On the Road

March 28, 2012

Sculpture of St. George on the façade of the Palace.

There has been a bit of a break in blogging, since I’m in Barcelona with all the non-cyber delights that the city involves. Last night was the formal commemoration of the Montsalvatge centenary by the government of Catalonia. It’s terribly impressive to an American to see such official honors heaped onto a musician — including by the “Senyor President,” “Senyora Presidenta del Parlament,” government ministers, and the musical dignitaries of the place. Your humble American minstrel was stunned, first, to be invited by the President at all — addressed as “El Biògraf de Xavier Montsalvatge en anglès,” then to be met at the gate by a functionary who called me by name before I could timorously identify myself, then to be shown to a seat with leaders of the rich cultural life here. Imagine.

The panegyrics offered by the country’s highest authorities were worthy of a composer who, in life, had won his homeland’s highest honors, the Gold Medal of the Generalitat and the Cross of St. George, as loftily named on the invitation.

And nothing could have made a grander setting than the palace’s Sala de Sant Jordi:

President Mas was eloquent:

The Montsalvatge family were suitably delighted by the ceremonies:

And we feasted into the night, fittingly, on Xavier Montsalvatge’s favorite dish, escargots. Yes!

Montsalvatge was born one hundred years ago today. In celebration, they are broadcasting this extraordinarily fine documentary from Barcelona, in which I participate. If you know little about his life and music, this is a fine introduction.

UPDATE: Thanks to Alex Ross for his own marking of the centenary with the apt description of Montsalvatge as “subtly potent.”

Opera Shutdown in Barcelona

February 2, 2012

After having painted here a rosy scenario for the opera houses in Spain two years ago despite a precipitous economic downturn, it is dispiriting to see that the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona is being forced to shut down for two months. Distressing as this is in general, I’m relieved to see that three performances, in May, remain for Xavier Montsalvatge’s “magic opera” El gato con botas, in commemoration of the centenary of the composer’s birth and the tenth anniversary of his death.

The economy is, of course, hitting everybody and everything hard, but considering the difficult times during which the Liceu has managed to stay open in the last century, one hopes a solution can be found for this major company that plays in the second-largest opera house in Europe.

The composer with his wife and Victoria de los Angeles

In preparation for the centenary of his birth next year, there is a new trilingual site for the brilliant Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge. You’ll be seeing a lot more about the celebration in this space.

And, from Barcelona …

October 6, 2010

The principal daily, La Vaguardia devoted a lot of space to the New York production of Puss and Boots.

(Translations of some key passages are below the images.)

“My father would have loved it,” maintains Yvette.

Xavier Montsalvatge, one of the most relevant composers of contemporary music, has managed to make his mark on Broadway eight years after his death.

In the audience the satisfaction that made the sixty minutes go by like a single breath was evident.

All the puppeteers are dressed in black, the image of the darkness into which Spain was plunged at the time when this work was created.

Goren chose this opera — “the music seemed easy, but connoisseurs can see the inticacies” — and offered it to Kaufman. “I fell in love with it,” said the director.

Yvette, more than satisfied with the results, nevertheless maintains that her father never intended the work for children. It was for adults. But she recognizes that the world has changed a lot since then, and “opera and the way it works are changing.”

***

From the interview with the director:

Kaufman: Montsalvatge is telling us something very clear. The only thing we can do against apparent destiny is to use our imagination and intuition and go on.

La Vanguardia: Is it a show for kids?

Kaufman: The truth is that I never thought of this work as an opera for children. It is very beautiful and everybody can see it, adults and children.

Puss and Boots

October 5, 2010

If you want to see a well-made opera performed with a complete dramatic conception fully realized, incorporating theatrical devices that are thoroughly original, appropriate, and entertaining, get yourself to the elegant New Victory Theater this week for the Gotham Chamber Opera‘s production of Xavier Montsalvatge’s El gato con botas. Like Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel, it was conceived for adults but delights children; unlike H&G, it’s only one hour long. I am generally anti-puppet, at least in opera, but these figures — and, more especially, the sensitive use of them — more than won me over. And the music itself is above praise.

Given my great interest in the life and works of Xavier Montsalvatge (already manifested here and here), I have been looking forward to a new production of his first opera El gato con botas (Puss in Boots) from 1947. The innovative production, which I have had encouraging glimpses of, opens on Friday. I strongly recommend it.

Artists of Their Time

August 27, 2010

Still working on the Montsalvatge book, I find the juxtaposition of these two quotes stimulating enough to share here:

A banda de no tenir cap pretensió de passar a la posteritat, em satisfà enormement que la meva música agradi als meus contemporanis. Jo diria que sempre he escrit amb sinceritat, tot i que tinc molt present que amb l’excusa de la sinceritat potser s’han escrit les pitjors obres que hom pot imaginar. Resummint diré que, quant a la meva música, prefereixo que interessi més que no pas que agradi simplement.

Having no pretension of mattering to posterity, it pleases me enormously that my contemporaries like my music. I would say that I have always written with sincerity, even though I am very aware that one can write the worst works imaginable while using sincerity for an excuse. In summary I will say that, as far as my music goes, I prefer that it be interesting rather than that it simply please.

– Xavier Montsalvatge, 1992

This age needs … men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments.

– John Updike, 1951