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I wrote this in April 2011 after going to see Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper when I was studying abroad in Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately, I was feeling ill in the middle of it and left early.

 

The final live musical performance I attended was Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper. It was a bittersweet experience in that I will rarely have the opportunity to witness music and productions of the quality that I have seen in the United States without having to pay a very large sum of money.

Mozart always had the flare for the dramatic, and he truly brings it out in the opening overture to Don Giovanni. It certainly reflects the story of the wooer of women and the melodrama, comedy, and supernatural elements that ensue. The backdrop of the stage consists of a screen with a picture of the cityscape in black and white. The bumbling and swooping of the low instruments brings about the loping manservant of Don Giovanni, Leporello, that sings of how he is tired of keeping watch while his master seduces women. It is a great musical portrayal of the “opera buffa” elements, as the listener feels a sense of rustic buffoonery. I thought that Leporello had a nice strong and comedic presence onstage with a resonating deep voice. Then Donna Anna appears, chasing a masked Don Giovanni and demanding to know his identity. Her voice was a bit lackluster and not too impressive, but she was attractive. Don Giovanni was also very good-looking and had a deep, powerful voice. The Commendatore appeared to defend his daughter’s honor and is killed by Don Giovanni while Donna Anna seeks help. Her grief really shines through with the music when she returns with her fiancé Don Ottavio, finding her father dead. In my opinion, Don Ottavio had the weakest and most inexperienced voice out of the entire ensemble. It was very weak, especially in the high register. They swear revenge on the unidentified man as the music swells dramatically into the scene change.

The next scene looks almost like a tavern where we see a woman, Donna Elvira, cursing Don Giovanni for leaving her and scorning her love. Leporello and Don Giovanni enter and find her, Giovanni taking some time to try to woo her until he realized she was a past conquest. A group of women gather there to celebrate perhaps the wedding shower of Zerlina, a beautiful country girl, and Leporello takes the time to brag of the large number of Giovanni’s conquests. This is one of my favourite arias in the opera, and it certainly drew laughter from the crowd. Don Giovanni arrives and is instantly taken with Zerlina and is set upon making her one of the notches on his belt. He offers to host the wedding celebration at his own lavish house, and Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé, becomes suspicious and jealous. Elvira re-enters and tries to persuade them not to follow through with it and reveals Don Giovanni’s true nature.

Donna Anna and Don Ottavio come to the abode of Don Giovanni in an attempt to ask his help in finding the murderer of her father without realizing that they are right in front of him. Again, I was thwarted with the lackluster quality in voices. Elvira once again enters to reveal the seducing nature of Don Giovanni, and after those two depart Donna Anna realizes and recognizes Giovanni as her father’s killer.

The next scene takes place at the ball at Giovanni’s estate. I really enjoyed the elaborate costuming, but some of them just made me laugh. Leporello looked like a giant, frilly clown, and poor Masetto appeared as if he was in some kind of feathery bird costume. Masetto hides in a closet of sorts, trying to catch Zerlina with Giovanni in a compromising position. Upon discovering him there, Giovanni leads Zerlina to her fiancé and leaves them together. Meanwhile a group of masked ballgoers (Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio) enter, hoping to catch Giovanni in foul play and are ushered in by Leporello. Leporello then distracts Masetto by dancing with him in an effort to distract him from Don Giovanni’s renewed pursuit of Zerlina. We are suddenly met with Zerlina’s cries for help as Giovanni tries to frame her distress on Leporello. The group of masked guests reveal themselves and exclaims how they know the truth. Guns are drawn as the music swells into a crescendo as the act ends in suspense.

I was unable to see the second act due to my feeling very ill throughout the first act. It distracted me somewhat from enjoying the performance fully, but I still wish that I could have experienced the entire production. It would have been great to see the dramatic conclusion of Don Giovanni being dragged down to Hell.

dongiovanni

 

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(Another music review I wrote when I was studying in Vienna, Austria. This one is dated April 10, 2011.)

 

For a change of pace, I went to the Wien Konzerthaus to experience the Aron String Quartet performing several different works. The hall in which they performed was lovely. The ceiling had such intricate design and framework, and the dimensions were excellent for carrying sound.

The performance began with a String Quartet piece by Hanns Eisler. It was certainly twelve-tone and had the 20th Century aspects of atonality about it. I don’t listen to very much atonal music and found this particular piece unsettling and disturbing. I could almost picture a scene with demons dancing around a fire in a forest with the incessant plucking, climbing, stark and sudden dynamic contrasts. There was some form to it that told a story, however disjunct it was.

Next on the program was Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F-Major. The first movement, Très doux, or very soft, opened in a very refined and stately style as the first theme was introduced, a stark contrast to what we had previously heard. I felt as if it was describing the nature scene outside of a French estate, following the fluttering adventures of a butterfly. The second theme just floated through the air in wonderful strains, especially from the first and second violin. Movie soundtrack composers may have been inspired by this because I notice similar patterns and musical phrases from shows I have seen. It builds into a frenzied echo of the first theme in a much wilder approach, then settling back into the original feel and flow. Most of the players were expressive as they were performing, except for the viola. He seemed too focused in on the music pages to evoke it through his facial and body expressions. The movement ends on a slight variation of the main theme, slowing to a pause.

Suddenly, the strings burst through in a very catchy theme that they pluck. It makes me think of a more folk, playful, and adventuresome theme. The second movement is written Assez vif, or brisk, which certainly makes sense. I really enjoy watching the first violinist who incorporates his entire body into his performance and expression. His feet are constantly moving, and sometimes they even lift of the floor as he reels back in musical immersion. There are brief allusions to the stated themes in the beginning of the movement throughout as it moves into a slower and darker mood then eventually builds up again into the free-flowing and initial eager outpouring.

The third movement, Très lent or very slow, lives up to its name. The beginning sounds almost like it’s in a harmonic minor key and proceeds with subtlety that echoes a vague resemblance of the first theme but then alters it in a more somber sense. It is very tragic, and you can feel such emotion pouring forth from it. This could almost portray Autumn as things linger as they fade away. You can almost see the wind rustling the fallen leaves in the music. The movement ends after another visitation to the altered first theme lingering in the air with a beautiful chord.

The final movement in this selection jolts you out of your reverie quickly, as it is called Vif et agité, lively and agitated. It is very busy and wild, in a sense. You get the sense that everything is turning in circles about you and building up more and more powerfully. Echoes of themes from the first and second movements burst forth in sudden instances. The idea of leaves being carried on the wind could also be described with this music except in a more intense and motivated sense. One leaf in particular might be carried through the air in winding circles all around the extent of the estate, re-visiting themes and areas previously mentioned in Ravel’s piece. The drama builds until the very last moment with a very delightful ending.

The final piece was Brahm’s Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. The Aron Quartett was joined by Daniel Ottensamer on clarinet. It was an enchanting and dramatic piece. I admit, most of my attention was focused on the clarinetist due to his good looks. That being said, I’m truly being honest when I say that he is the most talented clarinet soloist that I have ever heard. He has amazing tone quality and mastery of technique. When he climbed into the high register, I just sighed happily at the purity of his sound. It did not once break or sound airy like so many clarinets that I hear. I thoroughly enjoyed this musical adventure.

 

 

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