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Music Interview: Mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager Returns

nsngelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-sopranoAngelika Kirchschlager Johannes Ifkovits
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist
November 12, 2011
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York NY

Since Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager is seen and heard too infrequently in New York--with a teenage son in Vienna, she prefers to stay near her hometown and performs far more often on European stages than American ones--it’s imperative to catch her whenever she appears on a local concert stage.

For her Saturday evening performance at Zankel Hall, the always elegant singer teams with a long-time collaborator, the French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, for a program of songs by composers whose vocal works are also not often heard: Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt. Kirchschlager--whose recent recordings include the exquisite songs of Hugo Wolf and Joseph Marx--is sure to invest Brahms and Liszt with the same emotional directness that marks her vocal artistry.

She recently spoke by phone from--where else?--Vienna to discuss her recital program and what she has coming up onstage and in the studio.

Q: Why are you doing this program of Brahms and Liszt songs, which we don’t hear too often?
A: Performing Liszt is very obvious because it’s the Liszt Year: he was born 200 years ago. I’ve been singing Liszt for many years, and even though hardly anybody knows the songs, they’re really fantastic. When people finally do get to hear them, they also think they’re marvelous. And I felt that the Brahms songs go along nicely with Liszt.

Q: Talk about your relationship with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
A: We’ve known each other for 16 or 17 years now: we actually met in New York for the first time when I stepped in for Brigitte Fassbaender at a concert in Alice Tully Hall in 1994 or something like that. Since we did that concert, we’ve performed together and gone on tour many times. To perform concerts with him is one of the best things for me: he’s a great musician and a very dear friend, so it’s the best thing to make music and travel together. He’s so kind, so open to ideas:  I more or less came up with Brahms and Liszt, and he loved the program. He will play a Brahms intermezzo and a Liszt solo piece. It’s really nice to have a little interlude between the songs without any words.

Q: Is this your first time singing in Zankel Hall, which is more intimate than the larger Carnegie Hall stage?
A: Yes it is! I’ve been in Carnegie Hall once to sing: the amazing thing about Carnegie is that even though it is such a huge hall, it feels kind of intimate to me. Jean-Yves says that Zankel is an even more intimate hall, so I’m very much looking forward to it.

Q: In Europe, you’ll be singing two great 20th century heroines: Claude Debussy’s Mélisande (Pelleas et Mélisande) and Kurt Weill’s Jenny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). Are these new roles for you, and why don‘t you sing them in America?
A: I have sung Mélisande in Salzburg at the Easter festival and I’ll be singing it at Covent Garden. It’s a part that I love very much. I’ve never sung Jenny before, so I’m looking forward to doing this in Vienna. I’ve always been known for Mozart, which I’ve done in America, but I don’t know why I don’t sing other roles there. A lot of it is timing and coincidence: I’ve always been very relaxed about what roles I sing and curious about what’s coming up next.

Q: Do you have any recordings on the horizon, either CDs or DVDs?
A: I have been recording a lot, including a Liszt CD recently, and a Schubert-Brahms-Mahler CD that I did with a Viennese group which made transcriptions for very non-traditional instrumentation. I have not done any DVDs recently: I live very much in the present, so I’m not a fan of recording a specific performance, although I was happy that Sophie’s Choice (Nicolas Maw’s opera) was recorded on DVD. It was very special to me and I thought it was a wonderful production.

Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and 57th Street, NY NY                                                                   

Kevin's October '11 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week
Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Edition (Warners)
William Wyler’s costume epic swept the 1959 Oscars with 11 wins, more than any other film before or since. Despite stretches of clunky exposition and dull characterizations, there are many breathtaking moments, like that still heart-stopping chariot race. Charlton Heston won Best Actor for his solid, workmanlike performance, but it’s the color photography, sets, costumes, editing and Miklos Rosza score that make it memorable.

Read more: Kevin's October '11 Digital Week I

Kevin's September '11 Digital Week IV dup?

Blu-rays of the Week
Le beau serge, Les cousins (Criterion)
Claude Chabrol, remarkably spotty through 52 years of filmmaking before his 2010 death at age 80, began with these character studies from 1958 and 1959, shot on location both in the village where he grew up and in a bustling Paris. Both films are loaded with atmosphere, and two magnificent actors, Jean-Cluade Brialy and Gerard Blain, reverse roles in the films, giving more substance to Chabrol’s spotty scripts and laconic direction. Criterion has given both films typically excellent transfers (the B&W photography sparkles); extras include commentaries, vintage interviews and retrospective featurettes.

Dumbo (Disney)
For this 70th anniversary release, Disney has pulled out all the stops: maybe not extras-wise (although there are a commentary, a deleted scene, a deleted song, a making-of featurette and animated shorts), but in the actual Blu-ray transfer. Simply put, Disney’s beloved classic has never looked better, with bright colors that pop off the screen and a detailed clarity to the images that belies the fact that this movie was made in 1941. Dumbo remains one of Disney’s very greatest masterpieces, an emotional rather than sentimental experience, unlike a lot of the films that followed.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert (MVD)
This reunion concert by this bloated prog rock trio shows that, although the musicians are a little grayer and a little heavier, their undeniable chops are still there: Carl Palmer’s propulsive drumming, Keith Emerson’s keyboard wizardry and Greg Lake’s unique bass and voice. The concert, shot in splendid hi-def, has equally superb surround-sound which gives the music an extra oomph, notably the classical “cover” of Pictures at an Exhibition. The lone extra is an interview with all three group members.

Glee: The Complete Second Season, Modern Family: Complete Second Season (Fox)
These hit series enter their third seasons this fall, and these releases collect all of the episodes of their bumpy sophomore seasons. Although it still hits highs like the Britney/Brittany and New York City episodes, Glee is still too self-consciously cutesy for its own good. Modern Family, helped by its estimable comic ensemble, usually gets away with superficial scripts that look for cheap laughs too often. Blu-ray’s clarity enhances the visual experience; extras include featurettes, interviews and music videos.

Inspector Lewis: Series 4 (PBS)
This collection of four full-length mysteries from the most recent season of yet another Masterpiece Mystery winner (based on a series of novels by Colin Dexter) stars a superb actor, Laurence Fox, as the thorough British detective who always tracks down the killers he is up against. Strong support comes from Kevin Whatley, Rebecca Front and Claire Holman; the episodes have a strong sense of visual and narrative unity, considering they were each written and directed by a different team. This Blu-ray release features stunning photography, but there are no extras.  

Lourdes (Palisades Tartan)
This low-key study centers on Christine, a young woman confined to a wheelchair, who goes on a pilgrimage to Lourdes to see if a cure awaits for her condition. After something seemingly miraculous occurs, Christine heartbreakingly discovers that life hasn’t become any easier. Sylvie Testud gives a nuanced and subtle portrayal in the lead, and writer-director Jessica Hausner allows her characters to live and breathe as ordinary people dealing with the extraordinary. Subdued visuals are complemented by stunning shots of Lourdes, all faithfully reproduced on Blu-ray; the lone extra is a short director interview.

Nostalgia for the Light (Icarus)
Patricio Guzman’s powerful documentary shows luminous outer-space explorations at an observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert and ongoing explorations by family members looking for remains of their loved ones, “disappeared” by dictator Pinochet. Contrasting heavenly viewing with body excavation might seem contrived, but Guzman’s sensitive touch keeps his film from being cloying as it alternates between awe-inspiring and down-to-earth. Interviews with astronomers and relatives complement each other perfectly; Guzman’s camera catches the beauty and terror of infinity and mortality. Needless to say, this is one sumptuous-looking Blu-ray; extras comprise five Guzman short films.  

The Strange Case of Angelica (Cinema Guild)
Now 102 years old, Manuel de Oliveira has finally made a watchable but still unsatisfying film: a ghostly romance about a photographer haunted by a beautiful but dead young woman. True to form, Oliveira makes this serviceable tale a bizarre shaggy-dog story with extraneous bits to stretch its running time. Portuguese locations (shown to gorgeous advantage on Blu-ray) and Chopin soundtrack music work best, but stiff, robotic acting and static visual style make this ultimately disposable: still, Oliveira keeps earning near-universal raves. Extras include Oliveira’s first feature, the 1931 silent Douro, Faina Fluvial; director interview; commentary; and 1992 documentary about his career.

DVDs of the Week
Angel of Evil (Fox)
Michele Placido’s kinetic study of an infamous Milanese criminal of the 70s and 80s showcases not only physical violence (and there’s a lot of it) but also much emotional violence, which in this context is even more unsettling than the bloody sort. A thoughtful performance by Kim Rossi Stuart as the film’s anti-hero gives Placido’s character study an emotional jolt that lasts far beyond mere shooting or stabbing. This is the first release of the Fox World Cinema series, which is off to a good start with this exciting crime drama. Extras include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Art of the Western World (Athena)
Historian Michael Wood’s extraordinarily detailed 6-½ hour series encompasses western art from the Greeks and Romans until today (it was made in 1983). Shot in artistically and historically important locations from Athens to Rome to Chartres to Salisbury, Wood narrates but also smartly cedes the floor to other historians, whose expertise gives viewers even more illuminating insights. The nine episodes are valuable art history lessons as well as close-up glimpses at hundreds of classic works of art from the Parthenon and Florence’s Duomo to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum.

Bridesmaids (Fox)
This crude comedy from the pen of SNL’s Kristen Wiig and producer Judd Apatow is the female Hangover or Knocked Up: an overlong exercise in comic self-indulgence that doesn’t know when to quit, nearly every scene belaboring its lone point hammer and tongs (bantering between Wiig and Rose Byrne, ending with “That’s What Friends Are For” duet or Wiig getting pulled over by a friendly Irish cop). Then there’s the gross, unfunny puking/diarrhea bridal shop scene. I’ll stop right there: too bad Wiig and company didn’t. Extras include commentary, gag reel, deleted and extended (!!!) scenes.

Wishful Drinking (HBO)
In her one-woman show, an amusingly cynical look at celebrity in-breeding padded with personal anecdotes, Carrie Fisher tosses off self-effacing quips about surviving her career, addictions and failed relationships while dishing about her famous parents, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Although there are plenty of gossipy laughs, Fisher’s attempts to endear herself to a loyal audience by spilling her guts about her foibles seem too calculated by half. Extras include three deleted scenes and a lengthy (and intriguing) interview with Reynolds.

CDs of the Week
Kristin Chenoweth: Some Lessons Learned (Sony)
Luminous Broadway singer-actress Kristin Chenoweth foregoes her bread and butter to return to her first love: country music. Unfortunately, the mixed results on this slick disc of Bob Ezrin-produced tunes are due to Diane Warren, who penned 5 of 13 faceless songs and whose “commercial” spirit pervades this toothless record. Chenoweth finds sentiment in ballads like “Fathers and Daughters,” but it’s the faux tough attitude of the single “I Want Somebody (Bitch About)” that underscores a purely commercial product.

Music by Kurtag, Nono, Trojahn, Weinberg (NEOS)
The latest contemporary-music releases from an enterprising label include the Athena Quartett playing the complete string quartet works by Hungarian Gyorgy Kurtag; two edgy electronic compositions by Italian Luigi Nono (who died in 1990); the Henschel Quartett doing Austrian Manfred Trojahn’s quartets; and, in a moving performance by the Vienna Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir, unheralded Polish master Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s emotional Requiem, set to texts by writers like Federico Garcia Lorca (Weinberg died in 1996). Whatever one’s preference for modern music, these discs give one a taste of works outside the mainstream (if there is such a thing any more).

Adam Mansbach Tells Bedtime Story for Adults

Every generation gets the children's book author it deserves. Today's tots have Adam Mansbach to inscribe the woes they inflict on their parents at bedtime. His smash hit Go the F**k to Sleep is of course aimed squarely at adults, which complicates the question of who deserves what, but that's another story, so let´s get the f**k on with it.

Mansbach replicates the helpless adorableness of toddler literature in 14 illustrated verses, only to sic a chorus of drunken sailors on each closing stanza. In solidarity with other bleary-eyed parents, the 30-something writer captures the fast ones that young children traditionally pull to evade sleep. 

All the kids from day care are in dreamland.
The froggie has made his last leap.
Hell no, you can't go to the bathroom.
You know where you can go? The fuck to sleep.

Go the F**k's birth has itself become the stuff of fable. Once upon a time...

Mansbach jested on Facebook, "Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, Go the F**k to Sleep.” His friends laughed heartily and encouraged him to really make a book. So one afternoon the grumpy dad sat down and wrote. He tried and tried to blow the leaked manuscript down (from the Internet). But its viral success made the book a bestseller prior to pub date.

Next thing he knew, Go the F**k to Sleep was on the bestseller lists in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly, and it's now being made into a movie. Mansbach, illustrator Ricardo Cortés and publisher Akashic Books are living happily ever after.  

Go the F**k had outsold Mansbach's entire literary canon around the time it was charting as a bestseller. This includes three novels -- Angry Black White Boy, Shackling Water and The End of the Jews -- and a poetry collection, Genius B-boy Cynics Getting Weeded in the Garden of Delights, as well as A Fictional History of the United States With Huge Chunks Missing.

On a recent morning when Mansbach was a bit sleep deprived -- through no fault of his offspring -- he shared his thoughts with

Q: Children's books date back to Romanticism, which favored natural innocence over the power abuses of reason and progress. Talk about the comic tension you got from pitting idyllic nature against such profane bossiness as "go the f**k to sleep."

A: The juxtaposition I was interested in was that of the honest internal monologue going through the parent's mind while reading classic traditional bedtime stories and the dreamy, gauzy outer story.

Q: From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay, the post-9/11 era quashed the notion of America the idealistic youth or even the nice parent. Does your book strike something in the zeitgeist that laments the withering of American innocence?

A: In my reading of history, long before 9/11 or Guantanamo Bay, America had ceased to be any kind of global nice guy, if we ever were. My take on American history is a lot less romantic than that. As a parent and a person in my mid 30s, I don´t feel like I lived through a loss of American innocence. I feel like I was born into an America that I never readily harbored any romantic notions about.

Most of my work before this book in the form of novels has dealt with things like race and identity and class and religion in this country. My own personal educational background has always focused on the inequities in American life. So I don't see these things as any kind of pivot point.

Q: We can start with 19th-century expansionism, and an obvious 20th-century hallmark was Vietnam, but for many Americans our preemptive warfare, legal and security complex and decline since 9/11 have led to a broader disillusionment. It's this more recent zeitgeist that I´m wondering if your book tapped into.

A: It´s interesting -- it's certainly possible. The fun thing for me about having tapped into the zeitgeist is having done so with no calculation and no intention. Of everything I've ever written, this is the thing I wrote with the fewest expectations -- which is to say zero. I am a writer so there is in the back of my mind the intention of publishing anything that I do write.

But this, unlike almost everything else, was something that I only gradually realized had any resonance outside of my own immediate family and circle of friends. So whatever the parenting zeitgeist is, it turns out to closely mirror what goes on in my own household. Certainly in my household that loss of innocence is not the crucial factor.

You may be onto something in the wider world, but for me, I think the critical thing that we as Americans do over and over is forget history, forget the past. Here we are a marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and a poll I read about a year ago indicated that less than 50 percent of the population was able to remember what year those events took place. It's a serial forgetting and a refusal to grapple with reality is one of the things that makes us quintessentially the people that we are!

Q: Nice plug for A Fictional History of the United States...

A: ...with Huge Chunks Missing. That was an anthology I edited. The idea there was expanding the canon, acknowledging that the way we do read history is very selective and manicured, and that there are a lot of critical moments left out of history but also a lot of critical takes on those crucial moments that go unrecorded. So we invited other fiction writers to write those moments into being.

Q: Isn't there a link to be made between what gets said in our history books and what gets said in our children's books?

A: Yes, I think that the critical reason the book was able to make inroads into the zeitgeist is that there is this culture of dishonesty or of being silent on matters that are painful or difficult in ways in which the private self doesn't jive with what we would like the public self to be. And particularly around parenting, I think that everybody is frustrated, but very few people speak with utter candor about it. That does tie into the way that as Americans we don't just forget, we forget willfully and are very selective in what we chose to insert into our own personal and national canons. So maybe that's the way in which the book connects with the 9/11 zeitgeist you're talking about.

Q: Would the book have been as warmly embraced had its author been female?

A: Certainly the response would have been different. It's harder for a woman to acceptably voice frustration and rage, particularly around parenting. People would be a lot quicker to snipe back and say things like, "Well, if you didn't want children, why did you have them?" At the same time I think that fathers are less visible in the culture of parenting, so in a way this book perhaps grants a little bit of additional presence to fathers.

Q: It lets off a special shot of steam on behalf of stay-at-home dads everywhere whose new colleagues have them in a choke-hold of PC protocol far more stringent than most workplaces actually demand.  

A: When I wrote the book, one of the very deliberate choices I did make was keeping the gender of the parent out of the verses entirely. I revised any gender pronoun that made its way into the book, which was one of the most difficult things about writing it. In terms of the illustrations, eventually -- on the second to the last page of the book -- you do see a father leaving the room. Obviously, I'm a father and people are going to associate fatherhood because of its author. But I really wanted to make it universal and keep gender out of it visually as long as possible and in the verses themselves entirely.

Q: How has the book been received abroad?

A: The response from men has been very enthusiastic. The book is now out in a number of cultures and coming out in many more. I´m waiting to see what the cultural fault lines are. So far the responses haven't really been any different here or in the UK or Australia or Germany or Brazil. I imagine at some point that will change when we move even farther afield and the Korean and Chinese versions come out, but we'll see.

Q: Folk tales were originally meant for the illiterate public, not for children, to invite popular participation in a way that the instructional texts didn´t. In researching for your book, did you look at the precedent of dark folk tales for grownups?

A: I did zero research of any kind in this book. I pretty much just sat down and wrote it in an afternoon. Afterwards I did some research and realized that the violence and lullabies are pretty intertwined. "Rockabye Baby" is a good example. Death and sleep are certainly related. The notion of scaring your kid into sleeping seems to have some cultural antecedents. Not that I'm trying to do that here, but there certainly is a history of children's stories and lullabies that have become very neutered and sweet and cute and innocent now, having been very different in the past -- and even in the present in other cultures. My daughter's mother is Swedish. By my American standards, Swedish children's stories are terrifying. Kids are dying and things do not go well. The Disneyfication and sanitizing of Hans Christian Andersen stories and Grimms' Fairy Tales; a lot of that stuff has always been pretty gruesome.

Q: A young parent once told me he was "hostage to terror" from the moment his kids were born. Could we say that your book is hostage's mutiny?

A: It makes some amount of sense to talk about it as revenge, but I prefer to think of it in terms of catharsis -- a kind of release and confirmation for parents that these sentiments are universal and acceptable. From a narrative perspective it's more of a turning of the camera. Parents are often off-screen and unrepresented in children's stories, and in this case we're pulling back from the close angle to the wide angle and getting not just the story and the child being told the story but the parent and the parent's own struggle.

Q: Could this book have resonated with The Greatest Generation, which was free to potch as many tuchases as it pleased?

A: Probably less so. I've gotten a lot of feedback from that generation indicating that they still remember feeling this way when they were putting their kids to bed, but there certainly was a much less precious culture of parenting. There are good and bad things about that.

Q: What can you tell us about the movie Fox 2000 is developing?

A: There's a writer/director who's been hired. I'm unfortunately not allowed to say his name yet, but I think he's a great choice. I have a pretty hands-off attitude towards the whole thing. Clearly the book has to be radically transformed to become a feature film, so I'm going to sit back and see what they do.

Q: What does your daughter know about the book?

A: She knows everything except the title and the refrain. She calls it Go to Sleep.

Q: What's your next book, and will you go back to serious novels?

A: I have a graphic novel coming out in the Spring called Nature of the Beast, which is an action sci-fi adventure; and my next novel is called Rage is Back, due out in January of 2013.

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