Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Recommended Posts

kfw posted this on my "Other Arts" thread and I'm taking the liberty of copying it into a new thread as I think it deserves a room of its own:

Charlottesville, Virginia isn't the big city, but there is always a lot going on here culturally and artistically. This weekend Ash-Lawn Opera, named for its former home on President James Monroe's estate just up the road form Jefferson's Monticello, begins their season. Today, in a lovely mirrored room off the lobby of the old theater where they'll put on "Don Giovanni" and "Brigadoon," they held the first of five free lunchtime recitals.

The 22-song cycle "In a Persian Garden" -- English translations from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam set to music by Liza Lehmann -- was up first, and like the other pieces today it was for an ensemble, in this case for soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass. This is poetry I know only by reputation and I wasn't sure it would engage me, but it did very quickly did. It's a meditation on the passage of time and on the inevitability of death, lasts perhaps a half an hour, and was touching throughout.

"Each morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;

Yes, -- but where leaves the Rose of yesterday!--

And this first Summer month that brings the Rose,

Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobád away."

I was happy to see that the second piece, for soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass-baritone, and sung by a new cast of singers, was Brahms' Neue Libeslieder, Op. 65, the music for the second half of Balanchine's "Liebeslieder Walzer." Here, as for the final piece, we were provided only the English translations plus the individual song titles. At least each song does begin with the words of the title.

The final portion of the program consisted of six selections from Part-Songs, some translated form Greek sources, some from other poets, of Haydn. This featured yet another set of singers, with all eleven of today's singers (there were four different pianists) joining together for the final song, "Eloquence" by G.E. Lessing, about the loosening effect of wine on the tongue. "Eloquence" opens and closes with the words "Brothers, water makes us dumb," and the final "dumb," the final word of the final song of the recital today, was sung in a whisper. So we ended with a laugh.

I'm not competent to evaluate the singers, so all I'll say is that I thought they all had strong and pleasing voices and sang with great nuance. And they were only the company's "Young Artists," i.e. its apprentices. All and all, I thought this was a wonderful program, and these recitals, whether or not they attract new patrons, are a great gift to the community.

That sounds like a lovely way to pass part of the afternoon, kfw. Did it attract a good sized audience, I hope?

Link to comment

Thanks for asking, dirac. That recital, and the one that followed this week, drew perhaps a hundred people, enough to overflow the room where they took place, and more than these performances used to attract when they were held on Sunday afternoons. Judging by the number of emails Ash-Lawn sends me, however, and the fact that company members sang for free this afternoon outside the theater, the company is having trouble selling out its 10 modestly priced shows. This despite having a much publicized new director who was a close associate of Placido Domingo, and a theater in the old downtown where many educated and moneyed people live and work.

Link to comment

kfw, from what you mentioned in another setting, I've been impressed by the range of programming (including material from the Kurt Weill musical, Lady in the Dark). Could you tell us more about their choice of programming?.

Also: any thought about what they might do to increase awareness and interest in their area? With a high-level university right nearby, I would think that there IS an audience but that somehow it is not being persuaded to attend. (We have similar problems with our area's imaginative and excellent small-scale summer chamber music and opera/recital programs.)

Link to comment

Bart, Ash-Lawn's free apprentice recitals have always been distinguished by a wide range of material: Barber, Debussy, Finzi, Ravel, Guastavio and Weill this past Wednesday, to texts by Yeats, Hopkins, Shakespeare among others. Ives, Mahler, Strauss, and Bolcom stand out in memory of previous years. These programs consist entirely of songs from the classical and sometimes cabaret literature, never popular arias. But when the company actually has to sell tickets, it goes very conservative. Back when they used to program two operas a season, they put on Copland's "The Tender Land" one year and Floyd Carlisle's "Susannah" another. They must have quit that a decade ago. Don G, Marriage of Figaro, Magic Flute, Boheme, Barber of Seville, Carmen . . . these have all been done at least twice in the 17 years I've been attending.

When I interviewed the new director she said she wants to start programming holiday operas for kids, things like Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" and Britten's "Noyes Fludde" (which the company actually put on for free in a church two years ago), as a way, naturally, of expanding the audience. Already the company advertises at Met HD performances, and sends its apprentices into the elementary schools. It has a guild and a young professionals group. Company members stay with community members for the duration of their time in town. So the company has avid supporters, community involvement, next to no competition from the university, and it does plenty of outreach. I'm not sure what else they can do!

As for more challenging musical fare, an annual six-performance chamber music festival with internationally known but not star musicians sells well here, and mixes contemporary with classic compositions. A student performance of Steve Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" was well attended, but then it was free.

Link to comment
So the company has avid supporters, community involvement, next to no competition from the university, and it does plenty of outreach. I'm not sure what else they can do!

Times are still tough. And of course a company can do all the 'reaching out' to a community that it can, but the community has to respond.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...