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      How One Man Built the Great American Orchestra

        The names inscribed on the façade of Chicago’s Orchestra Hall – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner – are familiar to every concertgoer. But another name that is proudly displayed not once, but twice alongside this pantheon of musical masters may be less familiar to you: Theodore Thomas. Theodore Thomas founded what would later more... more...

      Countertenor David Daniels on Finding His Voice, Finding Himself, and Being Married by Justice Ginsburg

      David Daniels is “the most acclaimed countertenor of the day, perhaps the best ever,” to use the words of the New York Times. Though many know him best for portraying some of opera’s greatest heroes from Julius Caesar to Orpheus, he is also passionate about civil rights. more...

      QUIZ: What American Composer Are You?

      Take this quiz to find out which dean of American music you're most like! Are you sparse and minimal like Philip Glass? Or do you prefer the sis-boom-bah John Philip Sousa? Do you prefer Samuel Barber's sonic landscapes of America, or Scott Joplin's Ragtime portraits of American life? more...

      Our Country, ‘Tis of Thee: How Marian Anderson Broke Boundaries for Singers of Color

      Younger generations of Americans take it for granted that the United States has been legally desegregated. But, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, segregation was the norm, including in concert halls across America. more...

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      Guillaume Tell opera rape outcry is over offence to music, not women

      The main complaint about the rape scene is that it doesn’t sit well with a jaunty Rossini piece. But why, then, are graphic operatic murders acceptable?

      The opera world is not very porous. When, on the first night of Guillaume Tell at the Royal Opera House earlier this week, people booed at the rape scene, at one point drowning out the music, and critics busted it from a four-star down to a one-star, and people bemoaned a huge range of things about modern life, from the sensibilities of its major opera players to the attention-seeking traits of its audiences, they were not objecting to the depiction of sexual violence for the reasons that you or I would. Well, not for the reasons I would, anyway.

      “I was dreading it, to be honest. Regietheater and all that,” said Juliette after Thursday’s performance. (German for “director’s theatre”, which is opera code for “people making you look at things you don’t want to see” – even their codes are coded through other languages). “I gather they covered her in a sheet, for tonight’s performance. She was naked before. But I loved it.” (I dispensed with the normal practice of asking for people’s ages. When I asked their names, some people looked at me as though I’d asked for their pin number).

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      The trouble with putting a rape scene in Rossini | Letters

      Edith Evans once said in an interview: “There is nothing that kills Shakespeare so much as a young director with ideas.” The violent rape scene in Covent Garden’s production of Rossini’s William Tell is the latest in a long history of directors using “ideas” to force audiences into a more meaningful engagement with opera (Booing and walkouts at Covent Garden, 1 July). I would probably have walked out myself, as I did in the 1980s from ENO’s grotesque Tristan. The basic problem with this sort of radical re-imagining of classical opera is that you can’t change the music or the singing to match the new concept. If you want Hamlet to seem like a violent cockney gang leader, you can at least get him to talk like that. But you can’t get classically trained opera singers to sound like anything but opera singers when they perform Rossini, any more than you can get the music itself to sound crudely horrifying. A modern composer might well write music that directly reflects the brutality of war, in which case the staging and singing could match it. But the most unfortunate result of these conflicts between 19th-century music and radical modern ideas of staging is not that the audience is shocked, but that great music is made to sound old-fashioned and ridiculous.
      Robert Philip
      Edinburgh

      • This is not the first time that musically superb performances at Covent Garden have been ruined by perverse stagings (I’ve seen quite a few). I haven’t seen this production yet, but I’d like to make three general comments.

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      Monstrous fun: the community opera with a cast of hundreds

      Jonathan Dove’s Monster in the Maze involves a huge cast of professionals and amateurs, adults and children, and it’s being performed in three countries, in three languages. Can the Simons (Rattle conducting, and Halsey choral directing) tame the beast?

      There are 350 singers on stage in the Philharmonie, Berlin. There are children, teenagers and adults. They are singing and acting their hearts out for Simon Rattle. The orchestra is made up partly of the Berlin Philharmonic and partly of students, many as young as 10. There are four horn-players whose feet don’t reach the floor. The music is by Jonathan Dove and Was lauert da im Labyrinth? (The Monster in the Maze) has been specially written to give as many people as possible the chance to perform within the hallowed walls of the Philharmonie.

      Meanwhile, exactly the same scene is taking place in London where the same piece, in its English version, The Monster in the Maze, is being acted, sung and played by the full forces of the London Symphony Orchestra’s Discovery programme - the LSO Community Choir and Youth and Children’s Choirs in association with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. They’re rehearsing for a performance at the Barbican on 5 July.

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