Puccini and Barber End Opera Season on High Note
A glimpse of La Fanciulla and Vanessa
The final week of the 60th Season of the Santa Fe Opera included two operas by two great opera composers, Samuel Barber and Giocomo Puccini. Both works have the significance of originally being commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The fact that I had never seen either opera piqued my curiosity and interest and I truly enjoyed both operas and got wrapped up in the stories told and the spectacle of the grandest theatrical stage in the state of New Mexico.
The Gold Rush of 1849-50 is one of the great American stories where many present day westerners, including myself, have ancestors that got caught up in that frenzy.
It is a suitable subject for an opera with much potential of triumph and tragedy, heroic tales of loss and gain, life and death, loneliness and romance. All of this is in the opera, but what I missed from La Fanciulla del West was the stand-alone aria–it was an expectation that was never fulfilled.
I can understand that modernity has moved operas further away from actual songs, but with Puccini you kind of expect it. Perhaps it is my own realist mindset that prevented me from accepting the banjo sound coming from he harp; if the harp had been played nearer the sounding board it would have achieved a better banjo quality, but that is not in the score.
Indeed I was immersed by the orchestration and rich harmonies, the moving passages and cumulative build up of emotions that overflow into an overall gorgeous musical experience, but, even with all that–the melodies did not last. As for the production, my only confusion was the use of what appeared to be neon light that outlined the set of the first act, which seemed more modern than the rest of the production’s more historic setting.
The lead role of Minnie, superbly sung by Patricia Racette, captured the hearts of the audience. Minnie is like many of Puccini’s strong, larger than life characters. The story revolves around her and her passion ... and falling in love with someone who is the enemy of the people.
The Opera Orchestra was joyfully conducted by Emmanuel Villaume with great energy and enthusiasm. The direction of the action distracted me at times; most notably a “campy” series of miners with guns running through the climatic scene that culminates in the capture of Minnie’s lover Dick Johnson.
Very little can be done to cover the weaknesses of the libretto and score, but a production can help tell the story more clearly and focus the audience on the story line. However, some basic questions still arise: why is this American story presented in Italian? And no one could have predicted the unfortunate character named Dick Johnson, and by the rippling snickers in the audience just proves that everyone has a dirty mind.
Overall I am glad that I attended this opera, and would see it again, maybe just to clarify some of those things that I missed the first time.
Vanessa, by Samuel Barber, has a strong modern sound associated with Barber’s serious scores, although those most familiar with the celebrated Adagio for String, will find little of that here.
The story is about a very dysfunctional family following a huge 20-year gap and the expected arrival of a former lover, but the lover who arrives is not the one who is expected. This score won Barber a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 and the Santa Fe Opera presented it as the refined work of art that it is.
The production values of Vanessa were unified throughout, every detail fit perfectly with every other creative aspect. High praise to all involved: Scenic Designer Allen Moyer, Costume Designer James Schuette, Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind, Choreographer Seán Curran and Chorus Master Susanne Sheston.
The musical score and orchestration culminate in some of the most beautiful of music of the modern 20th Century. The grand ball is choreographed with the dancers briefly spilling over onto the stage like we are missing the party because our focus is behind the scenes–unraveling the story of Erika (Virginie Verrez), Vanessa (Erin Wall), and Anatol (Zach Borichesky). Now, many days later I feel as though I am still in the musical world of Barber’s Vanessa.
The Orchestra was meticulously conducted by Leonard Slatkin, and I very impressed and surprised by the wonderful libretto was by Gian-Carlo Menotti, a composer as well as a friend of Samuel Barber.
The Santa Fe Opera is the premiere opera house of our region and attracts audiences from around the world. Its reputation is built on quality work and I look forward to many more years of attending productions at this grand opera company.
As a composer, Daniel Davis explores melodic, linear and contrapuntal textures that incorporate elements of disparate forms including folk music, minimalism, micro-compositional techniques and tonality all wrapped up in an accessible style. His works draw from a deep well of his spiritual life and frequently depict his personal experiences and dreams. He makes his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he is a teacher of introductory courses in music at UNM and CNM. He grew up in Wenatchee, Washington, receiving his music education at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Wednesday night at the terminal
Here is one way to spend part of this evening.
Because of the power of the interwebz, it's possible to listen to and view parts the jam-packed history of rocanrol music made here in the Duke City.
This is what I found tonight.
King Richard and the Knights were a mid-sixties Burque band fronted by Dick Stewart. Stewart also started one of this town's first record labels, Lance Records. The original guitarist for the outfit was the father of local '90s guitar legend Lewi Longmire (Apricot Jam).
Then there's Cracks in the Sidewalk. After an art-damaged opening sequence featuring Dirt City new wave progenitor Rodger Venue, Cracks take over. Black Maria's Gordy Andersen, Judson Frondorf, Chris Partain, Jez Velazquez and Mike Rose rock the heck out on Channel 27.
Ah, The Drags. Keith Herrera becomes all drums now while Lorca Wood melts into the rhythm and guitarist/crooner C.J. Stritzel dishes on dark dreams.
Unit 7 Drain was a thing in the early aughts. Two of them are currently engaged with a new thing called Shoulder Voices, which is awesome. Note the creeping glam goodness of Little Bobby Tucker seeping through their sound, signaling the future.
Before I turn the terminal over to a very good friend, who, by the way, plans on rocking nothing but the Smiths, Clan of Xymox and DJ Shadow for the next six hours (she's on fleek), here's the highlight of tonight's outing.
Here is a totally awesome new video by Chicharra, a masterfully multi-layered insect glam ensemble from right here in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We Like to Watch (Instantly)
Stream docs on Afrobeat, hip-hop nation and Hole drummer Patty Schemel
New Collaboration: Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij
Indie rock elder statesmen release "I Had a Dream That You Were Mine" next month
In case you hadn’t heard, two of your favorite indie music boys are teaming up for an album. Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend and Discovery (and also of everything else. Dude’s been productive.) have released two singles from an upcoming album titled I Had a Dream That You Were Mine.
“A 1000 Times” (video above) is upbeat: all twinkly pianos and major chord guitar plucking. Lyrically it’s a bit more somber, following Leithauser as he reminisces and regrets on a late-night walk: “Oh tender November/the year’s almost over/if I had your number/I’d call you tomorrow.” His crooning voice quickly shifts into his throat-scratching falsetto howl. When this guy switches octaves, he does it with a vengeance.
“In a Black Out” sounds more like a Walkmen song: there’s distant-sounding guitar picking and little other accompaniment until some spare drums come in over halfway through. Here Leithauser’s voice stays restrained — he’s in Frank Sinatra mode.
The two tracks bode well for this album and this collaboration. Both artists have already said nice things about the record and about working with each other: on Twitter, Rostam said “If it sounds like we had fun making this record it’s cos we did.”
Just two days ago, Rostam premiered two new songs on KCRW radio, where he DJed a special set. The two songs are called “Gwan” and “Sick as a Dog” — the latter features Leithauser, though it’s unclear if this track will be on the new album. You can listen to that DJ set here via Stereogum.
Look for I Had a Dream That You Were Mine out 9/23.
Hello, Saturday Night!
SOR All-Stars and Wavves are featured
Head on downtown to take advantage of the amazingly audacious variety of live music happening in clubs on Central between First Street and Sixth Street tonight!
There's plenty of action from rap to rock and beyond, but these are the two events that caught my attention.
The Co-Op (415 Central NW) presents a concert by students from the School of Rock. Albuquerque SOR operator Robert Montoya told Weekly Alibi this show features School of Rock students from all over the planet, saying, "There are seven different touring groups that are starting in different cities around the country. Team Five Touring Group had their dress rehearsal at the Co-Op on Friday and will play a full show along with our ABQ School of Rock House Band to kick off their tour! They play Denver and Red Rocks next, then Omaha, Neb. and DeKalb, Kansas before ending up at Lollapalooza in Chicago on July 28."
The SOR Tour kicks off at 6pm at the Co-Op, Tickets cost $10 online or at the door. All ages are welcome.
After you've caught a glimpse of the next generation, troop your rocked out form over to Launchpad (618 Central SW) to check out one of the premier, genre-defining bands of this age. In case you wanna know, they are called Wavves and they are from Califas. Totally worth it, totally talented and totally kings of the beach.
It will cost $17 to interact with this beachy slice of the California Republic and members of the public over the age of 13 are invited to do so. Doors are at 8pm; the gig's at 9pm.
Festival Review: Music on the Mesa
Happiness flowed at Taos event
"Raise the window down" – a comment heard from the stage, refering to the kinfolk of recording artist Robyn Ludwick, from Lake Charles, Louisiana.
It was 3 p.m. in Taos, when a thousand post-hippie people gathered for three days for the 2nd Annual Music on the Mesa Festival at Taos Mesa Brewery.
I can’t go any further without expanding on the merits of the venue. TMB produces outstanding, hand-crafted beer in both quality and variety. I was on a roll with their Equinox IPA, offered alongside a Session beer, several ales, Pale and otherwise, their own Kolsch style, Amber, Hefewizen and more. The venue also serves excellent, regionally influenced food: Smoked Mahi, Mahi fish tacos, roasted beet salad and dynamite brats and burgers.
The setting is one of the most spectacular music venues I’ve visited in 43 years of festival going. It ranks right behind Red Rocks Amphitheater and the Pagosa Springs Four Corners Festival.
We were on the West Mesa just north of Taos and minutes from the Rio Grande Gorge within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The deep gorge cutting into the high desert offers breathtaking views. So it’s like placing a music festival inside a National Park. All this is also minutes from the regionally famed Taos Earthship residential communities.
We visited my old college buddy Marko and his Earthship home that morning before making our way to day three of the Fest. This Earthship is the real thing; artfully built based upon environmentally forward principles and methods. it is placed partially within the earth; utilizes solar heating, re-uses rainwater off the roof and stored in cisterns; is made with numerous upcycled materials including glass bottles, cans, tires and wood from previous eras of furniture.
The vibe at the Fest is a macro-extension of this northern New Mexico counter culture. We recognized folks from our similarly alt-America suburb of Albuquerque, Corrales, N.M., while our friends here ran into their peeps from the architectural and textile design mini-verse that identifies much of New Mexican culture.
The long white hairs and the grey hairs mix easily with the 20- and 30-somethings who diligently follow the musical genres featured here: Rockabilly and Western Swing, a little bluegrass, Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country, Americana, and smoking Country Rock.
Steve Plyler, founder of Walking Rain Productions, hand picks each act beginning a year out with his team of insiders. The festival is faithful to previous performers who played at the inaugural event last year. The following artists were on last year as well as this year’s bill: Kelly Mickwee, Grace Askew, Band of Heathens, Far West, Sammy Brue, Robyn Ludwick,
This year we were both fortunate and blessed to have as headliners Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle for the final night. These two veterans of the road are notable for their enduring creativity and stick-with-it-ness that characterizes not only their act but their lives.
Across the concert venue were scattered vendors and sponsors. A sleek Airstream trailer featured fine wine and foretells of an Airstream and RV Motel park that will soon open across the highway from the Taos Mesa Brewery.
A fresh juice and smoothie bar, built into half a vintage car was a real thirst-quenching hotspot. And, of course, the well stocked Merch Tent beckons.
The Main Stage beneath the amphitheater is front and center, with the Patio and Indoor Stages serving shorter acts between set-ups. We heard thevenerable Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother"), a Texas legend, followed by Colvin and Earle.
We sat in the high desert, 7000 feet in the atmosphere, listening to and anticipating dexterous music meant to revive, inform and inspire those who have been fortunate enough to have made it to the Mesa. Join in next year: You are Welcome, You are Invited.
Happy Birthday Erik Satie!
He would have been 150 today.
Often cited as the father of minimalism, he was derided by teachers and critics of his time. Like many who make great strides in their creative field, would go on to influence contemporaries, if at all, only late in life. Now his compositions are nearly inescapable. Take a moment to remember him and his contribution to expressing our human condition—a delicate hope that hides itself beneath a deep melancholy.
Kate Bush Mourns Prince
It's almost too much
Kate Bush and Prince collaborated several times. In her digital eulogy of the pop royalty on her website, Bush stated:
I am so sad and shocked to hear the tragic news about Prince. He was the most incredibly talented artist. A man in complete control of his work from writer and musician to producer and director. He was such an inspiration. Playful and mind-blowingly gifted. He was the most inventive and extraordinary live act I've seen. The world has lost someone truly magical. Goodnight dear Prince.
Prince appeared on the track embedded here, "Why Should I Love You" from Bush's 1993 album Red Shoes and, in turn, Bush collaborated with Prince on his album, Emancipation.
Votives, Adult Beverage at Sister
Album release party also features Crime Lab and crttrz
Join Albuquerque’s rock and roll community at Sister (407 Central NW) on Saturday, April 23 for the album release party for Votives, a heavy, punk-flavored, ambient-attached shoegaze project. Votives latest release, Trails / Hue begins with a low rumble that ultimately advance toward crashing waves of feedback and guitar badassery.
Joining Votives for this special celebration of all that is rocking will be an Crime Lab, crttrz and Adult Beverage, an outfit fronted by Dillon Cullinan.
Cullinan spoke briefly with the Alibi about his latest undertaking, recalling the many changes Adult Beverage went through as their psychedelic sound took shape.
“By spring 2015 the band had finally found it's ideal configuration with Higinio Martinez on guitar, Zach Leyba on drums, and occasionally Briana Lee on bass. Since 2015 we have played countless house shows and venues in New Mexico. We have played alongside Walter TV (Mac Demarco's live band), Destruction Unit, The Memories, Colleen Green, and LA Witch.
Adult Beverage is currently writing and recording for the first time collaboratively. A new 5 song EP is being recording by Will Byrne of Train Conductor.
Asked to describe their current flavor, Cullinan said, “We've been described as having elements of punk, garage rock, dream-pop, stoner metal, noise rock, and psychedelia.”
The concert, a glimpse into the instrumentally intense and luminously limitless void in these parts, begins at 8pm.
Shimabukuru and His Ukulele
The house was packed last Saturday night for Jake Shimabukuro's concert. It was an intergenerational mix of people; three generations of Albuquerque music lovers came out for the show. There were members of the folk-music community and veterans of the art-music recital scene, families and young people taking in new sounds.
The lighting at Simms Center at the Albuquerque Academy had artistic intent and contributed to the celebratory atmosphere with rich colors. From start to finish, it felt like a flawless performance. I arrived feeling tired and kind of out of it, but left feeling energized and inspired. The artist and his instrument blended so well together. Shimabukuro's ukulele seemed like another arm or the perfect dance partner, attached by life and love.
Shimabukuro played a few experimental tunes that were supposedly dissonant but were still musically enthralling. He followed up with traditional Hawaiian music and thoughtfully interjected three cover tunes, "Come Together," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "While my guitar gently weeps." The George Harrison tune was especially visceral and heartfelt.
Throughout the concert, Shimabukuro used two different instruments, each with different timbres and purposes, blending his instrumental knowledge into each piece he performed.
After each song Shimburakuro and the bass player would fist bump one another, obviously eager and excited to be playing together and for a receptive audience. The stage was very simple, just the two players interacting and focused on the other’s playing. Shimurakuro received two standing ovations at the end of the night; the audience was grateful for such an amazing journey and the musicians seemed thrilled to provide it.