I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI
By Vincenzo Bellini
Considerable excitement seems to have been provoked in anticipation of the release this week of San Francisco Opera’s DVD of their production of I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues), Vincenzo Bellini’s not very close operatic approximation to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We wrote earlier about a fine DVD version from 2008 starring Anna Netrebko [Taipei Times, March 26, 2013], together with her different version, also from 2008 but issued only on CD. There, we outlined the opera’s bizarre alterations to the original story, plus Bellini’s decision to use females for both the principal roles.
The San Francisco production, released on DVD earlier this week, stars one of the finest “bel canto” (beautiful singing) exponents available, Joyce DiDonato, as Romeo — the role she sang opposite Netrebko on the 2008 DVD. Extracts available on YouTube display not only her dynamic brilliance but also the musical vibrancy of the whole enterprise and the high-tech quality of the recording. Available visuals show the costumes by the celebrated designer Christian Lacroix to be restrained, even severe. Vincent Boussard is the director.
Meanwhile, versions of this once neglected work continue to proliferate. It forms a recent addition, for example, to the Naxos Video Library in a version from the Dynamic label. This is outstanding, this time on account of the presence of Patrizia Ciofi as Giulietta (Juliet). Her voice is resplendent by any standards, and her Romeo, Clara Polito, isn’t far behind. It was recorded in 2005 at the Festival of the Valle d’Itria. It is conducted by Luciano Acocella, is in modern dress, and has plenty of menace from the male participants. The staging — inside the Palazzio Ducale, Martina Franca — is minimal, but finely sung throughout.
A complete production of this opera from Japan is available on YouTube. It features Mariella Devia as Giulietta, Sonia Ganassi as Romeo, plus Japanese singers — all excellent — as the male soloists. The production is coordinated with great nimbleness and brio by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, with Daniele Callegari as conductor. Once the curtain goes up, the strength of the traditional costumes and staging are immediately apparent. Unfortunately, however, there are no subtitles.
But whether the star is Giulietta or Romeo, and the artist Netrebko, DiDonato or Ciofi, it is evidently Bellini’s long, melodic lines that unfailingly intoxicate the viewers. This is supremely beautiful music, so much so that some have been led to say it lacks seriousness. This can hardly be so, however, as the tradition it stands in is one that sees beauty as a sign of the presence of divinity. Bellini’s music is part of the ageless cult of the “Religion of Beauty.”
SYMPHONY No: 13 (“Babi Yar”)
By Dmitri Shostakovich
Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Russian composer-pianist Dmitri Shostakovich, by contrast, could hardly be more different. With him the morose alternates with the scabrous and political meanings are hinted at frequently. But this is music that is monumental and undoubtedly representative of 20th century history. If it’s the 15 quartets that embody the composer’s brooding introspection, it’s the 15 symphonies that stand for his more public pronouncements.
Here, Naxos has a huge achievement under its belt, as last month signaled the conclusion of its Shostakovich Symphonic Cycle, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under the still relatively youthful Vasily Petrenko.
The final item to be released, the Symphony No: 13 (“Babi Yar”), is a dense, apocalyptic work composed around five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. These all center on German anti-Semitism, with the first focusing on the nightmarish massacre of Jews by Nazi forces during World War II at the Babi Yar ravine in Kiev, the modern capital of Ukraine. Over 33,000 people were murdered there in a single, hideous operation.
Soviet anti-Semitism is also touched upon in the symphony. Moscow authorities were alerted of the work in 1962, which led to the withdrawal of the original conductor and bass soloist prior to the premiere. The concert went ahead nonetheless, although Yevtushenko was pressured to revise some of his poems for later performances. Shostakovich, by contrast, never wrote the revised words into his personal score.
Jewish influences are detectable in many places in Shostakovich’s music, but this symphony must stand as his major indictment of the Holocaust as a whole. Petrenko’s version has been widely praised, as has the bass soloist Alexander Vinogradov, even if the choral forces (the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and the Huddersfield Choral Society) have sometimes been deemed to lack the sonorous masculinity of a true Russian male-voice choir.
But what really deserves the fullest praise is Petrenko’s achievement over the cycle as a whole. What with the unexpectedly persuasive 3rd, the attention to unnoticed corners of the 5th, the magnificent, unparalleled 8th, and the universally acclaimed 10th, his versions are likely, on the whole, the finest in the catalogue.
THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE
Complete Shostakovich quartets and more
Cedille BOX 1003
Finally, an attractive boxed set has emerged from the Cedille label containing all of Shostakovich’s string quartets, plus four quartets by his contemporaries, each played by the US-based Pacifica Quartet. The tone is sensitive rather than abrasive, and the whole package, four CDs containing 19 quartets, has been highly praised. The additional composers represented are Nikolai Miaskovsky, Alfred Schnittke, Sergei Prokofiev and Mieczyslaw Weinberg.
Until this summer, when the idea of hiking the length of the island first occurred to me, I didn’t even know that Cijin (旗津) had been a peninsula until 1967. That’s when diggers and dredgers severed Cijin from Taiwan’s “mainland,” because the authorities wished to create a southern entrance to Kaohsiung’s fast expanding port. The island is just under 9km long, but a bit of research quickly convinced me that a south-to-north trek wasn’t a good idea. The southern third of Cijin is dominated by container-lifting cranes, warehouses and other facilities off-limits to the public. Dunhe Street (敦和街) forms the boundary between
Sept. 28 to Oct . 4 A large number of 3000-year-old slate coffins were unearthed on a hill near Nanhe Village (南和村) in Pingtung County on Sept. 30, 1985. Unfortunately, the United Daily News (聯合報) noted that they had been seriously damaged by construction, and no artifacts or human remains were found. Although the newspaper called the find a “significant discovery,” little information can be gleaned about this specific site because it’s just one of countless locations where stone sarcophagi have been unearthed across southern and eastern Taiwan, and as north as Yilan County. These stone receptacles for the dead were
Sitting at the bar, martini in hand, Kristin Scott Thomas rolls her eyes briefly heavenwards. And then she declares, in one of the most memorable monologues of the cult BBC drama Fleabag, that menopause is the “most wonderful fucking thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get fucking hot and no one cares. But then — you’re free! No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business.” When an entranced Fleabag says she has been told the whole thing is horrendous, Scott Thomas’s character responds: “It is horrendous,
As if the climbs and views and snacks and companions of cycling in Taiwan aren’t sufficient, the GPS-generation of route-planners are now using apps such as Strava and Endomondo to create works of art as they ride. One such is nicknamed the Dove Road of Sijhih (汐鴿路), a 25km ride that follows the riverside bike path from the Nangang-Neihu Bridge (南湖橋) to New Taipei City’s Sijhih District (汐止), climbs around 400m up the Sijhih-Shiding Road (汐碇路), before dropping back down past Academia Sinica to generate a very dove-like pattern. Originally called Kippanas by indigenous Ketagalan people and transliterated into Hoklo (more commonly