When the going gets weird

the-muppets-statler-and-waldorfA couple of years ago I produced a series of “best of” lists for video recordings, which I’ve updated from time to time.  One can find them on the Index of DVD reviews page.  So, for fun, I thought I’d put together a “weirdest” list.  Mostly this captures operas that are intrinsically weird but I’ve included the odd recording where the director has gone a bit nuts in an attempt to get something out of non too promising material.  So, in alphabetical order by composer, here is the “weird list”.   Continue reading

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Barbara Hannigan – Concert Documentary

The Hannigan obsession continues.  This time I’ve been looking at a DVD, Barbara Hannigan – Concert Documentary.  It’s in two parts.  There’s a recording of Hannigan as soloist and conductor with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the 2014 Lucerne Festival and there’s a documentary, I’m a creative animal, looking at her life and work.

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The Hannigan show

Last night at Roy Thomson Hall Barbara Hannigan made her North American conducting debut with the TSO.  And, of course, she sang too.  She kicked off with Luigi Nono’s Djamila Boupacha for solo voice.  It’s a short but haunting piece inspired by a woman activist from the Algerian War.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a solo, unaccompanied, voice in that hall and the effect is eerie.  It’s also a hell of a sing and to navigate it with utter precision is quite some feat.  As the last note died away (precisely on pitch) the violins came in with the opening Haydn’s Symphony no. 49 “La Passione”.  It starts off with an Adagio that’s curiously similar in mood to the Nono piece and Hannigan was conducting without score or baton.  In fact it was more like an interpretive dance than conventional conducting.  She has amazing arms and hands; the arms and hands of a ballerina in fact and as she summoned the strings to a sort of shimmering sound I couldn’t help but reminded of Swan Lake.  Corny perhaps but very real and quite disturbing.  And the orchestra, quite a small subset of the TSO, responded.  This was four movements of really lovely, chamber music like playing.

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Brueghelland

I’ve been meaning to get my hands on a copy of György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre for a while and I really expected to enjoy or, at least, admire it.  It is, after all, one of the most performed of late 20th century operas and has had some thirty different productions including, most recently, one by La Fura dels Baus recorded at the Liceu in 2011 and also seen at ENO.  It’s supposed to be a sort of post apocalyptic satire on pretty much everything but, in poking fun at everything, it ends up saying nothing.  It’s also extremely scatological with hardly an English obscenity not used at least once in the libretto.  The music, too, while occasionally entering into the realm of fairly funny parodies of well known composers is mostly a mixture of bangs, shrieks, gurgles and farts.  Overall it’s like watching a two hour episode of The Two Ronnies accompanied by a band of raccoons with dustbins.

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