Wittgensteinian Misanthropy


Paul Wittgenstein, that is.  This week I’ve been casually reading Gitta Honegger’s Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian before I go to sleep.  I hadn’t really known all that much about Paul Wittgenstein, other than what Bernhard attributes to him in the fictional Wittgenstein’s Nephew, but Honegger provides this account:

A popular anecdote has him attending a Wagner opera conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who took over the post of musical director of the Vienna Staatsoper from Karl Bohm in 1956. The story has Paul running down the aisle toward the orchestra pit after the performance with resounding shouts of “Bravo!” As the maestro slowly turned around with benevolently outstretched arms, Paul exclaimed, “Bravo Bohm!” (167)

The Damnation of Faust (Met’s HD Broadcast)


I went to see/hear Met’s HD Broadcast yesterday – Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust (or as everyone pretentiously overpronounced it, La Damnation de Faust) – and I have to say that I thought it was a great production. The problem, you see, is that Damnation of Faust is not really an opera. It does have three main characters and a large chorus, but it does not have a coherent narrative, or at least it does not allow one to smoothly transition from one scene to another. It is a series of episodes, songs, or tableaux, if you will, from Goethe’s Faust. It is most often performed as a concert, not as a staged opera – there isn’t much to stage, I suppose. Here is for example a review of a concert version from 2005: Continue reading

Karita Mattila in Met’s Salome: Is Opera All About Singing?


I know that Met’s new season of HD broadcasts began on October 11th with Strauss’ Salome, but I was only able to see it yesterday when it was shown again around the country 11 days later – last year the encore performances were a day later, so I’m not sure why the change – and I have to say that I left the movie theater in a kind of puzzlement that is not easy to explain. Salome is a great opera, beautiful music and challenging for all the singers, especially the soprano. I think Mattila did a great job singing the role of Salome, but, for goodness sake, I hope that she never does this opera again – I hesistate to be rude (probably for the first time in my life) but it was a horrible horrible production with a horrible horrible acting by Mattila who did not seem to get what the opera is about at all. Not that Mattila is a great actor anyway – last season’s Manon Lescaut she did such a horrible job that in the end I was glad the heroine finally died. But in Manon Lescaut she was covered in clothing and the production was such that camera was constantly wandering around showing other singers and situations.

In Salome Mattila looked old and senile, constantly adjusting her dress in the first pre-dance sequence – with camera concentrated on her face most of the time, it was a horrible sight of a 50 or so year old soprano trying to look like a naive yet seductive teenager – with all the awkward grimaces, disgusting old-person flesh hanging out here and there, constricted movements of someone who doesn’t know what to do next, strange poses and no emotional interaction with the character whatsoever. I had to close my eyes most of the time in order to enjoy the voice and the music, but that’s like listening to the CD and I wanted to see the opera.

Alex Ross described the same production from 4 years ago with such engagement that I was led to believe that this will be a great experience, well, it was not: Continue reading

New Kaija Saariaho Record


Complete description

Following the acclaimed 2006 song cycle Quatre Instants (ODE 1100-5), the latest collaboration from star soprano Karita Mattila and her compatriot Kaija Saariaho is Mirage, the setting of a trance-induced incantation by the Mexican healer María Sabína (1894-1985). This recording features the work’s world première performance from March 13th, 2008 in Paris. The ecstatic 15-minute piece is written for soprano, cello and orchestra, featuring cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Orchestre de Paris under its music director Christoph Eschenbach – one of today’s greatest champions of contemporary music.

Following the U.K. première performance of Mirage, The Times raved, “Few singers other than Mattila will be able to hurl the voice into such high ecstasy, bend its tones and express the entire transformation in such racked yet exultant body language. (…) this is a small but important work in Saariaho’s increasingly fruitful development.” (Hilary Finch, The Times, March 24, 2008)

Anssi Karttunen also performs Notes on Light, the cello concerto that Saariaho wrote for him in 2006. Also featured on this CD is Orion, the largest orchestral work Saariaho has written to date.

You can get it on Amazon.