Thursday, December 8, 2016

MET "Live in HD": Spectacular new production of stunning new opera

I am moving this blog to my new website, so this will be one of the last posts here.

I returned yesterday from a visit to my alma mater for an excellently performed double-bill of Ravel and Puccini, followed by another visit to the MET for the premiere production of the most compelling operatic score of the 21st century, Kaaija Ssariaho's L'amour de Loin. Check out the MET website, which is a great resource for opera lovers in general, in addition to their current repertoire.

After a couple days reflection, I will say this production is the best new production I've seen at the MET in at least 10 years, and must rank as one of the most important new productions the MET has done in its history. Besides being only the 2nd opera composed by a woman to appear at the MET (the other was by Ethyl Smyth, in 1903), it featured the conducting debut of only the 4th woman to appear in the MET pit, the Finnish dynamo and contemporary specialist, Susanna Mälkki. The musical performance was supreme. This score is atmospheric and dense with layers of sound that envelop the listener like mists, or enchant one like the lull and depth of the sea. I find her one of the most compelling voices in contemporary music today, and one of the most important composers to emerge in the century-plus-long history of modernism. It's time more people listened to creative women. Their voices, like Saariaho's and Mälkki's are vital and distinct.

The cast consists of a trio of great all-star American opera singers. Eric Owens plays the historical troubadour Rudel, in love with an historical Countess of Tripoli, astonishingly sung by Susannah Phillips. The "love from afar" is mediated by an original character sung by the young mezzo, Tamara Mumford. She is an androgynous pilgrim who floats back and forth between the lovers across a light-show sea. The set is hypnotically represented by 28,000 LED lights strung across the stage and pit, spectacularly rendered by Robert Lepage and his Quebec team. For anyone disappointed or unimpressed with the controversial Ring cycle he mounted several years ago, this is a production that finally captures the magic of his Cirque de Soleil successes. If you see no other new production this season, see this one. Click here for tickets. As a colleague, and former OR Apprentice Artist I randomly saw at the performance said to me, "The Met should do more productions like that."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tokyo Songs - 30/30 Poetry Project

Happy Holidays, Friends:
If you are new to my involvement in Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project, click here to learn more about
this "poetry marathon" I've embarked upon to write 30 poems in 30 days (published daily on Tupelo's site) and help raise funds to support a fellow non-profit organization.

I'll be writing about my recent travels to Tokyo and Venice, and interweaving themes connecting one of my favorite composers, Benjamin Britten (who took frequent composing sabbaticals in Venice, and drew profound inspiration from Japanese Theatre). If my courage and pen do not fail me, I will also share some new poems about my mother, whose first Yahrzeit we recently honored (and whose generosity made my Venetian sabbatical possible).

Below, with notes and accompanying photos, is my poem for December 3. I took the pictures while on a recent concert tour of Japan, sponsored by our fabulous friends at Appalachian Dream.

Below the poems and photos are a couple of notes about references within the last series of haiku and tanka.

Lastly, I'll be moving my blog to my new website soon. Check out for more music, poetry, art, and whatever aesthetic miscellany I may be up to.

Edo Songs

Uprooted stump curled
like a dragon’s neck staring
down Fuji’s fierce slope

Dragonfly sentries
of the Japanese garden
Spirit animals

like the giant black
Butterfly watching the five-
story Pagoda

[Your Fairy Queen soul
would summon them to your side
keeping this world safe]

quietly rippling under
Edo’s brilliant sun

carrier of tales and dreams
tell me a secret

whispering Ugetsu’s loves
will she return here

singing the madwoman’s song
O Curlew River
reveal your dragon’s-tooth roots
admit me into your depths


[The verse in brackets was included in earlier series of these haiku.]

*Sumida is one of Tokyo’s most important rivers (gawa). It is the name of a famous Noh play on which Benjamin Britten based his operatic “parable,” Curlew River,
a work he composed in 1964 while on sabbatical in Venice.

The title role (like all female roles in traditional Japanese theatre, and Britten’s first parable) is played in drag. Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, created the leading role of the “madwoman.” Britten’s final opera, Death in Venice, was the crowning role of Pears’ career, and marked the tenor’s belated Metropolitan Opera debut (at 64).

Ugestu is a 1953 film by Kenji Mizoguchi.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

30/30 Project: Poem for Day 1

If you haven't heard about my participating in Tupelo Press's "30/30 Project" where I'll write 30 poems in 30 days this month, click here.

Here is the poem for that first day, followed by a brief note on it. Thanks for reading.

Venetian nocturne

Sitting alone on
the Fondamente Nuove
smoking staring out

Looking up at me
as I stroll along the quay
wishing after stars

She’s solitary
and furtive as a night-bird
will she fly away

Scott Williamson
(Venice - Roanoke; July - Nov 2016).

This series of haiku was inspired by a night time stroll I regularly took while in residence in the Cannaregio neighborhood (sestiere) of Venice. I was there for a month this past July - August, renting a fabulous Air BnB apartment after the settling of part of my mom's estate. I had long wanted to take a mini-sabbatical and work on artistic projects. One of my goals this trip was to retrace the footsteps of beloved artists and composers from Monteverdi to Bernstein, and in particular, to follow the itinerary of Benjamin Britten.
(View of the moon over the Venetian lagoon, from "I Felzi" apartment)

My apartment was a 90-second walk to the main thoroughfare (both pedestrian and marine) of the area, the Fundamente Nuove. Most Venetian arrivals and departures stop there; it affords views of the mysterious cemetery island, San Michele (where Stravinsky is buried), in addition to popular outlying islands like Murano (the "mecca" of glass-blowing). The Venetian hospital (the Ospedale) is the next stop over, and so while Venice is a relatively crime-free city, what few sirens there are (and they're all attached to the only motorized vehicle in the city: the boat) happen to be in this neighborhood. And yet how quiet the nights are! It was one such night where I saw the woman described in this poem.

The last line of an earlier version read "should I have said hi", and was entitled "Donna tristessa".