one downside of the venue was that the sound kind of ended up in the rafters; I could have done with a bit more mic'ing of the orchestra and singers.

Favorite crowd moment: standing in line to get a beer at the intermission on Friday, two gents in front of me were basically saying "Well, I came because of the hype, but there's no melodies!". I said to them "There's more to opera than catchy tunes, you know". They weren't convinced! :-)

In the program there is a photo of the Messiaen production, also from the Ruhr Triennale.

Yes, that looks fantastic! Seems like it'll be a traditional seating arrangement, not seating-on-tracks, but I can't wait. I liked the Armory as a venue, though the could have opened the other door at the entrance on Park Avenue to relieve some of the crush.

Alex Ross' full-on review is up at the New Yorker site. Needless to say, my experience is more in line with Mr. Ross's than it is with Mr. Sandow or Ms. Midgette's! :-P

Lisa Hirsch said...

Great comments, thank you. I will go check out Alex and link.