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Arts & Entertainment Preview - July 1999

Classical Music
B Y   A U S T I N   B A E R

In Praise of Ecstasy

   Summer music at Tanglewood

Onstage, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra -- two of the world's foremost ensembles of tomorrow's finest instrumentalists -- are joining forces under the baton of Seiji Ozawa. On board, too, are Yo-Yo Ma and Yuri Bashmet, two of the most charismatic soloists of our time. The first half of the concert brings Béla Bartók's ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin, a fiery brew of still-shocking sex and violence. Then comes Richard Strauss's rollicking tone poem Don Quixote, with Ma's cello in the part of the impossible dreamer, and Bashmet's viola as his down-to-earth squire. The accent on youth, on excellence, on music as a language that transcends national boundaries, encompassing the spectrum of human experience -- these factors make the program the perfect Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert. The date is August 1, the time 2:30 p.m., the place Tanglewood, in the rolling Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Bernstein's lifelong association with this prototype of the American summer music festival makes the tribute even more fitting. Whether as composer or as conductor, Bernstein was among the chosen ones for whom art never became either commercial or routine, yet he never withdrew to an ivory tower. He made music for the multitudes. The Shed at Tanglewood seats thousands, the lawn several times more. Lenny never failed to bring the picnickers out in force. With cooperation from the weather, his memory should do the same. (For tickets call 888-266-1200.)


Born About Three of the Clock

Bryn Terfel in the title  
role of Falstaff  


"It must be enjoyed," Bryn Terfel said of Verdi's Falstaff even before he had learned the title role. At thirty-three, Terfel may seem a shade juvenile to portray Shakespeare's fat old scoundrel, but then, when riding high, few characters anywhere exhibit such superabundant youthful spirit as does Sir John. "I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head and something of a round belly," he discloses in Henry IV, one of the opera's sources, twitting a fellow senior while shrugging off his years. When in a pickle, as he sometimes is, he strikes a gloomier note, but never without the same instinct for swagger. Although the story line of Verdi's miraculous farewell to the stage mainly follows The Merry Wives of Windsor, which is no masterpiece, stolen passages from the histories in which Falstaff first appeared add substance. The result is a portrait of Shakespearean roundness, scarcely paralleled in opera. Terfel, who inhabits his characters with unmatched relish, has just the burly sound and verbal zest this one requires. Lyric Opera of Chicago, which presents Terfel's first American Falstaff as its season opener, seems to be forgetting just one thing: this act will be tough to follow. (September 25-October 29; Tickets: 312-332-2244.)


Where Weber casts His Spell

  Deborah Voigt

To opera fans, for what now seems like forever, summer on Puget Sound has meant one thing: Wagner. Under an earlier administration of the Seattle Opera, old-school Wagnerians from the corners of the globe flocked to a reactionary Ring des Nibelungen, all four nights of it, staged in Classic Comics style with spears and winged helmets. Speight Jenkins, the critic turned impresario who has brought the company to new heights, made waves with a Ring for the nineties that has now, after several revolutions, rolled into history; an all-new one cranks up next year. In Ring-free seasons Jenkins has mounted Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tristan und Isolde, in each case creating a festival aura around a single opera. This summer he attempts to do the same with Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (1821), a chancy proposition. The opera that set the whole history of German romantic opera on course (and thus crucial to the development of Wagner), it tells a gripping story. But unlike Wagner, whose mythmaking lends itself to endless adaptation and to alternative ideologies, Weber in his plot mechanics is apt to strike post-Freudian audiences outside Germany as dated and naive. Trying to translate the title literally is a losing battle. Seattle renders it as The Devil's Bullet, which gets right to the point. At the climax a young hunter fires his rifle and his bride falls -- unharmed, Providence be praised. The implications of the action are by no means risible, and the score is ravishing (principal tunes are familiar from the famous overture, a concert-hall fixture). As he so often does, Jenkins has fielded important voices, foremost this time the soprano Deborah Voigt. But will the new Seattle staging by Dieter Kaegi -- no friend of cobwebs or fustian -- open American eyes to Weber's enduring vision? (August 5-21; 800-426-1619.)


Austin Baer is a writer based in New York.

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Photo Credits -- Tanglewood: Stu Rosner. Terfel: Opera Australia. Voigt: Oliver Wilkins.
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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