Adriel Bettelheim is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who has covered government, politics and business for more than 20 years for the Economist Group, Bloomberg, PolitiFact and The Denver Post. His European parents began dragging him to the Met at age 7.Childhood allowances were spent at the bins of Korvettes, The Record Hunter and Tower. While studying chemistry in college, he edited the school newspaper and began dabbling in classical program notes. He has played double bass in amateur pit and community orchestras and tries to squeeze in live opera, symphonic and chamber performances whenever possible.
Richard 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 »
Imperfect 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.
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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 »
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.
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.
Contemporary stagings of Parsifal tend to be spare, abstract affairs scrubbed of religious associations, knights in armor and, sometimes, a grail.
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.
Herbert von Karajan once said listening to some of his old recordings made him envy painters who could simply burn the pictures they disliked.