Friday, January 25, 2008

Lorin Maazel needs to buy a clue

Lorin Maazel, fresh off conducting Die Walküre at the Met, is here in rainy, cold Los Angeles to conduct four performances (um, now three since I'm late with this) of Benjamin Britten's blazing masterpiece, the War Requiem. I have my ticket for Saturday night and I'm very much looking forward to it.

In these days of cutbacks of coverage of classical music in paper-and-ink newspapers, it was nice to see a teaser article yesterday in the Los Angeles Times. Pretty straightforward --250 people will make quite a noise in the fairly small space that is Disney Hall-- except for this juxtaposition:
The work also calls for two conductors -- one for the large orchestra and one for the chamber orchestra -- although there have been performances under the leadership of a single person. "I have conducted both orchestras," Maazel said, "and it was doable. But I felt it was defeating the purpose of the score, and I was very happy to go back to the source and follow the composer's instructions. [snip]
That's admirable, one assumes the composer knows best what they want. Oh wait.... (from earlier in the article):
Britten called for a chorus of boys' voices, but here, as often elsewhere, the chorus will be mixed. "This was requested by maestro Maazel," said Anne Tomlinson, director of the children's chorus. "He prefers the sound of a mixed ensemble".
As you'd say in a text message: WFT? I know humans have the capacity to hold contradictory thoughts in their minds simultaneously, but that's absurd. One can't claim fidelity to a composer's intentions and in a previous breath, totally disregard them for your own aesthetic reasons. Jeebus.

As anyone who knows Britten's biography in any detail could tell you, Benjamin Britten had a complicated relationship with adolescent boys. Apart from his amorous and sexual interest, however, he simply loved the sound of unbroken boys voices; his oeuvre features them prominently (Miles in the incredible The Turn of the Screw, the Spring Symphony, my very first live opera experience A Midsummer's Night Dream and so on) . If Britten had wanted a mixed boys/girls chorus in the War Requiem, he bloody well would have specified it in the score!

This is really one of my serious pet peeves: conductors/stage directors who don't follow what's in the score. Tristan und Isolde set on a spaceship kinds of things are simply so clichéd and boring by now that they are almost beyond risible. Tampering with the way a score is performed, however, is another matter altogether. I well remember attending my first Der Ferne Klang at the Berlin Staatsoper, conducted by noted Schrekerian and advisor to the Franz Schreker Society Michael Gielen and being aghast at how Gielen allowed some of Fritz' lines in Act III to be assigned to minor characters, just so that the director could perpetrate his fraud of a production. Shame, shame, shame.

Still, I love the War Requiem to bits, it's an ever-timely piece these days and to hear it in Disney Hall as opposed to the barn that is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion should be an amazing experience. Huh? What's that? Be consistent and boycott the performance because Maazel is tampering with the score? Yeah, right......

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