A Diva’s Return: The Week in Classical Music | Modern Society of USA

A Diva’s Return: The Week in Classical Music

A Diva’s Return: The Week in Classical Music

[Read all of our classical music coverage here.]

Readers, we were deeply sorry this week to hear of the death of the great American baritone Sanford Sylvan, on Tuesday here in New York. A Times obituary is forthcoming in short order, but in the meantime here is a playlist with some highlights from the career of a beautiful artist — eloquent in early music, a star of John Adams contemporary classics, and a distinguished recitalist:

This week also saw the return to New York of the soprano Aprile Millo, the Met’s Verdi sensation of the 1980s and ’90s, for her first hometown solo recital in 10 years. Here’s a preview that laid out the stakes, and my review, a tag-team effort with Josh Barone:

Enjoy your weekend! ZACHARY WOOLFE

The director Dmitri Tcherniakov’s opera productions often end with a plot twist. His latest, Berlioz’s “Les Troyens” for the Paris Opera, ends with two.

Gone is the nationalism — even much of the Romanticism — that courses through Berlioz’s grand opera. Mr. Tcherniakov’s approach, which runs through Feb. 12 (and let’s hope for a live stream at some point), aims for something more intimate, psychologically rich and, ultimately, wrenching. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.

The first two acts, which depict the fall of Troy, place the action in a wartime cityscape, with coldly gray buildings juxtaposed with the brightly lit, wood-paneled interior of the royal family’s home. Instead of a Trojan horse, there is a horse as metaphor: Énée (Brandon Jovanovich, indefatigable) makes a coup-like deal with the Greeks that goes awry, leaving Troy in ruins and him in flight with his surviving comrades.

Acts III through V take place in Carthage, which in Mr. Tcherniakov’s staging is a war-rehabilitation facility where patients are treated with yoga, breathing exercises and role-playing. One of those games involves declaring Didon (Ekaterina Semenchuk) the queen, complete with a cute paper crown, ruff and cape. Both she and Énée are damaged goods: Trauma has left her with crippling depression, while he arrives shouting nationalistic rallying cries at a wall.

Berlioz’s sweeping epic become a tale of insurmountable illness. The lines between playacting and reality begin to blur. Didon and Énée do fall in love, though without ever touching during their duet “Nuit d’ivresse.” But he, hearing voices and teeming with toxic masculinity, hubristically leaves for Rome. She is left alone to sing her swan song, “Adieu, fière cité,” while downing a bottle of pills and putting back on her childlike crown and cape. It’s pathetic, and devastating.

Fade to black — but then the lights come on: In what seems like a typical Tcherniakov move, Didon appears not to have died at all. The role-playing exercise instead continues, with the chorus narrating Didon’s climactic funeral pyre and the birth of Rome. But Didon seems a bit out of sync with the crowd — woozy, fading. The pills were real after all; she collapses as the score comes to its mighty end.

Without changing a word, Mr. Tcherniakov turned this sprawling tale, of romance amid the fall and rise of civilizations, into an all-too-real story about two people who, ravaged by suffering, fail to ever recover. JOSHUA BARONE

At Roulette, they doubled down on this collage-style layering — including lines of dialogue from Mr. Braxton’s recent opera “Trillium J.” The idiosyncratic pulsing style that introduces Composition No. 255 was a reminder of how instantly recognizable Mr. Braxton’s music is. Yet this particular performance’s increased emphasis on ambient complexity underlined the creative role he encourages performers to claim.

A second set at Roulette, this one devoted to Mr. Braxton’s “Echo Echo Mirror House Music,” was even more notable in this regard. Past performances of the “Echo” pieces have relied on iPods, which were used to pipe in specific vintage recordings of Mr. Braxton’s other works.

Here, however, the bassist and electronic musician Carl Testa used a new electroacoustic setup — designed in collaboration with the composer — to control the playback files. Alongside the pianist Cory Smythe, who played some of Mr. Braxton’s 1970s solo piano music, Mr. Testa oversaw a head-spinning, surround-sound environment that felt more immersive than past two-channel stereo recordings of the “Echo” pieces.

On Saturday, Wadada Leo Smith, a longtime associate of Mr. Braxton’s, brought his Golden Quintet to the Appel Room, inside Jazz at Lincoln Center, for the New York premiere of selections from his suite “America’s National Parks.” During the early set on Saturday, this music seemed less fiery than on the version Mr. Smith and his group recorded for a 2016 release.

But there were innumerable passages of delicate beauty — often featuring the quintet’s cellist, Ashley Walters. Ms. Walters also figures prominently in Mr. Smith’s forthcoming CD release of another extended composition: “Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs.” On an advance clip posted to SoundCloud, you can hear Ms. Walters’s playing amid trumpets, electronics and a solo turn from the violinist Shalini Vijayan. SETH COLTER WALLS

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