Battened down, like the rest of the city, in the face of Hurricane Sandy, I am forced to rely on my memories of that earlier era--the weekend--when I could just stroll out to exciting events. By tomorrow I will be reduced to reporting on my reading matter (I could tell you about the rain and the winds, but you are better off watching your TV or your laptop for that). But for now, here is a nostalgic continuation of the kind of cultural reporting that was possible in pre-Sandy New York:
On Friday night I went to the excellent music club Le Poisson Rouge
, which showcases classical, jazz, rock, and indie-new-music in an informal nightclub-like environment. The program consisted of Thomas Adès and some singers from the Metropolitan Opera
putting on a few songs. Two of the pieces were excerpted from Adès's opera, The Tempest
, which recently opened at the Met; the others were all settings of Shakespeare verse (plus one instrumental passage) by Henry Purcell, Igor Stravinsky, Michael Tippett, and Charles Ives.
In what I have now come to see as an eerie forecast of the tempest that was about to engulf us, we got to hear five different versions of Shakespeare's "Full fathom five" in the course of the evening. Each of the composers had chosen to do it in his own particular style, and all five versions were pretty amazing. Had I been Adès, I would not have put my own work directly after Purcell, but Adès--who accompanied almost every song on the piano--is not known for his excessive modesty or his fear of comparisons. And though I liked his setting least of the five, I thought it staunchly held up its end, which is pretty remarkable in this company. The main problem with the Adès version is that Meredith Oakes, his librettist, has tampered with the Shakespeare verse to make it simpler: this is just plain dumb, especially with a well-known and already song-worthy passage like "Full fathom five," and none of the other composers was silly enough to try it.
You might think it would be boring to hear the same words sung over and over, but actually that was a big part of the fascination, because the process trained our ears: we were able to listen for how each composer would wreak changes on the phrases "suffer a sea-change..rich and strange," or suggest tolling bells behind the repeated words "ding-dong." Most exciting of all was the chance to hear and see professional opera-singers from this close up, where they actually had to restrain their voices to keep from blasting us out of our stage-hugging seats. I especially loved the baritone Simon Keenlyside and the countertenor Iestyn Davies, but all the performers were superb, and it made me look forward (though with some trepidation about the libretto) to seeing the whole opera next month.