Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera

DC Metro. Camera: Canonet QL-17. Film: Trix400.
Got to experience my first live Troyens over Thanksgiving weekend, thanks to Lyric Opera of Chicago's new production...

The headline casting coup here was the one-two punch of Christine Goerke and Susan Graham as Cassandre and Didon. Goerke's vocalism towered over the Troy acts, the part a great fit for her voice and a showcase for how she can convey urgent drama while maintaining that beautiful rounded tone throughout. Companies thinking about dipping their toe into Troyens need to get on it stat to give her more opportunities to sing this role, which could very well be a signature part for her.

Graham, a late replacement for the originally scheduled Sophie Koch, has has of course owned Didon for a decade now, and her portrayal remains an essential assumption, especially in Didon's harrowing breakdown over the course of Act 5. Her middle voice is perhaps a bit less plush than I remember from the HD broadcasts in 2012, but the her soaring, powerful top remains an incredible vehicle for Didon's passion and rage.

The third punch (?) was supposed to be Brandon Jovanovich's Aeneas, but he cancelled shortly before curtain time due to illness, and the production's Helenus, Corey Bix, went on in his place. Now before making any critiques, I want to make clear that people who cover Aeneas deserve our gratitude, are assured a place in heaven, etc. And moreover, people that can create a full-fledged, musically satisfying performance and essentially save huge stretches of the show like Bix did Saturday night are to be especially praised.

That said, Bix didn't get too far beyond checking the (admittedly pretty extraordinary) boxes for this part. The voice is loud, but somewhat colorless and lacks the heroic styling and timbre that would take the vocal portrayal to a more rarefied level. In softer music (like the love duet), the essential attractiveness of the voice is clear, but once the demands get more intense a sort of curdled sound takes over and the focus turns to getting through the music (again, no small task) rather than making something more with it. Bix has now replaced Issachah Savage in Virginia Opera's "Der Freischutz" in February, and while I am very bummed about missing another chance to hear Savage, will look forward to hearing Bix under friendlier conditions than the most intimidating cover situation possible (though I hear he also filled in for a number of Hymel dates in SFO--apparently he makes a habit of this grueling task).

Breaking down the rest of the endless cast in detail would get pretty tiring but here's a quick shout out list: as Iopas, tenor Mingjie Lei turned in a very beautiful Ceres song; Okka von der Damerau made a lot of out her turn as Dido's sister using her very dark, interesting mezzo voice; young artist Jonathan Johnson made a good impression in Hylas' Act 5 opening ballade; and Bradley Smoak brought a fine rich bass to Hector's ghost.

The production design is hit or miss. A large curved wall revolves to create different spaces in the cities of Troy and Carthage. Filled with rubble that provided a variety of playing spaces during the two Troy Acts the set looked great and served as a vehicle for some effective design moments like the huge projection of the Trojan horse drifting across the front of the ramparts while Cassandre sings her heart out from the top of the ramparts.

Unfortunately, after cleaning up the rubble for the Carthage part, things got considerably less visually interesting. The production tried to solve this with projections onto the huge expanse of the back wall of the set, but these often fell prey to the old crappy projection syndrome (CPS). A bit with stars and bad looking planets moving across the wall during the love duet was especially risible. In Act V they just stopped trying and most of the action was played out against a generically lit whitewashed wall.

Direction of the principal's scenes and crowd management during the big ensembles was fine I guess, but c'mon--with all the great inventive productions of greek and greek-adjacent theatre over recent decades this is the best we can do? I don't know if the goal was something understated, if they ran out of money, or if they just ran out of ideas, but this felt like a poorly conceived production and something of a missed opportunity given the tremendous canvas Troyens provides.

Costumes were nondescript modern dress, but sometimes confusing, as with an extremely unflattering schoolmarm skirt suit for Graham in Act III which was tried and failed to indicate "head of state." Graham's elegant "nondescript classical period" blue robe for the final Act was much more in line with what you'd expect for Troyens but it's hard to explain how it existed in the same universe with the earlier getup.

The orchestra and chorus, led by Andrew Davis, set a very high musical bar for the evening. I'll admit I had lost track of my opinion of the Lyric band and assumed it would be solid but nothing special, but was promptly put in my place by the big, exciting sound that poured from the pit. Davis served up some truly thrilling climaxes, for instance, Act 2's suicide chorus, one of those special moments where the drawbacks of the theater fall away and you are only aware of what a spectacular melding of chorus, soloists and monster orchestra you are witnessing.


Herodiade at WCO

I wrote about Washington Concert Opera's presentation of Herodiade for Parterre:
Operatic history can be cruel where multiple works with the same subject are concerned, generally consigning all but one example to obscurity, or at best the fringes of the regular repertory. In the case of Massenet’s 1881 Hérodiade, it isn’t hard to see how the work’s gentle melodies and crowd-pleasing Orientalism became hopelessly uncool in the wake of Richard Strauss’ blockbuster treatment of the Salome story a quarter century later. Yet, as demonstrated by a committed, strongly cast performance by Washington Concert Opera this past Sunday, these judgments can be unfair.
Read the whole thing here...


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jenufa at the Met

Budapest. Camera: Minolta Hi-Matic. Film: Trix400.



For the record, just a few comments about the final Jenufa I saw back on November 17th.

Let us not mince words about the importance of what Karita Mattila has done here. Ten years after defining the role of Jenufa at the Met in the maiden voyage of the Tambosi production, her assumption of the Kostelnicka has single-handedly dispelled the kneejerk view of this role as shrill, unmusical, and bordering on camp.

Mattila's Kostelnicka is a deeply sympathetic character, expressed through soaring music of great beauty and immediacy. Indeed, the gravity of her portrayal and the attention she focuses on the Kostelnicka's music seems to reweight the entire opera. The ease with which the opera makes sense by locating its heart in the Kostelnicka's Act II struggle is quite the revelation, and when the Kostelnicka's time on stage ends somewhat abruptly with her being led away in Act III, one really feels as though the dramatic thrust of the story has come to a close. The work's original Czech title, translated as "Her Stepdaughter," finally makes sense.

It didn't hurt that the Met production's Jenufa, Oksana Dyka, suffered by comparison with memories of Mattila's Jenufa. Oh, how I wanted to find something to like in what Dyka was doing. Her Jenufa emphasizes the character's battiness and trashiness, a valid choice worth supporting. But it's not enough to compensate for a fundamentally unpleasant vocal performance that can't express the musical beauty in a part that really demands it. At base I think it's a fairly unattractive sound, though capable of very focused forte high notes that are solid on their own. But frequent scooping and unsteadiness bedevil the rest of the performance; Jenufa just sounds a bit tipsy throughout. Jenufa's beautiful moments of stasis, the musical and emotional anchors of the opera, just don't really land, and the cost to the overall impression is high.

WNO's recent Siegfried Daniel Brenna showed up here as Laca, with mixed results. I went back and forth on whether that big old bear of a voice, so useful for Siegfried, was wrong for Laca or simply an acquired taste. While Laca's resentment and fury were powerfully realized, the exquisite texture of  Janacek's music was often lost. Between Brenna and Dyka, this was a decidedly rowdy and unsubtle version of the Act I ensemble "All young couples have chesna." Joseph Kaiser has a suitably beautiful voice for Steva, and the looks to match, though he seemed to be marking in the first and third acts during the final performance for some reason.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fille du Regiment at WNO

Thoughts on WNO's new production of La Fille du Regiment at Parterre:
Washington National Opera offered a shellshocked D.C. some much-needed diversion Saturday night, with a new production of La Fille du Regiment. Though a fairly basic take on Donizetti’s featherweight 1840 comedy, a solid cast and nimble direction made this a rewarding evening for locals willing to sober up/crawl out from under the covers for the first time since Tuesday. 

Read the whole thing here...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Lawrence Brownlee at the Kennedy Center

I wrote about Lawrence Brownlee's KC recital for Parterre:
This past week brought the first installment of the new “Renee Fleming’s VOICES!” series at the Kennedy Center. The bad news is that this is not the name of a new drag revue she is curating. The good news is that the first concert was devoted to the exceptional artistry of Lawrence Brownlee.
Read the whole thing...

Saturday, October 01, 2016

New Tristan at the Met

Rock Creek Park. Camera: Pentax Spotmatic. Film: Ektar100.


Yes, yes, this happened last Monday, but FWIW here are some thoughts about the new Met Tristan...

Nothing (save Norma) brings out the haters like high profile Wagner, and there has been a lot of mixed opinion on the leads, especially Stuart Skelton’s Tristan. Frankly, it all seems like an awfully precarious position to take in an era when we still don’t have the technology to reanimate the corpse of Vinay or Melchior. 

Skelton’s Act I was touch and go for a bit, with a pleasant enough sound but some bellowing issues too. Act II found Skelton locking into gear with a warm, lyrical contribution to the (annoyingly truncated) duet. Yes, he sacrifices cutting power for beauty at times, but given the alternative, this feels like a fair choice. 

I think the basic test for Act III is not consistent beauty of sound (which would seem at odds with any dramatically worthy performance) but whether the singer comes off as owning the music or being owned by it. Skelton far surpassed this bar, giving us a fully realized reading of Tristan's lament without ever letting it get the best of him. 

Nina Stemme needs little introduction, especially for DC audiences still swooning over her single cycle of Brunnhildes last spring. Stemme's vocal performance here was full of moments to appreciate, always passionate and present yet beautifully sung at the same time. She felt a bit cautious for opening night, giving an additional beat here and there to make sure an attack landed truly, but nothing that detracted from the overall impact.

Her Isolde is devoid of the haughtiness that singers sometimes look to in order to make sense of this character. As with her Brunnhilde, Stemme finds the driven, type-A core of Wagner's heroine. Yet her Act III was also sensitively felt, her reunion with the dying Tristan appropriately pitiful. Stemme focuses relentlessly on the union of voice and text rather than overwhelming sound and line, and, fair enough, this is not everyone is looking for in their Isolde. But one would be hard pressed to deny that this is one of the great Isolde assumptions available to us on the stage today.

Rene Pape did his duties as King Marke (between this and the 'Manz one feels like he is always lecturing Met audiences about something), with his usual penetrating intelligence. I'll say this felt just a tad less special than his assumption in the last (second to last?) run of the Dorn production that I saw a number of years back. King Marke's monologue needs to exist in the same suspended time as Wotan's Walkure Act II speech, and something about the staging here seemed to distract from that.

Ekaterina Gubanova was a stunning Brangane; by turns tender and argumentative, she reminded the audience what a satisfying role this can be in the right hands. Evgeny Nikitin offered a committed Kurwenal, though a somewhat hollow sound failed to make much of a vocal impression. Neal Cooper sang an odd Melot, with a put-on nasal villain character voice a la Mime. I'm assuming his straight voice doesn't sound like this, but it was a weird choice.

Simon Rattle made undeniable magic in the pit, driving the gorgeous Met orchestra in a vibrant, emotionally compelling reading. Rattle worked the score intensely, ensuring each small moment boiled with intensity, and never afraid of pushing a rawer sound in favor of emotional impact, though it was all thunder and flash. Rattle demonstrated an enviable intelligence in accompanying the long Act III monologue and quiet moments of heartbreaking poignancy throughout. If there's a quibble here, its that two big showpieces--the overture and love duet--didn't quite achieve the slow burn and release one would like. Clearly Rattle knows far more about this score than I, but if we're going to tally brute payoffs, they didn't quite happen.

Markus Trelinski’s production has a lot of compelling moments and design elements going for it, but is also trying to do...a lot. Cutting out 2 or 3 of its big gestures would go a long ways towards creating something more successful.

Things kick off with a prelude accompaniment video, here a pinging radar with video of a choppy sea and images hinting at Tristan's backstory. I am not opposed to a choreographed prelude, but I do have a healthy skepticism for overture projections (i.e. videos, not staged business), especially in Wagner, where one needs to be REAL SURE one has something valuable to add. I think part of the problem is that opera production money is just not enough money to effectively realize a director's vision for CGI projections at this point. With rare exceptions, what we get almost invariably feels a bit chintzy and cobbled together, regardless of how slick the subsequent production is. The projections in this production were better than some but still felt like an unnecessary distraction, giving us dull, literal imagery that just feels petty when the music is trying to unlock our collective subconcious. 

The hulking military ship set for Act I is quite impressive, sort of a grim version of the vessel from "Life Aquatic." The lighting is shockingly dim throughout (the ENTIRE show is played behind a scrim), certain to annoy some, but it hauntingly reinforces the contrast between bleak reality and the wanton excess of the characters' desires. The drinking of the potion is especially effective, realized as a desperate suicide pact that plays out deep in the bowels of the ship. Tristan and Isolde are ultimately left in pitch blackness, as though they could have stayed deep underwater forever, but instead find themselves cruelly thrust into the light.

Unfortunately, with so many fun rooms to play with, Trelinski feels the need to really give the set a workout, and the staging becomes overly busy with constant location changes that sometimes make it challenging to really dig into the long scenes of Act I.

There is also the small matter of Tristan executing Morold in cold blood, who apparently didn't die as expected but has been taken aboard the ship as a hostage. I suppose one could have built a meta-storyline around this that plays on a bloodthirsty Tristan, but it mostly feels shocking and out of character. This is the first in a series of ill-advised libretto embellishments from Trelinski that have a sort of passing novelty but fail to really add anything to the text.

Act II's design nicely pursues the dark industrial military theme, with Isolde waiting for Tristan's return on the ship's bridge, a foreboding air traffic control/prison watchtower-type space. Once the love duet begins, however, things deteriorate quickly. First, there is that cut, about 7 minutes before "O Sink Hernieder," which I was prepared to accept but it ended up being pretty jarring in practice. Then, just as things are getting down to business, the curtain goes down during Brangane's interlude (which she has to do miked offstage) and comes up on a vast industrial bay, where I suppose T n' I are planning to bang once the song is done?

Aimless blocking during the next 15 minutes takes them all over the warehouse for little discernible purpose, but worst of all is the giant projection of a smoky space orb that appears on the scrim. I think this can be chalked up to the same impulse that got the Machine Ring into such trouble--fear that people will be bored with what every Wagner opera comes down to in the end: humans standing around singing for what feels like an inordinately long amount of time. Trelinski solves the "problem" here (though shows restraint elsewhere) by introducing a scenic element that feels wildly out of place with the grim practical world created so far.

Act III stages Kareol as a modest hospital ward, which finds Tristan comatose on a gurney placed center stage, the pinging radar projection reused as a heart monitor. Midway through Tristan's big scene, he steps through one of the hospital walls and finds himself in (I think) his burnt down childhood home, and young Tristan emerges to reenact its destruction.

I have two problems with this. First, invented backstory is not the same as providing new ideas to support a text. Did anyone come away from Monday saying "Oh OK i get why Tristan did it now!"? Especially in Wagner, adding invented context for the characters beyond whatever ambiguous hints are contained in the libretto seems very useless. The hard work is creating a production that evokes the themes in the text at a deeper level while leaving the surface story intact.

Second, meta-material needs to serve the dramatic impact of what's happening onstage in addition to giving us something to think about. The burned out home satisfies this to some degree, but one can't help but think about how much more effective this staging might have been if it had tried to unify its bonus ideas with the musical angle Skelton was trying to work at the same time. As it currently plays out, he just seems kind of annoyed by the superfluous stage business he has to execute while gasping for breath.

The end is well done, with a faceless army of flashlights advancing on Tristan und Isolde in their fleeting moment of reunion. Isolde is seen slashing her wrists here, neatly explaining her later sinking to the ground "transfigured." I'm not sure if this is really necessary, though as an explanation of that inexplicable ending this seems understated and fine.

At the end of this scene, the stage goes dark and when Marke and Brangane enter its as if the lovers were never there, an eerie effect that underlines how both are already unbound from the earthly world. Once this interlude is done, Isolde reemerges and sings the Liebestod to a ghost (?) of Tristan sitting calmly downstage on a bench. There was something awkward about having Stemme pad about the corner of the stage for the whole song, when at that point we really just wanted her to plant center and SERVE IT.

Bottom line--this show can't be missed for the impressive cast and conductor it offers. The production is not ideal, but when its good it is effective and interesting and when it is bad it is at least bad in interesting ways. And hey, Tristan opening night FTW right?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Butterfly at Weiner Staatsoper



Made my maiden voyage to the Weiner Staatsoper last Wednesday, the same day of Johan Botha's untimely passing in Vienna. GM Dominique Meyer appeared in front of the curtain prior to the performance and spoke at length in German about Botha. I could only pick out so much, but he spent some time talking about Botha's extensive career at the Staatsoper, and so I gather from later reports, discussed the company's sadly unrealized plan to award Botha the prestigious Kammersanger title.

Though I have always appreciated Botha virtually, I only saw him live once, in his fine showing as Walther in last spring's Met Meistersingers. The voice was the real deal, and whatever his dramatic limitations we have lost one of the few folks on the planet that can overwhelm a house the size of the Met with Wagner's music as it should sound. It's a massive loss and one that will be felt acutely.

As for the show itself, my disappointment at missing Monday's Lohengrin with Klaus Florian Vogt was somewhat assuaged by the opportunity to finally get to see Kristine Opolais' Butterfly live. Her cool, smoky timbre isn't a typical sound for Butterfly but she employs it to unique affect, especially in the great statements of the second and third acts, though it doesn't quite have the beauty needed for a truly memorable first act. Unfortunately our seats in the Galerie (several rows back at the edge of the center section) were decidedly partial view and it was hard a bit hard to fully engage.

Piero Pretti's Pinkerton was a bit generic but valiantly sung, with a big true sound especially in a ringing climax for "Addio, fiorito asil." Mezzo Bongiwe Nakani, in an auspicious Staatsoper debut, turned in an attention grabbing Suzuki, with a rich, authoritative lower register. Among the gallery of dudes trying to solve Butterfly's problems, Boaz Daniel stood out with a pleasant, earnest Sharpless. 

The 1957(!) production by Josef Geilin was everything I could have asked for in a throwback Staatsoper experience. The head on pictures with Japanese painting inspired backgrounds are actually pretty attractive, but from the upper balcony (1957 designers did NOT give a shit about the cheap seats) the quaint set is delightfully reminiscent of one of those 1950s live TV movie musicals. For the second and third acts, the interior of Butterfly's little shack improbably opens up into a generous open plan ranch house, with a decor looks a little like the view inside the house you get on that Japanese cat care cell phone game. It's great.

DC's own Philipe Auguin, who will conduct Butterfly at WNO in the Spring, seemed to relish the glorious sound of the Staatsoper band, driving the volume to 11 as soon as the singers took a break and then quickly dialing things back down (for the most part, he was guilty of swamping the singers on a few occasions). If a bit less subtle than what I remember from his Butterfly outing here a few years back, the results were pretty exciting, especially an exuberant Act III in which Butterfly did its best impression of an exuberant passage from Die Frau Ohne Schatten, a reminder of how rich these scores can be in the right hands.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The NSO Season Ahead

Seven years is a curious amount of time in the life of a symphony orchestra: long enough to feel like the past is a distant memory, too short to comfortably assume the rose colored glasses that obscure recent misgivings. Perhaps that is why Christoph Eschenbach's final season with the NSO doesn't look like much of a victory lap, but rather a continuation of the NSO's last few years, characterized by a healthy smattering of interesting programs but few of the exciting investments we saw earlier in Eschenbach's tenure.

The "themes" for the season probably won't drive anyone into the concert hall: "Shakespeare" (a good year to use that one I suppose) and folklore (I mean, c'mon). At the least one would hope these themes were tied to an ambitious project or two, but mostly they seem to be justification for a lot of filler programming.

In the Shakespeare bucket, most of the material is new to me and may turn out to include some interesting curiosities (Smetana did something inspired by Richard III? There's a Korngold score for a Much Ado About Nothing film?) but none of it is likely to generate broader excitement. The folklore lineup provides a pretext for chestnuts from Rimsky-Korsakov and the like (though I will definitely be going to hear the suite from Cunning Little Vixen).

One of Music Director Designate Gianandrea Noseda's two appearances for the year (and definitely the choicer of the two) crops up under one of the Shakespeare headers: a complete reading of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet. Noseda's lesser evening will find him proving he can hack it in Americana in the NSO's big Kennedy tribute evening, a program that will include John Williams' music from Lincoln and JFK, Copland's Lincoln Portrait, Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue, among other crowd-pleasers.

A more fruitful line of programming is the celebration of the 90th anniversary of beloved former maestro Mstislav Rostropovich's birth, offering a welcome emphasis on Russian works and a brief tour to Russia  featuring cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Highlights include Eschenbach conducting Shostakovich Symphonies 1 and 8 and the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1, and James Conlon leading Shostakovich Symphony 5 and Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1 with Lise de la Salle.

Soloist wise, a number of big names from recent years return next season, most notably Joshua Bell, who will take up a residency in February, much of which will be devoted to new works or TBD crossover programs. Lang Lang (opening ball something something), Emanuel Ax (Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1), Gidon Kremer (Weinberg Violin Concerto), and Hilary Hahn (Mendelssohn Violin Concerto), all turn up as well for a roster that is respectable, if not brimming with must-see soloist and repertoire combinations.

Missing from the line-up are any forays into concert presentations of dramatic works, often a highlight of the Eschenbach years, though there will be a few evenings requiring larger forces. These include Eschenbach's final NSO encounter with Mahler (Symphony No. 2), and the requisite Beethoven 9 torch song (featuring, FWIW, a strong cast including Joseph Kaiser and J'nai Brugger).

If one fact stands out about the season, it is the impressive line-up of new commissions, world premieres, and recent works new to the NSO. The Kennedy Center is paying a lot of lip service to new and/or American work as part of the JFK centennial year, and the NSO is doing its part with no less than 5 new commissions or co-commissions. This is a commendable thing, though whether it translates to enjoyable nights in the hall is yet to be seen. For instance, we're going to be getting a whole lot of composer-in-residence Mason Bates next year, which is good or bad news depending on how much you enjoy a techno bonus track on top of you regularly scheduled symphony.

Earlier this year, upon news of Noseda's appointment Ionarts' Jens Laurson offered some crucial thoughts on where the NSO goes from here:
The NSO cannot be fixed without its audience improving. Anyone familiar with the Washington classical music scene will have noticed a strange disparity between the uncurious, unenthusiastic, fair-weather crowd that goes to the Kennedy Center (the Washington National Opera crowd being the worst, but the NSO audience, which gives standing ovations only to reach for the car keys, not far behind)… and the world class chamber music audience, which is curious, excitable, stands in long lines to hear new acts or unknown music and which is discriminating and extremely knowledgeable. You find them in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Freer Gallery’s concert stage, at the Phillips Collection, at the National Gallery of Arts, at various embassies and residencies. How can these latter music lovers be coaxed to take a stake in the NSO’s future and presence?
The chamber music scene Laurson describes builds on DC's considerable cultural advantages: 1) a smart, deep pocketed audience attracted by the government and its attendant industries; 2) foreign institutions providing support for and ready connections to international culture; 3) the prestige that ensures DC remains a destination for international artists; and 4) proximity to federal largesse.

While the NSO leverages #2, #3, and #4 pretty well, it has indeed failed to really capture the crucial loyalties of #1. For these audiences the NSO exudes a drab institutionalism, a good enough band for a good enough city, but not the kind of cultural asset which inspires a feeling of ownership. Changing this narrative will require taking some chances, thinking hard about what role the NSO wants to play in the cultural life of the city, and moving away from the bet-hedging of the current season.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

HD Handwringing

Hello there.

I read Anne Midgette's balanced check-in on HD broadcasts back in July but didn't say anything about it. Lisa Hirsch has brought it up again, however, so I guess I'll take a crack.

The complaints about the HD casts (of which I am an occasional consumer) have always struck me as both excessively gloomy and unsupported by any credible data. The question of whether HD is cannibalizing live attendance at the Met or other venues is vastly more complex than, say, whether Fage is cannibalizing Chobani. A live opera performance and an HD cast are vastly different products with vastly different "transaction costs" and uptake of the HD casts over the same time period as Met ticket sales have been hurting proves nothing.

Francesca Zambello's alarmist statements in that article aside, my experience with HD in the DC area suggests a plausible story that doesn't involve cannibalization. The elderly crowds that turn up for the broadcasts bear some resemblance to the crowd in the Kennedy Center, but I highly doubt would turn up for live WNO performances. They are the lazy elderly (not a knock, they are still showing more initiative than demographics half their age) for whom a drive downtown and dealing with parking, especially on a weeknight, is not an experience on which they want to spend several hundred dollars. The choice is not between a live show and an HD cast, but between a live show and staying home. The HD cast is gravy.

As for the actual live operagoers I know, the HD casts very clearly reside in a separate bucket. These are folks who have a clear quota of live performance attendance, some of which may be spent on opera, some of which may be spent on straight theater or other music. They gauge their interest in the WNO's offerings for the year and decide how much of that quota is going to opera. If they also head to an HD cast on a Saturday afternoon, its a very different type of activity.

But whether or not there is really some substitution going on here, I can't quite get over the very clear artistic-moral imperative for the HD casts. This is going to sound like the Met press releases I fear, but the HD casts need to be thought of in the context of the Met radio broadcasts in the 1930s, which was truly one of the most important milestones in the history of high culture in the 20th century. The dividends it has paid in the longevity of opera and in lives touched and moved by art is incalculable.

Now, there are some clear differences between the radio broadcasts and the HD program up to this point. At $25 or so a pop, the price is cheaper than a live performance but still a lot more than "free," and there are only so many seats in the movie theaters where the broadcasts occur (and apparently PBS only thinks the tristate area (maybe Boston?) is worthy of classical performance programming). Barriers to entry are also relatively high for the wonderful HD on demand streaming service. Anyone who has agonized about the Met's business predicaments can certainly understand the logic to turning a profit on these services, but it is an important distinction with the truly accessible radio broadcasts.

Yet the alternative, of not charging forward with this new way of distributing the art form, seems unthinkable. Opera companies, or any institution that primarily present the art of the past, have a special mandate to focus on preservation and education. While this may reasonably take a back seat to immediate considerations for many companies, an institution as grand as the Met cannot escape this duty so easily. With the technology to make opera available to those who will never set foot in the live theater with vastly greater immediacy than radio, it would be a dereliction of duty to refuse based on miserly concerns about marginal audience attrition.

I can sympathize with fears of a dystopian future in which empty opera houses occasionally distribute a performance feed to movie theaters filled with elderly opera-goers who can't be bothered to make the trip anymore, the younger audience long since repulsed by the bland experience of secondhand live performance. But I also don't think that is very likely. The continued viability of opera is, as always, a touch-and-go situation, but the HD casts, whatever their growing pains may be, are most certainly a bright spot in that landscape.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Ring Revisited: Cycle III Walkure at WNO

This past Wednesday’s Die Walkure added Nina Stemme, fresh off her widely praised New York appearances in Elektra, to WNO’s Ring Cycle line-up, putting DC in the enviable position of getting to compare three very strong but very different Brunnhilde’s in as many weeks.

For Cycle I, due to a last minute substitution, we got Christine Goerke’s sensitive and emotionally vulnerable Brunnhilde, wrapped up in a gorgeous plush sound. Catherine Foster’s Cycle II Brunnhilde was somewhat lackluster and dramatically inert, but her brilliant silvery top notes delivered reliable thrills, especially in the climax of Siegfried and the heavy artillery demands of Gotterdammerung.

Now we have Stemme’s intense Vaklyrie--a driven servant who enters the opera with little trace of the mortal woman she is to become. In this Brunnhilde’s Act II crisis, we witness a woman suffering a violent break with the person she thought she was, an echo of Wotan’s own crippling moment of introspection so memorably brought out by Alan Held in this Rheingold (gods take this stuff hard). As Stemme goes to carry out Siegmund’s sentence, we see her doubled over in physical pain at the contradiction she must enforce. The Act III dialogue is a grinding slog of self-discovery, Brunnhilde groping tentatively towards the understanding that her fate has been separated from Wotan’s forever.

Stemme brings the character to life through a stunning vocal performance. If one had to bucket the Brunnhildes we’ve heard this month, Stemme and Foster share a similar, more traditionally penetrating timbre than Goerke’s unique creamy sound. But Stemme sets herself apart with a brilliant technicolor depth at the top of her range and a bevy of delicately shaded dynamics. Though she seemed a bit tentative at first in connecting to the top of the voice, she quickly overcame these obstacles to deliver a vital and complete portrayal.

After struggling with allergies last week, Held came roaring back to form with a definitive run of his flawed, domineering Wotan. Auguin allowed the Act II monologue to marinate more than he has on previous evenings, and Held followed suit, with a dynamic reading that pushed the boundaries of what this sequence can achieve. My Ring newbie seatmate was especially impressed with this at the intermission, and was duly horrified when I shared that the LePage production pairs this (potentially) brilliant piece of vocal theater with a cartoon. By the end of the scene, Held has created a toxic mix of frustration, self-pity and resentment that is oppressive in its intensity, the deity version of a William H. Macy character who knows the jig is up.

If at times this commitment pushed his voice to its limits, he held onto control throughout and turned in a moving final scene with Stemme. For just one little example of Held's artistry, see the section that begins “So leicht wähntest du/Wonne des Herzens erworben…” where Wotan briefly sympathizes with Brunnhilde’s first taste of love, before scolding her for enjoying what has only brought bitterness to his life. Held vividly illustrates this short passage by incrementally shifting the color of his voice from a melting mezza voce to a brassy snarl as he turns on his daughter.

Meagan Miller’s final Sieglinde was also her best. “Du bist der Lenz” was ardently felt, the final bars spun with a sumptuous legato line, while Act II reached a new level of disconsolate frenzy. Her sound may fall short on the easy beauty that one expects of Sieglinde, but she wields that sound with the abandon needed for a fully satisfying assumption.

If one could patch together a Walkure supercut from the last few weeks, I would pair Miller’s final Sieglinde with Ventris’ seamless performance in Cycle II. After his steady contributions in previous weeks, it was a surprise to find him sounding somewhat vocally tired in the final show. He also seemed to have trouble syncing up with Auguin, who wanted to add some extra final night juice and couldn’t get on the same page with Ventris, though these issues didn't mar another exciting Act I finale. Auguin put forward perhaps his most exquisite ending yet, with a shuddering, serotonin flooding climax at the drawing of Nothung (slightly worried what’s going to happen if I stop getting this weekly dosage and the weather stays so depressing).

Raymond Aceto had a strong final night realizing the production’s particularly sadistic take on Hunding, while Elizabeth Bishop scored an impressive triumph in her final traversal as Fricka. Bishop left the proverbial blood on the floor in her scene Wednesday, and some of the cutesier directorial touches ended up looking very petty indeed next to the majesty with which she imbued the scene.

In my review of the Cycle I Walkure I criminally omitted a discussion of the Walkuren themselves (though others most certainly did not), but the strong WNO lineup deserves further mention. Spurred on by driving tempi in the pit, this cast delivers a high-octane start to Act III that rightly outshines the fun staging with the parachutes. Standouts include rich, high volume Hojotoho’s from Lori Phillips’ Gerhilde (who makes clear in a few measures that she is also covering Brunnhilde for this run); the warm urgent mezzo of Domingo Cafritz young artist favorite Daryl Freedman; and this production’s Erda, Lindsey Ammann, whose spectacular low notes make for an instantly memorable Schwertleite (quick someone do a list of biggest names to play Schwertleite).

The updated version of this production continues to reward in many ways. This time I was particularly struck by the care with which Zambello has choreographed blocking beats to take advantage of the music, some surely inspired by the original stage directions. Churning music in the opening prior to Siegmund’s entrance is set to Sieglinde staring mournfully from the screen door of her hut; a suddenly quiet passage near the end Act II provides an opportunity for Wotan to cradle the dying Siegmund; the several bars of tonally ambiguous transition music leading into the magic fire music catches Wotan bereft and alone in a cold spotlight against the back of the stage; and so on.

I still object to those blasted transitional projections, though, and have finally put my finger on what that “flight of Siegmund through Rock Creek Park” projection looks like, i.e., a budget karaoke background for Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ring Revisited: Cycle II at WNO

I know we're already halfway through Cycle III, but here are some outstanding thoughts on the 3 of 4 installments of Cycle II I was able to take in last week (only one Siegfried for me, I'm afraid).

Tuesday’s Cycle II Rheingold (May 10th) confirmed the myriad pleasures offered by this cast as well as the overall strength of the production—indeed, I’m tempted to say that this Rheingold, so often cringe-worthy in its original incarnation, now qualifies as the most consistently rewarding evening of this Ring, as far as design and direction are concerned.

The later evenings, though they certainly have their strengths, suffer from: 1) too much heavy handed environmental stuff, which sometimes pairs well with Zambello’s character direction, but can also come off as shallow, clumsily imposed meta-material; and 2) the sense that these individual scenes, however insightful on their own terms, fall short of a cohesive vision.

But Rheingold keeps both of these tendencies at bay, presenting an exploration of the work's ideas that feels organic and true to the characters, and the bigger concepts are framed by just a few well-chosen references (as discussed last week, Rheingold is the biggest beneficiary of skillful editing of the original production). Zambello delivers a refreshingly engaging take on an opera that can be decidedly less compelling than the rest of the cycle.

It also just works well as attractive theater. See the opening Rhine sequence, which doesn't boast the kind of technical daring one often sees lavished on this scene, but still manages to be both effective and beautiful. The Rhine is created through extensive smoke effects that seem to billow towards the front of the stage and obscure the bottom halves of the Rhinemaidens and Alberich. A straightforward but elegant solution to the problem of avoiding constant awkward swimming movements during this scene. After the Rheingold is stolen, the golden tinge that pervaded the scene during the Rhinemaidens ecstatic chorus slowly drains away, the first of many stunning lighting coups that play on enriching and dissolving the color palette.

Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.



In their second outing, Rheingold’s key antagonists seemed a bit off their game. Alan Held, who begged indulgence in the following night’s Walkure, was apparently suffering from allergies, which manifested as an additional labored quality in his sound. Likewise, Gordon Hawkins felt short on support during portions of the opening scene, though he re-established his authoritative Alberich for Nibelheim and the curse scene.

While I thought Elizabeth Bishop sounded a bit tentative at the premiere, here there was no question that this was the same rich, generous sound we heard during the Cycle I Walkure. On second viewing one also had more opportunity to appreciate what a tremendous stage animal she is, easily standing out with small comedic moments on a packed stage.

William Burden’s Loge was again a highlight, receiving perhaps the most enthusiastic applause of the evening besides Philippe Auguin. Burden’s refined, lieder-like approach sets Loge’s music apart from the bluster going on all around him, heightening the contrasts between between the other characters' relatively simple motives and Loge’s complex support for the gods he despises. Burden's winning presence holds these conflicting impressions in balance, establishing the trickster demigod as much more than grease for the plot wheels, and perhaps the most interesting character in the show.

Photo by Scott Suchman for WNO.



The big news the following night (May 11) was Catherine Foster’s only appearance as the Walküre Brunnhilde. If Foster isn't quite in that rarefied tier of get-on-a-plane Brunnhildes, her bright, gleaming sound lands her comfortably in the still very exclusive tranche of singers that can deliver this part with beauty and a high degree of vocal security. She sounded even better than expected on the evidence of last week’s promising Siegfried snippet, the pealing top notes supported by a steady if not particularly distinctive middle range.

Unfortunately the rest of her portrayal doesn’t always live up to the promise of the raw vocal materials. Foster seemed unable to find the bloom in Brunnhilde’s vocal lines, settling for 4-square phrasing that seemed to lag the orchestra rather than ride its momentum. Consistency was also an issue, with the occasional support brown-out appearing out of nowhere.

More problematic is that one just rarely gets the sense that things are life and death for this Brunnhilde. Foster is a slightly batty, idiosyncratic stage presence which might be rather appealing in other settings but here feels like a distraction, never allowing us to fully believe in the character's nobility or urgent situation. At other times she overplays her hand, for instance, becoming too imperious and dismissive with Wotan during their long scene together and upending the core power dynamic in a way that doesn't feel justified or thoroughly prepared.

Overly-busy direction may also be a problem here, with some cutesy touches emerging in this run that were not in the premiere, for instance shoulder bumps to punctuate the Act II Hojotohos, Brunnhilde tugging on Wotan’s duster at one point during Act III, excessive Wotan head petting in “Der Augen,” etc. (Perhaps the cleaner version last week was a positive side effect of Goerke speed-learning a simplified form of the blocking?)

These limitations crept into her Gotterdammerung Brunnhilde on Sunday as well. The Dawn Duet was curiously inert and the final scene was largely perfunctory until the final push. Thankfully, the fireworks in Gotterdammerung are never too far away, and it's hard to quibble with acting choices when you're being transported by Foster at her magnificent best. And with that, I'm going to table my other thoughts on Gotterdammerung for next week's Parterre review of the final installment with Nina Stemme.

So back to the Cycle II Walkure. Christopher Ventris made a strong play for the evening's MVP. While he already proved himself a huge asset to this roster, he was in even better form for this second run, the underwhelming climaxes of the premiere now unqualified successes. Where the previous week he seemed a bit thrown off by the unsentimental clip at which Auguin took the “Wintersturme,” here he offered a lilting, musical reading of the big tune.

Like Alan Held, Meagan Miller's Sieglinde found herself on the BI (Begging Indulgence) list for Cycle II, though any drop off from the previous week was hard to detect. The Act I closing sequence was a chill-inducing delight, only marred by a tempo a hair too pokey in the pit.

Held's announced allergy troubles were definitely evident Wednesday. Though the trademark intelligence he brings to this part was always present, he came up short on power when needed, and he was unable to effectively build to some of the chilling climaxes that were so affecting in Cycle I.

Some (very) stray thoughts on Cycle II:
  • Everyone in this mythical America sure loves their shin-length leather coats. Are opera productions singlehandedly keeping the leather duster industry in business?
  • With all the wolf talk and climactic moon imagery in Act I, how long until we get a werewolf Ring? The Gods are vampires and it’s a Twilight style battle? Nevermind...please don't do this.
  • If this is a feminist Ring, Siegmund is definitely its resident woke bae. I love how this production plays Sieglinde's falling for Siegmund as bonding over an analysis of patriarchy rather than his ability to "save" her. It feels like the kind of unexpected, transgressive flavor Wagner wanted for this relationship (in addition to, you know, the incest).

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Elektra at the Met

For all the buzz surrounding the late Patrice Chereau's staging of Elektra, premiered two years ago at the Aix-en-Provence festival and now at the Met, there is nothing particularly revolutionary in its concept or  presentation (not that there's anything wrong with that). Rather, this production earns its distinctiveness the old-fashioned way, through the accumulation of small choices and thoughtful approaches to well-known story beats.

Visually, it is almost aggressively neutral. A simple courtyard set in pastel washes is only out-blanded by the costumes, seemingly raided from a 1997 Ann Taylor. The lighting design avoids the pervasive gloom of so many Elektra productions, but doesn't substitute anything approaching natural light. This absence of setting appears to be exactly where Chereau wants his characters, a canvas on which to build the engrossing, frequently moving interactions that he creates for them.

Chereau's insistence on an honest dramatic accounting for the relationships between Elektra's characters isn't too much of a departure from the way most directors approach Elektra today. Chereau just takes this idea to its logical conclusion, obsessively stripping out any indulgent vestiges of Elektra as ancient world slugfest.

See, for instance, Chereau's deeply subdued take on the Klytamnestra scene here. Who would believe this much pity for Klytamnestra can be wrung from the score? Waltraud Meier's Queen isn't driven by the usual extravagant paranoid egotism but, pathetic, blinkered self-concern. One kept expecting her to ask Elektra why she doesn't try doing something pretty with her hair for a change.

It's not a choice without consequences, and the scene delivers the thrills which it is usually good for only occasionally. At the cost of fireworks, though, the production buys a valuable insight into Elektra's character. Here the turn on Klytamnestra is devoid of the usual smart aleck glee--Elektra is only capable of vengeance anymore, and lures Klytamnestra into a sadistic emotional trap out of instinct as much as anything. Her lack of pity for Klytamnestra becomes much more than a point on the score board, it becomes a poignant emotional fact about the character.

This sense of wounded humanity permeates the production. The deeply affecting recognition scene presented a stolid, severely non-heroic Orest (Eric Owens), who nonetheless inspires the lingering loyalty of the servants. Upon recognizing her brother, Elektra's first instinct is to escape, the emotions of reunion painful. Her tender words after the recognition are sung to herself, with little illusion that Orest's return represents a chance for her to experience human feeling again.

Likewise the chilling and enigmatic ending. Chereau denies us the usual catharsis of Elektra's feverish dance and surprise death swoon. Here, she attempts a few steps and then retires catatonic to a nearby bench. Orest, his vengeance done but his agony at the hands of the Furies only beginning, just walks away, with no acknowledgment of Elektra or her sister (an intriguing solution to Chrysothemis final cries of "Orest!"). As the orchestra boils over with pent-up fury, the characters are left empty and directionless, a challenging ending, to be sure, but it rings true.

The Met has assembled a formidable cast of singing actors for this production, led by Nina Stemme's tremendous portrayal of the title character. Stemme's coming Ring Cycle in DC has justly been the most hotly pursued of the run. If her middle register can get lost in the orchestra from time to time, it is all forgotten when her voice expands into a full and impressively assured top. "Allein" meandered a bit as she warmed up (not assisted by Salonen's slow tempi) but by Chrysothemis' entrance things had clicked and she delivered a vocal performance of uncommon beauty, consistency, and stamina. The club of Elektras one should get on a plane for is relatively small at any given time, and right now it looks like the membership is her and Goerke. 

I've been all up in this recording for the last few weeks, and went into the premiere with Rysanek's obscenely buttery Chrysothemis in my ears, which was maybe not the best choice in hindsight. Adrianne Pieczonka brings a very different sound to Chrysothemis, full-bodied but a bit astringent on top, exciting, but no butter. She wields it with abandon though, and was a committed partner for Stemme, powerfully embodying the production's take on a more canny Chrysothemis, who appears to be no stranger to the abuses of the palace and has perhaps spent a few nights in the yard herself.

As discussed above, the great Waltraud Meier is tasked with the most polarizing interpretation in the show, a subtle and sympathetic Klytamnestra. Anyone who thought this role heralded a confident move into second career shriek-fests for the 'Traud will be sorely disappointed, as she focuses on restrained beautiful singing throughout the part, as well as her expected but ever impressive capacity to bring text to life. There have been complaints about volume which are valid to some degree, though it is hard to disentangle how much of this was a deliberate choice versus some evidence of her current vocal estate.

My most recent memory of Eric Owens was his somewhat thankless turn in WNO's middling Lost in the Stars production, so it was refreshing to see him back in a major league assignment so soon. His emotionally inert Orest was another key choice in this production, and he effectively gave us Orest as angel of death, a tormented man who has returned to his home and family with the sole purpose of murder. Owens' dark baritone makes a strong impression in this role with an uncompromising color that reminds us Orest shouldn't be interchangeable with Jokanaan, but is something grimmer.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, a rare treat at the Met, led a distinctive reading in the pit. As Chereau sought to get inside the personal lives of these bloody archetypes, Salonen lingered over the smaller scenes, abandoning momentum in order to allow character interactions to bloom organically. The finale here had a ferocious transparency and momentum, awesome but almost self-effacing, to the extent that's possible for the end of Elektra.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Javier Camarena in DC

I wrote about Javier Camarena's Kennedy Center recital for Parterre.com:
Singers who loom large in the theater have an interesting challenge in translating that intensity to the recital hall. Sometimes we get only fleeting glimpses of that bigger personality amidst tasteful lieder selections; others just import the volume and dramatics wholesale from a bigger space, resulting in performances that can be impressive but overbearing.
Read the whole thing here...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

NSO plays Brahms and Beethoven

One of my earliest experiences with the NSO was a concert I attended during the pre-Eschenbach days shortly after I arrived in DC, perhaps the spring of 2009. I went because Brahms was on the program, and, while not necessarily expecting Brahms at the level of what I had just come from in Chicago, was pretty taken aback by what I encountered. Though hardly counting myself as the most critical ear when it comes to orchestral music, it was impossible to miss the out-of-whack balances, tinny sound, and lack of excitement on the stage or in the hall.

I'm happy to say that, 7 years of NSO concert-going later, that evening feels like a distant memory; whatever you may think of Eschenbach, his years in DC have been a boon to the band's overall sound and consistency. However, after hearing both Symphonies 1 and 3 under Eschenbach and the first piano concerto under Osmo Vänskä last night, there is still work to do in the Brahms department.

To be fair, the problems in the first piano concerto were mostly localized in the first movement, that ever ambiguous, halting statement Brahms saw fit for his first orchestral utterance. Conductors must work minor magic to make sense out of its melodic fragments and capriciously shifting colors and Vänskä just never found a firm footing from which he could build momentum with the orchestra. He was not helped by inelegant contributions from the horns and a general lack of commitment coordination in the strings.

Vänskä seemed palpably relieved to move onto the Adagio and elicited some beautiful, very focused, piano sounds from the strings, though perhaps slowing things down to excess at some points. The Rondo was a confident romp, with exciting precision in the exposed passages for the strings, though winds and horns never quite caught up.

Russian Nicolai Lugansky, whom I've never heard before, offered an engaging, measured reading of the solo part. Apparently people refer to him as "cold," most infuriating of all adjectives for a pianist, but his temperament seemed just right for the Brahms, which easily suffers from additional melodrama. See for instance that first entrance, in which the piano answers the orchestra's outsize turmoil with an anemic, meandering little figure. One could easily get caught up in the throes of the anguished orchestra part and ham this up, but Lugansky's reserved introduction was the more unexpected and haunting choice. While clearly possessing the technical chops for flashy virtuosity where needed, Lugansky prioritized intimacy and "Brahms-sized" emotion throughout with appealing results.

I was mildly considering bailing after the Brahms, but was glad I didn't, as Vänskä turned in a winning Beethoven 'Pastoral' Symphony after the half. Vänskä looks to be one of those consummate micromanager conductors, tirelessly trying to tune each dynamic and color as the orchestra hurtles forward, and the NSO seemed to relish the challenge. Vänskä carefully developed the constituent parts of the Allegro, highlighting delicate dynamic gradations and building up a tight transparent sound in the climax. This exacting approach never devolved into preciousness though, and Vänskä was able to pull out a lusty, go-for-broke storm section, and a warm, well-earned Allegretto.

Friday, March 11, 2016

NSO plays Picker, Liszt, Brahms

16th Street and Columbia Rd, Washington.

The NSO kicked off its first post-tour show with an engaging world premiere by composer Tobias Picker, best known for his operas "An American Tragedy" and "Emmeline." Entitled "Opera Without Words for Orchestra," Picker actually wrote this out as a short operatic work before removing the libretto to leave a purely instrumental piece. And indeed, the pleasant effect of this piece will be familiar to anyone who has sat through some of the dull stretches of "American Tragedy" and thought "wow this score is pretty solid, if only i could mute this book report of a libretto for a little while." Picker's work offers a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of textures and references, from passages of propulsive dissonance to lyrical, jazz-infused writing for solo strings. If at times there is a feeling of trying to fit too much at the expense of more clearly articulated ideas, "Opera Without Words" rarely drags and offers much to appreciate. Hopefully the NSO will program this again soon.

The balance of the first half was devoted to Liszt's second piano concerto, featuring Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Eschenbach presided over an exciting, very severe allegro agitato, followed by a dreamy allegro moderato with beautiful interplay between Thibaudet and principal cellist David Hardy. The penultimate Marziale is Liszt in trashy exuberance mode, and Eschenbach pushed things perhaps too far--frequently drowning out Thibaudet and precipitating at least one orchestra snarl. Things tightened up for an appropriately breakneck finale.

The NSO has been playing Brahms First Symphony a lot the past few weeks as part of their tour repertoire, heard at home in an erratic performance during one of the tour tryout evenings. Tonight they gave Brahms 3rd in a more assured take. Eschenbach has the right feel for the sturm and drang of the first movement, conjuring relentless anxiety and big satisfying swells from the orchestra, though the strings weren't always able to maintain coherence and beauty amidst all the agitation. Eschenbach relished the languid pace of the second and third movements, taking things maybe a bit slow for some tastes but I appreciated his patience in letting the quiet details in these passages unfold at their own pace.

The anguished fourth was a (mostly) controlled whirlwind, at its best achieving an exhilarating momentum and thrilling unified sound. Despite two weeks on the road together, though, the orchestra and Eschenbach seemed at cross purposes at several points, with several seemingly unanticipated gear shifts leaving the band in disarray. It's hard to go wrong with the 3rd's devastating, unexpectedly quiet coda, and this one mostly satisfied, though never quite reaching that hushed stasis that makes for such a chilling contrast with what has come before.

In a bizarre programming choice, the NSO then tacked on Hungarian Dances #3, #10, and #16, for a combined 7 or so minutes of bonus music. It's unclear whether someone felt the 3rd didn't make for a long enough second half (though it was already past 9 after a 7 PM start), that the end of the 3rd was too much of a bummer to end a show with, or whether some obscure union rules were in play, but none of the players seemed in the mood for these bonbons after the emotional catharsis of the 3rd. Odd.