Posted inEssay

Mad Scene

Sylvia Korman is a graduate student in English at CUNY in Manhattan. They curate one of the most striking corners of opera Twitter, the account People Mad at Opera (@operacomments). “I’m not actually a music person at all,” Korman tells me. “I have no non-dilettantish background in opera.” But their knowledge of opera is keen.  […]

Posted inEssay

Like the Volga Singing

Psychoanalysis and opera both have an uneven relationship to feminism, to put it mildly. The former, even when challenging the disorienting, traumatic quality of patriarchy, is a product of that same power. The practice’s roots lie in Jean-Martin Charcot’s Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, which turned the confinement of so-called “hysterical” women into a public spectacle. […]

Posted inI Know But

I Know, But: “The Four Seasons”

Here’s a reason to hate “The Four Seasons”: I last heard “Spring”—unbidden—as I passed through east London’s Walthamstow Bus Station during a routine commute home. Realizing that piping classical music into its stations was a cost-effective means to deter young people from hanging around, Transport for London started playing Vivaldi, Mozart, and Beethoven in 2006. Since […]

Posted inReview

The Society of the Spectacle

Modernist literature has a special fascination with Wagner. The voices of “Das Rheingold” and “Tristan und Isolde” drift across T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” Virginia Woolf’s The Waves bears the imprint of the composer’s motivic method, along with the symbolism of the “Ring” Cycle and “Parsifal.” A lusty Wagnerian atavism is stamped all over […]

Posted inReport

The Audiencers

Illustrations Carine Kuntz We seldom pay attention to ushers. In “The Natural History of the Theatre,” Theodor Adorno’s otherwise extravagant sociology of concert-going, the usher receives only a glancing mention: a missed opportunity for a writer who discerned the ideological contradictions and atavistic energies of music in a thousand minor details, from gales of applause […]

Posted inReport

Collective Breath

Singing, as a teacher of mine once disarmingly put it, is simply “an exhaling of sorts.” For most people, the mechanisms of breathing are hardly noticed unless they stop working as intended. That caveat has become more present in the last year, with the nature of COVID-19 leaving us paying more, and more nervous, attention […]

Posted inProfile

Lived Experience

“I don’t know if you can hear the helicopters overhead,” guitarist Sean Shibe said as he introduced his encore. The helicopters were policing a Black Lives Matter demonstration just down the road from the Wigmore Hall. Shibe’s encore was a guitar arrangement of Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Farewell to Stromness,” a piece of protest music written […]

Posted inRankings & Roundups

Keyboard Warriors

Stravinsky puts it pithily enough: Music “expresses nothing outside of itself.” It’s a dictum that puts critics like me on the back foot, accusing us of peddling only a pale and inadequate imitation of the thing itself. Those who can’t, write. But it also describes a deeper sense of music as incommensurable, elevated by thinkers […]

Posted inReport

The Rehearsing Musician

There is an army behind every production of, say, “La Traviata”: armorers and fight directors for the action; lighting technicians giving Violetta’s last breaths a ghostly frisson; wig-makers and costumiers who make the Paris demimonde glitter. An even less visible figure, whose contribution and responsibility is huge, though you will seldom see them at the […]

Posted inReport

Turning Over

Like elevators, page turners are only remarkable when things go awry. And go awry they do. Pianist Charles Owen recalled a 1998 recital in Scotland. The page turner, “a little old lady,” had forgotten her reading glasses. She exhorted Owen to “do a very big nod” to signal the turn backwards for the repeat of […]