Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our amazing ears

Here's a piece from the NY Times Science page that caught not only my eye but my ear. "When an Ear Witness Describes the Case" tells a fascinating story: our ears are not only supremely sensitive to auditory information, they actually process it faster than our eyes process what we see! Useful to remember the next time you're at a concert and are a long way from the stage or have an obstructed view, or you're sitting in church and can't see the organist flailing away at his Bach fugue. Focus on what you're hearing instead: your ears are telling you a much more interesting story than your eyes can.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

BEMF chamber opera double-bill

"Venus and Adonis," John Blow's operatic masterpiece, is the first of its kind in the English language. The Boston Early Music Festival's production, smartly paired with Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Actéon," made for an achingly beautiful evening last night at Jordan Hall. Both are short "chamber operas" of less than an hour each, and both treat myths having to do with the hunt, and they were written in the same decade (the 1680s), so it made sense to have both on the program. The same small group of singers and players delivered both, in a brilliantly effective semi-staging by Gilbert Blin with period choreography by Lucy Graham.

Standouts in "Venus and Adonis" included mezzo Mireille Lebel, whom Houston friends may remember from her wonderful solo work in "Messiah" this past year at Jones Hall, and the melting soprano of Amanda Forsythe, who had a busy week in both this production and in "Poppea." Aaron Sheehan, a nobly effective "Actéon," spent the last several minutes of this opera wearing a large stag's head, one of several animal heads used in both operas and worn by not only the adults but some of the cutest kids in Boston! The little ones were utterly adorable in both operas: dressed to the hilt in 18th-century finery, complete with blond curly tresses, they were hilarious as hunting hounds.

Tragicomedia then took the stage for a late-night program of mostly Monteverdi madrigals aptly entitled "Here I am, ready for kisses" ("Eccomi pronta ai baci"). This kind of music is what makes casual early music fans turn into raving maniacs: it's amazing stuff, and was delivered with great humor and stage presence by one of the best continuo ensembles in the business and a group of first-rate young singers.

Now back for a few weeks to the Houston heat, much refreshed by several days of superlative music-making and some nice cool Boston weather. Yesterday was glorious: 70 degrees, sunshine, and even a festive Gay Pride parade!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Les Arts Flo and Poppea

Here's a bust of the real Poppea -- enough to banish your empress forever? That's what Nero thought...but then they both came to rather bad ends. Monteverdi's public didn't seem to mind, and neither did the audience here in Boston last night, who ate up this naughty historical tale in a beautiful period production by Gilbert Blin. Gillian Keith is wonderful in the title role, and Steve Stubbs and Paul O'Dette have worked their usual magic with both orchestra and cast. Other standouts were Laura Pudwell (Arnalta) and Stephanie Houtzeel (Ottavia), who commanded the stage with great aplomb, and Zachary Wilder (Nutrice), whose crotchety old lady act is hilarious.

Yesterday afternoon I caught the Oberlin production of Charpentier's "Les Arts Florissants," one of the many the BEMF "Fringe" events. It was great to see this group of talented undergraduates convey a real sense of style in their singing, playing, and even Baroque dancing! Their lovely performance of this brief piece left us all wanting more -- something which doesn't happen often enough in this business!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Boston Early Music Festival

Arrived in Boston yesterday for a few days at the most ambitious early music festival on this side of the Atlantic. Last night's program was spectacular: the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble played a program of "orchestral delights" that included three works for three oboes and bassoons (plus strings and continuo) by Fasch, Zelenka, and Telemann. Amazing stuff, which one hardly ever hears -- ever tried to get three first-rate baroque oboists plus a virtuoso baroque bassoon player in the same room at the same time? Kudos to the wind players especially -- Gonzalo Ruiz, Debra Nagy, Kathryn Montoya, and Dominic Teresi -- for their terrific playing!

I'm hearing "Poppea" tonight and a double-bill of "Venus and Adonis" and "Acteon" on Saturday. This is a baroque opera lover's paradise for the next few days!