Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#OperaPlot 2011 -- The Denouement

The #OperaPlot contest is over for this year, and as always, competition was stiff. As you may recall, the idea was to give -- in a humorous fashion -- the plot of an opera using only the 140-character limit allowed on Twitter (actually, the count was less because each entry had to include the hashtag #operaplot).

Since a few of the winning tweets are NSFW, I'll just point to the complete list of winning entries. There were five winners, five runners-up, and additional prizes for the best pop culture reference, best song parody, best modern opera plot, and even best #OperaPlot fan art!

So how did I do? Well, I was one of the runners-up again this year with the following entry:

Ramades and Aida get in on the ground floor of a pyramid scheme. #operaplot  [Aïda]

Which, considering how many thousands of entries were submitted from all over the world, I think is quite an honor!

I'm already thinking about possible entries for next year. How about you?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Wuorinen Chamber Music: New works from an established master

This new release from Naxos presents an interesting picture of Charles Wuorinen’s chamber music output. It starts with his first string quartet from 1971, which serves as a point of reference. The rest of the disc features works written within the past few years, simultaneously showing just how much Wuorinen’s style has matured, while his musical language remained fairly consistent.

Wuorinen’s First String Quartet is very much a work of its time. Although one could characterize the music as atonal, it sounded to me like there were pitch centers (but not triads) that Wuorinen would go away from then return to. The quartet has a stop-and-start feel to it -- long, drawn-out notes followed by frantic bursts of activity. But there’s a logic to those tempo shifts. It’s as if the quartet is breathing in and out, moving ahead in a series of ripples.

The other major work on the album is his Second Piano Quintet from 2008. Some might call it a 12-tone composition, but even on first hearing it seemed to me there was something more going on. It’s the kind of structure I expect to find in more tonal works. The end result was I thoroughly enjoyed the composition. It was fresh, innovative, yet not so far removed from convention that the listener has no point of reference.

Also included on the release are two shorter works, Wuorninen’s Scherzo for piano, and the Viola Variations. Stylistically, both lean more toward the string quartet than the piano quintet, but still engaging works, nevertheless.

The musicians on this release, the Bretano String Quartet, pianist Peter Serkin and violist Lois Martin, all play with authority and conviction. They’ve internalized this music and present it with expressiveness and warmth.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: This Fairy Tale has a happy ending (and beginnng and middle)

This new release features three orchestral works by Czech composer Josef Suk, son-in-law to Antonin Dvorak. JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra turn in solid performances of these works, and produce a disc that rewards repeated listening.

Suk’s Fantasy in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op. 24 starts the program. Michael Ludwig shines as the soloist, bringing just a hint of Slavic expression (for want of a better term) to the music. Although Suk didn’t use Czech folk music in his compositions, this performance leaves no doubt as to his nationality.

The centerpiece of the release is Suk’s Fairy Tale, Op. 16.  Although influenced by Richard Strauss, Suk took a different path. His orchestration is just as brilliant and exotic as Strauss, but without the latter’s brashness and aggressiveness. Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic hit the right tone just about all the way through the work. The soft passages are tenderly beautiful, the dramatic ones authoritative without being bombastic.  In this recording one can understand why the Fairy Tale is one of Suk’s most popular works.

The final work on the album, the Fantastick scherzo, Op. 25, trips lightly along. Falletta keeps the music moving along, while lingering over the introspective sections long enough for the listener to savor them.
Particularly striking is how well-recorded this release is. Suk’s music is as much about orchestral coloration as it is about structure, and Buffalo Philharmonic has a warm, inviting sound that really adds to the performance of these works.

Recommended for the performances, and a real bargain for the price.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#Operaplot 2011 -- The plots thicken

Last week I posted info about the #OperaPlot competition on Twitter. Basically, the idea is to recount in a humorous fashion, the plot of any opera in 140 characters or less. And there are extra points for making a pop culture reference.

There are some pretty serious prizes at stake in this international competition, including two tickets to a performance at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as (a little closer to home for me) the Washington Opera.

If you're on Twitter, why not give it a shot? You still have Thursday and Friday (as of this posting) to enter. Just include the hashtage #operaplot in your tweet. To give you an idea of how easy this is, below are my entries. In brackets are the opera and composer in question -- just in case it's not clear.

Oh Susanna, don't you cry for me, I'm a man of God who loves your bod, in New Hope Tennessee.
[Susanna - Carlisle Floyd]

 Ah, yes, "Die Liebe der Danae." Set back in the day when a golden shower was a *good* thing, by Jupiter!
[Die Liebe der Danae - Richard Strauss]

His daughter's in love with a boy whose actually a girl married to the prisoner he's watching. Ah, that's Rocco's Modern Life.
[Fidelio - Ludwig van Beethoven]

A mason jars Tamino into action, and it's curtains for the Queen of the Night
[Der Zauberflote - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]

What happened at the end of Semele's Extreme Makeover? She got burned at the Reveal.
[Semele - Georg Fredrick Handel]

Lady Harriett is tired of being admired. Looks for a change and doesn't realize she has it made when she has it maid.
[Martha - Friedrich von Flowtow]

Senta, don't throw yourself at every sailor who comes into port. You'll get yourself in Dutch.
[Die Fliegende Hollander - Richard Wagner]

Susanna, say yes to the dress, but no to the Count.
[Le Nozze Di Figaro - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]

The question was: What is like ice, but burns like fire? You answered C) Turandot. Is that your final answer?
[Turandot - Giacomo Puccini]

Don Giovanni learns there is a statue of limitations.
[Don Giovanni - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]

Seneca to Poppea: You want to be queen? Ha! Over my dead body.
[L'incoronazione di Poppea - Claudio Monteverdi]

Some "dialogue." Sister Blanche always seems to get the last word.
[Dialogues des carmelites - Francis Poulenc]

Ramades and Aida get in on the ground floor of a pyramid scheme.
[Aida - Giuseppe Verdi]

OK, Judith, you've seen what's behind doors 1 through 6. Do you want to stop, or will you trade it all for what's behind door #7!
[Bluebeard's Castle - Bela Bartok]

Jeez, Dalila, I just asked for a little off the top.

Your mother and her lover murdered your father? Don't get mad, go mad
[Electra - Richard Strauss]

Opera diva hits a high C before hitting the ground.
[Tosca - Giacomo Puiccini]

Archer shoots at the apple of his eye. Hits apple, misses eye.
[William Tell- Giocomo Rossini]

The Governor/King of Boston/Sweden goes to a masked ball and is stabbed/stilettoed.
[Un ballo in maschere - Giusseppi Verdi]

And there are plenty more where those came from! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

#Operaplot 2011 -- the contest begins!

If you're an opera lover -- and have a Twitter account -- you can do something constructive with your time and enter the #Operaplot contest. If you're an opera lover, and don't have a Twitter account, then you open a Twitter account (it's free) and then enter the #Operaplot contest.

What is it?
#Operaplot is a yearly contest where the challenge is to sum up the plot of an opera in 140 characters (actually, 131 because you must include the hashtag #operaplot in the tweet). The goal is to create the wittiest summation possible. The contest is run by classical music blogger "the Omniscient Mussel," (in reality renowned music writer and photographer Marcia Adair), and kudos to you if you know from what opera Miss Mussel gets her online name.

Why bother?
Two reasons:
  1. #Operaplot has a pretty impressive prize pool. Several major and regional opera companies have donated tickets, and EMI will be offering up some suitable CDs and DVDs as well. Your wit might get you into a performance of Iphigenie en Tauride at the Washington National Opera with Placido Domingo, for example.
  2. #Operaplot is great fun. The reason the hashtag is required is that using the pound sign with a letter combination makes it a link. So if you receive a tweet with #operaplot in it, you can click on it and see what everyone else has contributed. 
When does it start?
The contest runs between April 11 and April 15, 2011, so you have (as of this writing) until Monday to think up your entries. I already have my first two ready to go.
     Last year I was one of the runners-up -- and won a complete set of Mozart operas for my trouble. You can bet I'll be entering this year as well. Come join the fun!