Chelsea Nicole Spangler
Chelsea Nicole Spangler is a graduate student in ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley. She earned her B.A. in vocal performance at Wartburg College, and spent the 2007-2008 academic year studying the Hardanger fiddle in Norway.
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Perhaps this ideal of an unsullied holiday is part of the motivation for popular groups like Mannheim Steamroller to arrange holiday tunes for harpsichords, lutes, and piccolo trumpets. Reconstructing the sounds of a past era might allow listeners to sonically teleport to a simpler time, when the holidays didn’t obligate one to go on a spending spree. The Philharmonia Baroque ensemble’s upcoming holiday concert will move listeners a step in this direction, with its all-Baroque repertoire and its orchestra of period instruments. Although artistic products of the Baroque period are generally known for anything but their simplicity, music enthusiasts know that a good listening experience can make life seem a whole lot less complicated.
Under the codirection of Bruce Lamott and Elizabeth Blumenstock, the choir and orchestra will present a program of both Christmassy and wintry selections. The repertoire will range from the explicitly religious to the seasonally appropriate, and will evoke a breadth of emotions from reverence to exuberance.
The concert will open with Antonio Vivaldi’s Magnificat in G Minor, RV 610. The text comes from the Gospel of Luke, and recounts the words of the Virgin Mary while she was pregnant with Jesus. Vivaldi’s setting begins with a solemn, homophonic adagio that expresses Mary’s humility. The Et exultavit, with its buoyant leaps, is jubilant. Slow, chromatic descents in the final Et misericordia section emphasize the gravity of the young mother’s responsibility.
Christmas concertos by Giuseppe Torelli and Giovanni Battista Sammartini, both meant to be played on Christmas night, alternate between solemnity, anxious anticipation, and quiet joy. For musical impressions of the winter season, the ensemble turns to the “Winter” concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The three movements call up images of being caught in a blizzard, of cozying up by a fireplace, and later watching snowflakes gently fall, whisked away by the occasional flurry.
Despite this program’s title of “Gloria!” the concert won’t beat you over the head with holiday cheer. The holidays can bring on a whole gamut of emotions, and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s repertoire allows for reflection on an entire array of them. Through music sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental, worshipful and jovial, the singers and instrumentalists will guide the audience to examine the holidays through ever-shifting emotional lenses. The program will end with Vivaldi’s Gloria in D Major, reminding each listener that, whatever our view of the holidays, there is cause to celebrate.More »
One of Cançonièr’s founders, Tim Rayborn, admits that little is known about Dracula’s musical tastes. It is, however, possible to speculate about what music he might have heard. Dracula (ca. 1431-1476) ruled a small Balkan nation in what is now part of southern Romania, so Byzantine court music and Balkan folk music were probably familiar to him. He certainly had plenty of contact with the Turks, as well, though he may have been less interested in hearing their music than impaling them on wooden spikes.
To begin and end the concert, Cançonièr will perform excerpts from a poem called “Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia,” written during Dracula’s lifetime by the German poet and musician Michel Beheim. Although the poem was performed for court audiences in its day, none of the original music survives. For this concert, Rayborn has set the text to music from a German source originating around the same time as the poem. Additionally, a spoken performance of an English translation will ensure that the audience doesn’t miss out on the gory details that made Dracula’s reputation spread so widely.
Another German composer with whom Dracula may have been familiar is Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376?-1445), a member of the chivalric Order of the Dragon, the same sect that inspired the Dracula name. Vlad the Impaler’s father was a member of the order, and called himself “Dracul,” or dragon. Dracula literally means “Son of the Dragon.” Members of the order were committed to fighting the Turks and preventing the growth of the Ottoman Empire.
Cançonièr won’t be taking sides; the program also allots plenty of airtime to music of the draconian order’s enemies. Folk songs from Hungary, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bulgaria will be performed. Rayborn describes the melodies as “reminiscent of medieval modal songs.” The songs come from oral traditions that may have been transmitted, person by person, from Dracula’s time to ours. The surviving songs are thus not exactly the same as they were centuries ago, but, Rayborn elaborates, “if these exact songs did not exist in the 15th century, ones similar to them likely did.”
The variety of music that Cançonièr will present on this “Black Dragon” program is meant to satisfy the tastes of any music lover, from early-music buffs to world-music fans, as well as to goth enthusiasts who might be drawn ineluctably to the subject matter. Anyone with an ear for seldom-heard instruments will also be interested in this concert; Cançonièr’s four musicians will demonstrate their talents on the expected Western early-music instruments (recorders, vielle, lute, psaltery), as well as hurdy-gurdy, oud, hand drums, and tromba marina, which Rayborn calls “a completely ridiculous instrument that you will have to see and hear to believe.”
“The Black Dragon” promises to be a fascinating concert, with something for everyone to sink their teeth into.More about MusicSources »
Part of Berkeley Opera’s mission is to make opera accessible to everyone. Although The Ballad of Baby Doe is sung in English, supertitles will be provided. When the company puts on works that are originally in other languages, it often uses an English translation, as well. Under the direction of Jonathan Khuner, it also makes the stories accessible by taking an adventurous approach to costuming, staging, and sets (think Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, with gothic scenes and steampunk costumes). Such a playful take on classical works makes strides toward bridging the gap between opera and musical theater. The former can come across as elitist, while the latter is sometimes deemed frivolous — but find the middle ground, and you get a music-drama genre that can cater to almost any aesthetic taste.
One of the few American operas to make the performance canon, The Ballad of Baby Doe takes place in a Colorado silver-mining town. As in any good libretto, the plot centers on a love triangle, with plenty of intrigue and misunderstood intentions. Elizabeth “Baby” Doe, famously interpreted by Beverly Sills, will be played by Jillian Khuner. Torlef Borsting will sing the role of Horace Tabor, the main male character. Horace is not a tenor role, as most male leads are; in this opera the main man is a baritone who happens to own the whole town. His wife, Augusta (mezzo-soprano Lisa Houston), disapproves of his lifestyle, and Horace ends up with Baby Doe. They are soon found out, and Horace spends the remainder of the opera torn between the two women.
Much of Douglas Moore’s music is influenced by American genres like ragtime and jazz. In the opening scene, in which Horace and Baby first meet, the orchestration relies heavily on a honky-tonk piano. The lyricism of Moore’s arias reflects American folk song; some of the more famous include Baby’s “Willow Song” and “Always Through the Changing.” The composer’s use of American settings, themes, and music make The Ballad of Baby Doe distinctly non-European, setting it apart from the great majority of operas. The opening date of July 11 makes this all-American opera a perfect follow-up to Independence Day festivities. Anyone interested in a preview can also catch highlights at a free noon concert, to be held at the Berkeley Public Library, on Shattuck Avenue at Kittredge, at 12:15 on Thursday, June 25.More about West Edge Opera »
I walked into Herbst Theatre on Sunday evening expecting the Scandinavian ensemble Trio Mediæval to instantly transport me from sunny San Francisco to twilit Norway, where winter has already begun. I was mystified by the collection of what appeared to be found objects onstage — these were not instruments I had ever seen in Norway.