Tuesday, February 28, 2006

12th Century Western Renaissance Music By Hildegard Von Bingen And Jaufre Rudel To Be Performed By Folger Consort At Folger Shakespeare Library

The superb Folger Consort, based at Washington, D.C.'s prized Folger Shakespeare Library, will be performing 12th Century Western Renaissance Music by visionary early German humanist, poetess, and composer Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) and outstanding early French troubadour Jaufre Rudel (c.1125-c.1147) this Friday, Saturday (two shows), and Sunday, in their replica of an Elizabethan London Theater, with guest soloists soprano Johana Arnold, baritone Richard Lalli, and instrumentalist Margriet Tindemans.

Hildegard von Bingen has been an important figure in the revival of Western musical, humanistic, and feminist studies over the past generation, and her poetic and musical works have been widely performed and recorded, and even widely "sampled" by electronica and computer musicians and composers around the world.

Jaufre Rudel, while less well known at present, was the author of the poem "La Vida breve" [The Brief Life], which has become the basis for Finnish Woman Composer Kaija Saariaho's and French-Lebanese Librettist Amin Maloof's prize-winning new opera "L'amour de loin" [Love From Afar], which is now available on DVD in a stunning Finnish National Opera production, starring American soprano Dawn Upshaw, Canadian baritone Gerald Finley, and Dutch mezzo-soprano Monica Groop; all directed by Peter Sellars and with a stunning high-tech set designed by Russian-American architect and designer George Tsypin, whose award-winning production of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, the Kirov Opera, under Valery Gergiev, will be bringing to the Metropolitan Opera House in July 2007, for two complete showings.

According to The Folger Shakespeare Library's Web-site:

"The flowering of art and learning during the 12th century was so remarkable that scholars often refer to the period as the 12th-century Renaissance. An intense desire to add new songs and words to the liturgy of the Church is the background for the singular life and works of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), the visionary abbess, poet, composer, and advisor to popes and emperors. At the same time in southern France, the troubadours were defining the forms and conventions of love songs that were to influence all later composers. In this program the Consort contrasts the soaring mystical sacred song/poems of Hildegard with the achingly beautiful songs of unrequited love from afar by one of the greatest of the troubadours--Jaufre Rudel (c.1125-c.1147)."

Please see: www.folger.edu/woSummary.cfm?wotypeid=3&season=c&woid=216

Renaissance Poet and Composer Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).

For a facsimile image of one of her compositions, please see:


Please also see www.tripoli-city.org/amour/synopsis.html for copyrighted French National Library 13th Century Western Renaissance minature of Jaufre Rudel (c.1125-c.1147).

Image credit: www.germanembassy-india.org With thanks.

Mr Cogito Receives An Invitation To Become An Arts Advocate

Dear Cogito,

The arts build communities. And Americans for the Arts Action Fund keeps an eye on arts interests on Capitol Hill and around Washington. Won't you join us and become an arts advocate?

Without the arts, our communities would be a bleak landscape.

No Winslow Homer or Claude Monet. No Bach or Miles Davis. What if suddenly, there was no Carnegie Hall, no Los Angeles Philharmonic, no poetry from Maya Angelou, and no Mrs. Smith teaching a dance class in anytown, America? Imagine if Walt Whitman was no longer taught as literary art, Ansel Adams had just developed film at your local drug store, Alvin Ailey never started his dance company, and Steven Spielberg never picked up a script and had a vision.

You know how the arts uplift a community. They bring crowds downtown and to other art locales ... and attract customers to the retail outlets around them. They introduce new generations to the joys of music, dance, and the visual arts. Art in schools brings parents to class plays, band concerts, and school recitals. The arts encourage creative development in children....

Lend your voice to the chorus demanding fair treatment for the arts....

Lend your voice to the arts.

Robert L. Lynch
President and CEO
Americans for the Arts Action Fund

William Kentridge, South African General [ca. 1991], large drypoint print. Private Collection, Washington, D.C.

Image credit: (c) William Kentridge. Courtesy Robert Brown Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Pergamon Museum In Berlin, Germany To Get New Fourth Wing To Display Egyptian And Islamic Era Civilization

"The Pergamon Museum, one of the most popular tourist sites in Berlin, will be getting a massive restoration with a new wing, according to museum officials.

The neoclassical museum, home to ancient works from Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian cultures, will get a 351 million euro ($474.5 million) renovation, which will be financed by the German government.

The museum, which houses the second century BC [BCE] Pergamon Altar and Babylon’s Ishstar Gate, drew about 900,000 visitors in 2005.

A new fourth wing will be built across the entrance to the museum’s courtyard and will allow the institution to "show all major cultures on a single level," said Klaus Dieter Lehmann, head of the city’s Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

"You will then have … everything from Mesopotamia, through Egypt, Greece, Rome and classical antiquity up to the Islamic era," Lehmann told a news conference Monday.

The museum was opened in 1930 and is the best known of the five museums on Berlin’s Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stefan Vieths, a representative of project architect Oswald Mathias Ungers, says work will start in 2011 and continue until 2026." ...

Source: www.cbc.ca "Berlin museum gets major facelift" February 27, 2006


Pergamonmuseum, Berlin, Germany. Shown is the entrance courtyard where the Museum's fourth wing will be constructed. The museum drew 900,000 visitors in 2005, and is the best known of the five museums on Berlin’s Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [It is the first museum that I ever visited in Europe -- in 1972.]




Photo credit: www.bbr.bund.de/.../ museumsinsel_fotos.htm

New York Philharmonic Trailblazes With Czeslaw Milosz/John Harbison World Premiere While Jerusalem and Baltimore Orchestras Reprise 20th Century

The classical music world's attention turned to Avery Fisher Hall in New York City this past week, when American conductor Robert Spano led American soprano soloist Dawn Upshaw and the New York Philharmonic in the world premiere of distinguished American composer John Harbison's settings of poems by Polish American Nobel-laureate poet and writer, Czesław Miłosz. Here is one of the poems (#7) sung (the poems are sung in English translations):

So Little
I said so little.
Days were short.

Short days.
Short nights.
Short years.

I said so little.
I couldn’t keep up.

My heart grew weary
From joy,

The jaws of Leviathan
Were closing upon me.

Naked, I lay on the shores
Of desert islands.

The white whale of the world
Hauled me down to its pit.

And now I don’t know
What in all that was real."

[Berkeley, 1969]

English translation by Czesław Miłosz and Lillian Vallee courtesy of Harper Collins Books.

And here is the Polish original, for budding Renaissance scholars:

(c) Czesław Miłosz via http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/

A video of conductor Robert Spano discussing this world premiere is available here:


James M. Keller's Program Notes to this world premiere [with incorrect date of Czesław Miłosz's death] is available at:



And closer to my Washington, D.C. wintry sentry outpost, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, under Leon Botstein, will be performing tonight, at Strathmore Hall in North Bethesda, Maryland, Martinů's Památník Lidicím (Memorial to Lidice), Copland's Appalachian Spring, and Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. Due to the serious content of this program, remaining tickets are reported to be limited. [I last heard Martinů's Památník Lidicím with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall.]

And this Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday [Thursday at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda], the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under Andrew Constantine and featuring Russian violinist Sergey Khatchatryan, adopting only a slightly less serious look at the last century as well as a serious look at the role of African-Americans in classical music in 21st century America, will perform Hailstork's Intrada, Sibelius's Violin Concerto, and Prokofiev's The Ugly Duckling and suite from the ballet Cinderella.

An MP3 to an extract from the Sibelius Violin Concerto is available here:

St. Mary's Church on the Market Square (Rynek) in Krakow, Poland. Polish American Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz died in Krakow in August 2004 [not January 2004].

Inside this church is one of the German Renaissance Sculptor Veit Stoss's greatest masterpieces, the High Altar of Saint Mary 1477-1489.

Please see Emil Kren and Daniel Marx's Hungary based Euro-Web Gallery:


"The largest altar made at the end of the Gothic period (the principal figures measure 2,7 m, the whole structure 11,9 m high) is the masterpiece of Veit Stoss. Combining a primitive violence of emotion with technical mastery over the handling of forms, Stoss created an individual style that found imitations in Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and Transylvania.

The central section dominates the altarpiece. Its figures, far larger than life-size and arranged as if on stage, witness the death of the Virgin and her Assumption into heaven. Never before in a Late Gothic carved altarpiece had this subject been treated in so monumental a manner. Moreover, the treatment of the subject is unusual. Instead of being assembled at the deathbed, the Apostles stand, deeply moved, around the youthful Virgin as she kneels in prayer. Above them the gate of Heaven stands open with light pouring forth and the Virgin is led through by Christ. Above is the Coronation of the Virgin, where she is attended by two angels and the Polish national saints, Adalbert and Stanislaus. On the predella is a depiction of the Tree of Jesse. The outer wings, which are not movable, are decorated only on the inner sides. When the inner wings are closed a series of 12 reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin and life of Christ are visible. When the wings are open, the left-hand one shows the Annunciation with, below it, the Birth of Christ and the Adoration of the magi while on the right, the reliefs show the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost." ...

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Kren and Daniel Marx.

Photo credit: www.umich.edu/~iinet/ crees/
outreach/Krakow.htm With thanks.

Kirov Opera Brings Prussian Amber Chamber And Eastern European Iconostatis Memories To The John F. Kennedy For The Performing Arts

I was happy to have had the opportunity to attend all three of this past week's featured works, under conductor Valery Gergiev, of the Kirov (Mariinsky Theater) Opera and Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts -- Wagner's Parsifal, Verdi's Requiem, and Puccini's Turandot. I thought that the orchestral playing, under Mr Gergiev, was at a higher level than I recalled from some past year performances, and I found the operatic staging -- under guest directors from Britain and France -- quite successful and exciting.

Some of the singing was a little less than outstanding, while the absolutely awful synthesizer used for the sacred bell effects in Parsifal discouraged me (along with the cold and windy weather) from attending Parsifal a second time, yesterday, to hear a more mature and experienced tenor sing the title role.

I found the Verdi Requiem very exciting and was tremendously impressed by the young Belarussian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, who sang instead of the originally announced super-star Olga Borodino, who was starring in the Metropolitan Opera's matinee production, the next day, of Samson and Delilah.

The diction in both the Wagner and Puccini operas -- and the Latin Requiem -- I thought was fine. I found the stage direction in the Wagner quite strong, and the Puccini even stronger -- especially in Liu's self-sacrifice. I still did not find the final Turandot love duet -- completed by Alfano -- organic with the rest of the act. This was sad, especially since the concluding set -- a Chinese pavilion against a misted mountain range -- was by far the best in the otherwise unmemorable production.

And in no way did this final love duet approach the power of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde love duet, which one reference cites as what Puccini was aspiring to. Further, the brief program note, otherwise fine, describes Calaf's kiss of Turandot as a "rape". Is this the current American musicological thought on this? [In the Wagner second act, we have Parsifal facing, and being kissed by, a mother-figure/temptress; in Turandot we have male date rape, based on a passionate kiss, subsequently leading to triumphant love. So much for late 19th century operatic adult sexuality and love.]

Last, there was the memorable set, by Euvgeny Sykys, from 1997, for this Kirov/Mariinsky/Russian National Opera Petersburg Wagner Parsifal. It was certainly not homogenous in conception, and was in fact fussy and mannerist in several places. But I don't think that audience members will soon forget the opening lake-side or Spanish medieval Cathedral scenes, which exceeded in numinosity anything achieved in the Bayreuth traditional production, from 1981, captured by UNITEL Television; and which almost matched the sublime beauty of the MET Opera's older Parsifal production from the 1970s.

Whereas promotional materials have called this 1997, Russian - British co-production -- staged by Tony Palmer -- a "Russian Parsifal", with a featured image of a Slavonic Orthodox Pancreator projected or painted on the Cathedral scenes, this image did not in fact appear in the staging.

Instead, there were what I would describe as Prussian amber constructions for the walls of the Cathedral -- alluding to the gift of the Amber chamber from Prussia to Russia which was subsequently either destroyed or lost during the Nazi bombing of the suburbs of Leningrad (Petersburg) [and Konigsburg, East Prussia] during World War II (or the Great Patriot War to the Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians, and other Soviet nationalities) and which has recently been painstakenly restored -- and perhaps Belarussian (or Spanish, French, Austrian, or Russian) baroque sacred embroidery mixed with Belarussian iconostatis architecture. [The Belarussians were the master iconostatis carvers of 17th and 18th century Eastern Europe, and Moscow and Petersburg invited Belarussian master carvers to create the famous slendid iconostates of 17th and 18th centuries Moscow and Petersburg, just as it invited Italian and French architects to create the Kremlin fortified Palace and Cathedral Complex in Moscow and the new European planned city of Petersburg.]

The iconostatis of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress, on the Neva River, [St] Petersburg, Russia. The cathedral -- restored in 2003 -- now houses the remains of all the Romanovs.

Photo credit: Jennifer Bantz, www.apartment5d.com/places/russia/slides/slide183.html With thanks.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Placido Domingo Extends His Leadership Of Washington National Opera; Will Seek Support For More Commissions Of New Operatic World Premieres

"Placido Domingo is extending his contract as general director of the Washington National Opera through the 2010-11 season, matching his deal with the Los Angeles Opera that was announced earlier this week....

"I want to do more commissions and the very important second and third productions of new works -- giving them the life that will bring them into the standard repertoire," Domingo said in a statement after Thursday's announcement.

The 65-year-old tenor heads the two companies in addition to his singing and conducting engagements at various opera houses."

The Associated Press February 24, 2006 via www.wtopnews.com.


... "Washington National Opera recently announced its 2006-2007 season consisting of Nicholas Maw’s opera Sophie's Choice, the continuation of WNO's [Wagner] Ring cycle with a new production of Die Walküre, a new co-production of Janáček's Jenůfa, a new production of Verdi's Macbeth, a double-bill of Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle (a company premiere) and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment, and Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

This year, Washington National Opera, drawing on the talents at its Center for Education and Training, will launch an annual Family Opera, producing the East Coast premiere of Stephen Mager and Elkhanah Pulitzer’s Dream of the Pacific." ...

Press Release The Washington National Opera February 23, 2006.


Scene from Scott Wheeler's Washington National Opera commission "Democracy: An American Comedy". Based upon the success of this opera, Mr. Wheeler is now being considered for a Metropolitan Opera world premiere.

See Richard Dyer "Wheeler's next opera could be bound for the Met" The Boston Globe, February 24, 2996 via Boston.com

Photo credit: www.andante.com/article/ article.cfm?id=25104

The Los Angeles Philharmonic -- And Los Angeles -- Warms To Poly-Stylistic British Composer Thomas Ades

... "No, the British [composer Thomas] Adès is not the next Stravinsky, any more than he is the next Benjamin Britten. Nor is he the first composer to successfully find a style that acknowledges the still evident pull of earlier classical music (Stravinsky's late 12-tone pieces never caught on the way his earlier music did) and everything else that is out there these days.

But he has found a way to bring together a lot stylistically. His music is a celebration both of what classical music has been and of what it can be. It doesn't always smile. In fact, it can be troubled by a bittersweet, succulent melancholy and shot through with chilling, sharp attacks of anger. But when Adès does smile, the whole world seems to smile with him — or might, if more of the world paid attention to this marvelous music.

Last week, having performed chamber music by Beethoven and Schubert with Philharmonic players and then conducted the orchestra in the U.S. premieres of his effervescent new Violin Concerto and enchanted excerpts from his second opera, "The Tempest," Adès took to the piano again....

But Schoenberg might have gotten a chuckle out of the way the then 20-year-old Adès brightly warmed up his Chamber Symphony, Opus 2, with a jazz drum solo before heading into darker territory. After that piece, Adès began a decade of manic deconstruction, his music finding its own highly distinctive character by pulling apart music from many different styles and centuries, always surprising but always making sense.

Lately, Adès has evinced a neoclassical bent...

In the last two weeks, Adès has won an enthusiastic following in Los Angeles. The Philharmonic has asked him back next season. A long-range relationship appears to be developing."...

Mark Swed "Adès ends his L.A. stay with a range of moods" Los Angeles Times February 23, 2006 via LAtimes.com

Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles, California

Photo credit: cuboidal.org/photos/ 2004/02/losangeles/IMG_5210 With thanks.


Monterey and Santa Monica Designated as Preserve America Communities

February 18, 2005, Monterey, CA — Monterey and Santa Monica have been designated among the newest of the Nation's 220 Preserve America Communities, joining Fresno as the second and third communities to achieve this distinction in California.

Santa Monica Mayor Pam O'Connor and Monterey Mayor Dan Albert received certificates signed by Mrs. Laura Bush notifying them that their cities are now Preserve America Communities.

John L. Nau, III, chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), presented the certificates today during the ACHP winter business meeting.

"Preserve America communities demonstrate that they are committed to preserving America's heritage while ensuring a future filled with opportunities for learning and enjoyment," Mrs. Bush said." ...

Source: www.preserveamerica.gov/ news-PAcomm2-18-05.html

The Boston Symphony Orchestra Performs Huge Schoenberg Early Masterpiece And Receives Repeated Standing Ovations

"Many in the audience were on their feet, applauding, before intermission of last night's performance of Arnold Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" by James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and by the end of the concert the response was unanimous.

"Gurrelieder" is one of the composer's early masterpieces, composed mostly in 1901 and 1902, although Schoenberg didn't complete the orchestration for another decade. The work is a series of narrative songs that recount the old Danish legend of King Waldemar, his beloved Tove, and his jealous Queen who engineers Tove's death. The King mocks God and is condemned to ride nightly from dusk to dawn for eternity, but the King finds Tove again in the splendor of the natural world.

In the music, as the work progresses, you can hear the 19th century pass into the 20th, and Schoenberg evolve from the world of Brahms, Mahler, and Richard Strauss into the [modern] world that he both perceived and helped to create.

The work always stirs an audience but it is seldom performed because of its size, cost, and difficulty....

[Last night], the huge orchestra -- 8 flutes, 10 horns -- covered itself with glory throughout...

Levine has probably conducted more performances of "Gurrelieder" than anyone in the work's history; he helped the performers deliver every dimension of the piece -- its roots in tradition and its modernity; its peculiarities and its reassurances; its particularity and its universality."

Richard Dyer "Passion rules the night in BSO's 'Gurrelieder'" The Boston Globe February 24, 2006 via Boston.com news

"Lorraine Hunt Lieberson was magnificent in the tragic narrative of the Wood-Dove who sings of Tove's death."

Blue-headed Wood-Dove (Turtur brehmeri)

Photo credit: Brian Schmidt at www.geocities.com/brdemkr/gb34.html With thanks.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Restoration Completed On Latvia's Sole Surviving Pre-War Synagogue

"RIGA - In 1904, a small group of wealthy Jewish merchants fought a maze of rules to open a synagogue in Peitavas Street in Riga’s Old Town. It would be far from the Moscow District where they lived, but close to the shops and markets where they worked. In Czarist Russia, synagogues were prohibited from being built too close to churches, so they had to get permission from the pastor of a Reform Church with which it would share the block.

The German architect Wilhelm Neumann (who had also been responsible for the striking [Riga] Museum of Fine Arts), a follower of the Jugendstil school, had been contracted and a total of 150,000 rubles had been spent. Finally, in the days before Rosh Hoshannah, they had gotten everything ready when the local government decided to forbid the synagogue’s opening.

A meeting between the wealthy benefactors of the synagogue and a local governor followed. An article in a Yiddish newspaper from the 1930s recounts a key speech:

"Young people are being led astray by the revolutionary movement. And with each day, the movement’s influence is stronger and stronger. So in order to restrain young people from these ideas, we decided to build a beautiful synagogue."

The answer, perhaps goaded by fears of the incipient threat of 1905: “Go and pray.” ...

Forty years later, it was the only synagogue among hundreds in the country to survive World War II. An obscure Psalm was written atop the marble alter, "Blessed art you the good, for you did not allow teeth to tear me," to remember the 80,000 to 100,000 Latvian Jews who did not." ...

Paul Morton "Riga Synagogue sees new life ahead" February 22, 2006. www.BalticTimes.com

Riga, Latvia's 1905 German-architect designed Synagogue.

Photo credit: http://www.roots-saknes.lv/Ethnicities/Jews/Texts/Synagogue.jpg

World-Class Orchestras To Visit John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts And Celebrate Classical Musical Modernism

American orchestras and audiences are finally coming to terms with twentieth century musical modernism -- as the visits of three world-class orchestras to the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., this March and April shows. While some uninformed pundits still maintain that 21st century orchestras are museums mired in the 18th and 19th centuries, an examination of actual orchestral programming -- in the United States, Europe, and Asia -- shows that most orchestra programs now focus largely on classic works from the 20th century and new works from the 21st centuries, with usually only part or all the second half of programs reserved for the beloved warhorse classic European works of the 19th century.

The John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts, and presenting organization the Washington Performing Arts Society, appear no longer to be dictating to the great orchestras of America and the world what works they can program before the Nation's Capital's previously quite conservative classical music audiences. Here are the programs for the next three guest "Great Orchestras" to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:

March 11, 2006
Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine, music director
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano

R. Strauss Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
Peter Lieberson Neruda Songs
Elliott Carter Three Illusions for Orchestra
Beethoven Symphony #7

March 27, 2006
London Philharmonic
Kurt Masur, music director
Sergey Khachatryan, violin

Britten Simple Symphony
Khachaturian Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky Symphony #5

April 22, 2006
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, music director
Celena Shafer, soprano

Debussy Jeux
Berg Lulu Suite
Mahler Adagio from Symphony #10
Wagner Siegfried's Rhine Journey from Gotterdammerung


And the Kennedy Center's own, near world-class National Symphony Orchestra is also exhibiting some strong -- though also uneven -- programming in this, its 75th Anniversary Season. Three weeks ago the orchestra gave the world premiere of Roberto Sierra's beautiful Missa Latina: Missa Pro Pax (Mass for Peace), and this weekend, starting tonight, the National Symphony will unveil another anniversary world premiere and another fairly well constructed program:

February 23 to 25, 2006
National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, D.C.)
Leonard Slatkin, music director
Midori, violin

Mozart Symphony No. 38 "Prague"
Schwantner Morning's Embrace (World Premiere)
Hindemith Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op. 50
Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Richard Freed's expert program notes to this concert are available here:



Washington area parents and students reading this should note that the Kennedy Center is offering special $10 student tickets to the Friday-only National Symphony Orchestra concert, subject to availability (which shouldn't really be a problem since the NSO always plays to empty seats -- especially in Winter). Please read the fine print on this Kennedy Center link closely:


Singapore's new Performing Arts Center, locally known as "the Durian".

Photo credit: http://www.andante.com/article/article.cfm?id=25249 With thanks.

Germany's Opera Houses Defy Economic Crisis

"When it comes to opera, the German landscape is like a voluptuous leading lady with a rich repertoire and the power to woo. But how, when the nation is feeling the pinch of austerity, can its opera houses stay alive?

For those brought up on the belief that opera is an elite form of entertainment accessible only to society grande dames and their aristocratic entourages, it might come as something of a surprise to learn that Germany is home to some 90 opera houses. And many are in eastern Germany, which is more frequently equated with economic crisis and unemployment than high-brow culture.

Indeed a trip around Germany's most eastern reaches reveals that parts of the country are as bleak and depressed as the economic pundits would have us believe. But by the same token, many towns and cities are also home to spectacular opera houses, which appear untouched by the tumultuous events of the past decades....

"The problems in towns like Chemnitz are no different to those in richer German towns, because at the end of the day, those who go to the opera are generally not those who are affected by poverty," [Bernhard] Helmich said, adding that pricing scales in most opera houses cater to all purses. "What is a problem for us is the fact that towns are getting smaller." ...

And although there is evidence to suggest that the number of people taking advantage of the local and national palette of performances has fallen over the past 15 years, some 8 million viewers turned out to watch operas, operettas, musicals and ballets in Germany last season. [Rolf] Bolwin says there is no escaping the fact that "music theater plays a big role for Germans."

The tradition, which grew up in the 17th century in the small princedoms of Germany, has partly been so successful at surviving because it has played a role in the social discourse of the German nation. Helmich says it is astonishing that there are still so many people who remain true to opera. "The fact that closure plans always meet with such hefty protests proves that Germans respect educational and historical theater." ...

Bolwin is determined to see the tradition of that communication live on to fight the next generations of electronica.

"Changes will continue, but we must aim to mobilize all our energies to keep one of the greatest opera landscapes of the world alive." ...

Tamsin Walker "Germany's Opera Houses Defy Economic Crisis" Deutsche Welt February 23, 2006. www.DW-World.de

Dresden's famous opera house -- home to many world premieres of operatic masterpieces by Weber, Wagner, and R. Strauss -- was destroyed during World War II, but beautifully restored by the East German Communist authorities during the 1970s and 1980s, prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Photo credit: www.images.encarta.msn.com

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Joshua Bell And Patricia Kopatchinskaja Bringing 20th and 21st Century Violin Music Into The Mainstream

... "[Joshua] Bell owns that big, classic virtuoso sound, but [pianist Jeremy] Denk complemented the violinist's operatic fluency with his own fiery display....

Another highlight of the afternoon was Prokofiev's "Five Melodies," the title simply and accurately reflecting these pearls of bittersweet lyricism. The pieces are a product of the composer's cosmopolitan 1920s, with a delicacy that makes them sound more French than Russian. They also suit Bell to the bone, with his pure-toned cantabile giving voice to the "Melodies" like the songs they were originally....

For all the duo's high-caliber musicianship, the day wasn't without its disappointments. In recent interviews, Bell promised that he would be playing a new Edgar Meyer sonata (with Meyer a mentor in Bell's brave excursions into neo-bluegrass). Apparently, the piece wasn't finished in time for the violinist's tour.

It's too bad that Bell didn't offer another 21st-century work; although hardly a fearless exponent for new music, he justly won a Grammy for his recording of Nicholas Maw's 1990s Violin Concerto and helped make John Corigliano's Academy Award-winning "Red Violin" soundtrack an international hit. Surely, there are more contemporary compositional voices that would fit him. (Say, John Harbison or Mark-Anthony Turnage?)....

... If his repertoire is mostly old-school, the violinist's informality and engagement with his audience reflect a current sensibility. He eschewed the usual monkey suit for a loose-fitting black shirt."...

Bradley Bambarger "Not Pop, But Clearly Quite Popular" The Star-Ledger of New Jersey February 20, 2006.



For a burning commitment by a young violinist to 20th and 21st century violin music, see Bob Shingleton's article today in "On An Overgrown Path" on the young Moldovan violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja. (There are also three large MP3s there for listening):


And on Ms Kopatchinskaja's own Web-site, there are several additional audio samples by contemporary composers including John Cage, Takuya Imahori, Gija Kantsceli, Thomas Larcher, Kumiko Omura, Alan Ridout, and Otto Zykan. Additionally, she has recorded on CD contemporary violin works by Johanna Doderer, Nikolai Korndorf, Dmitri Smirnov, and Boris Yoffe.


Young Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has a burning commitment to the violin music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Photo credit: Patricia Kopatchinskaja via www.patkop.ch

Hong Kong Government Retreats From Plans To Build One Of The World's Largest Cultural Centers

"The Hong Kong government retreated on Tuesday from plans to build one of the world's largest cultural centers after real estate developers refused to participate, complaining that the financial terms had become too onerous.

The decision is a setback for several major museums. The Georges Pompidou Center in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art in New York had been vying for the right to run museums at the cultural center, which was to be several times the size of Lincoln Center.

The Pompidou Center had persuaded President Jacques Chirac of France to visit here in October 2004 to make its case, while Thomas Krens, the director of the Guggenheim Foundation, had publicly described the initiative as "the most exciting opportunity in the world because of the scale and the location." ...

Nearly two years ago, the government put forward a plan calling for a single developer to build four large museums and several indoor and outdoor "performance venues" for everything from pop concerts to operas, in exchange for being allowed to erect commercial and residential buildings elsewhere on the government-owned peninsula." ...

Keith Bradsher "Hong Kong Halts Plans for Arts Center" New York Times February 22, 2006 via nytimes.com

Computer image of canopy of a new Hong Kong Museum and Performing Arts Center now on hold.

Image credit: Foster & Partners (Architects) via nytimes.com

James Levine To Lead The Boston Symphony Orchestra And Stellar Soloists and Chorus In Schoenberg's Monumental Masterpiece "Gurrelieder"

Tomorrow through Saturday, February 23 to 25, James Levine will conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus (John Oliver, conductor), and an absolutely stellar line-up of soloists, in a rare performance of Arnold Schoenberg's early monumental masterpiece Gurrelieder -- one of the major orchestral-choral statements of the 20th century. The Gurrelieder -- which requires a huge and expensive orchestra and group of singers (up to 400 musicians) and which stands virtually as a bridge between the late Romantic and the modern eras of Western music -- has only been performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall Boston once before, in March 1979.

This mammoth work harkens back to the sound-worlds of Wagner and Mahler, and sets texts by the Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen -- whose work merged romanticism with traces of proto-expressionism.

The performance will feature the world-class vocal soloists Karita Mattila as Tove, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson as the Wood Dove, Johan Botha as Waldemar, Paul Groves as Klaus Narr [the Fool], Albert Dohmen as the Peasant, and Waldemar Kmentt as the Narrator.

For further information and for an MP3 Audio sample, see:


Also, please see the Boston Symphony Orchestra's innovative "On-Line Conservatory":



Self-Portrait by Arnold Schoenberg painted at about the same time (1900-01) that he composed the music to his monumental orchestral-choral Gurrelieder -- based upon expressionist-tinged Danish Romantic poetry. Schoenberg lived from 1874 to 1951, and spent the final part of his life in Los Angeles, California where he (and Igor Stravinsky) helped first put that city on the world classical music map.

Image credit: Arnold Schoenberg Center, Austria, Vienna

The Three General Directors -- Peter Gelb, David Gockley, And Placido Domingo!!

"Placido Domingo will sign on for an additional five years as general director of both the Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles [National] Opera through the 2010-11 seasons, it was learned yesterday. His contracts with both troupes had been scheduled to expire this year....

The Los Angeles [National] Opera held a news conference about the agreement yesterday morning. Sources close to the negotiations in Washington affirmed that Domingo was staying on with the WNO, but that no decision would be announced until later this week....

The definition of a general director varies from company to company, but the title commonly denotes a person who handles both artistic decisions and administrative affairs at the highest level. Therefore, Domingo -- who is now 65 and continues to sing in some of the world's greatest opera houses and has increasingly added conducting to his busy schedule -- is the ultimate decision-maker for these two medium-size but wealthy and ambitious American companies." ...

Time Page "Domingo Re-Ups With Washington, L.A. Operas" Washington Post February 22, 2006 via washingtonpost.com


I strongly commend Placido Domingo and the Washington and Los Angeles National Operas for their publically affirmed commitments -- by these medium-size but wealthy and ambitous American companies -- to producing one American opera each and every season. And I will look foward to Mssrs Gelb and Gockley of the Metropolitan and San Francisco National Operas making similar public commitments to producing one American opera each and every season. [I believe that neither the San Francisco Opera nor the Chicago Lyric Opera will stage an American opera next season. The New Metropolitan Opera will be staging the world premiere of Tan Dun's "The First Emperor" next December. In the Fall of 2007, the San Francisco Opera will be staging the world premiere of Philip Glass's "Appomattox" American civil war opera.]

Leading World Tenor and American Operatic General Director Placido Domingo (left) as Il Guarany, with Metropolitan Opera and Washington National Opera Star Basso Cantante Hao Jiang Tian as Don Antonio, in the Washington National Opera production of A. Carlos Gomes's Il Guarany.

"Since his Metropolitan Opera debut during the 1991/92 season, Hao Jiang Tian has earned widespread recognition as one of today's most talented basso cantantes in the world. He has appeared at the Metropolitan every subsequent season in over 26 roles including five new productions with stars such as Pavarotti, Domingo, Kanawa, Milnes and [which] were telecast worldwide."

Photo credit: ©1999 - 2004 TianHaoJiang.com http://www.tianhaojiang.com/photoalbum.htm With thanks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Moscow Director Kirill Serebrennikov Debuts At Kirov Opera/Mariinsky Theater/Russian National Opera-Petersburg In Verdi's Falstaff

"Director Kirill Serebrennikov’s opera debut at the Mariinsky Theater [the Kirov Opera, in Petersburg, Russia] takes on Verdi’s ribald comedy and sides with its eponymous hero.

Showing sympathy for the eponymous rascal of "Falstaff," first-time opera director Kirill Serebrennikov, the enfant terrible of Moscow’s theater scene, has turned Shakepeare’s merry wives into a gang of stylish and heartless battle-axes.

Serebrennikov’s engaging production of Guiseppe Verdi’s last opera, based on “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Henry IV,” premiered at the Mariinsky Theater [Kirov Opera] last Wednesday....

Serebrennikov’s production balances on the verge of misogyny: Alice, Meg and Mistress Quickly, like empty-headed dolls, pull their lips and meticulously plan vicious revenge as they get their nails and hair done in a beauty salon.

The director contrasts Falstaff’s emotional spontaneity with the womens’ mean, cold-blooded callousness. Their vendetta appears shallow, and the audiences are likely to sympathize with Falstaff....

The main challenge of this opera is its ensemble pieces. The cast navigated safely through the pitfalls, and the orchestra, under the baton of Mariinsky Theater [Kirov Opera] artistic director Valery Gergiev, barnstormed confidently through the score.

The finale, choreographed by ballet master Alla Sigalova, was disappointing. Fashioned to resemble an S&M fetish party, complete with whips, lashes, leather corsets and masks, it lacked a consistent concept." ...

Galina Stolyarova "A very merry Falstaff" The St. Petersburg Times February 22, 2006. www.times.spb.ru

A more traditional Falstaff sans de rigeur, operatic S&M fetish party.

Image credit: www.peopleplayuk.org.uk

How John Adams Became A Defining Voice Of American Contemporary Music

..."[John] Adams - more than Reilly, Glass or Reich - has become the defining voice of American contemporary music. By embracing minimalism in the 1970s he was making a declaration of independence - against the central European avant-garde techniques of Schoenberg and his [student in Los Angeles] John Cage, which troubled him.

"The options were grim," he says. "I felt the 1960s and 1970s were a time of enormous orthodoxy. Contemporary classical music had become marginalised and did not have any cultural importance any more. It was a tiny, tiny sliver of the cultural spectrum. The moment I experienced minimalism, something thrilled me. It had all the essential elements of music, without the alienation."

Could it only have happened in America? "We've been much more open to influences outside the classical canon. I was a child of the generation of rock and jazz. As a teenager and young composer, the influences around me ranged from Ellington and Coltrane to Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix." Generally, he argues, American composers have tried to say something simply and directly. "A lot of our great writers - Hemingway, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson - were psychologically very acute, but their rhetoric always remained simple."

In his stage works, either the "terrorist" opera The Death of Klinghoffer, or Doctor Atomic - based on the story of J Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb - he has never shied from controversial political and moral debate. He claims there's nothing outwardly political or moralising about On the Transmigration of Souls, though. Its strength lies in a musical expression that is deeply individual, dynamic, potent and, most of all, relevant to the world he lives in. The critic Paul Griffiths recently wrote of Adams' music: "The lessons of modernism are intriguingly refracted, and made to combine with those of the Romantic past and commercial present."" ...

Kenneth Walton "Soothing the pain of terror with a personal memorial" The Scotsman February 20, 2006. news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=260662006

September 11, 2001 Memorial Light Show on September 11, 2005.

Photo credit: Brent Burket via www.creativetime.org With thanks.

Christoph von Dohnanyi And The Los Angeles Philharmonic Perform Sir Harrison Birtwistle's "Night's Black Bird" With Shades Of Black

... "Many in Britain hail Birtwistle as England's greatest living composer, but he has always been a hard sell in America. Every now and then, our orchestras — Cleveland more than most — attempt one of his dark, bulging scores. His impressive operas, however, are entirely ignored here. You'd think someone on this side of the pond would be tempted at least by "The Second Mrs. Kong," in which King Kong pursues Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring. What could be more Hollywood than that?

Birtwistle may scare Americans with his ineffably spooky harmony or with the way history — music, art, literature — weighs heavily upon him. John Dowland's gloomy Renaissance lute piece "In Darkness Let Me Dwell" inspired "Night's Black Bird," which was written for the Cleveland Orchestra in 2004....

Living in a different climate might help draw a listener into this music, but Birtwistle does have a remarkable ability to paint shades of black with an orchestra. He's got his distinctive sound. It's a heavy one. But he also has a unique talent for levitating his thick string chords, his grumpy or growling brass and his angrily chirping winds in the night air.

The web of melodic material in "Night's Black Bird" never quite comes into focus. Something is stirring, but you don't know what it is, which is what makes Birtwistle so fascinating — and so frightening." ...

Mark Swed "Commingling of worlds old and new" L.A.Times February 18, 2006 via latimes.com

Black Swan [Cygnus atratus]

Photo credit: www.cogsci.indiana.edu/.../ bio/zoo/swanblac.htm With thanks.

Sholokhov's "And Quiet Flows The Don" (Tikhiy Don) Reissued On DVD By The Russian Cinema Council

The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965 was awarded to Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov "for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don [River], he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people".

"Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov (1905-1984) was born in the land of the Cossacks, now known as the Kamenskaya region of the R.S.F.S.R. He attended several high schools until 1918. During the civil war he fought on the side of the revolutionaries, and in 1922 he moved to Moscow to become a journalist. There he published a number of short stories in newspapers. He made his literary debut in 1926 with a volume of stories, Donskie rasskazy (Tales from the Don), 1926, about the Cossacks of his native region, to which he had returned two years earlier.

In the same year, 1926, Sholokhov began writing Tikhi Don (And Quiet Flows the Don), 1928-1940, which matured slowly and took him fourteen years to complete. Reminiscent of Tolstoy in its vividly realistic scenes, its stark character descriptions and, above all, its vast panorama of the revolutionary period, Sholokhov's epic became the most read work of Soviet fiction. Deeply interested in human destinies which are played against the background of the transformations and troubles in Russia, he unites in his work the artistic heritage of Tolstoy and Gogol with a new vision introduced into Russian literature by Maxim Gorky." ... [1965]

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Source: http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1965/index.html

Mikhael Sholokov died on February 21, 1984.


"And Quiet Flows The Don" (Tikhiy Don)

"A screen adaptation of the novel of the same name by Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov, a Nobel Prize winner. The film depicts the destinies of the Don Cossacks during the First World War and the Civil War in Russia. Cossack Grigory Melekhov lives in a village of Veshenskaya. He is in love with Aksynia, but on his father’s insistence, has to marry another girl. Finding out about his love affair with Aksynia, his young wife leaves home. Shortly before the war, Grigory and his beloved also leave the farm. While on the Austrian front, Grigory learns of the Czar’s abdication and of the end of the war. He is on his way home where Aksynia must be waiting for him."

Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, 1958

Gorky Film Studio

Year of Release:

historical drama

Sergei Gerasimov

Music by:
Yuri Levitin

Duration: 330 minutes for film alone (5 and 1/2 hours -- or about the same as an evening at Wagner's "Parsifal")

[Most popular classic Russian film, in January 2006, based upon Internet sales by the Russian Cinema Council. See source below. (Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublyov is #5.)]



Please also consider the following three Soviet operas of the 1930s and 1940: Dzerzhinsky's "And Quiet Flows the Don", Shostakovich's "Lady MacBeth of Mtensk", and Prokofiev's "Semyon Kotko". [Stalin approved of the first, but not the second.]

The Great American bass Paul Robeson's renditions of songs from Dzerzhinsky's "And Quiet Flows the Don" ["From Border To Border" and "Oh, How Proud Our Quiet Don"] were reported to be highly popular with Russian and Ukrainian soldiers as they prepared to fight the Nazi invaders, after 1941.

Also see Richard Taruskin "A Martyred Opera [by Shostakovich] Reflects Its Abominable Time" New York Times, November 6, 1994:


DVD Cover to classic 1957 film version of Nobel laureate Sholokhov's "And Quiet Flows The Don" (Tikhiy Don); as released by the Russian Cinema Council in 2005.

Image Credit: Russian Cinema Council


RUSCICO (RUSSIAN CINEMA COUNCIL) is a commercial association of Russian and foreign companies, created for the purpose of realizing a complex program of restoring, remastering, replication and world distribution of a collection of the best Soviet and Russian feature, documentary and animated films, as well as of film versions of the best ballet, opera and theatre productions, in a DVD format.

RUSCICO's products are distinguished by a whole set of advantages. For each of the collection's films, a copyrighted DVD version has been created which includes an interactive menu (100-150 pages) in three languages (Russian, English, French), with elements of graphic design and animation, and recorded in a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound format.

New Opera Based Upon "Angels In America" To Receive North American Premiere In Boston in June

"The centerpiece of [Boston's] Opera Unlimited's 2006 festival will be the first North American performances of [Hungarian composer] Peter Eotvos's ''Angels in America," an opera based on the award-winning play by Tony Kushner. The opera was premiered at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris in 2004, and there was a subsequent production in Hamburg. There will be four performances in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts June 16-20.

Gil Rose conducts and Steven Maler, artistic director of Commonwealth Shakespeare and vice president for artistic programming at the Wang Center, will direct. Casting is not yet complete, but baritone Tom Meglioranza will appear as Prior Walter and soprano Anne Harley will sing Harper Pitt. Both are veterans of Opera Boston's production of John Adams's [and librettist Alice Goodman's] "Nixon in China."

Opera Unlimited is a festival of chamber opera collaboratively produced by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Opera Boston. The first festival was in 2003 and brought the local premiere of Thomas Ades's "Powder Her Face" and the first performances of operas by Elena Ruehr and Daniel Pinkham."...

Richard Dyer "Opera Unlimited to premiere 'Angels' in North America" The Boston Globe February 17, 2006 via Boston.com

Left-Sided Angel by Leading American Sculptor Stephen DeStaebler of Berkeley, California.

Don't expect to find his work on the fifth floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art [though he is represented in the superb collection of The Oakland Museum in Oakland, California]; or -- yet -- in the Contemporary Art collection of the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.

Photo credit: www.museums.iastate.edu/ AOCEducation2.htm

Also see http://www.franklinparrasch.com/artists/destaeblers/index.htm

'Facets Of Cubism': When Cubism Fractured Art's Delicate World

... "And there was more. By taking its models from "primitive" cultures, Cubism redefined beauty for the West. By redefining beauty, it redefined what qualified as art: not only African sculptures, but also a universe of Western crafts and folk forms, collage among them. And in prying open the closed-off realm of art, Cubism helped to scramble cultural values: good, bad; high, low; worthy, unworthy; quality, genius, the lot.

Cubism's audacity and terribleness are easy to forget now that the movement, almost a century old, has entered the protective custody of history. So it's nice to have "Facets of Cubism" remind us of it....

The sources of Cubism, Modernism's most influential style, are duly noted with a Cézanne self-portrait set next to three non-Western sculptures, two African, one Oceanic. Surrounding them are Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, each with significant work." ...

"Facets of Cubism" remains on view through April 16 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Holland Cotter "When Cubism Fractured Art's Delicate World" New York Times, December 30, 2005 via nytimes.com

Pablo Picasso Three Musicians 1921 Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

Image Credit: © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris; courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York City via www.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/visualarts/Image-Library/Picasso/picasso_three_musicians_moma-1921.jpg With thanks.

Monday, February 20, 2006

"The Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey" (Painted 1556-1562)

"All depictions of Muhammad -- or so we hear daily -- are now and always have been forbidden in Islam. Art's history disputes this. True, that strict taboo today is honored by almost all Muslims, but old paintings of the prophet -- finely brushed, expensive ones, made carefully and piously by Muslims and for them -- are well known to most curators of Islamic art.

There are numerous examples in public institutions in Istanbul, Vienna, Edinburgh, London, Dublin, Los Angeles and New York.

Four are here in Washington in the Smithsonian Institution on the Mall. Three are in the Freer Gallery of Art. The fourth is next door in the Freer's sister museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

These portrayals of Muhammad are not big or new or common. Most were made for the elite, and most were bound in books...

What their paintings show is this: Once upon a time -- in the era of the caliphs and the sultans and the shahs, when the faithful felt triumphant, and courtly learning blossomed -- the prophet did appear in great, Islamic art.

Old portrayals of Muhammad come from Sunni lands and Shia ones, from the Turkey of the Ottomans, the India of the Mughals, from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. The oldest that survive were painted circa 1300. The newest were produced about 200 years ago.

Three such pictures, from Turkey, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York....

The paintings of the prophet were not made for walls. They stayed in costly bindings. Sunlight hasn't dimmed them....

The robe the prophet wears usually is green, his turban clean and white. Often, out of piety, his youthful face is veiled. When it isn't, we are shown that his brow is clear, his manner calm, his dark beard neatly trimmed... In many of these pictures, his halo is aflame.

"The Prophet Muhammad's Night Journey" (1556-1562), a Persian painting touched with gold, has been for 60 years among the prized possessions of the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art....

Three other paintings of Muhammad are owned by the museum. "Ascension of the Prophet" is an Indian image circa 1800. "The Prophet Enthroned and the Four Orthodox Caliphs" is 14th-century Iranian. "Ascent of the Prophet to Heaven," also Iranian, is from the 1550s.

For reasons that include "cultural sensitivity," and today's bloody news, none of these old paintings is currently on view.

"In the Holy Quran of Islam," political scientist As'ad AbuKhalil, a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says, "the one sin unforgivable is that of polytheism. The prohibition is intended to protect the faithful from that sin. The fear was that intense reverence for the prophet, might if unrestrained, cross over into worship." ...

Paul Richard "Medieval images of prophet Muhammad exist" Washington Post February 18, 2006.

Prophet Muhammad returns from his Night Journey and Ascension, painted 1556-1562

Muhammad was born in Mecca and sent first to the Arabs to revive the religion of Abraham. Early in his mission he is taken on a special Night Journey to the ends of the Earth, and to visit locations of former prophetic activity such as Mount Sinai, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, the Prophet Muhammad ascends into the seven heavens where he meets the prophets who came before him, and eventually comes into the presence of God.

Photo credit: www.usna.edu/Users/humss/bwheeler/prophets
/prophets_index.html With thanks.

Einojuhani Rautavaara's Rasputin Is What The Kirov Opera/Russian National Opera Should Be Bringing To The Metropolitan And Kennedy Center Opera Houses

On Saturday evening, I finally got around to viewing, on Ondine DVD, Einojuhani Rautavaara's recent [2003], musically accessible while thematically complex, three-act opera "Rasputin" for the Finnish National Opera, which is in Finnish and which stars the superb singing bass Matti Salminen (among other superb singing actors and actresses) as the complex Siberian Priest, Folk Healer, and Satyr, who rises to the pinnacle of power in the Petersburg Court of Nicholas II and who foresees the downfall of the Romanov Russian Imperial Dynasty (1613–1917); all the while attempting to "heal" the Czar and Czarina's son of hemophilia and the richest Count in Petersburg of homosexuality.

I thought the opera was a 21st century masterpiece, and one which should soon be seen in the opera houses of New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

And I am sorry that the Kirov Opera/Russian National Opera - Petersburg hasn't yet had time to incorporate this masterpiece into its repertoire so that it can tour the work to America. (I think that Rautavaara's Rasputin is certainly a greater work of music drama/opera than is Puccini's Turandot, which the Kirov Opera/RNOP opened yesterday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. If the Kirov Opera/RNOP can't incorporate this opera into its repertoire in the next six years, I think that the New Metropolitan Opera, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the two great opera houses of San Francisco and Los Angeles should invite the Finnish National Opera to tour this work; as well as some of the other superb contemporary operas composed by Finnish composers -- for the Finnish National Opera -- over the past generation.)

The great bass singer Matti Salminen as Grigory Rasputin celebrates a heterosexual orgy in Einojuhani Rautavaara's new complex portrait of the Siberian priest, folk healer, and sensualist who advised (manipulated) the Russian Romanov Imperial family until his and its downfall in 1916/1917.

Photo credit: www.andante.com With thanks.

Also please see:



Some may want also to see:

"Russian Museum to Exhibit Rasputin’s Penis" MosNews April 28, 2004.

"The first Russian museum of erotica is opening in St. Petersburg, Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reports. The museum is founded by Igor Knyazkin, the chief of the prostate research center of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

Knyazkin told the newspaper that museums of sex and erotica exist in many European countries and he wanted Russia to be a civilized country with a view on the future and with correct views on erotica.

There is one exhibit in the museum which makes Knyazkin be especially proud of. This is the 30-centimeter preserved penis of Grigory Rasputin. “Having this exhibit, we can stop envying America, where Napoleon Bonaparte’s penis is now kept. … Napoleon’s penis is but a small "pod" it cannot stand comparison to our organ of 30 centimeters…" the head of the museum said.

Rasputin, nicknamed “Mad Monk” by historians was born in 1869 in Siberia, arrived in St. Petersburg in 1911 and within a few years had become one of the most influential men in government circles. His rise to preeminence was due to his close relationship with Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra. The heir to the throne suffered from hemophaelia, and only Rasputin could stop the boy’s bleeding. Because of this, Alexandra believed he was a holy man sent to protect Alexis and she kept him close by at all times.

However, many historians point to the unusual cult that Rasputin practiced at the Emperors’ court — a strange mixture of Christianity and sexual practices. Many of the noble women were believed to be in sexual relations with Rasputin, possibly including the Empress." ...

Source: http://www.mosnews.com/news/2004/04/28/rasputin.shtml

The Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts Invites Students To Attend Wagner's Parsifal for $10 -- Tomorrow Only! ... And You Don't Have To Stand!

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is wondering whether there are any students in the Washington, D.C. area who are LOW ON FUNDS BUT HIGH ON CULTURE? It is offering special $10 tickets to the tomorrow night - only performance of the the Kirov Opera's [Russian National Opera - Petersburg's] performance of Wagner's great mystical/erotic, final masterpiece Parsifal.

The performance begins at 6:00 PM and ends at or about 11:30 PM (there are two intermissions). There will be English sub-titles of the singing, which will be in the original German. (Also, Kennedy Center performances are timed to allow its post-oil culture citizen-patrons time to take its Show Shuttle back to METRO before it closes for the night.)

Student's should hurry since these tickets are subject to availability and "Offers may be withdrawn at any time"; and tickets must be purchased in person with proper student credentialization required of everyone. Please read the following link very closely for full details:


With many thanks to Jens Laurson and Charles Downey at ionarts.org, who are doing their absolute bests to try to make classical musical culture audience-friendly in the Nation's Capital.


Now, for those students who prefer 21st century music to 19th century music, tomorrow evening the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., will also be hosting a free hour-long performance, at 6 PM, at its Millennium stage, by oustanding young Italian classical composer Ludovico Einaudi, who is a pianist, and who will be performing with Malian, Africa kora player Ballake Sissoko in new cutting edge classical music, traditional Mali music, blues, Renaissance harmonies, and Caribbean beats -- as heard on the CD Diario Mali.

(If I didn't already have a ticket to tomorrow's Parsifal, I'd be there at this promising, free, world-class event.)

Bjarni Thor Kristinsson as the Ancient King Titurel in the Baden-Baden production, under Kent Nagano, of Wagner's Parsifal (as will be seen in San Francisco, Chicago, and London, but not in Washington, D.C.).

Image credit: DVD screenshot © 2005 Opus Arte via
www.mvdaily.com/articles/ 2005/05/parsifal1.htm With thanks.

No Italian Futurist Killing Machine Turandot At The John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts

Yesterday, Sunday, the Kirov Opera/Mariinsky Opera - Saint Petersburg/Russian National Opera - Petersburg, under the visionary leadership of Valery Gergiev, opened its fourth of ten consecutive annual guest winter visits to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C. While previous visits have featured the great operas Khovanshchina, Eugene Onegin, MacBeth, Sadko (extract), Mazepa [the Kirov/Russian National Opera Petersburg, unlike the Metropolitan Opera/Metropolitan National Opera in New York City, respects the Ukrainian spelling of this historical figure's name], and last year's stunning new production of the original version of Boris Godunov -- this winter Maestro Gergiev's company is bringing to Washington fairly new, though fairly conservative, productions of Parsifal [1997] and Turandot [2002].

[The Metropolitan Opera House has hosted the best of this great company's stunning new productions -- the best in the world? -- including The Fiery Angel, War and Peace, Semyon Kotko [like Mazepa, a Ukrainian-themed opera by the Ukraine-born composer Sergei Prokoviev, who, interestingly pursued freedom of operatic creation in Russia, the United States, and the Soviet Union], and The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maid Fervronia. [I saw all of these except for The Fiery Angel.]

Interestingly, the Kirov/Russian National Opera - Petersburg, unveiled two new productions of Puccini's twentieth century masterpiece Turandot, in 2002 -- one with American funding (the one seen here in Washington, D.C. three times this week) and a more modern, experimental production, by David Pountney, which was co-produced with the Opera House of Baden-Baden, Germany, with German funding; and which included a recomposition of the ending by the great late twentieth century composer Luciano Berio.

The Kirov/Baden-Baden production is available on DVD, and can best be described as a production which envisions old Peking (Beijing), China, as a grand Italian futurist killing machine [the opera was completed in 1924 and premiered in 1926, at a time when futurism, constructivism, and the the DADA [YesYes] art movement was raging across the urban capitals of post World War I Europe. See the National Gallery of Art's new DADA exhibition, which opened yesterday, for further context.]

I recommend the Kirov/Baden-Baden DVD production (filmed in Salzburg, Austria) for those who like their opera in the 21st century hot and spicy (or who can't afford the Kirov/Russian National Opera - Petersburg, at the Kennedy Center. Please check your library for this DVD.) I'm going to wager than when the Kirov/Russian National Opera - Petersburg brings Turandot to the New Metropolitan Opera House, they will bring the 2002 hot and spicy version.


Also now available on DVD is the new Baden-Baden Opera House of Germany co-production of Parsifal, with stunning costumes and visual design; and conducted by leading American conductor Kent Nagano and featuring the highly distinguished American singer Thomas Hampson as Amfortas. This production will seen in San Francisco, Chicago, and London; as well as Baden-Baden. (The 1997 Parsifal which will be seen in Washington twice starting tomorrow, was originally mounted for Placido Domingo with British funding.)

The 2002 Kirov/Russian National Opera-Petersburg co-production with the Opera House of Baden-Baden, Germany, as seen at the Salzburg, Austria Festival.

This is the more radical of the two 2002 Kirov/RNOP productions of Puccini's Turandot -- the one truer to the context of the opera's creation in 1924. It will not be seen in Washington, D.C.

Photo credit: http://www.josefpolleross.com/Festspiele1.03.htm With thanks.

American Opera And The American Experience III

There appears to be a huge chasm between what Americans expect from their taxpayer supported public television system (PBS) and their taxpayer supported (direct and indirect) public performing arts centers, such as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Performing Arts Center, at Civic Center. Witness:

Tonight (February 20, Presidents Day) on WETA Public Television in the Nation's Capital, at 10:00 PM:


Episode 2 of 2. Retreat. The world's first large-scale experiment in interracial democracy failed as white resistance flared into violence and Northerners' commitment to Reconstruction waned. Repeats Sunday 2/26 at 2:30 PM.

Tomorrow (February 21) on WETA Public Television in the Nation's Capital, at 10:00 PM:


Episode 6 of 13. By 1941, disasters were unfolding around the Italian war effort and a new front was opening in North Africa; on June 22, Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union. [And by early December, the Japanese Empire has launched an attack on an outlying military facility of the United States Empire.]


And what were the last two (or two of the last) "Great Performances", or "Live from the Metropolitan Opera", American Opera performances broadcast on television in the United States over its taxpayer supported public television system -- PBS, WNET, KQED, WETA el al? None other than the two grand, mannerist, fin de siecle melodramas set in the 18th century and concerned with the erotic fantasies and political plight of French aristocrats: "The Ghosts of Versailles" by the Metropolitan Opera and "Dangerous Liaisons" by the San Francisco Opera.

And one wonders why American opera still isn't an integral part of American culture?

Text and Photo credit: www.indiana.edu/~iss/ newsletter/nlapr98opera.html With thanks.

Media Production and the Indiana University (IU) Opera Theater

"Media Production played an important role in the IU Opera Theater's February [1998]production of Dialogues of the Carmelites, providing videotape of silent film segments that played during the scene changes. The opera, inspired by an incident during the French Revolution, follows the fate of a group of Carmelite nuns who died by the guillotine for their beliefs during the Reign of Terror.

At the request of Lighting Director and Head of Technical Production Allen R. White, Director Mark R. Clark contacted Media Production's Susanne Schwibs to help locate film and oversee its incorporation into the performance. Dr. Clark wanted to contrast the interior scenes of the convent with film detailing exterior events that threatened the cloistered world.

Schwibs put Clark in touch with film stock libraries, where he was able to locate footage, dating from the 1910s, that depicted the French Revolution. Once the Opera Theater had acquired the film (transferred to video), Schwibs went about digitizing it and, along with Clark, editing it for the production. This involved a number of effects--dissolves, fade-outs, and slow motion. Next came the task of incorporating the footage into the opera production. The edited video footage was projected onto a scrim in front of the stage, framed by the slide projection artwork of Designer C. David Higgins.

A review of the performance in the national publication Opera News singles out the technical and artistic collaboration between the Musical Arts Center and Media Production."

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mr Cogito Is Mailed A Press Release Inviting Him To Purchase A Book On Modern Architecture

enduring innocence:
global architecture and its political masquerades
by keller easterling

"Where is the voice of architecture in the discourse of globalization? Pretty much missing... This is a world where logistics, spin, and management style count more than window placements or landscaping, and where time zones, labor costs, and pools of satellite microwaves may be much more important than location, lighting, or high concept design. This is a gap that has to be closed ... Easterling is not interested in the Bilbaos, Disneys, and Pradas of global development... In Enduring Innocence, Easterling tells the stories of outlaw "spatial products" -- resorts, information technology campuses, retail chains, golf courses, ports, and other hybrid spaces that exist outside normal constituencies and jurisdictions -- in difficult political situations around the world. These spaces -- familiar commercial formulas of retail, business, and trade --aspire to be worlds unto themselves, self-reflexive and innocent of politics. But as Easterling shows, in reality these enclaves can become political pawns and objects of contention. Jurisdictionally ambiguous, they are imbued with myths, desires, and symbolic capital. Their hilarious and dangerous masquerades often mix quite easily with the cunning of political platforms. Easterling argues that the study of such "real estate cocktails" provides vivid evidence of the market's weakness, resilience, or violence.

Enduring Innocence collects six stories of spatial products and their political predicaments: cruise ship tourism in North Korea; high-tech agricultural formations in Spain (which have reignited labor wars and piracy in the Mediterranean); hyperbolic forms of sovereignty in commercial and spiritual organizations shared by gurus and golf celebrities; automated global ports; microwave urbanism in South Asian IT enclaves; and a global industry of building demolition that suggests urban warfare. These regimes of nonnational sovereignty, writes Easterling, "move around the world like weather fronts"; she focuses not on their blending -- their global connectivity -- but on their segregation and the cultural collisions that ensue.

Enduring Innocence resists the dream of one globally legible world found in many architectural discourses on globalization. Instead, Easterling's consideration of these segregated worlds provides new tools for practitioners sensitive to the political composition of urban landscapes....

This is a special kind of storytelling, not from the literature of architecture, and not set in the abled financial centers of New York, London, Tokyo, or Paris.
Relying on blog wisdom [sic], web chatter, global newswires, and field work, each tale is a testbed for confronting a constellation of global issues."

Keller Easterling is Assistant Professor of Architecture at Yale University.

Source: MIT Press News Release and MITPress Web-site (adapted).

Combination passenger port facility and luxury hotel (now closed), Odesa (Odessa), Ukraine.

Photo credit: www.epinions.com With thanks.

National Gallery Of Art And Five Washington Area - Institutions Present "Mozart On The Mall" Concerts

Next two concerts:

Sunday, February 19, 2006, 6:30 p.m.

The renowned Kuijken Quartet — a pioneer in the historical performance practice movement— performs Mozart’s string Quartets K. 387, 421, and 458. This is the first of two concerts in which the quartet plays the complete cycle of "Haydn" quartets: the first concert is at the National Gallery of Art and the second is at the Library of Congress.

Admission to the National Gallery of Art and its concerts is always free. Additional information is available at (202) 842-6941 or


Tuesday, February 21, 2006, 8:00 p.m.

The Kuijken Quartet performs Mozart’s "Haydn" Quartets no. 4, K. 428; no. 5, K.464; and no. 6, K.465 at the Library of Congress.

This concert take place in the Coolidge Auditorium in the Jefferson Building. A special exhibition of Mozart’s autographed scores and selected first editions will be on view in the foyer of the Coolidge Auditorium for all three concerts. Admission is free, but tickets are required and available through Ticketmaster. Additional information is available at (202) 707-5502

Source: http://www.nga.gov/press/2006/mozart.htm (January 6, 2006 -- I was in Belarus when this release came out and I just now saw it.)


A very selected look ahead at some modern-day Mozarts:

April 2
Kronos Quartet, with Wu Man, pipa player
Music by Rahul Dev Burman, Michael Gordon, Terry Riley, Sigur Rós, and John Zorn
6:30 p.m.
East Building Auditorium, National Gallery of Art

April 29
Ute Lemper, vocalist
Cabaret concert, presented in honor of Dada
Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
East Building Auditorium, National Gallery of Art

Again, please see www.nga.gov/programs/music.shtm

Henri Matisse
Pianist and Checker Players, 1924
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Can you find Matisse's Red Violin?
(Click on image for enlargement)

"Through the 1920s, Matisse stayed in Nice from late fall to early spring of each year, while his wife and family remained in Issy-les-Moulineaux outside Paris. Pianist and Checker Players is set in Matisse's Nice apartment and shows the artist's favorite model, Henriette Darricarère, and her two brothers. The painting can be seen as a surrogate family portrait, with Henriette standing in for Matisse's daughter, and the two boys representing his sons. But regardless of the relationship between the artist and his subjects, this is distinctly Matisse's world: near the empty armchair at the center of the painting where the artist might sit, his violins hang from the armoire and his drawings and paintings are tacked to the wall.

The possible psychological complexities of the painting are more than matched by those of its pictorial organization. In few paintings does Matisse manage to control such an extraordinary proliferation of pattern and ornamentation. To this decorative profusion Matisse adds an equivalent abundance of perspectival viewpoints: piano, chairs, floor, and bureau are each pictured from different angles. Despite the wealth of pictorial elements, a curious, calm order of structured harmony prevails. Pianist and Checker Players is suffused with a warm glow made up of complementary tones of yellow and red."

Image and Text Copyright © 2006 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


National Gallery Of Art Monumental Renaissance Sculpture Exhibition To Close ... Dada Exhibition To Replace It

Monumental Sculpture from Renaissance Florence: Ghiberti, Nanni di Banco, and Verrocchio at Orsanmichele closing February 26, 2006 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

For Web-based resources, please see:


"Three monumental masterpieces of Italian Renaissance sculpture by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Nanni di Banco (c. 1380/1385-1421), and Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) will travel to the National Gallery of Art marking the completion of their restoration. It is the first time that major works by Ghiberti and Nanni di Banco have traveled to the United States. The works on view, Ghiberti's St. Matthew (1419-1421), Nanni di Banco's Quattro Santi Coronati (Four Martyred Saints) (c.1409-1416), and Verrocchio's Christ and St. Thomas (1466-1483), were originally created for the exterior of Orsanmichele in Florence, and they represent the highest achievement of 15th-century Florentine sculpture. During the Renaissance, Orsanmichele, one of the most important though less well-known Renaissance structures, functioned both as a church and a grain storage and market facility; the Florentine trade guilds chose it as the site for statues of their patron saints. Since 1984 the statues have been undergoing much-needed restoration; the building has been closed to the public since 2002. Once the statues return to Florence, Orsanmichele will again be open, making it highly improbable that its works should ever be allowed to travel again."


DADA: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, and Paris Exhibition opening February 19, 2006 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

For Web-based resources, please see:


"Dada, one of the crucially significant movements of the historical avant-garde, was born in the heart of Europe in the midst of World War I. In the wake of that brutal conflict, Dadaists raucously challenged tradition, and art-making was changed forever. The most comprehensive museum exhibition of Dada art ever mounted in the United States, Dada features painting, sculpture, photography, film, collage, and readymades emerging in six cities: Zurich, Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, New York, and Paris. The exhibition presents many of the most influential figures in the history of modernism, as well as others less known, including Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber, Hans Richter, Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp."

Image credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This Is The Dawning Of The Age Of ... Mud Slides, Melting Glaciers, And Rising Ocean Levels

"Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly Earth's oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.

The new data come from satellite imagery and give fresh urgency to worries about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data are mirrored by findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.

The scientists said they do not yet understand the precise mechanism causing glaciers to flow and melt more rapidly, but they said the changes in Greenland were unambiguous -- and accelerating ...

"We are witnessing enormous changes, and it will take some time before we understand how it happened, although it is clearly a result of warming around the glaciers," said Eric Rignot, a scientist at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Greenland study is the latest of several in recent months that have found evidence that rising temperatures are affecting not only Earth's ice sheets but also such things as plant and animal habitats, coral reefs' health, hurricane severity, droughts, and globe-girdling currents that drive regional climates." ...

Shankar Vedantam "Glacier Melt Could Signal Faster Rise in Ocean Levels" Washington Post February 17, 2006 A1 via Washingtonpost.com

Mudslides in Indonesia earlier this year.

Photo credit: (c) Reuters via www.theage.com.au (Austrialia) With thanks.

Pushkin and Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, The Metropolitan Opera, And The Humanities

Over the next four Saturdays, the Metropolitan Opera, in New York City, will be broadcasting live over radio its Saturday matinee performances, as it has for 75 years.

The next four Saturday matinee radio broadcast performances are Verdi's Aida, Saint-Saëns's Samson and Dalila, Gounod's Romeo and Juliette, and Verdi's La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny). [These operas will be sung in Italian or French, the original languages for these operas]. The music to all of these operas is generally well known to many classical music lovers, as are the stories to all, except for perhaps the second Verdi opera, which features beautiful music but a rather complex story-line.

However, next month, March 2006, something new will be taking place at the Metropolitan Opera, in New York City, and on the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts around the world. The New Metropolitan Opera will be staging for the very first time, ever, Tchaikovsky's great Russian language opera, Mazeppa. [The Russian National Opera of Petersburg has mounted this opera, as a guest company at the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., and I believe that the San Francisco Opera has staged it, too.]

Monday, March 6, will be the Metropolitan Opera first showing of this masterpiece, which Tchaikovsky based on a non-fiction story (based on actual history) by Russia's greatest and most beloved poet, Aleksander Pushkin (who, interestingly, was of mixed European and African ancestry, and who died at the age of 38 in a duel while defending his wife's honor).

A New Metropolitan Opera global radio broadcast, for the first time, of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa will be on Saturday, March 18, at 1:30 PM (North American East Coast Time).


Now, let's take a closer look at what the new humanists at the New Metropolitan Opera have prepared for anyone at all in the world with access to a computer (this includes regular MET Opera patrons living in Greenwich, Connecticut or Pacific Heights, San Francisco; or poor students, workers, or retirees living in the poorer parts of the Americas, the poorer parts of Europe, the poorer parts of Asia, or the poorer parts of the Former Soviet Union).

Perhaps you want to know who the characters are in this opera and who is singing them. You go to (and hope that the new humanists at the New Met will have included a language that you can read):


Perhaps you want to know the story. You go to:


Perhaps you are a teacher, or a parent, and you want teaching ideas. You go to:


Perhaps you want to learn more about the opera's background. You go to:


Here is a sample of what you'll find:

Mazeppa Background

Settling the Ukraine
Ivan Stephanovich Mazepa (c1640-1709)
Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa


Surrounded by Russia, Moldova, Hungary, Poland, and Romania, the rich, fertile land along the Dnieper River (today’s Ukraine) has tempted its neighbors for centuries. The area’s complex history is full of war and political intrigue—a tale of near-constant struggle between local rulers and the great powers surrounding their land. Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa is set against this turbulent backdrop. It tells the story of Cossack Hetman (ruler) Mazeppa, a vassal of the Tsar, who attempted to carve out an independent state by siding with Russia’s enemies—and lost everything in the gamble.

Settling the Ukraine

For a long time, the inhabitants of the Dnieper’s left (east) bank were ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. They were serfs, peasants tied to their land and owned by their Polish overlords. They also faced religious persecution—the staunch Roman Catholic Poles wouldn't stand for their serfs' Orthodox practices. Many peasants fled these conditions, abandoning their homes and escaping to an area below the Dnieper River. They realized that in order to stand a chance against the surrounding powers, they would need to organize and unify. They established an elite military order called the Zaporozhian Sich (meaning "clearing beyond the rapids"), and eventually earned fame for their skill as horsemen and warriors. Over time, they became known to the world as Cossacks, from the Turkic word for outlaw.

The Cossack Host (state) was semi-militarized, fully equipped with cannons, falconets, and firelocks. They were strong for their size—but not strong enough to defeat the Poles, Russians, and Turks, who dominated them militarily during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Cossacks constantly sought ways to secure their independence. In 1654, the Council of Pereslavl, which brought together all of the Cossack Hosts and their Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, decided to unite the lands on the left bank of the Dnieper River with Tsarist Russia. This freed left bank Cossacks from Polish serfdom, but left them vulnerable to Russian domination. Russia attempted to alienate the Ukrainian Cossacks from their ethnic roots, banning the Ukrainian language and suppressing the Ukrainian (Uniate) Church. Russians would eventually label the land below the Dnieper River "Little Russia."

Struggling to regain some independence from Russia, the left bank Cossacks signed the Treaty of Haydach with the kingdom of Poland-Lithuania in 1658. This treaty gave left bank inhabitants more independence under the crown of Poland-Lithuania. For the first time in its struggle, Ukraine was gaining power. But the determined Cossacks just couldn't get a break – the agreement was thrown out just a few years later, when long-warring Tsar Alexis and King John II of Poland-Lithuania made peace. Poland-Lithuania and Russia carved up the Ukraine between themselves. Russia gained control of left-bank Ukraine, including Kiev, and recognized Poland's control over the river’s right bank.

The Hetman Mazepa sought to free the Cossacks from Russian domination by joining Sweden in the Great Northern War against Russia (1700-1721). But the Swedes were decisively defeated by Tsar Peter the Great at the Battle of Poltava in June 1709, crushing all Cossack hopes of independence and severely limiting the autonomy of the "Little Russians."

Ivan Stephanovich Mazepa (c1640-1709)

Born into a noble family in the city of Bila Tserkva in the Dnieper Upland, Mazepa jumped from one position of power to the next. From his early days as page to the Royal Polish Court of Jan II Casimir Vasa, he rose to become General Osaul (head officer) of the Cossack army. He finally took his place as the Cossack Hetman of left bank Ukraine in 1687.

Mazepa felt the Russian Tsar was cheating the left bank Cossacks out of the power they were promised at the Council of Pereslavl. He dreamt of breaking away from Great Russia and forming his own, independent realm, where he alone was master. So Mazepa decided to betray Peter the Great and secretly plotted to join Polish King Stanislaus Leszczynski, and later Charles XII of Sweden, in the Great Northern War.

Because Mazepa and the Russian Tsar Peter the Great had been on good terms for a long time, the Tsar initially refused to believe reports that Mazepa was planning to betray him. The Tsar was shocked when, in 1708, Mazepa publicly joined Charles XII of Sweden in the fight against Russia.

Unfortunately for Mazepa, his bold move didn't make as much of a splash as he had hoped. Much to his surprise, not many of his people supported him; in fact only half of one battalion followed him into battle. Most Cossacks remained loyal to the Tsar. Peter the Great instigated a long and arduous string of battles; his forces stormed Mazepa's capital of Baturin and killed its six thousand inhabitants. Peter the Great finally defeated Charles XII and Mazepa in June 1709 at the Battle of Poltava. The victorious Russians hunted down and murdered all of Mazepa's supporters, redistributing their lands to Cossacks loyal to the Tsar. Charles, Mazepa, and three thousand followers fled to the Turkish-owned city of Bendery, where Mazepa died later that year. He was buried at Saint George's Monastery in Galati, a city in Southern Romania.

The majority of Western historians contend that Mazepa's actions were selfish; they argue that he was a greedy leader whose chief concern was extending his own wealth and influence. By swearing allegiance to the Swedes, Mazepa thought he could hold onto the reigns of power when the Russians were defeated. But siding with the Swedes didn't do much for Mazepa's reputation. When people realized that an alliance with Sweden would not bring Cossacks independence, only a Swedish monarch, Mazepa's once suspect reputation was permanently damaged. Today, however, some look to Mazepa as a proto- nationalist champion of Ukrainian independence.

Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa

Composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was an ardent Russian nationalist. He portrayed the character of Mazeppa as a ruthless, power-hungry tyrant who cared about no one but himself.

Mazeppa's libretto was based on Poltava, an epic poem by Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet. Pushkin based his story on historical events at Poltava, the battle where Tsar Peter the Great defeated Swedish King Charles XII. Pushkin took some creative license, jettisoning historical accuracy in order to create powerful characters and grand passions. For example, Kochubei (the wealthy Cossack whose daughter elopes with Mazeppa) may not have denounced Mazepa in order to punish him for stealing his daughter; Kochubei actually turned Mazepa in to the Tsar four years after Maria ran away with the Hetman.

Tchaikovsky first told his publisher about the idea of an opera based on Poltava in the summer of 1881, only four months after The Maid of Orleans was produced. Tchaikovsky soon became obsessed with Poltava's story of tragic love and political betrayal. He quickly produced four numbers, and sketched a duet based on material from his symphonic poem Romeo and Juliet (this music later became Mazeppa and Maria's great Act II duet). Librettist Burenin followed Pushkin's poem, incorporating large excerpts from Poltava into his libretto. But Tchaikovsky wasn't overly pleased with Burenin's work – he felt "no special enthusiasm for the characters," and went on to make some critical changes of his own. The libretto was revised over and over again, even after the opera's double premiere in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1884.

Tchaikovsky wanted to create a juicy tale that combined political betrayal with desperate love. Choosing to focus primarily on the love story at the heart of the opera, he added the character Andrei: a lovesick boy whose unrequited love for the beautiful Maria gives her tragic fate a special poignancy. Mazeppa shares many characteristics with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Not only were both operas based on works by Pushkin, they both center on a young woman whose powerful love draws her into a catastrophic downward spiral.

Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa filled opera houses when it opened in Moscow in 1884. This overlooked masterpiece will make its debut at The Metropolitan Opera this spring.

© Copyright 2006 The Metropolitan Opera Guild


I hope that my readers, if any, will try either to attend this great opera that the New Metropolitan Opera is staging next month [despite the not yet lowered ticket prices]; or that they will try to listen to the Saturday radio broadcast (afternoon on the East Coast of North America, but morning on the West Coast of North America).

The artists, administrators, humanists, and funders at the New Metropolitan Opera are doing all this because a Great Nation deserves Great Art.

George Tsypin's Set design to the Metropolitan Opera's premiere production of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa.

Photo credit: The Metropolitan Opera Guild.