My cultural weekend

Two amazing musical events this past weekend:

On Saturday afternoon I went to the Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition video broadcast of Bellini’s I Puritani at the Regal Cinemas at Severance Center in Cleveland Heights. The brilliant Russian soprano Anna Netrebko sang the role of Elvira, and the young American tenor Eric Cutler was Arturo. (Don’t even ask about the plot—essentially there is none, and whatever story line exists solely for the purpose of beautiful music and virtuosic singing.)

Technically, the broadcast was astonishing. The video was extremely clear and the sound caught the ambiance of the Metropolitan Opera house itself. In many ways it was better than being in the house, because it was possible to see the singers up close and the sound was clear and balanced. (For the $18.00 I paid for the ticket on Saturday, at the Met I would have been up in the Family Circle, a half mile away, like watching a puppet show.) There were aspects of the usual Saturday afternoon radio broadcast, with the radio host Margaret Juntwait announcing and retired soprano Beverly Sills offering “color commentary” about the opera. (I later confirmed that the radio broadcast carried the same commentary, and there was none of the usual synopsis of the opera plot, which must have made a lot of listeners quite confused.)

The theater at Severance was about three-quarters full, mostly gray hairs (did they bus them in from Judson Manor?) I felt like I was the youngest one there. But who cares who was there; it seems like a successful crowd, and I hope that the Met continues the series next season. I’ll be attending the next video broadcast at Severance next Saturday of Tan Dun’s new opera, The First Emperor, starring Placido Domingo.

Yesterday afternoon the Cleveland Museum of Art sponsored a recital by the Swiss organist Guy Bovet at St. John’s Cathedral downtown. It’s part of the museum’s Viva and Gala Around Town, presenting concerts and and other events in venues all over Cleveland while the museum’s Gartner Auditorium is out of commission for renovation. Bovet played brilliantly, and he chose exactly the kind of brainy and eclectic program that I love: not a note of Bach or Reger to be heard. Instead, he played a transcription of Liszt’s tone poem “Orpheus,” and his own transcription of Ravel’s “Mother Goose” suite. He also played two of his own original compositions, and two major works by the French composer Jehan Alain, “Le jardin suspendu” and “Trois Danses.” The dances are not played often: difficult, extraordinarily complex rhythmically. Bovet’s performance was persuasive. All through the recital he used the cathedral’s 1948 Holtkamp organ with great imagination (I’ve played it, and it’s an eccentric instrument. It has some beautiful sounds, but it’s a bit unusual in its specification.) The cathedral was almost full: bravo to all concerned.

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