The (Online) “Berkshire Review for the Arts”–with an Emphasis on “for”

Ralph Locke

Last year a marvelous new source came online for reliable and well-written reviews of musical performances, as well as theater, art exhibits, and (promised for the future) books–including books on music.

It's called The Berkshire Review for the Arts.

Note the preposition "for."  The editor, Michael Miller (who has taught courses in classics and in art history at Williams College and New York University) is absolutely devoted to the performing and visual arts.  I knew him back in college days and already recognized in him one of those devoted, discerning music lovers that performers know are "out there" listening attentively.

As the "for" in its title suggests, the Berkshire Review tries to draw attention to major artistic effort and achievement, not to tear it down for the greater glory of the smug critic (as sometimes occurs in, say, concert reviews in daily newspapers).

In another respect, though, the Berkshire Review is perhaps misleadingly named.  Though based in Western Massachusetts, it reports on events occurring far beyond.  Michael Miller himself regularly travels to Boston and New York for events of significance (such as Alfred Brendel's farewell concert).  Various correspondents (including a brilliant and perceptive writer, Huntley Dent) send in dispatches from England and even Australia.

It pained me not to be able to travel to Boston in May for performances of Berlioz's opera Les Troyens.  James Levine conducted the Boston Symphony, with world-class singers, including Anne Sofie von Otter and Dwayne Croft.  I couldn't get to Tanglewood last week either, when the performances were repeated at Tanglewood, with a few changes in the vocal lineup.  (The cast members were literally lined up, by the way, at both the Boston and Tanglewood performances: behind the orchestra and in front of the chorus.)

The various newspaper accounts were frustratingly brief, perhaps for reasons of space (the famous "shrinking newshole" in print journalism).  Only the lengthy articles in the Berkshire Review–Miller attended both the Boston and Tanglewood performances, and wrote two separate reviews–gave me enough detail to "hear" the ways in which Levine and the various singers galvanized this lengthy but potentially powerful work.

I especially appreciated learning about a soprano whom I had not previously encountered, and who, at Tanglewood, brought the crucial role of Cassandre to life.  (Some may remember vividly Jessye Norman's powerful Cassandre in the Met telecast and videotape of 1983.)

"Anna Caterina Antonacci was one of the glories of the 2003 Châtelet
production [available on DVD, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner], and her achievement was on the same glorious level here.
Hers is an up-to-date, intensely dramatic Cassandra, nervous,
desperate, but clear of vision. She is totally immersed in the
immediate emotions of the disastrous situation, and her dignity, never
compromised, is something assumed in the inner balance provided by her
noble birth and upbringing, but there is little trace of Alceste in
her. While The Fall of Troy has lost much of its connection to
stylistic tradition, it has gained in urgency, and this worked within
Mr. Levine’s scheme as well or better than Mme. [Yvonne] Naef’s equally
admirable approach [in the Boston performances in May]. There was absolutely no sense of strain in
Antonacci’s singing throughout the two acts. The power and beauty of
her voice remained solid, whatever desperate emotion she projected.
Antonacci also brought exceptional charisma and personal beauty to the
stage, projecting a commanding presence, even in her position behind
the orchestra."

Interesting that certain major European performers don't get heard much on this side of the Atlantic.  I suppose it's the reverse as well.  With the rising cost of airplane fuel, maybe this will become even more true.

Such enforced economies could have a good side, of course.  Maybe music lovers will give greater recognition to some of the fine talent in our own communities.

But Michael Miller's review sure makes me hope that American audiences (including myself) will get some more occasions to hear the amazing Anna Caterina Antonacci, who is clearly a major artist in her prime.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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2 Responses to The (Online) “Berkshire Review for the Arts”–with an Emphasis on “for”

  1. Jonathan says:

    On the potentially increasing localization of the arts, or at least return to nationalization (vs. internationalization): it would also be interesting if more national or local styles began to redevelop, as a contrast to what I have always felt to be a bland, competition-driven internationalism. For me, this holds more true with instrumental music, but it would certainly be an interesting change–lemonade from lemons, so to speak.

  2. Lisa Hirsch says:

    I agree with Jonathan; I think the disappearance of distinctive national styles has been a big loss to music. You listen to French singers from a hundred years ago and there is no doubt of their nationality.
    Re Antonacci, she has a following in the US and has appeared with some opera companies here. I heard her once almost ten years ago, as Adalgisa in Norma, and what I remember was strong acting and a decent enough voice with a very short top for a soprano. She has not been back to SF since then.

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