Cher Public

No contest

tannhauser amazonRichard Wagner viewed dance as an essential element of art, though he used it sparingly in his operas. The bacchanal he put in the 1861 Paris version of Tännhauser was supposed to depart from classical ballet and serve up an orgy of motion, with figures assembling and reordering themselves, not unlike the physical manifestation of a symphonic poem.

One wonders what he’d make of Staatskapelle Berlin’s 2014 production, now on BelAir Classiques. Director Sasha Waltz’s sweaty pileup of writhing bodies in the opening tableau serves as the jumping off point for a fully choreographed opera in which dancers weave around and through the scenes with sweeping gestures, arresting poses and sometimes sophomoric mimed responses to what’s being sung.  Read more »

Out of the past

Karajan amazonImperfect sound is often the price of admission with historical recordings. A unique grouping of artists or particularly compelling performance from the past should make the scratches, distortion and other technical blemishes seem trifling, even Patina-like, like scuffs on an old Gladstone bag.
  Read more »

The hill is greener

Live recordings of Hans Knappertsbusch conducting Parsifal seem to proliferate like stairways in M.C. Escher prints. The high priest of the podium so owned this music in the 1950s and early 1960s that at least a half dozen transfers are in circulation, augmenting his gold standard 1962 Philips release and the historic 1951 reading that inaugurated the post-war Bayreuth Festival.

All share common characteristics: a spacious approach to Wagner’s musical line, great depth of expression and an unforced wash of sound that tenor Jess Thomas likened to a cloud cushioning the voices on stage.   Read more »

rheingold rattle amazon

Gold diggers

Das Rheingold is the outlier among the Ring operas, an ensemble work with a fast-shifting plot, animated dialogue, fewer set pieces and less character development.

Read more »


A fjord in her future

Anja Silja staked a claim as a leading Senta of her era with a series of searing performances of Der Fliegende Holländer while in her early twenties.

Read more »


“Less filling”

“Disciplined and intelligent.”

Read more »


Grail mix

Contemporary stagings of Parsifal tend to be spare, abstract affairs scrubbed of religious associations, knights in armor and, sometimes, a grail.

Read more »


Between two worlds

If works like Salome and Erwartung defined modernism in the first decades of the 20th century, Die Tote Stadt and Palestrina represented the regressive avant garde.

Read more »


Prison riot

Herbert von Karajan once said listening to some of his old recordings made him envy painters who could simply burn the pictures they disliked.

Read more »


No such Gluck

When Richard Wagner reached into the past and revised Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, he went beyond the accepted boundaries of tinkering and more or less created a new work that’s fomented aesthetic debates ever since.

Read more »