Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And So Ends The Twentieth Century Of The Common Era

Peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind and plants and animals.

And in remembrance of all who have died recently, or who are passing now.


War and Famine ... Peace and Milk

-- Somali proverb


The national security challenges we face are just as grave – and just as urgent – as our economic crisis. We are fighting two wars. Old conflicts remain unresolved, and newly assertive powers have put strains on the international system. The spread of nuclear weapons raises the peril that the world's deadliest technology could fall into dangerous hands. Our dependence on foreign oil empowers authoritarian governments and endangers our planet.

The common thread linking these challenges is the fundamental reality that in the 21st entury, our destiny is shared with the world's. From our markets to our security, from our public health to our climate, we must act with the understanding that, now more than ever, we have a stake in what happens across the globe.

-- Barack Obama


[Pan Cogito is still exhausted after unexpectedly watching the MET production of Doctor Atomic on Monday evening on PBS, and after having watched contemporary productions, on video, of Der Freischütz, Lulu, and The Rake's Progress on Saturday and Sunday.]


Image credit: Via Economists for Peace and Security website. With thanks.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Contemporary American Civilization As Another Bubble Phenomenon?

[Click on image for enlargement.]

Image credit: (c) Tom Toles and Washington Post 2008. Copyright controlled. All rights reserved. With thanks.

Another Renaissance Research “Conservatory Project” Pop Quiz: Name The African American Operas Lost In The Reagan, Post-Modern Cultural Revolution?

Another Renaissance Research “Conservatory Project” Pop Quiz:

Name the first, second, and third operas by African Americans
broadcast on public television in the United States of America?
[Hint, this is a trick question, so don’t spend too much time looking for the non-existent second and third televised African American operas. However, there was one.]

Another hint:

Here is a selection from the synopsis --

"Set in a 19th-century Creole village in the Mississippi Delta, the opera focuses on the deadly revenge that the beautiful but vicious Clothilde enacts on Bazile, a handsome young man who does not return her expressions of love. When Clothilde discovers that Bazile has been in communication with Aurore, a spirit who identifies herself as Bazile's lover from a distant era, Clothilde threatens to have Bazile arrested for violating local religious customs. When Bazile continues to refuse to wed Clothilde, she arranges for a mob to have him lynched. In his death throes, however, Bazile's soul is united with Aurore; Clothilde lives out the remainder of her years as a bitter recluse."


Paging American television and culture executives Sharon Percy Rockefeller and Peter Gelb [and the eventual General Directors of the Washington National Opera and the New York City Opera]:

If the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts can broadcast the MET Opera's production of John Adams's and Peter Sellar's "Doctor Atomic", why can't Sharon Percy Rockefeller task someone on her PBS staff to look for this distinguished, almost lost African American opera in her television vaults, and herself contact the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Gordon and Ann Getty Foundation about funding the national broadcast revival?


With thanks to American conductor John McLaughlin Williams for the idea of this post and for not being asleep at the wheel the past 28 years.


Header photos: How many degrees of separation? Sharon Percy Rockefeller photo via the the well-managed National Gallery of Art (where she is a member of the Board of Trustees); John McLaughlin Williams photo (c) Copyright controlled. With thanks.

Third header photo: Who Am I? (Extra credit question)... Image copyright (c) National Gallery of Art. Copyright controlled.

Renaissance Research "Conservatory Project" Winter-Break "Opera In America" Essay Assignment -- [Due at Noon on January 20, 2009]

Public television audiences, in the United States, have been treated this holiday week 2008, to broadcasts of two American operas separated in time by approximately fifty years – West Side Story (1958) and Doctor Atomic (2006).

Assignment: Write an essay exploring the development of the American operatic art form over the half-century period from West Side Story to Doctor Atomic.

Still from film version of West Side Story (1961) and Trinity Site explosion, 0.016 seconds after explosion, July 16, 1945.

Photo credits: Courtesy of United Artists Corporation and With thanks.

A Possible Daily Thought -- Pan Cogito Belatedly Notes A Leading British Critic's Consideration Of A Leading British Sacred Composer

Jonathan Harvey - composer

'Harvey's music - ecstatic, inspired, filled now with contemplative rapture, then suddenly with exuberant, joyful dance, and always beautiful - has long stirred me. Among contemporary composers there is none except Stockhausen who can so regularly "with sweetness, through mine ear, dissolve me into extasies, and bring all Heav'n before mine eyes".'



Photo credit: (c) Bobbie Nystrom and 2008. Copyright controlled. With thanks.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Renaissance Research "Conservatory Project" Pop-Quiz (Dedicated To All The University Music Students Home Visiting The Nation's Capital For Holidays)

Name the film of Academy Award winning director Andrzej Wajda for which Grawemeyer Prize winning composer Krzysztof Penderecki composed the film score?


Image credit: (c) Andrzej Wajda 1982, 2008. Copyright controlled. All rights reserved. With thanks.

If Santa Had Had To Clean The Augean Stables

The success of Hercules Fifth Labor was ultimately discounted in the Greco-Roman wisdom literature because rushing waters had done the work of cleaning the stables and because Hercules was to have been paid one-tenth of Augeas’s huge flock of divine cattle, which were said to be immune from disease allowing them to live amongst filth.

Heracles killed Augeas after having completed the river re-engineering and cleansing task.

Photo credit: (c) BjornJorgensen and Innovation Norway. Copyright controlled. With thanks.


[Click on images for enlargements.]

"Hercules and the Hydra" and "Nude Warriors in Combat"; both by Antonio Pollaiuolo.

"Some of Pollaiolo's painting exhibits strong brutality, of which the characteristics can be studied in the Saint Sebastian, painted in 1473-1475 for the Pucci Chapel of the SS. Annunziata of Florence. However, in contrast, his female portraits exhibit a calmness and a meticulous attention to detail of fashion, as was the norm in late 15th century portraiture."

Image credits: Wikipedia Commons. With thanks.

Italian Makers of Prosecco Seek Recognition; American Makers of Libretto Seek Recognition

Prosecco tells its side of the story.

Photo credit: (c) David Yoder and New York Times. 2008. Copyright controlled. With thanks.

Moments In A Lifetime (The Musical Past And The Musical Future ... Some Music Already Heard At Least Once, Some Music Not Yet Heard Even Once)

Two musical memories of the past 16 months – Sir Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent’s opera "The Minotaur" and Jonathan Harvey’s "Towards a Pure Land" with guest conductor Ilan Volkov and the National Symphony Orchestra.

Two musical events anticipated after the Inauguration -- the world premiere of Gyorgy Kurtag’s "Hommage à Bartók", under the composer's direction, at the Library of Congress on Saturday February 7, 2009; and the Washington premiere of Georg Friedrich Haas’s "In Vain", at the Embassy of Austria, on Monday Feburary 9, 2009 (also under the composer's direction).



And a musical event anticipated before the Inauguration -- Ilan Volkov returns to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra in George Crumb's "The Haunted Landscape" on January 15-17, 2009. The uncredited NSO program note here:

"Instrumentation: Three flutes, one doubling on piccolo; three oboes, one doubling on English horn, three clarinets, one doubling on e-flat soprano; three bassoons, one doubling on contrabassoon; four horns; three trumpets; three trombones; one tuba; timpani; two harps; strings; amplified piano...

and percussion, percussion, and more percussion....

Four almglocken (cowbells of indeterminate pitch mounted on a rate)
Two Cambodian anklungs (two or three bamboo tubes of specific pitch, which resonate when shaken) ...

Four people, more than 50 instruments from too many cultures and sources to count, in about 18 minutes."


Photo credit: Scene from Andrzej Wajda's "Kanal". Copyright controlled. With thanks.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Life Is Good ... Life Is Elsewhere ... Goodness Will Triumph

[Click on images for enlargements.]


14th century C.E.
67 x 69. Egg tempera on lime wood.
From the Church of SS Joachim and Anna in the village of Stanylya, Lviv region. Lviv National Museum.

"Along with his image as holy warrior and martyr, in the 12th century there appeared an image of St. George the Dragon-Slayer that become widely popular in medieval art. St. George (or St. Yur, as he was often called in Ukraine) was a favorite folk hero. In folk consciousness he was the patron of farmers and cattle breeders, and beasts obeyed him.

The icon reproduced here is one of the earliest representations of this theme in Ukrainian painting. It is said to come from St. Yur's Church in Drohobych, one of the oldest wooden churches in the Ukraine. The icon is the embodiment of simplicity. Its composition has no minor details, everything being subordinated to the representation on combat in which St.Yur is the main hero and victor. The graceful and energetic rider in knightly attire strikes the dragon with his spear. His cannabarine cloak contrasts with the black horse treated conventionally and flatly which looks like a heraldic symbol. The combat of St. George with the dragon is interpreted as the triumph of Christianity over paganism, the triumph of justice over falsehood. The black color of the horse is rare though not unique for this subject, emphasizing the decorativeness of the icon and its dramatic nature."



15th century C.E.
91.5 x 77.5. Egg tempera on lime wood
From St. Demetrius' Church in the village of Krasiv, Lviv region. Lviv National Museum.

"The icon presents a classical type of the Virgin Odegetria. Its originality lies in the representation of half-figures of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, which enhance the solemn character of the image and impart to it the meaning of Majesty. It is one of the first Ukrainian icons which rendered a highly lyrical image of Mary as Odegetria, somewhat unusual for the Directress. She possesses a special maidenly beauty, charming in its refinement. Her head is covered with a dark-red maphorion, her neck is long and her adoring eyes seem to be full of sadness. The entire image of the Virgin is permeated with an unending sense of desolation, as, with a delicate gesture at her right hand, she points to the Child who is under an imminent death penalty. The image of Mary admirably comprises Hellenic and Byzantine features. Little Christ is shown as a sage who gives a blessing with His right hand while in the left He holds a Gospel scroll. He is concentrated and restrained, as though having a foreboding of His future sufferings.

This icon belonging to the Lviv painting school served as a pattern for numerous works of the same type executed in Lviv Region in the mid-l6th century."


Image and caption credits: (c) Andrii Borovets's Icon Gallery Pages, Lviv, Ukraine, Future European Union. Copyright controlled. With thanks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Welcoming Economic Winter? -- I.M.F. Chief Economist Warns Not Just Of Deep Economic Reversal But Of Second "Great Depression"

"Governments should be ready to increase their spending on economic stimulus programs if circumstances require it, the International Monetary Fund's chief economist Olivier Blanchard said in comments published on Tuesday.

In an interview with French daily Le Monde, Blanchard called on Germany in particular to boost its spending in the next few months as some of its European partners such as France have called for.

"The coming months will be very bad. Halting this loss of confidence, providing stimulus and, if necessary, replacing private demand are essential if we want to prevent the recession from becoming a Great Depression," Blanchard told Le Monde."

Reuters "Governments must be ready to spend more on stimulus: IMF" December 23, 2008


"Governments need to take additional coordinated action to revive world financial markets and get credit flowing again, IMF Managing Director Strauss-Kahn says, warning in a speech in Madrid that the global economic outlook continues to deteriorate."


Header photo credit: Horse in Carmel Valley, California, last week. (c) Vern Fisher and Monteray County Herald. 2008. All rights reserved. With thanks.


A heroic rescue in the world of global automobile culture and aging public infrastructure takes place as economic winter begins. River Road, Bethesda, Maryland.

Photo credit: (c) Bill O'Leary and Washington Post. December 23, 2008.

Tell Me Again How It Is That Free-Market Capitalism And Free-Market Culture Works?

"Mr Madoff’s clients believed that he employed a “split-strike options strategy” that would make money in both up and down markets through trades in stocks and options. … The perceived edge was Madoff’s ability to gather and process market-order flow information and use this information to time the implementation of the split-strike options strategy.”

Henny Sender “Madoff had ‘perceived edge’ in the markets” Financial Times December 21, 2008


”Sonja Kohn, an Austrian bank executive who helped raise funds that invested with Bernard Madoff, is hard to ignore in Vienna’s small financial community.

With her heavy jewellery and her loud voice, Ms Kohn built up a reputation in Vienna over the years as a successful money manager. She was born and raised in Vienna in a traditional, but not religious Jewish family. In the 1970s, she and her husband moved to Milan and later Switzerland. Her life changed when she moved to New York in the 1980s. The family became orthodox and settled in Monsey, NY, a suburb with a large orthodox community.

In 1990, she founded Eurovaleur, which managed various funds for other institutions. During her time in New York she became acquainted with Mr Madoff.

Ms Kohn returned to Vienna in the early 1990s. In 1994, Ms Kohn founded Medici Finanz in which Bank Austria took a 25 per cent stake. At Bank Austria, Ms Kohn was known for her connections and the private way she conducted her operations.

Most of her time was thought to have been spent in Israel, Switzerland and New York. She also travelled to eastern Europe and Moscow, where some of her biggest clients apparently lived.”

Eric Frey “Profile: Austrian bank executive Sonja Kohn” Financial Times December 22, 2008

Image credits: Mihály Munkácsy's The Pawn Broker; 'Decadence' Australian television series; and Tony Cenicola and the New York Times. Copyright controlled. With thanks.

Pan Cogito Joins The Big Blogs In Recommending Year-End Favorite Recordings (However Ones That He Has Paid For Despite Losing His Economic Stimulus)

Pan Cogito enjoyed tremendously and highly recommends the following three Western opera DVDs (all were personally purchased by the blog owner, although admittedly at deeply reduced or “cut-out” pricing):

Stefano Landi - Il Sant'Alessio / Jaroussky, Cencic, Guillon, Bertin, Les Arts Florissants, Christie, Lazar (Théâtre de Caen 2007) (2007)

Christoph Williabald Gluck - Iphigenie en Tauride / Galstian, Gilfry, van der Walt, Christie, Guth (Opernhaus Zurich 2001) (2001)

Sir Harrison Birtwistle – The Minotaur/ Tomlinson, Reuter, Rice, Pappano (Royal Opera House Covent Garden 2008) (2008)

[Video clips from these operas should be available elsewhere on the Web.]

[And yes, Pan Cogito has watched the videos of Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress and Janacek's From the House of the Dead and several other modern productions which will be staged in coming years at the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera; as well as John Adams's Doctor Atomic.]


Image credits: Copyright controlled. (c) Ken Howard 2008 via Opera America website.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pan Cogito, For A Second Time Today, Stops And Thinks

"In a crisis, history counsels cooperation. Its absence in the 1930s was disastrous. Consider the bankruptcy in May 1931 of Creditanstalt, then Austria's largest bank [and which in recent years was merged into the German HypoVereinsbank, which itself has now been taken over by Italian-based UniCredit]."

Robert J. Samuelson "Bankers In the Crucible" Washington Post December 22, 2008


Aurel Schubert and Michael D. Bordo (ed.). The Credit-Anstalt Crisis of 1931 (Studies in Macroeconomic History). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 1992. ISBN 0-521-36537-6


Header image: Nazi public announcement of September 28, 1941 in Russian, Ukrainian, and German.

After the 45-day battle for the city of Kyiv, Ukraine, Nazi forces entered the city on September 19, 1941. The occupation of Kyiv lasted until November 6, 1943. The decision to kill all the Jews of Kyiv was made on September 26, as retaliation for attacks against Germans. The Babyn Yar massacres took place on September 29-30, 1941. The Babi Yar massacre is considered to be "the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust".


From Berlin to Babi Yar: The Nazi War Against the Jews, 1941-1944 by Wendy Morgan Lower, Towson University. Journal of Religion & Society, Volume 9 (2007).

In Memorium, Robert Mulligan ... (Pan Cogito Recalls The Forgotten Subject For An Opera By An Author Other Than Herman Melville Or Lee Harper)

He excelled in the fast-paced milieu of live TV, helming such projects as "The Moon and Sixpence," "Billy Budd" and "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

Reuters "Mockingbird" Director Richard Mulligan Dead At 83" New York Times December 22, 2008.


Recently named Oprah Winfrey's "favorite book of all time," this classic American fiction brings Atticus, Gem and Scout Finch to the stage in this horrible lesson about racial violence, American prejudice, and family ethics.

Indiana Repertory Theater


Ms. Lee Harper, having lived most of her life without the existence of the Washington National Opera and a living American opera tradition, has said that while she respects composers' requests for operatic rights to set "To Kill A Mockingbird", she does not want such a opera to be premiered during her own lifetime.

Photo credits: Copyright controlled. (c) Ken Howard 2008 via Opera America. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pan Szymanowski On Universal Art And Universal Culture

"Let all streams springing from universal art mingle freely with ours; may they impregnate, differentiate and transform it in accordance with its particular attributes. We ought not to lose organic connection with universal culture, because it is only on such a plane that a truly great, living art, including nationalistic music, can flourish."

Karol Szymanowski, ‘On Contemporary Musical Opinion in Poland’ (1920), in Alistair Wightman (trans. and ed.), Szymanowski on Music (London: Toccata Press, 1999), p. 93.

The Tabula Rogeriana, an ancient world map drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi for Roger II of Sicily in 1154 C.E.

[Click on map for enlargement.]


Roger II died at Palermo on 26 February 1154, and was buried in the Cathedral of Palermo. Roger II's elaborate coronation cloak, later used by the Holy Roman Emperors, is now in the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) in Vienna. Roger is the subject of King Roger, a 1926 opera by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski.

Image credit: Bibliotheque nationale de France (MSO Arabe 2221) via Wikipedia. With thanks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pan Cogito, Always The Patriot, Decides To Make His Blog, Music, And Librettos Available Free of Charge To The Public For 'Extended Period'

[Click on image for enlargement.]

Image credit: (c) Tom Toles and the Washington Post Company. 2008. Copyright controlled. All rights reserved. With thanks.


[Some economists have noted that it is important for the U.S. Federal Reserve Board now to keep short-term interest rates 'slightly positive' -- at about the 0 to .25 per cent rate announced this week -- in order to assure proper economic functioning of the system during this international financial and macroeconomic crisis.]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

THE Musical Selections And THE Poem (Music and Poetry Together Again)

Musical Selections
The United States Marine Band

Musical Selections
The San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus

Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein

Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA

Musical Selection
Aretha Franklin

Oath of Office Administered to Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
By Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
The Honorable John Paul Stevens

Musical Selection
John Williams, composer/arranger
Itzhak Perlman, Violin
Yo-Yo Ma, Cello
Gabriela Montero, Piano
Anthony McGill, Clarinet

Oath of Office Administered to President-elect Barack H. Obama
By the Chief Justice of the United States
The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.

Inaugural Address
The President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama

Elizabeth Alexander

The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery

The National Anthem
The United States Navy Band “Sea Chanters”

Source: Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies


Header: The San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus in Rachael Portman's The Little Prince with the San Francisco Opera. Photo (c) Kristen Loken via San Francisco Classical Voice. With thanks.

"Do not fear, O soil"

Psalm 27 Ad te Domine clamabo for Choir

Sept Anges
for Brass Band and Choir

Pater Noster
for Choir a Capella 2005

Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis
for Organ and Choir 2005

"Do not fear, O soil"
(text by Rosemary Lain-Priestley and Liz Griffiths) for Choir 2006

Per tutt'i cerchi del dolente regno ...
(Dante Alighieri) for Mixed Choir 2007

Stabat Mater for Mixed Choir 2007

Per tutt'i cerchi del dolente regno ... for Mixed Choir 2007 [10']

Irena Kosikova

Photo credit: (c) 2008.


Header photo credit: "The Empress Theodora" Church of San Vitale, 526-548 A.D. Ravenna, Italy.

(c) Conrad Rudolph/Department of Art History University of California, Riverside. With thanks.

Slouching Toward The Solstice ... Mysterious 'Dark Energy' Not as Ominous as Thought

Mysterious 'Dark Energy' Not as Ominous as Thought

Photo credit: (c) Monica Almeida and New York Times. 2008.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pan Cogito Researches Igor Stravinsky's Opus 133 (Premiered In San Francisco, May 15, 1968)


Chants (Deux) sacrés
Type audio Genre(s) oeuvre(s) musicale(s) Forme(s) cassette magnétique (audio, dat)

Cette ressource est disponible chez l'organisme suivant : Ensemble intercontemporain
Chants (Deux) sacrés

WOLF/Stravinsky, Hugo/Igor (Compositeur)

Paris, Centre Pompidou. CGP, 1993

David Robertson (chef d'orchestre), Denize N.

Identifiant OAI

Date de la notice
2007-05-15 02:00:00

Identifiant portail

Lawrence Morton Papers, 1908-1987, University of California at Los Angeles

[Click on image for enlargement.]

Winter Terror And Rebirth ... Paul Constantinescu's The Nativity: Byzantine Christmas Oratorio, 1947

December 20, 1963 in History

Paul Constantinescu, composer, dies at 54


Paul Constantinescu: The Nativity (Byzantine Christmas Oratorio)

Helge von Bomches (Performer), Paul Constantinescu (Composer), Mircea Basarab (Conductor), Martha Kessler (Performer), "George Enescu" Bucharest Philharmonic Orchestra (Orchestra), Philharmonic Orchestra (Orchestra), Emilia Petrescu (Performer), Valentin Teodorian (Performer)


Memorial museum "Paul Constantinescu"
Address: 15 N. Balcescu, nr. 15, Ploiesti, Romania
phone: 044/12.29.14

The museum was inaugurated in 1993, December 20, at the anniversary of 30 years from the death of the musician Paul Constantinescu.

The house that hosts the museum was the house of the composer brother. The exhibits from the museum remember the musician life and work.

The scores and records exposed in the glass cabinets of the museum are reflecting the spiritual wealth brought to the Romanian music by the composer.

The museum is an homage brought by the people from Ploiesti to the composer and his creation, as a house of music and Romanian spirituality for all beauty lovers.

Romanian Memorial Houses


Muzeul George Enescu Bucuresti. Home of the score to Enescu's Oedip, awaiting American performances by the Metropolitan Opera, the San Francisco Opera, and the Washington National Opera.


With thanks to conductor John McLaughlin Williams for suggesting another post about Paul Constantinescu's warm and humane The Nativity: Byzantine Christmas Oratorio at this time of year.

Dreading Winter And Ice, Pan Cogito Dreams Of Tanglewood, Pécs, And Szeged In July

Tanglewood Web Television celebrates Elliott Carter.

Péter Forgács - I am Von Höfler - Variation on Werther - Private Hungary 15

(Music by Tibor Szemző and László Melis; sound by Zoltán Vadon and Tamás Zányi)


With many thanks to composer Alan Theisen for the link to the performances of Elliott Carter's recent works.


Header credits: Stills from I am Tibor Höfler (2008) via Péter Forgács's website. With thanks. [Tibor Höfler was born in 1908.]

A Glance Back At Thea Musgrave's 'Pontalba' Opera And The Musically Proud City Of New Orleans

[Apologies for posting irregularity. Maybe something about the moon, tides, and shortness of daylight. And, Happy Birthday Ludwig!]:


"The New Orleans Opera's production of Pontalba offers a glimmer of good sense to an American classical-music establishment that has not been demonstrating a lot of it. Playing at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, this is a new opera that a city has created about itself. Patrons on Saturday night were also celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, the backdrop for the Pontalba story. Many of them daily walk by Jackson Square, which was designed and built by the French baroness of the title, an American who was born here, lived unhappily and violently in France and returned home in 1849 to oversee this series of elegant facades and galleries. Anyone wondering whether "Pontalba" will find its way to international stages is missing the point. New Orleans offers a particularly vivid example of expansion dreams gone wrong. In the 1980's the New Orleans Symphony thought big, squandering its endowment and hiring marquee conductors with international names, who fled with the first arrival of fiscal pressures, and it failed. Reborn as the self-governing Louisiana Philharmonic, the orchestra played in the pit on Saturday, conducted by the opera company's general director, Robert Lyall.

Thea Musgrave, a Scottish composer with long ties to the American South, was commissioned by the company to write the music and libretto, just as city leaders might have turned to an outside architect to decorate its skyline. But in the final scene, as rotating stage panels formed to enclose the players in a representation of Jackson Square itself, the oohs and ahs of communal identification were palpable.

The problems with "Pontalba" are not musical. It houses three potential operas and can't really decide which one it wants to be. To be fair, it is hostage to sets of historical facts that, although linked, never quite fit the convenient and symmetrical arc on which grand opera thrives. Is this an opera about America's vast acquisition from France and the aftereffects of Spanish rule? Does it center on the baroness de Pontalba and her long life in France among greedy and homicidal in-laws? Or is it about a place in New Orleans, as in the end it decides to be?

Ms. Musgrave composes for the stage with great skill. One can hear her sense of the orchestra and her ear for forward, ever-moving vocal lines as they listen to the events onstage and respond to them moment to moment. The crowd scenes and ensemble work are complex but free of tangles: every crossing musical line has its own clear story to tell. The production, by Jay Lesenger and Erhard Rom, is modest, but its blowups of architectural drawings illustrate a scene's time and place with some precision."

— Bernard Holland - The New York Times 10/7/03

"The story of Micaela Almonester, the 19th century New Orleans businesswoman better known as the Baroness de Pontalba, reads like an opera. Thursday evening at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts, it looked and sounded like an opera, too, as the New Orleans Opera Association presented the world premiere of Pontalba, the two-act work on the baroness's life it commissioned from composer Thea Musgrave as part of the celebration of the Louisiana Purchase bicentennial.

The opera also deals with that great land sale and the growth of a nation, which it presents as paralleling the baroness' struggles as she fought to maintain control of her inheritance in a male-dominated society. Two of the most memorable scenes show her father-in-law trying to kill her because she won't bend to his rules and her triumph when she succeeds in constructing her dream buildings, the twin rows of Jackson Square townhouses that still bear her name.

Musgrave wrote the libretto as well as composing the music, resulting in a near-perfect fit between the two."

— Keith Marshall - Times-Picayune 10/4/03

Header images: Baroness Pontalba by Franck Schneider c. 1920s Oil on canvas; and Subpontabla. Both images (c) Louisiana State Museum. With thanks.


Photo credit: (c) Ken Howard 2008. Copyright controlled. Via Opera America Website.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

While Baltimore And Washington, D.C. Slip In International Arts, Philadelphia Offers New Prize To Promote Excellence In The International Art World

"Temple University will begin offering a fine arts prize worth $150,000 to the winner of a juried competition.

The annual Wolgin International Prize in the Fine Arts will be funded by a $3.7 million gift from Jack Wolgin, a Philadelphia real estate developer, arts patron and philanthropist.

The prize will be awarded to an individual whose work ''transcends traditional boundaries and exemplifies the highest level of excellence'' in painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, ceramics, metals, glass or fibers.

''The Wolgin International Prize in the Fine Arts is my opportunity to make a statement to the world about Philadelphia as a great city for the arts,'' Wolgin said." ...

Associated Press "Temple University to Offer $150K Fine Arts Prize" New York Times December 11, 2008

First the Quakers -- shown embracing the native Indian peoples -- and later Claes Oldenburg brought their concepts of the fine arts to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania region.

Pan Cogito wonders what Malia and Sasha Obama, who will be attending a Quaker school in the Washington, D.C. area starting in January, think of Claes Oldenburg and recent trends in American public civic sculpture.

Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons. With thanks.

Claes Oldenburg at Artsy


Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Engraving of the American Indian town of Pomeiooc, published in Thomas Hariot’s 1588 book, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Illustration by Theodor de Bry.

[Click on images for enlargements.]

Image credit: National Museum of the American Indian and Smithsonian Institution.

Beyond Economic And Spiritual Bankruptcy: London Philharmonic To Premiere Vladimir Martynov's Three Hour Opera "Vita Nuova" This Coming February

Vladimir Martynov's "Vita Nuova"
(world première of complete work; performed with English surtitles)

18 February 2009 7:00pm

London Philharmonic Orchestra and EuropaChorAkademie and soloists

Vladimir Jurowski conductor
Tatiana Monogarova Beatrice
Mark Padmore Dante
Marianna Tarasova Amor
Joan Rodgers Secret Woman

Vita Nuova, ‘the New Life’ is based on the verse by medieval Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). Dante’s love for a distant Beatrice is one of the greatest depictions of the bittersweet nature of infatuation in European literature. In this musical version, Martynov - visual artist, musician and philosopher – explores opera from its Western heritage and Eastern sources. Echoes of the past pulse through this ‘virtual tone space opera’, and the resulting music is intense, mystical and expressive.

'Dante's Vita Nuova is not a text about love. It is a text about text about love. Likewise, my opera Vita Nuova is not just an opera. It is an opera about the history of opera as the most important genre in European culture. It goes back even beyond the earliest operas to reveal the genre's historical prototype - a medieval miracle, but dressed in the alluring beauty of high-Romantic operatic language.'

-- Vladimir Martynov

The performance will last approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, including interval.

Audio Sample: Extract from Martynov's Vita Nuova


With thanks to Eamonn Quinn of the Louth Contemporary Music Society, Ireland.

The organization has just commissioned a new work from Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov; and is planning a new recording of works of Russian composer Alexander Knayfel.


Header image credit: Dante Alighieri, painted by Giotto in the chapel of the Bargello Palace in Florence. This oldest portrait of Dante was painted during his lifetime before his exile from his native city. Via Wikipedia. With thanks.


Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent's The Minotaur (2008) at the not-now bankrupt Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

Photo credit: (c) Bill Cooper 2008. All rights reserved. Via Boosey and Hawkes website. With thanks.