Opera and Classical MusicNotes
November 14, 2013
Ostap Darchuk in the Opera Faust
I have very concrete memories from my childhood and youth that are related to the opera Faust by Charles Gounod.
The opera Faust was very popular in the former USSR and was performed almost in all the opera houses of the empire. Rarely did a concert, even one for the wide workers’ audience, take place without the famous “Mephistopheles aria” (Le veau d’or est toujours debout) from the Faust opera by C.Gounod. A somewhat more refined audience – representatives of Soviet artistic, literary, and sometimes, but rarely, academic elites – were seen to even sing along during the intial phrases (usually in Russian translation) from the arias of Valentin, Faust or even Marguerite’s “Jewel Song” (Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir). And yet, the crown jewel of popularity when it came to the opera Faust by C.Gounod, was, without doubt, the musical ballet scene “Walpurgis Night” (Witches Sabbath).
I can vividly recall several interesting reminiscences by former theatre elders about the 1950s and 1960s. Apparently, during that period, there was a separate category of audience members at the Lviv Opera, who would arrive at the theatre, on the evenings when the opera Faust by C.Gounod was playing, at the end of Act 2. (At that time, the performance ticket cost was equivalent to 2 packs of cigarettes). This audience would immediately head for the theatre’s restaurant-bar (at that time it was in the beautiful Hall of Mirrors) for a requisite drink. After Act 3, they would climb up into the 3rd balcony, specifically, to see and hear the ballet scene “Walpurgis Night”. After the ballet scene’s conclusion, this audience would, once again, return to the restaurant-bar and over another tank of beer discuss their impressions of what they had just heard and seen.
Times and fashions have changed. The Faust opera by C.Gounod is no longer part of the Lviv Opera repertoire and hasn’t been for quite some time now. The Hall of Mirrors, where the restaurant-bar was, is now a gallery-museum. Tickets are considerably more expensive. And beer in Lviv tastes exactly the same as in Munich, Copenhagen or Prague. In short – globalization.
March 19, 2013
A Cantata by Franz Xaver Mozart
During the Soviet period, when various aspects of Lviv history were discussed, the name of Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was consistently suppressed. It was only quite recently, when Ukraine declared its independence that people began to talk about the genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s youngest son. Finally, facts that related to Franz Xaver Mozart, his living in Halychyna and his numerous activities in Lviv, appeared in the press. Some more extensive scholarly research concerning the time when “Mozart-Junior” stayed and worked in Lviv was conducted and published.
Interesting facts from F. X. Mozart’s biography were good. But, as it should be, an ever wider circle of classical music lovers in Lviv and beyond developed an interest in Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart as a composer. After more than half a century of denial and repression, Lviv “discovered” F.X.Mozart, the composer. For me, this became a truly gratifying and enlightening discovery
Works by this composer have consistently been performed during the past few years on Lviv stages. Despite being placed in the shadows of his genius – father, Franz Xaver Mozart created music that undoubtedly has every right to be an active part of our lives today. As such, I am pleased that I had the opportunity to contribute to the renaissance of the “Mozart from Lviv”.
A performance of the cantata by F.X.Mozart entitled The First Day of Spring and performed with the Galician Chamber Choir, soloists and the Chamber Orchestra Lviv Virtuosos, became a pleasant surprise both for the Lviv audience and for the performers themselves.
The music of the “Mozart from Lviv” can and should be in great demand in Lviv. To my mind, it can in time become one of the city’s cultural brands reaching far beyond its borders.
March 5, 2013
The Most Famous Opera – Carmen
For a professional musician, the issue is never which work is or is not the most famous opera. I could, of course, quote P.Tchaikovsky’s prothetic words, when he predicted that in the future, the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet would become “the most famous opera in the world”. Richard Wagner, also, reacted similarly to what has now become one of the most famous operas in the world. We could even mention the great Johannes Brahms, who had no qualms about seeing the opera work performed more than 20 times.
As for me, everytime I immerse myself into the nuances of a famous opera or symphony and its musical score, after a certain period of time, I catch myself feeling an acute need to perform precisely THIS particular piece. It is at that moment, that I find my life controlled by that specific score. For a limited period of time, it becomes my greatest passion. There is an overwhelming desire to transmit this temporary, but extremely strong, love for this particular music, to the audience – to enthrall and prevail upon them this all-consuming feeling. If successful, I, once again, get a feeling of immense spiritual satisfaction.
On the other hand, not everything depends on the perfomance itself. The assigned task becomes much easier and much more pleasant, when dealing with music and drama of the highest order. It is this which is present in these most famous operas and symphonies. There are no “empty spaces” in these musical scores. From the first to the last note, everything is true, necessary, logical and brilliant.
Why is the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet so popular? Obviously, because every single one of its musical fragments – whether it is an aria, an ensemble, a chorus scene, or the Prelude – are not simply brilliant and outwardly effective musical episodes. The passionate violins, the lament of the oboe in the Entr’acte to Act 4 are the passionate tears of Georges Bizet himself. This is his final lament – for Jos?, for Carmen, for everything that happened as it happened.
All of this evokes a particular desire and necessity. The audience is attracted to this most famous opera at the subconsious level. And, indeed, herein lies the great power of great music.
February 4, 2013
When professional conversations turn to the topic of a Bellini opera, in most cases the focus is on the performance skills of the opera singers. This is not a mere coincidence. It takes great skill to convey the finest nuances and emotional states of the opera characters expressly through “beautiful singing”. For this is the strength and detemining factor in the success of a Bellini opera.
It seems to me that, precisely because of this, the staging of Bellini’s operas has not been subjected to some of the “handiwork” of certain contemporary stage directors, who, over the past several decades, have brutalised and vulgarized the operas of other composers.
On the other hand, we have to be wary, for our goal is to satisfy and prevail upon the audience. When singers insist on focusing on a beautiful voice and technical prowess as something of value in and of itself, we risk losing all. For even though, bel canto is fundamental, it is only the splendiferous “Stradivari”. The ultimate goal is to perform not just the notes, but to recreate the deep and substantial sequence of musical sounds portraying precisely the dramatic genius of Vincenzo Bellini.
In reality, there are few who can do this really well. All the well known and extravagant stage director’s “tricks”, which are often used to bamboozle and shock the audience, have no place here. Thank Heavens!
The singer’s voice, performing a V. Bellini opera, conveys artistic genius if he or she paints with skill and taste. At such time, the singer is compared to a diamond that shines within an appropriate setting.
Appropriately, the sound of the orchestra and chorus in V. Bellini operas must become that stylish setting. But, they are not just the background accompaniment for the singer. The drama within a Bellini opera is built upon the strong expressiveness of a sophisticated, clear choir and orchestra.