John Plant, composer

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End of summer reflections

Posted by John Plant on September 16, 2013 at 6:30 PM

It strikes me that in describing the enchantment of my first operatic experience, Rigoletto at Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1958, I haven't spoken enough about the shimmering wonder installed by that magnificent structure in gold and red velvet, with the kaleidoscope of marble and mirrors of the corridors  - and the subsequent, subtler enchantment of the dowdier, more earthy, creaky wooden staircases that led to the amphitheatre, where I sat when I bought my own tickets.  As you climb into the higher tiers, the staircases become progressively humbler, narrower, the splendour diminishing in precise lockstep with the ticket price; and the excitement mounting in contrary motion.    Even considering inflation, to pay $2.50 to hear Eleanor Steber in Lohengrin, or Mario del Monaco in Otello, seems to me a stunning bargain. - And this is for a SEAT - the Academy had (has?) no standing room.  

 

On my thirteenth birthday, I was taken to the Met for the first time to hear Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, with Nicolai Gedda.  The old Met had nothing of the grandeur of the Academy, but that mattered not at all when the curtain arose. I remember Olympia's bed appearing and vanishing very convincingly - this was in 1958, before holograms.  My parents had taken me to Asti's restaurant before the opera. The waiters at the Asti were all opera singers in training; on learning it was my birthday, they serenaded me and presented me with a cupcake. I didn't have time to eat it, so as the taxi whisked us off to the Met I stuffed the sacred object in my pocket.  Halfway through the first act, an inexplicable feeling of moistness yielded the realization that the little cake had an ice cream centre; my father, sitting next to me, shared in this less than delightful revelation.

 

My silence on the blog front is, as before, to be attributed to my work on the Concerto for Orchestra. I've reached the last movement, which for some reason is more of a challenge than the first three combined, but I can see (or hear) daylight.( What, do I hear the light?' cries Tristan!)  I have been watching Berg's amazing Lulu, in half-hour segments,  while staving off decrepitude on the elliptical trainer: a production from Glyndebourne which would be ideal if the sets were less terminally drab.  The utter clarity of the drama, and the idiosyncratic force which which all these desperate characters hurl themselves into their disastrous destiny - and the sheer hyper-romantic glory of the music - have never been so manifest.  So it would be churlish of me to rant at yet another production which relies on a multitude of hideous cheap chairs - but I do hope the fashion for chairs in operatic productions has peaked, and will go the way of machine guns, Peter Falk raincoats and fedoras.

 

While awaiting the forthcoming release of Suzie LeBlanc's wonderful new CD, entitled 'I am in need of music' and featuring the Elizabeth Bishop settings she commissioned (including two works by yours truly, together with Christos Hatzis, Emily Doolittle and Alastair Maclean) , I urge everyone to discover Sofia Gubaidulina's powerful and gorgeous violin concerto 'In tempus praesens,' dedicated to and gloriously performed by Anne-Sofie Mutter.  You can hear it on youtube but I urge you to obtain the CD; you get two splendid Bach violin concertos along with it, which, given the centrality of Bach to Gubaidulina's astounding musical universe, is a perfect coupling.

 

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