Weekly Update: May 27, 2013


We’ve made some important improvements to our site, which is now more logically organized and user friendly. On our Contact Us page is a new event template by which you can add your own live performance event(s) so we can add them to our weekly-updated Calendar. Under Links of Interest you will find useful and informative sources from near and far; just click on the links. Plus, under Theater Reviews, our theater critic, Philip Pearce, reports on the new production of Glorious! which just opened at Magic Circle Theater in Carmel Valley.

In the Calendar: Mozart’s comedy Cosi fan tutte gets four fully staged performances at UC Santa Cruz in the Music Recital Hall. And you’ll find two Carmel Music Society events: a vocal recital by Clarissa Lyons, last year’s annual competition winner, and this year’s piano competition and top competitors’ concert, both at Sunset Center. Both Monterey Peninsula College and UC Santa Cruz dance departments will trip the light fantastic at the weekend.

Last week saw the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner, composer of Tristan und Isolde, among other ‘music dramas’—as he preferred to call his operas. Wagner will always be highly controversial because of his astounding genius and confounding anti-Semitism. For a full week BBC Radio 3* indulged in protracted Wagner-philia. Curiously, perhaps, Wagner touched on the four primary areas of coverage we offer at Performing Arts Monterey Bay: music, theater, dance and education. While we are not getting much Wagner in local concert programming, the Monterey Symphony will open its 2013-2014 season with the Third Act prelude to his Lohengrin. (This is also the bicentenary year of Giuseppe Verdi, and centenary of Benjamin Britten, both getting fairly short shrift locally, although last month John Anderson and Ensemble Monterey performed Britten’s great War Requiem in a reduced orchestration of the original by gifted local composer Steve Tosh.)

Removing Wagner’s music from the stage to the concert hall isn’t always easy, since many of the most popular of his orchestral scenes elide seamlessly into the drama from which they have been extracted. By the same token, to know only the orchestral bits is to be oblivious of the sprawling contexts for which they were composed. Moreover, by his own design, Wagner put his music to the service of his librettos, for which he became his own playwright. In short, for him the words were more important than the music, or rather, they were of equal and inseparable importance.

When Wagner sought to introduce himself to Paris, with Tannhäuser in 1861, he was required to create a ballet. The powerful Jockey Club, peopled by the wealthy elite who funded the Paris Opera, took supper while first acts were performed, and showed up only after second acts began, expecting to be entertained by dance. Instead, Wagner placed the ballet—the rowdy and extraordinarily dissonant Venusberg bacchanale—in Act I, where it made dramatic sense. This forced the Jockey Club members to show up in time for the first act. Many of them, already hostile to Wagner, had planned ahead to express their displeasure by whistling and jeering, frequently interrupting the drama as it unfolded. As a result, the press recorded a “failure” and the production closed after just three performances. (The famous French composer Charles Gounod subsequently declared, “Give me a failure like that!”)

So, from playwright and composer to ballet-writer, that leaves education. Many of Wagner’s stage characters find themselves in the role of teacher, Mime instructing Siegfried for example. But Wagner gave himself the job with a brief musical Q & A titled Kinderkatechismus zu Kosel’s Geburtstag (Children’s Catechism for Kosel’s Birthday.) Kosel was of course Cosima and the tiny charm was offered as an apology for having picked a fight with her right after completing the vast Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle, in 1874. The solo voice asks the questions and the children’s chorus answers them; it draws on themes heard in the earlier musical birthday gift, Siegfried Idyll, and plays off the rhyming rose and ‘kos’ of Cosima’s domestic nickname.

*BBC Radio 3 offers around the clock steamed classical, plus jazz and world music, easily accessed through your computer.

Scott MacClelland, editor