Tag Archives: Richard Wagner

You can do anything so long as you sing it.*

In place of Julie’s regularly scheduled post, we’re proud to present a special guest, Rebekah, a fellow music librarian and a participant in Pittsburgh’s vibrant opera scene.

It’s fall and in addition to the leaves changing and the air becoming a bit cooler, seasons begin for many music organizations, including opera companies.  Pittsburgh Opera opens its 2012-13 season of classics in October with Rigoletto and continues with Don Giovanni, The Secret Marriage (performed by its resident artists), Madama Butterfly and La Cenerentola.  CLP’s Music Department has partnered with the Pittsburgh Opera’s education department since 2001 to produce a resource guide to help you immerse yourself in the operas of the season.  Books, librettos, CDs and DVDs await you as you get ready to experience revenge gone wrong, a womanizer getting what he deserves, a wedding of undercover lovers, a tragic love story and a fairytale romance.  I’m excited to see Don Juan in action in a new production of Mozart’s opera.

If you still want more opera, Pittsburgh has plenty of it.  Quantum Theatre, the nomadic theater company, will present the Pittsburgh premiere of Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov’s work, “Ainadamar,” based upon the life of Federico García Lorca.  Previously they had staged Astor Piazzolla’s opera tango, “María de Buenos Aires” at the deserted East Liberty YMCA.  It will be interesting to see how they use the space at East Liberty Presbyterian ChurchCarnegie Mellon’s Opera Workshop offers “Into the Woods” as their fall production.  I know, I know, it’s a musical… or is it?  We have to wait until February to see Duquesne University Opera Workshop’s production of “Dialogues of the Carmelites” but they will have an aria night in October.  Microscopic Opera just finished a run of “Riders to the Sea” (the play and the opera) and “Lizbeth,” all works about family tragedies.  Next up will be “The Little Sweep” in March.  Undercroft Opera, a company of all local singers, will stage “The Barber of Seville” in February and has yet to announce their 2013 summer production.  We also anticipate the next season of Opera Theater Summerfest.

Dare I mention venturing to the movie theater for the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD broadcasts?  It’s opera on the big screen and you don’t have to hop the Megabus to New York.  You just venture to the Cinemark Theaters at Pittsburgh Mills or Robinson Township or Rave Motion Pictures-Pittsburgh North 11.  Last season, many people experienced Robert Lepage’s innovative Ring Cycle.  I was not among them as I am not a fan of Wagner’s epic work unlike my boss, Julie, who has seen over 10 different productions.  I think she and I can both agree that opera plots can be about anything.  Maybe I’ll see you at one this year.

— Rebekah

*A quotation from the fabulous Anna Russell who parodied the Ring Cycle in solo concert performances


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Herrmann and Hitchcock


Innovative strings-only orchestra.

The screeching string music from the shower scene in Psycho is likely one of the most recognizable (and parodied) bits of music for film.  Even without that huge hit, Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) would still be one of the top film composers of all time. 

This month, Pittsburgh Filmmakers is showing four Alfred Hitchcock films with Bernard Herrmann soundtracks: The Trouble With Harry, Vertigo, The Birds, and Psycho.  Kudos to Filmmakers for drawing attention to how Herrmann’s scores are an essential part of the mood of Hitchcock’s films. 

And I know I keep mentioning the use of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in films (Excalibur and Step Brothers), but it’s also relevant here.  In Vertigo, Herrmann composed a Scène d’amour whose resemblance to the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde is exceedingly clever.  Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was significant in music history because of its tense, vague tonality that climactically resolves in the transcendental “love-death” of Isolde.  Herrmann’s vertiginous, tension-building music pulls the same trick, resolving into sweeping romantic bliss when [SPOILER ALERT!!] Scottie Ferguson watches red-haired Judy Barton transform back into blonde Madeleine Elster.  I urge you to listen to the Scene d’Amour music side-by-side with Wagner’s Prelude & Liebestod to hear Herrmann’s effective homage. vertigo  For a more elaborate elucidation of the Vertigo soundtrack, read New York Times music writer Alex Ross’s 1996 article or check out the library’s Vertigo film score handbook.

Finally, to make explicit that Herrmann and Hitchcock both knew the great significance of music and emotion in Vertigo: when Ferguson is institutionalized, his doctor and friend both recommend the therapeutic effects of Mozart.  Mozart, of course, is tonally grounded without the provocative, musical uncertainty of Wagner and Herrmann.

What is absolutely certain is Bernard Herrmann’s talent as a composer, whether you’re in the movie theater, concert hall, or the library’s compact disc collection.

— Tim

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