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In performance: Viviane Hagner; Enso Quartet

In the Washington Post:

Viviane Hagner: poised but unsatisfying, by Robert Battey.

Enso Quartet buoys American Music Festival with Reich, Corigliano, by Joan Reinthaler.

By Anne Midgette  |  November 27, 2009; 8:23 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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“None of the works was a first-tier masterpiece”

As if Mr Battey himself had the cultural authority and depth of musical understanding to make such a critical judgement.

While Bela Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1 was composed somewhat quickly for the Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Szigeti in the jazzy and volcanic months leading up to the international capitalist monetary crash of 1929 and the rise of Hungarian fascism, it remains – despite Mr Battey’s disapproval - a first-tier masterpiece of the 20th c. violin-piano repertoire, along with Bartok’s Violin Sonata #2. (Szigeti and Bartok memorably performed both of these first-tier masterpieces by Bartok, along with first-tier masterpieces by Debussy and Beethoven at the Library of Congress in April of 1940.)

I believe that it is healthy for the Washington Post to employ music critics of a wide diversity of tiers, if none first-tier.

(Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Solo Violin, also first-tier and fairly quickly written in late 1943 and early 1944 in New York and North Carolina as the composer was being treated for the leukemia that ultimately killed him, features quarter-tones, multiple stops, artificial [stopped] harmonics, left-hand pizzicato executed simultaneously with a melody played with the bow, and other aesthetic effects beyond the understanding of the Washington Post music critics.)

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 27, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I did attend the Saturday evening performance of "From the House of the Dead" at the Met; the house was almost full, some but very few empty seats in my section.

The mise en scene opened the old debate: music or the words? Because for the first time in my memory I came with the feeling that the staging overshadowed the music. In some of the best stagings from the Washington Opera such as the recent Peter Grimes or, to take an Janacek example, Jenufa, there was a strong directorial point of view but I still came out with the music in memory. But here the staging was so powerful, especially in the first two acts, that the music was simply left in the background. (And BTW, I chose to compare "From the House of the Dead" with shows at the Washington Opera due to the presence of the titles, which I almost always turn off when I am at the Met but can't ignore when they are in plain visibility.)

Yes, it was powerful theater but not perfect. In an interview Chereau statet that he wants to show the suffering of prisoners everywhere at any time. Yet I still couldn't escape the fact that what was before my eyes was a depiction of conditions from the prison from Dostoyevsky's time. To this I will add the specific references in Janacek's libretto: the floggings as well as the insistence of having a wife virgin at the time of marriage. Perhaps without titles the effect would have been different.

And while in the first act Chereau wanted to portray the desperation of the prisoners, their behavior could not help me thinking that these people are there for a reason.

On top of that, the director makes two mistakes. When Shishkov needs to be restrained after his monologue in the 3rd act, the prison guards have a hard time chasing him. Please! The guards would most likely hit once and leave him unconscious. Giving the violence already depicted, why was Chereau shy here?

Also, at the end, when the Prison Commandant appologizes to Gorianchikov, why did he have to kneel? After all he makes this apology in spite of himself, realizing that this is the right thing to do, but having to fight with himself in order to actually do it. Chereau takes it too far.

Still, these are quibbles on what was overall a powerful mise en scene.

Shame on the Met for not providing biographies for Vladimir Ognovenko, Peter Straka, Eric Stoklossa, Richard Bernstein, Jeffrey Wells, and Heinz Zednik (good to have the veteran singer again.)

Reading back, it seems that I have written all about the staging and nothing about the music - which really, makes my point. In an ideal world I would have rented / bought the DVD, watch it several times, and then go back to see the production live while trying to ignore the titles, but since I don't live in NY...

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | November 30, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

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