Wednesday, March 6, 2019

On a Silent Night

Probably you have heard the story of how soldiers during WWI laid down all hostilities for one day, for Christmas Day, and intermingled and played games and acted as friends and comrades, and even though they went back to fighting the next day, for that one day, Christmas Day, they had put all of that aside.


This is the story that Arizona Opera's latest production, Silent Night, was based on. That is, the opera, with music by Kevin Puts and libretto by Mark Campbell, was in turn based on the film Joyeux Noel. Perhaps that was why the piece flowed along much like a film would rather than an opera. Even though you could sense that the audience was moved, there weren't any gaps that allowed for the usual pauses of applause that are the norm for opera (opera audiences love to show their appreciation). In fact, that was just as well: pauses and applause would have removed the audience from being inside the story and this was one of those pieces that just pulled you in and kept you within the world.

Also seeing soldiers and bits of battles was different from usual at the opera. But still we had the main thing: music and singing that moved us emotionally. I've talked about maybe the shedding a tear thing at an aria, but the first act of Silent Night pretty much just had me weeping. This is where I start to wonder again if it's just me--except that this music won a Pulitzer Prize, so no, it isn't just me.

The story is war . . . and war stories are about people who are coming from all phases of life to a horrible existence. The mothers, the fathers, the children, the friends, the lovers, they all got their moment, each moment a chance for the audience to connect and weep at the idea of what that would be like--that is, for those of us who have been so fortunate as to not experience events quite like this. For those who have, well, that would be even another layer.

The performers in this sang the song of life . . . of heartbreak and pain and beauty. That's what made this opera so poignant. I will state that, while the first act just left me utterly stilled, the second act didn't have the same power. I would rate the piece as a whole higher if there hadn't been that difference between the two. Still, though, Silent Night remained a beautiful story of the deepest and most touching aspects of living.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Return of Lucia Micarelli

The first time I saw Lucia Micarelli was when she toured with Josh Groban on his Awake tour a while back. That was one of those times where you could say she blew my mind with her violin playing. She also introduced me to a new approach to music and helped launch my interest in music in general: I hadn't been listening to music much on my own before that. That was the time that I started browsing iTunes and Pandora to seek new things.

So when I had the opportunity to go see her again this past weekend, well, I had to go and see what it would be like to go and see her again years later.

She was playing at the Highlands Church in north Scottsdale. A good-looking, big church where it seems they have many such shows. Given the style of Lucia's music, I was a little surprised to see that I was practically the only person there who wasn't retired. (Not entirely unlike in fact going to church, then, eh?) But I hadn't been paying attention to the fact that this show was just one night of Arizona Musicfest. People were going for Musicfest, not for Lucia specifically. So then knowing that I might have been the only person there who had seen her play before made me excited to see how she would soon blow their minds, too.

She has certainly been working at her craft over the years. Now she incorporates more straight classical music, the intense pieces but also the delicate pieces. And the fiddle tunes highlight her liveliness. She also does some singing now. Her voice is exactly as it would be: rich and full and from the soul. I want to say that she has something of a jazz sound to the way that she sings.

It is possible that she drew some tears from me. Maybe it's just me; all the shows I watch nowadays end up having these moments of being beyond amazing. No, no, Lucia's music is that good.

And then it came, the same duo of songs that she played at Josh's concert years ago. "Aurora" and "Kashmir." Her intense violin playing running into rock violin playing. You could feel the audience reacting in pleasure and awe. Lucia isn't the only one nowadays to blend genres . . . but she does it better than any other violinist I've seen or heard. Her intensely emotional style is unlike any other.