For People of the World
French Music by Ernest Chausson, Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré,
Berliner Philharmoniker, January 09, 2016
Can you remember when music was relevant? When it served a purpose to the community, celebratory, uplifting, inspirational,cathartic and also melancholy as a gentle guiding spirit leading us to the realms of the dead?
Can you remember when music filled our souls with empathy. When it screamed the sacred musical notes that would close our dying eyes, ease our mournful hearts, succor our grieving souls with the solace of eternal rest?
Christian Thielemann, the Berliner Philharmoniker and the outstanding Rundfunkchor Berlin have convincingly returned us to the day when the concert hall also doubled as a sacred communal cathedral that served the dual purpose of entertainment and social catharsis. Here was a shrine we could placate our remorseful souls and ease the pain of random death and inchoate loss.
Can it be some divine coincidence that we have been offered an entire French program involving itself with the journey of dead souls, short on the heels of two recent French tragedies, almost a year to the day since the murders of 11 souls in the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo and the mass killings on Friday night, November 15th at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations in Paris which left 130 people dead? Can it be a mere coincidence
that the French Mezzo-Soprano Sophie Koch was asked to sing the Ernest Chausson's sumptuous song cycle Poeme de L’Amour et de la Mer? She exquisitely delivers two tone poems about love and loss a “psychological drama which arouses the passions, abandons itself to a profusion of color and revels in extravagant harmony.” Her poignant, shimmering voice is the agonizing scream of all lovers facing the sudden death of the other, “the unutterable horror of love's now dead.” Paired with Chausson's score, it
uses churning Wagnerian language to enhance the passions and anguish of inconsolable loss.
And through the prism of Fauré's Requiem what solace can we offer these souls torn from life before their time has come? How do the living face a world that seems more than ever on the threshold of complete self-destruction? Fauré has given these victims and survivors this lullaby of death, a narcotic death so sweet, so free of divine retribution, without guilt, without punishment but resplendent with forgiveness, eternal rest, perpetual light and mercy. Here is a death not condemned through sinfulness but as a joyful reward, a destination granted by living in the incandescent glow of a merciful Lord.
And oh what a sweet death awaits us. In the acoustic cathedral of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the organ is a monolithic presence that channels the eternal and evokes the sacred gravitas of the holy spirit. The organ and brass declare a sentence of wrath and divine retribution only to be shattered over and over again in a paradise of harmonic melodies, instruments, sweet angelic voices commingling that replace the fear of death with sunshine and joy as the portal to everlasting life is opened to every human soul without judgment.
The soloists Soprano Christiane Karg and Baritone Adrian Erod are carefully restrained within themselves under the calming influence of Christian Thielemann, who graciously appeared tonight even though he had been recently snubbed by the Berliner Philharmoniker who chose Kirill Petrenko instead to replace Sir Simon Rattle as conductor of the BP. Beaming and focused, he led and embraced his orchestra which included new concert master Noah-Bendix Baigley, the young cello soloist Bruno Delepelaire, harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet and the organist Christian Schmitt who is the main protagonist of the Requiem's imposing sound. Clearly in charge, Thielemann is masterful in integrating all the subtle voices of Fauré's masterpiece both vocal and instrumental and empowering them into a cohesive gestalt that honors a range of tone rarely heard in a choral symphony. From the softest woodwinds, raging brass and euphonious whispers of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone voices emerge a mellifluous polyphony of ethereal music. The impeccable Rundfunkchor Berlin is under the guidance of Gijs Leenaars.
Further inspired by this contrapuntal blending of the violins and violas, cello and double bass, organ and brass and embraced by the polyphonic harmonies of male and female voices at once angelic or demonic to meet the demands of this liturgical text, we hear the supplication of the solo baritone Adrian Erod, in the “Offertoire” for the Lord to grant transcendence from death into eternal life. Later in the “Agnus Dei” he once again beseeches the lamb of God for rest in chords of daring harmonic progression. The Soprano, Christiane Karg, has her only solo in the “Pie Jesu”, a portion of the Requiem that Camille Saint-Saens once praised as 'the only Pie Jesu'..in which she achingly pleads with merciful Jesus to grant eternal rest in a simple, haunting melody picked up by the winds, reeds, organ and strings. The harp, under the virtuoso fingers of Marie-Pierre Langlamet (whom we heard earlier as a soloist in Debussy's Deux Dances), bridges earth and heaven with dreamy pulsating arpeggios that invoke a chorus of angels. Referencing the heavenly leit motif of Wagner's Tannhauser, the melodies increase in ambitus as the Violins and Violas join to create a diaphanous revery of paradise.
The Fauré Requiem is a masterpiece constructed around the presence of a dominant organ. The organ in turn represents the presence of a demanding deity, a God that provokes fire and brimstone, terror and fear, judgment and punishment. But in the hands of the masterful but playful Fauré, it only teases us with the threat of consequence yet invokes the magnanimous power and glory of the holy host. Appearing in almost every musical sequence of the Requiem, it turns brimstone into bliss and transforms judgment into joy. Here is a merciful Christian God that threatens but always forgives; poses as a vehicle for torment only to invoke blessed release. Death becomes the sweet
arrival at a heavenly destination built on the shimmering bass notes of the organ's broken triad. The organ itself was built by the masterful German organ maker Karl Schuke for the Berliner Philharmonie. It has a whopping 72 stops, 4 manuals or keyboards and has approximately 6440 pipes making it one of the largest organs in the world.
When you enter the formidable concert hall itself not unlike a church cathedral, it commands your attention by the massive display of its radiant hardware and in the hands of virtuoso organist Christian Schmitt, it comes to inhabit the very viscera of your physical being, its powerful bass vibration becoming your heartbeat and determining your emotional response and respiration. The Fauré Requiem,consisting of complex orchestration is in the end an organ dominant Requiem, the instrument that Fauré himself played in countless requiems, for in its manifestations lie the emotional vicissitudes that we may experience as living and dying creatures. The organ was the one instrument actually named by Fauré as essential to the successful performance of this requiem.
The requiem consists of seven distinct sections from the Latin liturgy each in its own a supplication to the Lord to grant eternal rest to the dead by showing mercy(Kyrie), receiving our sacrifices and prayers (Offertoire), accepting our praise and awe of creation, (Sanctus), beseeching a merciful Jesus (Pie Jesu), asking the lamb of God for perpetual light and eternal rest (Agnus Dei), pleading for Gods forgiveness on the day of judgment (Libera Me) and finally to be guided to paradise, Jerusalem and eternal rest by an angelic host (In Paradisum) .The requiem is defined most by what it omits, the 'Dies Irie” of Verdi's Requiem which invokes the fire and brimstone, punishing wrath of God, quick to judge and condemn our frailties and sins. Especially with Thielemann's tutelage the organ only appears to deliver divine punishment. It threatens Armageddon but finally truly softens into compassionate forgiveness and quiescence.
In the Agnus Dei portion, for instance ,that glorifies the Lamb of God, who not only removes sins of the world but grants eternal rest to all, the violas, violins, cellos and organ play perhaps one of the most lyrically transforming melodic lines in all of the Requiem literature. Under Theilemann's pulsating baton, the gorgeous refrain is tossed from viola to violin in a shimmering moment of blissful modality until suddenly it belongs only to the organ which exquisitely restates the solo melody for a forbearant deity.
Again in the 'In Paradisum' finale the organ has now become the sole spiritual guide for the dead, leading to Jerusalem and paradise. All threats of wrath have disappeared. The continuous uplifting sound of glittering motion in fast broken triads could be a flock of chirping turtle doves or a chorus of angels. Death has become a release not a torment. Heaven is in sight. The dead need not be concerned any longer as the gossamer harp arpeggios and cello pizzicato anoint them with the grace of eternal rest. We thank the Berliner Philharmoniker for remembering in this rapturous program, those who were not prepared for that untimely eclipse, to also be bathed in the joyful sunshine of Fauré's compassionate, heavenly vision of forgiveness.
Ernest Chausson Poeme
Claude Debussy Deux Danses
January 09, 2016
Christian Thielemann Conductor
Sophie Koch Mezzo-soprano
Christiane Karg Soprano
Adrian Erod Baritone
Marie-Pierre Langlamet Harp
Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi
7 January 2016
Deutsche Oper, Berlin
I was gifted to witness Francesca Mondanaro's unscheduled performance last night in Nabucco at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Not only did she scare the living bjesus out of my inner Moses with her outrageous instrument,
but she clearly empowered and aroused a somewhat listless cast as well.
Hastily recalled from America to sing for the ailing Ekaterina Metlova, she at once caffeinated the entire audience in her heart reverberating aria : ‘Anch’io dischiuso un giorno’( I too once opened my eyes to happiness), the sheer power of her coloratura voice gave
unquestionable authority to her claim for regal ascension.
Thank you Francesca for bringing the holy spirit back into an opera that truly speaks of a disenfranchised people yearning for their homeland, community and their very existence itself.
As a Jew watching Nabucco in Berlin in this era, I was paralyzed by the phantoms of the past who were not
miraculously rescued in the last moments to survive.
As Abigail's voice screamed for revenge of the slave girl, for me it could only scream for the millions of lost souls, who once inhabited this land with no hope for divine intervention.
Is there another opera more perfect for Germany to constantly question their tribal inclination for domination, cruelty and striving for racial purity
than Nabucco? All the atrocities and unanswered dilemmas; All the infamous tyrants of genocide and torture;
And then the glorious possibility for redemption that sadly never made it into that libretto.
Abigail is the tortured soul in all of us who believes that absolute power is the only means by which justice can be delivered and fairness restored.
In Nabucco we see that faith and fidelity , the converted Jewess and humbled King have even more probability to achieve divine forgiveness
and absolute redemption.
Francesco Ivan Ciampa Conductor
Sebastian Catana Nabucco
Andrea Shin Ismaele
Guenther Groissboeck Zaccaria
Francesca Mondanaro Abigaille
Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Hamburg State Opera
January 6, 2016
"The drama of Pelléas which, despite its dream-like atmosphere, contains far more humanity than those so-called ‘real-life documents’, seemed to suit my intentions admirably. In it there is an evocative language whose sensitivity could be extended into music and into the orchestral backcloth."
Before Kent Nagano spirited us away into the dreamworld of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, he dedicated the opera and
one minute of silence to Pierre Boulez, who had just passed the day before .
What beginning could be more poignant to the only opera Debussy was ever to write. This moment of aware silence, filled with reverence, dreams, dedications, longing, yet harsh reality ever present, the finiteness of life, that one moment that last a lifetime,
thus anticipating and exemplifying how in the opera's mythical realm our world finds its mirror.
Out of this deep, laden silence the formidable Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg gently evokes the first scene of the forest,
where Mélisande, a mysterious princess has lost her crown in a spring and is to meet her future husband prince Golaud.
So begins a tragic love triangle between the otherworldly Mélisande and the two brothers and knights Golaud and Pelléas.
Set in an obsurely medival world, fathomless grottos and springs symbolizing the lowest abysses of human nature,
soaring towers the unattainable and unknown, all leading to the demise of Mélisande and the whole family.
The emotional poetry of the Debussy's music engulfs, enraptures and sensitively sailing us through the psychological dramas on a music that was groundbreaking at its time for following the natural melody of words as he was composing the piece,
thereby creating a completely new musical language .
The stellar cast headed by the doomed lovers soprano Karen Vourc'h as Mélisande, bariton Phillip Addis as Pelléas and
bariton Marc Barrard as Golaud enliven their characters with such depth and emotion as they sing Debussy's impressionistic, dreamlike music .
Wolfgang Gussmann's insightful set design combined with Hans Toelstede's cool, impressionistic lighting could not set a better stage for an oeuvre so full of symbolic imagery and contrasts, light and dark, high and low, mysterious nature versus oppressive castle, youth opposite decay,
dreamlike, yet brutal, inclosed and forever longing. Debussy transformed Maeterlinck's symbolist drama of a brutal, decrepit reality into an ethereal, dreamlike world. This sensitive and sophisticated production of Debussy's filigrane masterpiece of a dream will not leave our minds
and hearts for days to come, the music and imagery deeply inscribed into our soul.
Opera in in five acts
French libretto adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck's play Pelléas et Mélisande
Kent Nagano Musical Director
Willy Decker Production
Wolfgang Schöne Arkel
Renate Spingler Geneviève
Marc Barrard Golaud
Phillip Addis Pelléas
Karen Vourc'h Mélisande
Death of Klinghoffer
November 15, 2014
We stubbornly defended the artistic freedom of John Adams to portray both sides of the Palestinian -Israeli conflict in his powerful and haunting depiction of the shooting and throwing overboard of a wheelchair bound elderly Jewish businessman,Leon Klinghoffer, from the cruise ship
Achille Lauro. Using striking background graffiti, projected newsreels, interpolating choruses and eyewitness accounts, Adams relates the now completely familiar back-story of the Israel-Palestinian conflict replete with murders, evictions, exiles, atrocities and genocide.
We are given an equivalency between the behaviors of each side in attaining their goals for statehood and independence. The Palestinian chorus removes head gear to become the Israeli chorus each justifying, pleading and demanding action.
Staged at the Met 23 years after it's British opening without the original Peter Sellers' ritualization, the current Klinghoffer spends much of the first act expressing the Palestinian point of view in the person of Mamoud, a PLO operative who has lost members of his family in the struggle.
This is in fact the reason that the opera has been called anti-Semitic, and pro-terrorist. It takes the second act to hear Leon take on the terrorists
and his wife Marilyn to decry their predicament to the captain after his cold-blooded murder.
The Death of Klinghoffer was memorable for the riveting side show that occurred outside the opera house as much as for the action inside.
The histrionics of a well organized protest including one hundred protestors in wheel chairs and speech upon speech excoriating Peter Gelb,
the artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera and questioning the artistic worthiness of the opera itself became the backdrop for an art form
that rarely gets the free publicity and attention it deserves. Inside the Met, the opera was almost derailed by a protestor who stood up
and screamed 'the murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgotten.'The orchestra plodded on.`
At stake was to become the very integrity and artistic freedom that we have come to expect as the inalienable rights of all Americans even when that expression might legitimize violence and condone extreme actions in the quest for individual freedom and social revolution. Was the opera important enough to stage in light of what it might portend for the already irreparable Middle East impasse?
It was then with utter shock and horror that I learned only three days after viewing the opera that a Jerusalem rampage had taken the lives of three American rabbis. Two Palestinian terrorists not unlike those I had witnessed portrayed at the Met that weekend, armed with guns, axes and meat cleavers, slaughtered four rabbis and a police officer in a Jerusalem synagogue before they too were killed. What appeared as sterilized theatre in the well lit grandeur of the Metropolitan opera now became stark reality as the victims were depicted lying in pools of blood on the synagogue floor. Israel soon retaliated by bull dozing the homes of those responsible as the biblical eye for eye mentality of the Middle East escalated once again in mindless repetition. My words of support for the opera choked in my throat as it became suddenly clear to me how the opera could have been the catalyst for this most recent abomination. For a short instant the feeling of hopelessness numbed me to the core.
Had the opera validated and legitimized the Palestinian interpretation of the conflict and their take on the historical version of events? The Palestinians felt justified to take any measures, violent or otherwise, to pursue their dreams of nationhood and self- determination. They continue to see themselves as no different than the Jewish militants who spared no action in achieving statehood and freedom for Israel including bombings, murders of innocents, assassinations, forced emigrations and other revolutionary tactics.
Quite simply, Israel and conservative Jews do not see the equivalency of those positions. In fact they perceive any Palestinian attempt to voice their opposition violently as a pure terrorist atrocity. Any cultural event including theater, opera, literature that gives credible voice and legitimacy to the right of Palestinians to violently strive for their political freedom will be seen virulently as illegal and intolerable behavior to be mercilessly squashed, an eye for an eye because they foment new violence.
The 'Death of Klinghoffer' is a grave threat to the State of Israel because it makes such an impartial rendering of the inherent problems facing Palestinians and Jews which no one wants to talk about and which is at the very heart of their insurmountable conflict and struggle. To see each other as human; to accept the noble struggles of each to find dignity and freedom from persecution; to find equivalency in each of their positions is the very core of what they are each unable to do. Who is victim , who is oppressor? Both. Who is colonist who is indigenous? Both. Who is pacifist and who militant ? Both. Who is legitimate and who fraudulent? Both- and on and on and on.
Ultimately I have faith in the world to figure out the proper course this opera will take in the universe. Yes perhaps Gelb backed down from the HD broadcast this time. But I believe that it is inevitable that this opera will achieve a larger audience and eventually it will be broadcast on HD somewhere. Perhaps this is just the catalyst both sides need to finally recognize their mutual problems stemming from equally daunting conditions. Who has suffered the most I don't know. I only know that both sides deserve the ability to live in peace, free of fear and hatred in a world that does not attack their legitimate claim to exist equally on this planet. To stop all the Klinghoffer’s from plunging dead into the ocean we need a direct path of reconciliation to get us finally, safely back to shore.
Opera in a prologue and two acts
Libretto by Alice Goodman
Conductor David Robertson