Opera

Opera: Charles Gounod / Roméo et Juliet

After chronicling many operas on streaming and other media through the covid era, I finally finally go to the opera for real to see the KC Lyric Opera‘s production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Kauffman Center in downtown Kansas City. For my sacrifices in the service of high musical culture, I actually got awarded a press pass to attend and write about it. We’re getting posh here.

Opera

Opera: John Adams / Nixon In China

Today I clicked on the little heart that bought up my wish list on The Metropolitan Opera’s streaming app, and decided it was time to experience the John Adams opera Nixon in China.

When I became aware of this work many years ago, my first thought was: What kind of person would pay to sit through an opera about Richard Nixon?

Opera

Opera: Kevin Puts / Silent Night

As we settle into the holiday season, I thought it would be nice to immerse myself into the Kevin Puts / Mark Campbell opera Silent Night. The opera is based on Christian Carion’s screenplay for the 2005 French war film Joyeux Noël, and concerns an actual incident that occurred in the first year of World War I where soldiers of the opposing sides of the conflict declared a temporary truce in order to celebrate Christmas together.

Opera

Opera: Ivo Josipović / Lennon

Up in the wee hours this morning to screen a new-ish opera that sounded intriguing. From the mind of Croatian composer Ivo Josipović comes Lennon – a surrealist fantasy about 20th Century pop icon John Lennon that focuses on his post-assassination travel through purgatory.

These wacky 21st Century composers. They’re always up to some devilment or other!

Opera

Opera: Tan Dun / The First Emperor

In front of my TV again today with The Metropolitan Opera On Demand app blaring Tan Dun’s east-west crossover opera, The First Emperor. Tan Dun was the film composer for landmark Chinese films of historical fantasy such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, those special effects-laden martial arts epics featuring actors jumping twelve feet in the air to kick someone in the face before disappearing over rooftops with long ribbons flying artfully after. 

Opera

Opera: Kevin Puts / The Hours

As a big fan of Kevin Puts’ symphonic works I was looking forward to seeing this presentation from The Met of his 2022 opera, The Hours. The compositional mind of Puts can’t fail to please, so I’m happy to see me some streaming opera while not risking subjugation to some modern barbarian of a composer laying out rope after rope of barbed wire tone rows which will make a ruin of my patience and nervous system.

Opera

Opera: Sarah Kirkland-Snider / Penelope

On the enthusiastic instruction of my viola teacher, I checked in with the Psappha Ensemble’s video of the UK premiere of Penelope by Sarah Kirkland Snider (music) and Ellen McLaughlin (lyrics). My viola guru wanted me to see this piece to give me a clue about others like myself who are composing in crossover pop/classical forms. 

Soundtracks

The Films of Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger died earlier this month at the fine old age of 96. Flipping the script on my usual soundtrack review concept of highlighting film composers, Anger was not a musician but a short film director who filmed his projects without live sound or dialogue, then completed them by adding in recorded music. 

Opera

Opera: Nico Muhly / Marnie

Looking in on The Metropolitan Opera’s Marnie today. With music by Nico Muhly and libretto by Nicholas Wright,  the production is from 2018, following on the heels of the world premiere of the work in 2017 by the English National Opera. It is Muhly’s second opera, his first effort being 2005’s ‘Two Boys’.

Opera

Opera: Giacomo Puccini / Turandot

Puccini’s Turandot was on the schedule last week. Staged by the Hungarian State Opera at one of the world’s most beautiful venues for opera. Yes. 

I saw Madama Butterfly at the State Opera two years ago and was quite satisfied, so the opportunity to see my favorite opera in the same setting – with seats in the 11th row going for approximately $60 each – was too good to pass up.

Opera

Opera: Brett Dean / Hamlet

Today I spent the afternoon with The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Brett Dean’s Hamlet cued up on their streaming app. Three hours of big big big big opera based on the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays in a contemporary setting. 

This cultural excursion did not go well. I’ll try to tell you why with as much brevity as I can muster because I want to spend as little time as possible reliving it. Here are the lowlights…

Opera

Opera: Gaetano Donizetti / Lucia di Lammermoor

Going retro this afternoon with The Metropolitan Opera’s 1982 Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, a two-hour plus affair taken from Walter Scott’s novel of madness and tragedy among the Scottish nobility. I have it on good authority that this is one of the finest renditions of this opera documented on video, mostly because of a legendary performance by Joan Sutherland who was said to have made this role her own.

Music Friends

Night People: G. E. Stinson 

The final selection of my Night People series, Nocturne #5 (G.E.), attempts to channel the improvisatory talents of my pal from the LA music scene, G. E. Stinson, an avant-jazz guitarist.

The thing that has intrigued me about G. E. is his restless musical spirit, wide open mind, and the challenging musical trails he has blazed.

Music Friends

Night People: Michael Whitmore

Nocturne #4 (Michael) is inspired by Michael Whitmore, an avant-jazz guitarist, singer and songwriter.

I met Michael Whitmore in Los Angeles when he was working as sound engineer and occasional booker at the hottest club in town at that time, Spaceland. I liked the music acts he brought in, they were always a little off-beat from the more trendy acts that played there and his contributions helped to burnish the reputation of the place.

Music Friends

Night People: Marnie Weber

Nocturne #3 (Marnie), the third piece in my ‘Night People’ project, is inspired by Marnie Weber – a multimedia artist who specializes in synthesizer and electric bass.

Marnie is primarily a visual artist who has also on occasion taken her vision into the realm of music, with album releases that seem to emerge like magic mushrooms randomly popping from the soil of a surreal forest glade in one of her bucolic art exhibits.

Opera

Opera: Tosca / Prague State Opera

Last minute tickets for Tosca at the Prague State Opera. I’m so there. 

I loved my experience seeing Madama Butterfly in Budapest, so I couldn’t resist going to the box office when I heard there were a few good seats left. Didn’t get the catbird seat this time but got one on the main floor with good sight lines.

Music Friends

Night People: Gere Fennelly

Of the five musicians I tribute with Night People, I think Ms. Fennelly’s uniqueness as a musician is the hardest to define in words. So I offer this fact into evidence: Among the thousands of musicians that I have known in my life – many of whom have gotten a fair bit of fame and money out of the game – Gere is the only one out of all of them that has supported herself exclusively on music. Quelle devotion!

Music Friends

Night People: Devin Sarno

Nocturne #1 (Devin), the piece that kicks off my ‘Night People’ project, pays tribute to Devin Sarno, an experimental electric bassist from Los Angeles.

Devin’s musical experience usually starts off very quietly before building into a crescendo of multi-layered, often feedback-driven music characterized by unknowable overtones and harmonics. It might be meditative. It might be inscrutable. It might be terrifying. One never knows in advance!

Soundtracks

Soundtrack: Chico Hamilton Quintet / Repulsion 

As the opening credits roll, a woman’s eye fills the screen. A stark tympani begins to pound away aimlessly accompanied by a vague distant electric drone. As the camera slowly zooms out the percussion gives way to a melody played on solo flute. The mood is hard to nail down – is it… reflective? Plaintive? Resigned? Just depressing? 

So begins Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, starring Catherine Deneuve with music rendered by Chico Hamilton Quintet.

Opera

Opera: Thomas Adés / The Exterminating Angel

After becoming fed up with scrounging around YouTube looking for modern operas, I finally bit the bullet and subscribed to The Metropolitan Opera’s TV app. Now I have lots of crazy excruciating performances to thrill to and pen saucy observations about. And the first on my list is one that I’ve been wanting to see for some time now, as it’s atop the lists of many critics’ “greatest 21st century operas” lists: Thomas Adés’ The Exterminating Angel. 

Opera

Opera: Ernst Krenek / The Bell Tower

In this nutty, overcrowded world, do you ever have an urge for real solitude? Somewhere so remote the world will leave you in peace?

I have found such a place. It’s right here in my studio. Listening to The Bell Tower, the 1957 one-act opera by Austrian composer Ernst Krenek. While experiencing it I was overcome with the realization that I was the only person on earth listening to it.

Think of it. THE… ONLY… PERSON… ON… EARTH!

Opera

Opera: Pete Townshend / Quadrophenia

There have been many “rock operas” produced for major label release, but there is none that come close to Quadrophenia in design, complexity, and brilliance of execution. And no other music group or crew of session players charged with producing a rock opera project had three of the most dynamic musicians of their generation – Keith Moon, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey – at their disposal to assist in fusing the vision of multi-instrumentalist author/composer Townshend to tracks so exploding with kinetic energy that the music threatens to come off the rails at any moment. 

Opera

Opera: Bates & Campbell / The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

On the face of it, as opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs is an overly geeked-out concept. But it really is a grand story. A tale of the massive power of computing and communications put in the hands of all humanity, of technological transformation and behavioral shift that has no precedent in human civilization.

So why was I digging in my heels at the thought of actually sitting through this goddamn thing? 

Opera / SFairbank

Why Am I Writing an Opera?

I’ve been having an avid correspondence with an old friend. Discussing a wide array of topics. Recently the conversation has turned to my latest operatic music project. And she replied with: “So – what made you want to write an opera anyway?”

And my reply was that I’ve created an opera because I think opera is an amazing art form and I wanted to make one that isn’t all of the things so many find so repellent about the medium.

Soundtracks

Soundtrack: Toru Takemitsu / Pale Flower

The music created by Toru Takemitsu for the 1964 Masahiro Shinoda film ‘Pale Flower’ has as much invention in the art of writing for film as any I’ve ever encountered. Like most good soundtracks, the cues are fairly sparse. But when they accompany the action it’s for a good reason and they have an impact, and the effect is unique in that brass and string arrangements may be supplemented by percussion like bin-sasara or hyoshigi, as Takemitsu was a giant in Japanese film for being one of the first to score using native Japanese instruments.

Opera

Opera: De Banfield & Williams / Love Letter to Lord Byron

Today I was listening to the one-act opera Lord Byron’s Love Letter by Raffaello de Banfield and libretto by Tennessee Williams. Reader, have you heard of this creation? I didn’t think so.

I only have a copy myself because one fine afternoon ages ago I found myself scrounging among the used bins in Amoeba Hollywood looking for something strange with a brand new Visa card in my wallet. So I will tell you about this little operatic oddity.

Music Friends / Soundtracks

Soundtrack: Devin Sarno

Devin Sarno’s music is, to my ears, a natural for creating counterpoint to moving images. It usually starts off very quietly before building into a crescendo of multi-layered, often feedback-driven music characterized by unknowable overtones and harmonics. It might be meditative. It might be inscrutable. It might be terrifying. With Sarno one never knows in advance! 

Soundtracks

Soundtrack: Michael Small / Klute

Listening to the LP of the soundtrack of the 1971 film Klute. Strange piano with what sounds like… what is that tone-bending instrument? Celesta? Glass bells? Wind chimes? Very interesting musical sequence for a mainstream film. Who is this composer? Seems I would have heard of someone so original before. Harry Partch? Terry Riley? Jerry Goldsmith on peyote?

Opera

Opera: Rufus Wainwright / Hadrian

I’m way behind the times. Since I discovered ‘Hadrian’, I find myself still saying to myself: “Rufus Wainwright? Wrote an opera?”

But Wainwright’s been at it for some time now, and he’s gotten quite good at it. The story is full-on grand opera with a deeply passionate May-October love affair between Hadrian and a young hunter, Antonius, as its centerpiece.