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Broadening stream of virtual performances ranges from master classes to masterworks

Submitted by on Jan 11, 2016 – 4:14 pm

Joyce DiDonato's Carnegie Hall masterclasses are on Medici.tv

Digital Preview: With winter’s arctic blasts, it’s a good time to bask in the warmth of the fine arts’ digital season.
By Nancy Malitz

Tickets are nearly gone for the two remaining Chicago Lyric Opera performances Jan.13 and 17 of “Bel Canto,” the new opera by Jimmy López and Nilo Cruz, which was commissioned by the Lyric Opera and reviewed here. So it comes as good news that the production, based on a hostage-crisis novel by Ann Patchett starring soprano Danielle de Niese, will have an afterlife in the form of a future PBS Great Performances television event.

12/4/15 4:20:10 PM -- Lyric Opera of Chicago World Premier  Bel Canto © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Digital know-how is definitely on the rise, and so is the quality of the live-on-demand experiences available to you from the world’s greatest performing arts institutions — at extremely reasonable prices, and even sometimes free.

Below is a sampling of top digital picks for the month, streamed live and often replayable at your command. There’s a Wagner “Ring” cycle from Vienna, a world premiere cello concerto from Detroit, and master classes par excellence from Carnegie Hall. With much of the North American continent knee-deep in snow and an Artic blast on the way, it’s a good time to check out this digital world.

Bass Anthony Robin Schneider works on Basilio’s 'La callunia' with Joyce DiDonato.Medici.tv:  Joyce DiDonato’s recent Carnegie Hall master classes are full of solid gold advice, and they’re at Medici.tv for viewing free after registering. I’ve been devouring DiDonato’s classes for several years now, and they exemplify the transformative power of a good teacher.The brilliant mezzo-soprano works with emerging singers of all voice types, three or four in a session, on arias they are likely to be singing soon as they emerge into the professional world. She helps her charges to get inside a character, to use breathing to propel momentum, to practice “trill drills,” and to savor the roll of a vowel in the mouth, or whatever else occurs to her as she listens each young singer.

Here’s a classic sample from one of the first lessons I witnessed, several years back, when DiDonato disarmed a mezzo-soprano working on Sesto’s aria “Svegliatevi nel core” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. The young artist’s interpretation went from almost flighty to downright touching in the space of half an hour.

Composer Mohammed FairouzLive from (Detroit’s) Orchestra Hall: The much-anticipated world premiere of Desert Sorrows, a cello concerto by Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, will be introduced by Israeli-born cellist Maya Beiser under the direction of Leonard Slatkin on Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. The DSO concert is to be streamed live via the orchestra website; and watching is free with registration.

I first encountered cellist Maya Beiser in a Ted Talk presentation in 2011, when she performed an etude along with seven digital copies of herself on a stage lit like a rock concert. In October 2015 she offered variations on the Jewish Kol Nidre prayer by both Fairouz and Michael Gordon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, citing music’s power to heal and unite in her program notes.

Bizet, 'Les Pêcheurs de Perles' (metopera.org)Met in HD: Coming up at cinemas worldwide on Saturday, Jan. 16, with a single encore Jan. 20, is a true rarity in the Metropolitan Opera’s canon — Bizet’s ‘”Les Pêcheurs de Perles” (The Pearl Fishers) which hasn’t been seen on that stage in 100 years. It’s a terrific piece by the same composer who wrote “Carmen,” and the cast is superb, with soprano Diana Damrau as Leïla, the Hindu priestess pursued by rival suitors (tenor Matthew Polenzani and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien).Their duet “Au fond du temple saint” is likely to sound instantly familiar, even though most of what goes on in this lush story, set in a watery realm, will come as a surprise.

To find cinemas carrying the transmission, go here.

Digital Concert HallDigital Concert Hall (Berlin): One of the occasionally free concerts at the Berlin Philharmonic’s streaming channel, Digital Concert Hall, is scheduled for Jan. 19 at 2 p.m., when Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela perform at the Berlin Philharmonie in the midst of their extensive European tour. Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka” and “Le sacre du printemps” are on the program.

New in Berlin’s concert archive is Peter Sellars’ distinctive recent staging of Debussy’s opera “Pelléas et Mélisande” with conductor Simon Rattle, baritone Christian Gerhaher, and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Koženáreviewed by Classical Voice North America here.

The cheapest way to see the concert is to sign up for a week-long Berlin Digital Concert Hall subscription, which costs approximately $10. It’s a bargain when you consider that other offerings in the week include guest conductor Christian Tielemann leading Chausson’s “Poème de lʼamour et de la mer” with mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch and Debussy’s “Danse sacrée et danse profane” for harp and string orchestra with the Philharmonic’s principal harpist, Marie-Pierre Langlamet.

The Wienerstaatsoper 'Ring' is being broadcast live.The “Ring” from Staatsoperlive.com: The Vienna State Opera’s “Ring” cycle gets underway Jan. 10, with Ádám Fischer leading the Sven-Eric Bechtolf production of Wagner’s epic, first seen complete in 2009 with Franz Welser-Möst conducting.

Individual online tickets run about $15, but the company also offers a pay-by-the-month subscription (cancelable at any time) that costs about $18.50 per month, surely the way to go here, because it would encompass the entire cycle as well as transmissions of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Richard Strauss’ “Arabella.” Tomasz Konieczny is Wotan throughout, Jochen Schmeckenbecher is Alberich, Linda Watson is Brünnhilde, Christian Franz is Siegfried, and Herwig Pecoraro is Mime. Click here for the Staatsoper’s upcoming broadcast details.

Chicago Lyric Opera on PBS: Most U.S. arts institutions do not yet have the capability for the routine live performance broadcasts like those that the Metropolitan Opera schedules on selected Saturday afternoons in cinemas worldwide. “It is a significant investment,” says Lyric’s general director Anthony Freud of the equipment required. He is fresh from the experience of witnessing the capture of two “Bel Canto” performances from his seat in the PBS control booth on wheels — actually a large truck parked outside on Wacker Drive, where the images from nine cameras were monitored and recorded. “We are hoping that (the Lyric) can move into that territory before too long,” Freud said. Although there are some opera companies smaller than the Met and Vienna that have invested in their own in-house camera infrastructure – Freud mentioned the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and Madrid’s Teatro Real as examples — the PBS Great Performances Series plays a continuing, critical role in preserving the record of one of the Lyric Opera’s most ambitions projects in recent years. A broadcast date for “Bel Canto” has yet to be determined.

The new opera 'Bel Canto' will be on PBS Great Performances. (Todd Rosenberg)

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