Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sunday Night with "Don Giovanni"

A small memoir of a pleasant evening last Sunday (28th. May):

Even in quiet little old Brisbane, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart is a big deal -- with many concerts in celebration being put on. The latest one that I attended -- last Sunday -- was a concert performance of the famous opera "Don Giovanni".

Anne and I went with another couple, Jill and Lewis. Jill is actually an ex-girlfriend of mine but in my usual way I have kept in touch with her. We have a very similar love of music -- which is a very significant bond. Both Anne and Lewis put up with that past with good grace as they understand the nature of the bond.

Before the concert I made a simple dinner of sandwiches for us all -- thick-cut Gypsy ham with American mustard, lettuce and tomato -- on fresh grain bread. Being a sandwich-lover, I know how to make a good sandwich -- though that is about the limit of my culinary talents. We had planned to have the sandwiches in the park adjoining the concert venue but the weather looked a bit overcast so we had them on my verandah

As a concert performance, the sets for the opera were minimal but the costumes were reasonable and the singing was good. As always, I particularly liked the bass singer (Don Pedro), who was very competent.

It did however have the casting problem that plagues all opera: Singers wildly out of character but chosen for their voices -- as it has to be, of course. On this occasion, Don Giovanni was a quite insignificant guy and not at all convincing as a great lover -- but he had an excellent baritone. And in an amusing reversal, instead of large and aging ladies being cast as young girls, we had a young girl cast as an older woman!

The concert was in one of Brisbane's old powerhouses, converted some years ago into a performing arts centre now that Brisbane gets its electricity from vast generators situated alongside equally vast central Queensland coalfields. The conversion into an arts centre deliberately retained a fair bit of the original powerhouse interior. The idea of that was undoubtedly "arty" but it works well enough and I of course am very much in favour of retaining reminders of how we all got to where we are today.

The most surprising thing about the night was the audience. Far from being geriatric, there were people there of all ages, with a good representation of young people. I like to think that we have the universal appeal of Mozart to thank for that.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

A Curate's Egg

Right Reverend Host: "I'm afraid you've got a bad Egg, Mr Jones!"; The Curate: "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!"

Anne's sister plays the flute in an amateur orchestra and various of her relatives usually go along to the concerts in support. There was a concert on tonight and Anne asked me to come along with her. I asked about the program but when I was told that it was only about 50% classical, I declined politely. Anne however hinted that she might feel unloved if I did not come so I of course at that point crumbled like a sandcastle on a beach.

The concert was in a very well-appointed auditorium attached to a large Anglican school. The concert started well with a fanfare from Carmina Burana but then the talking began. Why amateur entertainments have to be preceded by rambling speeches I do not know. When I went recently to the Mozart Requiem concert given by a professional orchestra, not a word was spoken, as was once the unvarying tradition. Even at professional concerts these days, however, conductors do sometimes burst into prose. If I wanted speeches I would go to a lecture. I go to concerts for music.

There were both pleasant and unpleasant surprises in the music. I was looking forward to a performance of the well-known Schubert/Goethe Erlkoenig. It is a famous German poem so I even know snatches of the words from it. But on this occasion, there was no singer. To play German Lieder without a singer seems incomprehensible to me but it was a purely instrumental version that we got.

A more pleasant surprise was a performance of a movement from one of Bach's Brandenburg concertos. It was done by a saxophone ensemble! Crazy as such instrumentation sounds, it worked. What I particularly liked was that the continuo was done by a bass saxophone -- which was a lot of work for the bass saxophonist. The continuo is of course normally done by the harpsichord, which gets rather swamped by the other instruments. But the bass saxophone brought it up loud and clear.

Another surprise was a work I had never heard of: "River of the Ancients" by Michael Sweeney, a 1994 composition. Sweeney accomplished what was undoubtedly the secret goal of most 20th century composers -- to emulate Stravinsky. Lacking Stravinsky's talent, all of his emulators that I know of just made a noise -- but this Sweeney piece sounded like something from the master. So if you like Stravinsky (as I do), you now have another CD to chase up.

Anyway, the orchestra was surprisingly good. You would not really know that they were amateurs. The concert was organized so that most of the non-classical stuff was in the second half so Anne had mercy on me and we left at intermission.