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On the Stuplime

On September 25, under a ruined proscenium, on a parking deck, among ravers, punks, scenesters, and opera-lovers, as champagne for spent performers flowed nearby—grace arrived. Nine singers, four actors, a 15-member orchestra, and a conductor had been looping the same 150-second passage from “Le nozze di Figaro” without pause for 11 hours and 50 minutes, […]

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Communist Dissonance

At the beginning of the Chinese Communist Party propaganda movie-musical “The Wings of Songs,” a tune is playing, and there are attractive people frolicking. But, unlike “The Sound of Music,” the frolicking and the music never match. We have just been introduced to three boyish members of a band, the film’s protagonists, who are performing […]

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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 […]

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Far Away, So Close

In this pandemic, with its necessity of physical distancing, opera—known for large-scale, human-intensive productions and larger-than-life immediacy—faces particular challenges. Many companies’ creative approaches to COVID-friendly performance have drawn on the past few decades of live broadcasts to bring their productions to house-bound, worldwide audiences. At the end of this first year, filmed opera produced during […]

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We Got Drunk and Listened to Jonas Kaufmann’s Christmas Album

Considering the bleak happenings that have defined 2020, we can all be thankful for one grand unifying event that restored a little bit of our faith in humanity: Jonas Kaufmann released a Christmas album. Not just any Christmas album: a two-hour, 42-track deluxe set of everything from traditional Alpine tunes (“Es wird scho glei dumpa”) […]

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The Ecstasy of Knowledge

Early in Wagnerism: Art and Politics In the Shadow of Music, a history of the cult of fandom devoted to the operas of 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, Alex Ross drops a charming anecdote from the 1850s. Poet and critic Auguste de Gasperini told of being “subjugated” by Wagner’s music, suffering what Ross calls “an […]

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Transformed By Absence

As the Midwestern fall turned into a frigid, icy winter, I listened to Glenn Gould playing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and read Philip Kennicott’s Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning. Alternating between listening and reading, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion and flooded with the desire to do something. I wanted to clean house, dance […]

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A Shallow Oasis

A Weekend at Tippet Rise By · Title Image © 2018 Calder Foundation, Photo by Andre Costantini · Date 8/30/2018 Aaron Jay Kernis wrote his new string quartet “oasis” in nearly perfect solitude. It was December at Tippet Rise, an arts center and festival near Fishtail, Montana, and windswept snowdrifts made it impossible to enter […]

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Bursting Through Confines

The first thing I saw was groups of soldiers. Aix-en-Provence, a wealthy tourist resort and college town, is not their primary target, and France is only the latest in a long series of countries to be occupied by the French military. But they were everywhere: at the airport in baggage claim, flanking the exit to […]

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Walls Stay Down

Simon Rattle’s Goodbye Concert in Berlin By · Photography Stills from a performance of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle · Date 6/21/2018 Mahler’s Sixth Symphony—90-odd minutes of descent, disintegration, mad marching—is not a festive piece. The cameo-studded, light-hearted party-concerts for Simon Rattle’s departure as Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic […]