Krumping with Rameau

As I stated in my November 2018 post “Debussy + Trampoline (shameless self-plug!), in the art world, there are times when the combination of two or more dissimilar elements can lead to something truly astonishing and transporting.

Another case in point: this incredible production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1735 opera Les Indes galantes. Rameau’s work is technically an opéra-ballet, which unites both sung and danced elements to create a dramatic whole. In this particular staging, though (from the Paris Opera in fall 2019), Baroque music and period instruments lives in harmony with… krumping? Yup. For their updated reimagining, film director Clément Cogitore and choreographer Bintou Dembélé chose to use modern dance styles throughout the opera instead of historically-accurate ballet.

The original opera is, quite frankly, a bit of a Eurocentric (i.e., racist) mess when considered from a modern standpoint. The plot follows various love stories set in “exotic” locations (the Ottoman Empire, Peru, Persia, North America) and ends with a peaceful coming-together of Europeans and Native Americans courtesy of a “savage” dance. Yikes and double yikes. However, this modern staging somehow appears to transcend all of that, more bluntly addressing issues of prejudice, otherness, and what it truly means to be a global community.

At the very least, though, it’s a mesmerizing production to watch. Check out the two clips below and see for yourself…

Favorite Albums of 2019

I love end-of-year lists. They condense the significant happenings of the past eleven months into an accessible, easy-to-follow format. They can also celebrate the best of humanity, or remind us of the uncertainty of the times and how far we have to go in achieving a peaceful world. (Though “Baby Yoda” was one of the year’s most Googled terms worldwide, so there is hope for us!) 

In the artistic realm, I especially love reading critics’ picks for the most noteworthy classical music events and audio releases of the past year. The sheer amount of musical achievement and ingenuity is usually staggering, and this year was no exception.

With that said, here are ten of my favorite albums from 2019, along with a handful of honorable mentions. (I much prefer a “favorite” rather than “best of” approach, which acknowledges the inherently subjective nature of this exercise and puts my personal preferences on full display!) If you like what you hear, I encourage you to support the artists and purchase their work instead of just streaming it. In no particular order…

Attacca Quartet – Caroline Shaw: Orange (New Amsterdam Records/Nonesuch Records)

Ever since winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013, Caroline Shaw has quickly become one of today’s most talked-about young composers, and this past year saw the first album devoted entirely to her music. Featuring five works for string quartet (and one for string duo), this release showcases Shaw’s wondrous composition style, which delights in bright textures, sonorous harmonies, and quirky turns of phrase that occasionally collapse into chaos. Plus, nods to the works of Bach, Ravel, Mozart, Haydn, and even Shaw herself are never far off. The Attacca Quartet‘s dynamic and sensitive performances only increase the impact of this release.

Continue reading “Favorite Albums of 2019”

Bach’s Delectable “Coffee Cantata”

J.S. Bach never wrote any operas, but his secular Cantata—Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211—is probably the closest we’ll get to hearing what a Bach opera could have been like. Commonly known as the “Coffee Cantata,” this mini drama for small orchestra and three singers was likely first presented in 1735, at the Café Zimmermann in Leipzig. Coffee drinking was the new craze sweeping Europe, but for some, the drink was still controversial, as its side effects were not fully known yet. (If only they could fast-forward to the twenty-first century!)

Bach’s Coffee Cantata is charming, humorous, and, yes, a tad ridiculous. The plot follows a young woman (Lieschen) who is chastised by her father (Schlendrian) for her coffee-drinking habit. Schlendrian threatens to take away Lieschen’s possessions and privileges in an attempt to win her obedience but to no avail. Finally, when the father vows to prevent his daughter from marrying, Lieschen agrees to give up coffee. But, Lieschen has one final trick up her sleeve: she tells potential husbands that their marriage contract has to allow her to drink coffee whenever she desires.

The moral of the story comes in the final chorus:

Cats do not give up mousing,
girls remain coffee-sisters.
The mother adores her coffee-habit,
and grandma also drank it,
so who can blame the daughters!

Pamela Dellal

Recently, the Netherlands Bach Society—who is in the midst of a multi-year project to create high-quality video recordings of Bach’s works—mounted a staged version of the Coffee Cantata. The results, seen below, are delightful and only amplify the charms and humor of what is perhaps Bach’s quirkiest work.

An English translation of the Cantata’s German text can be found here.