The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: As Pride month comes to an end, let us proudly recall LGBTQ classical composers and musicians. Plus, you hear a concert of queer composers and performers

June 30, 2019
6 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

This past weekend, this whole past month, the Rainbow flags (below) have been flying openly and high.

We saw all sorts of major Pride parades for LGBTQ rights as well as the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that eventually gave birth  to a worldwide movement to ensure that queer people receive the human rights they deserve.

Since today is the last day of June, of Pride month, it seems fitting to recall the many LGBTQ composers and performers in classical music.

The gay rights movement has opened the closet doors not only of individual lives today but also of historical figures.

So here are several lists that may teach you something new about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer musicians.

Some of the calls seem iffy, unconvincing or overstated. Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin, for example, lived when homoerotic friendship did not necessarily mean a queer sexual identity. But one way or the other, historical proof and documentation can be hard to come by. And clearly there is much more to know about the past.

But take a look. At least you will see how scholars are undertaking new research and often undermining the heterosexual assumption that has wrapped so many historical and even contemporary figures in wrong or mistaken gender identity.

And if you find someone missing, please leave the name and appropriate information in the comment section.

Freedom, acceptance and respect are not zero-sum games in which one person or group can win only if another one loses. There is enough of each to go around. All can celebrate pride.

So enjoy the information, whether it is new or not, and the respect it should inspire for the central role of LGBTQ people in the arts both past and present.

Here is a pretty extensive and comprehensive list, in alphabetical order, from Wikipedia of LGBT composers, both living and dead. It includes Chester Biscardi (below) who did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pauline Oliveros who did a residency at the UW-Madison several years ago. You don’t have to click on each name. Just hover the cursor arrow over the name and you will see a photo and biographical blurb.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_composers

And here is a list, also in alphabetical order and also from Wikipedia, of LGBT musicians and performers, not all of them classical. It works by clicking on sub-categories that include nationality – though one wonders if musicians from extremely homophobic countries and cultures are included.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:LGBT_musicians

Here is a more selective list from The Advocate, an LGBTQ magazine, of 18 queer composers — including Corelli — who made history and you should know about:

https://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/2017/2/08/18-queer-composers-who-made-music-history?pg=full

And here is a similarly selective list from radio station WFMT in Chicago of 15 LGBT composers — including Handel and Lully — you should know about:

https://www.wfmt.com/2015/06/25/15-queer-composers-know/

And in the YouTube video at the bottom is a Pride concert — 1 hour and 43 minutes long — recently held in New York City at the Greene Space, and hosted and recorded by radio stations WQXR and WNYC.

It features music by queer composers and performances by queer artists. Metropolitan Opera star Anthony Roth Constanzo performs. Also playing are pianists Steven Blier and Sara Davis Buechner, who have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, respectively. The New York Gay Men’s Chorus sings. The Ear found the concert timely and moving.

If you have questions, comments or additional names, please do leave word in the comment section.

Happy Pride!

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement?

January 19, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a federal holiday in the US: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And The Ear has just one question: Why hasn’t anyone yet composed an opera about MLK?

martin luther king 2

His larger-than-life existence has all the necessary operatic elements about it, from being a prisoner in jail and winning the Nobel Peace Prize to meeting with President Johnson in The White House and being assassinated while defending garbage workers in Memphis.

He took part in momentous events, some of them dramatic and violent, that involved huge masses of people.

Plus, he and his staff experienced major individual and personal conflicts.

And the cause he fought for forever altered the course of American history and the civil rights of other individuals and groups advocating women’s rights, Latino rights, gay rights and disabled rights among others.

Martin Luther King speech

Could it be that MLK has not been treated in an opera because the composers are white or non-American?

Who, then, could or should do it?

The contemporary American composer John Adams (below top) comes immediately to mind. He used President Richard Nixon (below bottom is a scene from “Nixon in China, as it was staged at the Metropolitan Opera); physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project in “Doctor Atomic: to create the atomic bomb; and in the still controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” the question of terrorism examined through the story of Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer and his Palestinian murderers, to create his successful reality-based historical operas.

John Adams

nixon in china plane

So, why not Martin Luther King Jr.?

Music certainly was vital to King and his campaign.

But what hasn’t he himself been treated as the central figure of an opera?

Maybe the difficulties posed by the King estate would have something to do with it, as they did with the current movie “Selma.”

But one can’t imagine that they are insurmountable.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

Should there be an opera about Martin Luther King Jr.?

Who would be a good composer to write one?

And why do you think one hasn’t already been written? Does racism play a role?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The new “LIVE From The Met in HD” season starts this Saturday. Will anyone boo or protest the Putin supporters singer Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev during the satellite broadcast of the opera “Eugene Onegin” by the gay composer Tchaikovsky? Here are links to the full season and its background.

October 4, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You know the new concert season is well underway when the major opera houses rev up.

And this weekend marks the start of the new “Live From the Met in HD’ series. It features 10 new productions, including some very well-known work operas and some lesser-known one.

Met Live Eugene Onegin poster

The opening production by the world-famous Metropolitan Opera (below, the interior seen from the stage) in New York City is Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin,” which the Madison Opera staged to critical acclaim last season.

Met from stage over pit

The new production stars singers Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (below) and the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.

Met Eugene Onegin Anna Netrebko face

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Russian globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below, in a photo from Getty Images), which is sure to give sparkling account of the tuneful Waltz, probably the most famous and popular moment in the entire opera (at bottom in a popular YouTube video) by that Melody Master of a composer.

Valery Gergiev Getty Images

It is a curious and sure-fire musical combination that may also be controversial, given how both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev have been outspoken supporters of Macho Man Russian President Vladimir Putin (below), despite his oppositional defense of Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad and despite his human rights record, especially fostering the oppression of gays and lesbians in Russia. And how ironic it is that they will perform in an opera by Tchaikovsky, who was himself gay,

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

Here are two popular  posts I recently did about that issue, posts that drew some great reader comments you should check out:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/classical-music-lets-boycott-them-if-music-superstars-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-dont-enlighten-vladimir-putin-about-gays-and-lesbians/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/classical-music-which-opera-villain-would-vladimir-putin-be/

vladimir putin barechested

One wonders; Will the singer or conductor hear any boos or jeers as they start the production, which the Met’s general director Peter Gelb has refused to dedicate to Russia’s gays and lesbians? It could be interesting. But given the cost of seats at the Met, The Ear suspects not. Art will probably win out over politics, at least on the expensive Mother Ship – though the reception might be more vocal and dissenting in local and more affordable cinemas.

But who knows? Still, one can hope.

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

Anyway, the “Met LIVE in HD” shows will be screened by satellite at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side and the Eastgate Cinemas on the city’s far east side. The opera starts at 11:55 a.m. CDT and runs just over four hours.

Tickets are $24 for adults, $18 for children.

Below are some links with more information about this opening production and about the full season.

Here is a link to the complete season on 10 productions so you can check for conflicts, set aside dates (encore performances are usually the following Wednesday evening) and buy tickets in advance.

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here is a useful link to the notes with a synopsis of the plot of “Eugene Onegin”:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/uploadedFiles/MetOpera/8_live_in_hd/4_United_States/cast%20sheets/Onegin%20cast%20sheet.pdf

Here is a link to some videos (below is the ball scene) that may whet your appetite to see and hear the production:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/video/2013-2014/eugene-onegin?src=hdpage

Met Eugene Onegin ball

And here are links to two detailed an dwell researched stories in The New York Times that give the history of the Met Live in HD series and offers insightful critiques of what the series means for live opera and the opera scene in general in the U.S. and around the world.

Here is the link to the story with historical, demographic and economics background:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/arts/music/the-mets-hd-broadcasts-are-changing-opera.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Here is the analysis and critique:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/arts/music/met-operas-live-in-hd-series-outside-of-new-york.html?pagewanted=all

If you go, let us know what you thought of the production and whether something unusual happened -– be it a boycott or protest,  jeers or boos.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which opera villain would Vladimir Putin be? Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s last performance of its acclaimed opening concert is TODAY at 2:30 p.m.

September 29, 2013
2 Comments

A REMINDER: The last performance of the season-opening concert by Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) takes place at 2:30 p.m. today in Overture Hall. The program of Aaron Copland’s dance suite “Appalachian Spring,” Richard Wagner‘s “Love Death” (Liebestod) from the opera “Tristan und Isolde” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s symphonic tone poem “Scheherazade” celebrates the 20th anniversary of conductor John DeMain‘s tenure. And the performances have received rave reviews. Here are links to reviews by John W. Barker of Isthmus and Greg Hettmansberger of Madison Magazine:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41041&sid=7853c5de52499cbd8d735576acaa10e0

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/September-2013/Demonstrating-What-All-the-Fuss-Is-About/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last weekend I asked whether we should boycott the performances and recordings of superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below top) and globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below bottom) because they supported the election of Vladimir Putin, the thuggish former KGB agent who is the scheming and vicious President of Russia.

anna netrebko

Gergievin NY

There is a lot to complain about Vladimir Putin (below, pictured on a poster in a pro-=gay rights protest) and his record of injustice, human rights and political intrigues. In particular, putting aside questions of Syria and internal Russian dissent, I chastised Netrebko and Gergiev for not standing up to and not speaking out about Putin’s support of extremely harsh and oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia, especially both musicians no doubt work with and depend on gay and lesbian colleagues in performing artists.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

The comments led to some pretty heated responses from various readers.

Here is a link so you can see for yourself:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/classical-music-lets-boycott-them-if-music-superstars-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-dont-enlighten-vladimir-putin-about-gays-and-lesbians/

Then a god friend and loyal, knowledgeable reader of the blog, who is on a bicycling tour of Hungary, checked in and sent on a link to a piece about how opera houses – including the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City — have been asked to sign petitions and at least dedicate their opening night performances against Putin and his supporters.

The Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below) refused, pleading that the arts are separate from politics, and some other opera leaders agreed with him. Well, what do you expect from management?

Peter Gelb

Here is a link to that fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal:

http://on.wsj.com/176cPgk

The whole idea of Vladimir Putin (below) as an opera villain got me thinking: Which villain in the opera repertoire best parallels or embodies Vladimir Putin, seen as a parody of himself as a real-life bare-chested macho man in the photo below top? (The beef-cakey baritone Nathan Gunn, below bottom) would be an ideal choice to cast int the role no?)

vladimir putin barechested

Nathan Gunn barechested in Billy Budd

Could Putin be the infamous Scarpia (below, as sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a popular YouTube video) who tortures and kills opponents in Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca”?

Could he be the notorious Duke of Mantua who betrays his friend in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”?

Or maybe Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s “Faust”?

Perhaps Modeste Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov as leader who runs astray of the law and the people?

And there many other villain who kill, torture and betray.

In fact, to help you decide here is a list – by no means complete – of the Top 10 opera villains as provided by the famed radio station WQXR FM in New York City.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/167716-top-10-opera-villains/

Maybe you can think of others?

And just maybe we will see a contemporary opera composed that is based on Putin. Why not, The Ear asks, since recently world premiere of a commissioned opera ‘”Anna Nicole” based on the glittery and totally superficial life of the trashy Anna Nicole Smith recently took place at the Royal Opera in London?

anna nicole opera

Anyway, which opera villain do you think best embodies Vladimir Putin?

And could the real Vladimir Putin himself serve as a villainous role in a new and contemporary opera?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let’s boycott them if music superstars Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev don’t try to enlighten Vladimir Putin about gays and lesbians.

September 22, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Like everybody else, I am pretty angry, disappointed and frustrated about Russia and the spoiler role it continues to play in defending Syria’s genocidal actions and in blocking justified moves by the United Nations against President Assad and his murderous regime.

Syria family-escapes from-fierce fighting-between free-syrian army-fighters and-government-troops in idlib northern syria in march 2012

But I am also very irritated, annoyed and angered by the way that Macho Man Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (below) and the Russian right-wing politicians have stigmatized gays and lesbians and passed laws against the LGBT community.

Russia Armenia

Which is also why I was so proud of U.S. President Barack Obama for openly meeting with LGBT advocates in Saint Petersburg when he recently went there for the G-20 summit of economically powerful nations.

Obama and rainbow banner

So why can’t other important figures speak out about gay rights, as I bet the famous late cellist, conductor and outspoken dissident and defender of human rights Mstislav Rostropovich (below) would have done.

Mstislav Rostropovich

How about the opera superstar soprano Anna Netrebko?

anna netrebko

And how about the globe-trotting and critically acclaimed Russian orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev?

Gergievin NY

You may recall that in the Russian election both of those artists supported the strongman Vladimir Putin as their candidate. (Below top is a photo of Valery Gergiev, on the right, with Vladimir Putin, below bottom, Vladimir Putin greets Anna Netrebko with flowers)

Valery Gergiev and Putin

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Isn’t that special? as The Church Lady used to say on “Saturday Night Live.”

Well, The Ear wonders why the two world-renowned classical musicians don’t go to their favored candidate and enlighten him about gays and lesbians? About gay rights as human rights?

I mean is it is not as if they are personally ignorant of or uninvolved in the important role that gays and lesbians play in the world of classical music and opera, and in the performing arts in general.

It is impossible to believe that both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev don’t count gays and lesbians among their closest friends and collaborators.

Why are they holding back?

What are they afraid of?

They are being hypocritical and should be ashamed. (Below is a YouTube video, with almost one million hits, of Anna Netrebko singing the famous aria “Sempre Libera” — Always Free — from Giuseppe Verdi‘s popular opera “La Traviata.)

gay rights march in russia,jpg

Or could it possibly be that they actually support Putin’s oppressive and repressive policy – now official law – that makes it a crime even to speak about homosexuality openly for fear of spoiling and recruiting young people?

Why don’t they speak out against the violent and thuggish beatings that the intolerant Russians have inflicted on gays and lesbians? Why don’t they support gay rights protests and protesters in Russia? And if they have, who don’t we know about it?

It would sure be news, even if it meant bad box office in their native land.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

And if it is the case that Netrebko and Gergiev have remained silence and uninvolved, then The Ear says: It is time to boycott their productions, concert appearances and their recordings. It would be similar to the boycott of Russian vodka that gay rights advocates have called for (below).

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

What do you say?

The Ear wants to hear.


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