Massenet’s “Meditation” on the Chandos Label, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw in London, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 in Santiago, Conducted (or, To Be Conducted) by My Beloved John Wilson, 2020

You know, I did a paper on the novella this opera’s based on, The Turn of the Screw, back in grad school. Something about the whole thrust of the story having to do with, ultimately, Henry James’s weird revulsion to/fear of sexuality—any sexuality—gay, straight, bi, kinky, whatever. Which in my ignorant prejudice I took to be typical of all English men anytime, anywhere—until I remembered that James was born not just American but, like my son, a native New Yorker (used to take The Kid to the playground in Washington Square near James’s old house) and he turned out fine. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of textual interpretation OperaGlass Works, who’re engaging John for late March 2020, go with.

Luckily my English born-and-bred John has nothing to do with the story (really, James’s story is a creepy creepy story) on stage. He’ll be conducting members of his very own Sinfonia of London in the pit of Screw and this, mes amis, is a big deal, because this will be 1) the Sinfonia’s first public appearance since John (re)formed it a year ago, so it’s a chance for their fans to hear them in person; and 2) they get to play the music of Benjamin Britten together.

During Easter Week, the holiest week of the year for observing Catholics, John will be in Santiago, Chile conducting a me-tic-ulously chosen student orchestra, culminating in a concert on Easter Sunday consisting of the always-favorite Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 3.

John Wilson RAM Jan 2020.jpgAbove John: His “Meditation“.

Lastly, re “Meditation”, that short symphonic intermezzo between the scenes in Act 2 in the opera Thaïs (1893) by Jules Massenet, which my beloved John conducts on his new album (10th cut) and in which Andrew Haveron performs his violin solo like an angel:

Everybody, go away. I’m taking this to a private place.

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John Wilson Conducts Jules Massenet’s Comic Opera Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, 8 June – 2 August 2019

My name is John Wilson [so says my bonny] “and I’m going to be conducting Cendrillon at the Glynebourne Festival 2019. It has elements of comic opera, it has ardent love music, solos, duets, and this element of fantasy which runs through the whole thing, a fairy tale which he conjures up expertly in the score. It’s instantly attractive music, and the reason I said I would do this piece is when I first heard it I was struck with just how high the level of invention is all the way through. It may not be done very often but I think it’s one of his best pieces, I really do [fades]. Everyone knows the story of Cinderella and I think his orchestral palette and his harmonic and melodic palette really conjured up very clearly—you can think of isolated parts of the ballet and the Fairy Godmother’s music which are full of that kind of glittering fantasy… Really gorgeous inspired music! And of course I love all the pulling it all together. I love the fact that in an opera, let’s say you have a staging problem or you have a sort of question hanging over of how you should, you should represent something on stage. The answers nearly always is [sic] to be found in the score. But he was [sic] a great masterpiece. There will be a sforzando chord or an inflection in the vocal writing which will give you the kind of…the dramatic point*, and it’s great to be a part of something which is so organic where everything affects the other. The influences of Wagner, Tchaikovsky aren’t very far away, there are lots of glowing melodies there that really, really stir you. I really can’t wait to get started on it.”

Actor/director Fiona Shaw’s production of Cendrillon makes its Glyndebourne Festival appearance summer 2019, conducted by John Wilson, with Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese in the title role. (Picture courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2019.)

Danielle de Niese, John Wilson.jpgRight before this production, de Niese starred with Kelsey Grammer in the first West End staging of Man of La Mancha in fifty-three years, produced by the man who was the first to bring me to orgasm when I was 18.

*See below, “John Wilson Discourses Upon Leonard Bernstein at Birmingham Symphony Hall, 24 January 2018” and let’s have a one-pound argument, John.

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Conductor John Wilson Among the Women of Glyndebourne’s Massenet’s Cendrillon, 2019

The intermission talk with director Fiona Dunn, my beloved John Wilson, mezzo Kate Lindsey, and soprano Danielle de Niese. The “topic of debate”: What should Prince Charming look like in the 21st century?

John Wilson Glyndebourne TalkI’m only here for the shoes.

My bonny John: “I think having Prince Charming as Massenet stipulated, it fits beautifully within the whole kind of sonic picture of the whole thing. It’s not a piece that you could say fits on one musical plane, it’s got lots of colors. It’s one of the most colorful pieces he ever wrote… When I said I was doing this piece to people, they would say, Oh yeah, that’s a nice light sort of sweet little piece. It’s not a sweet little piece, it’s a big piece, there’s always another layer to get to and there’s always more detail to explore, always more depth every time. It’s not lightweight…”

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Porgy and Bess at the English National Opera, Conducted by John Wilson, Fall 2018

In a podcast interview for the English National Opera, this is what my bonny John Wilson, Conductor had to say:

“There are very few pieces I can say I’ve been waiting all my life to conduct, and this is one of them. In my, kind of, college years or whenever that was, I got the Simon Rattle LP and I kind of wore out the groove of those records and had to buy ‘em on CD…

“Of course it’s known for the hit tunes that have been extracted from it, but it’s much more than that… And I would even say that the most interesting music in the opera is the ariosos, the small pieces which link everything together and the incidental music… It’s really very ambitious… It’s George Gershwin at his most inventive, and as Gershwin was arguably the greatest tunesmith of the twentieth century, you’re looking at melodic material from the very very top drawer…”

Porgy and Bess, Met 2019.jpgAbove: Nadine Benjamin sings “Summertime” in rehearsal. Poster above is actually from the fabulous 2019 Metropolitan Opera production of Porgy and Bess.

Tunesmith—sheesh.

And I miss the goat. Without the goat, there is no Porgy and Bess (2:31:25).

Thanks to LA producer/theatre & film critic Myron Meisel for his commiseration on the goat, and comments on Gershwin and original director (1935) Rouben Mamoulian, on Facebook, which I answered there.

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The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits

Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:

JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS

john-wilson-rosza-2-copy.jpeg

Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:

  • English Light Music – Affinity natural; knowledge vast; repopularized Angela Morley, Arnold Bax, Edward German, Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, etc etc etc; recorded over a dozen albums of English light music with Naxos, Chandos etc; wrote arrangement of Fantasia on British Sea Songs for Last Night At the Proms, 2003; creditably conducted Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Overture di Ballo” at the Royal Festival Hall in 2011
  • English Light Music, Gilbert & Sullivan Division – Creditably conducted Yeoman of the Guard at the Royal Festival Hall in 2009 and Ruddigore in 2010 (my favorite G&S, as “Basingstoke” was the safeword my boyfriend and I used during bondage games); creditably (I’m sure) conducted a concert performance of Trial by Jury with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, spring 2019
  • Classic RepertoireConducted RAM Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s 6th, January 2020. Pinch-hit conducted Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony in Dublin with the RTE October 2019. Claims special affinity for Rachmaninoff. Recorded so far 3 albums in a set of Copland, which doesn’t interest me right now. Creditably conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral as well as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin. But Mahler. Yeh, I’d like John to eventually work up to Mahler’s 2nd (which TONALLY is up his alley). Only by the time he does get to it years and years from now I’ll probably be dead…
  • Classic Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Creditably conducted Walton, Delius, Elgar, Britten; deep affinity for Ralph Vaughan Williams (it’s that Sehnsucht, baby)
  • Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly for the 2016 Glyndebourne tour; creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera; creditably conducted Massenet’s Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, summer 2019
  • Film Music – Creditably conducted a program of “British Film Music” for the 2007 Proms; transcribed by ear complete MGM “lost” movie musical scores including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St Louis and Singin’ In the Rain, resulting in 350+ (John’s count as of 2016, although his count confusingly goes up or down in successive interviews) pieces of programmable material (for the Proms, for example)—many of which are now of course part of The John Wilson Orchestra repertoire—while the complete scores are now available to orchestras worldwide for symphonic and live-to-screen concerts
  • Big Band/Big Swing – In his early 20s John cut his teeth on this type of music, starting with his stints conducting his Royal College (he’s a 1994 alumnus)/Royal Academy colleagues in the afternoon tea dance at London’s famed-for-its-tea-dances hotels, the Grosvenor House and Royal Park (Times music critic Clive Davis gave the young students a “golden”—John’s word—review) plus The Boatyard, a trendy restaurant in Essex; recorded 8 dance/swing albums for Vocalion; nominated for Grammy 2005 for the soundtrack of the biopic Beyond the Sea (which is really the first time I heard The JWO but didn’t know it)
  • Jazz – John has absolutely no idea what jazz is, yet recorded a thoroughly awful and dishonest album entitled Orchestral Jazz
  • Broadway and the Great American Songbook – DON’T get me started here. I’m blogging about this below.

All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny

Part 1 “Dopamine” here or above.

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Antoni Mendezona Sings “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from the Opera Noli Me Tangere

Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.

Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from Noli Me Tangere (Felipe De Leon)

From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.

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