bwog can be highbrow sometimes Archive



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img March 09, 20147:02 pmimg 6 Comments

Bitches love my opera

Bitches love my opera

Saturday night, the Columbia Bach Society put on a performance of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Bwog sent our trusty opera extraordinaire Alexandra Svokos to check out the show and report. We all know this Alexandra can’t say no to a good opera.

Space at Columbia is likely the performing art community’s greatest challenge. It was a major player last night at the Columbia Bach Society’s performance of (get out your Lit Hum notebook) Dido and Aeneas, a (get out your Music Hum notebook) Baroque opera by Henry Purcell. They performed the hour-long piece in St. Paul’s Chapel, with (get out your Art Hum notebook) its symmetrical, domed ceiling making haunting echoes of the music bouncing of all walls. The acoustics created an airy, mystical atmosphere for each voice, adding to Virgil’s legend.

But the acoustics weren’t the only aspect of space that played a major role in this performance. Due to some classic bureaucracy issues, the group was unable to remove two rows of seats. This meant a smaller performance area – there is no stage in the chapel; they performed at the front of the altar. For us in the front row this provided an unusual immersive experience as the singers brushed our feet and sang half a foot away from us.

As this was a Bach Society production, director Chris Browner, CC ’16, Spec opera reviewer and young opera fan icon of yore, decided to showcase the orchestra. Led by a marvelously expressive William Yu, SEAS ’17, on violin as concertmaster, the nine musicians were placed in the center of the “stage.” The singers moved in circles around the orchestra, often singing behind them from steps up on the altar. This became an issue for some singers who could not get their voices above the orchestra from behind, although the building’s acoustics gave them a little boost.

It got better, we swear!



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img January 26, 20147:00 pmimg 0 Comments

Look at that

On Thursday night, American classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein had a “Special Event” concert at Miller Theatre. Muhly-phile Alexandra Svokos was there, though unfortunately missed the first piece (Bach’s Two-Part Inventions for keyboard, BWV 772-786) for a class.

Simone Dinnerstein is full of presence and feelings. From her face and posture as she plays, she appears to truly embody a composition, connecting with it and the composer to convey the intentions to an audience. Because ultimately being a concert pianist is about being able to perform, and oh boy does Dinnerstein know what she’s doing up on stage, wrapping the audience up around her long fingers.

Aside from this charisma, Dinnerstein has actual technical talent and ability. She is a courageous performer, choosing complex and unusual compositions to showcase. Her concert at Miller was no exception. Dinnerstein played 4 pieces: the Bach Inventions, the New York premiere of You Can’t Get There From Here by Nico Muhly, CCxJ’03, Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik (Ruminations on ‘Round Midnight by Thelonius Monk) by George Crumb, and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor (Opus 111).

What happened next?!



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img November 22, 20137:31 pmimg 6 Comments

It's like this but the screen is much smaller and you don't get fancy seats.

It’s like this but the screen is much smaller and you don’t get fancy seats.

This past week, the libraries rolled out an exciting new resource: Columbia students now have free access to Met Opera On Demand, which features video and audio recordings of operas live from the Met. We combed through the catalog to find what you should be watching. Also note that today WKCR is honoring Benjamin Britten’s Centennial (what a year!), and you should probably check that out.

If you’re into…

…the classics:

  • 1985’s Aida, featuring the stunning farewell performance of Leontyne Price. Nobody handles a 4-minute ovation for one song quite like Leontyne.
  • 1977’s La Boheme with Pavarotti and Renata Scotto. It’s like RENT but better music!
  • 1979’s Otello with Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes. Blackface! Shakespeare! Oh god political incorrectness!


  • 2000’s Don Giovanni with Bryn Terfel, Renee Fleming, Ferruccio Furlanetto, and John Relyea. There’s an aria where the Don’s servant lists how many women Giovanni has slept with. It’s a lot. And the whole plot is a hunt for more.
  • 2010’s Carmen. Hi there, Elina Garanča.
  • Le Comte Ory from 2011 with Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, and Joyce DiDonato (swoon x3). Not making any promises here, but this may and may not end in a threesome.


  • 2011’s Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) with Anna Netrebko HELLLL YESSSS. Badass females, badass voices.
  • Only to be one-upped by 2013’s Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots) with Joyce DiDonato HOLYY SHITTT if you want to see a perfect opera—production, music, performance—watch this recording.
  • Don Carlo, 2010, with an awesome production by Nicholas Hytner and a great cast.

Gimme more



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img November 03, 20134:23 pmimg 1 Comments

This past Wednesday, Casa Italiana showcased pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski. He performed selections from Philip Glass’s The Hours score as well as his own solo piano arrangements of Strauss’s Capriccio and “Four Last Songs.” This concert featured the premiere of Soukhovetski’s arrangement of the final scene of Verdi’s La Traviata. Traviata obsessor Alexandra Svokos was, naturally, there.

Soukhovetski is a very talented pianist. He is able to play complicated compositions with east and has very strong technique–if a little heavy on the pedal. His overall ability is very impressive, as demonstrated throughout his performance on Wednesday.

Traviata’s that opera I listen to once a month because I’m clichéd like that, but really I could sing to you the whole damn thing without missing a beat. It woudn’t be pretty, but it could happen. Soukhovetski apparently feels the same, but he has a piano and the technical ability of arranging and playing.

Soukhovetski’s arrangement of the final scene of La Traviata was a veritable musical play-by-play of the scene. This is an impressive feat: fitting a full orchestra and all singers into two hands on one piano is not an easy thing to do, but he managed it–and without making it sound like an accompaniment part.

Still, there is inevitably something lacking without the vocals. The drive of La Traviata comes from the human emotion onstage and is often influenced by the way the soprano chooses to represent the dying Violetta. In a piano arrangement, you can’t see a devastated girl stalk haltingly across the stage, or have someone interpreting the spoken reading of a letter, or hear Natalie’s heart-wrenching rip of “È tardi!”

I wondered why Mr. Soukhovetski chose to do this. It was such a literal interpretation of Verdi’s original music–yes, it’s beautiful, but what does it add? As I sat contemplating this, a little boy on his mother’s lap beside me began banging out the notes on his imaginary keyboard, really going in on those grandiose final chords. He reminded me that that’s why people like Soukhovetski do this, because beautiful music has to be shared and celebrated, in any way possible. So don’t be confused the next time you see me when I start singing a horribly off-key “Addio del passato” at you. I’m just handling my responsibility.



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img October 30, 20135:00 pmimg 1 Comments

But this is actually terrifying.

But this is actually terrifying.

On Monday in Butler, archivist aardvark Alexandra Svokos listened to Barbara Haws, actual NYPhil archivist, Jane Ginsburg, Columbia Law prof, and Shamus Khan talk about the New York Philharmonic’s Digital Archives.

As it turns out, the New York Philharmonic has a hugely extensive collection of old things. Barbara Haws explained that they have over 7,000 hours of audio and 1,000 cubic feet of tangible materials. Over the last few years, they’ve begun putting that all online, so you can have free access to it.

These documents allow you to look at a specific event from all angles. The digital archives include conductor scores, musicians’ parts, playbills, printed programs, musician rosters, letters, finances, newspaper clippings, lists of subscribers, and seat locations and names of attendees. Haws demonstrated this by showing us the night of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting premiere on November 14, 1943, when he stepped in after the initial conductor fell ill. We know he was paid $125 a week when he was first put on the payroll and we can hear the radio broadcast of the program, which included Schumann, Strauss, and Wagner. On Bernstein’s copy of the score, he had scribbled “who’s read Byron lately?”

more more



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img October 26, 20136:31 pmimg 3 Comments


Nico, probably staring at a slice of pizza that’s out of frame

Last night, Bwog’s resident opera enthusiast Alexandra Svokos ran to the Metropolitan Opera to see Two Boys, a new opera by Nico Muhly, CCxJ’03, which had its Met premiere on Monday.

“Oh shit, that’s me,” was my first thought as the curtain opened last night on Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the Metropolitan Opera. The conductor hit the downstroke without giving us a chance to applaud his entrance, and the curtain opened to reveal a troupe of gray wash skinny jean-clad youths. This costume would outfit both the chorus and the dancers, who would go on to be the highlight of the opera: as Muhly duly proved, he can write some gorgeous choral and orchestral compositions.

Nico Muhly is young. Part of an artist’s job is to immortalize her or his contemporary times, and Muhly did just that with our generation in Two Boys. The plot is set in 2001 and was based on a Vanity Fair article about a 16-year-old boy, Brian, who stabbed a 13-year-old, Jake. The opera follows a detective, Anne Strawson as she attempts to figure out why this happened.

We follow the plot in flashbacks as Brian spins the tale leading up to the stabbing. This tale is almost entirely set in chatrooms in the brave new world of the 2001 Internet. We watch Brian chat with strangers and see the lines of text come up on moving projections. The chorus typically represents the people of the Internet, singing strings of words – “parents over my shoulder” “r u there” “i thought i lost u” “stfu” – that represent the babble of communication that webs online.

I dunno if you guys remember, but 2001 was a fucking weird time for the Internet. We had chatrooms where strangers talked to you, in a much more dishonest and illegitimate way than we do now. There was no Facebook or LinkedIn or extensive Google search results to prove that someone was real. There was just a line of text saying “i saw u in algebra 2day” and you had to believe it. Or not. But most people did, because it was such a new thing that we didn’t realize that people are crazy and do messed up shit like fake identities and lie extensively. Do you remember “a/s/l”? Do you remember getting messages from terrifying pseudonyms asking for pics? Do you remember that ppL aCtUalLy  mybe usEd 2 tlk Lyk dIs?

It was such a realistic portrayal of what stuff was like that I could only describe it, at intermission, as “trippy”–you’re just not used to seeing your literal self onstage at an opera. I mean it was so jarring that it took me a moment to realize “holy shit, there’s a dude spanking it on a webcam on the stage of the Metropolitan fucking Opera.”

Wait, what?



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img October 08, 20139:03 pmimg 10 Comments



Nico, to the right, on the big screens at Times Square on Met Opera Opening Night

Nico Muhly, CCxJ’03 (that’s Columbia-Juilliard Exchange), has worked with Philip Glass, Björk, and Grizzly Bear, among countless others.  On October 21, Two Boys, an opera Muhly composed, will have its Metropolitan Opera premiere.  Bwog’s resident opera enthusiast Alexandra Svokos was too starstruck to give him a high-five for Veckatimest.

Nico Muhly, CCxJ’03, unlike some other alums, still really cares for his alma mater.  When I reached out for an interview, I was surprised just to get an offer for a phone interview.  Upon hearing I was from a Columbia, however, Muhly allegedly insisted on an in-person interview and found time during his lunch break from rehearsals at the Met.

In an empty rehearsal room in the bowels of this fabulous institution, Muhly pulls over a chair for me and takes a seat at a piano, where he immediately starts plunking chords.  From Sam, the Met’s Press Manager, Muhly requests a “coffee and Iestyn”–Davies, world-famous countertenor, who did eventually stop in to say hello, in green velvet pants on his own break from rehearsal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Muhly asks where I’m living. When I tell him Woodbridge, he tells me about a massive party his friends threw there during their last weeks, incurring a large damages cost.  Muhly himself lived in Wallach 5–before it was an LLC.  In fact, he’s still close with his Wallach suitemates–they meet up and keep in touch.

Post-CU life, the internet, being alive, and the Core



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img May 12, 201312:35 pmimg 15 Comments

mmmmmm yeah opera

Jonas Kaufmann as hot dolled-up Siegfried

You may have realized that Bwog is secretly a huge opera fan.  So when this question landed in our tip form, we were more than happy to find the answer.

Dear Bwog,

I just heard WKCR is doing a 48 hour broadcast to commemorate Wagner’s bicentennial in a week and a half. Can somebody please get the scoop on this and find out which recordings they are playing, and who’s programming it? I’m planning to skip work both days if the recordings are good.



Indeed, it’s a big year for opera.  While Bwog’s twiddling our thumbs waiting for Verdi’s Bicentennial, I suppose some people are excited for Wagner’s…  Wagner was born on May 22, 1813, and WKCR will be honoring that this May 22.  Unless you’re busy with Commencement or whatever, we recommend you take the day off (and the next day too) to check out this great collection.  They’ll be broadcasting all of his operas chronologically from Rienzi to Parsifal — “We’d have done his first two, but 48 hours wouldn’t have been enough.”  Check out the lineup, courtesy of Stepan Atamian, CC’16, and WKCR, below:




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img April 07, 20135:36 pmimg 11 Comments

Bwog just wants to be an opera star

Bwog just wants to be an opera star

CUPAL Presents: Opera Untapped was this past Thursday and Friday night in the Lerner Black Box. Our world-famous opera connoisseur and critic, Alexandra Svokos, was in the audience. Experience the enchantment!

If you happen to know me at all, you know I want nothing more than a world in which everyone is a loud and proud opera fan. Thanks to Martina Weidenbaum, BC’13, and the cast and crew of the wonderful Opera Untapped, we’re another step closer to my ideal. The production, six scenes from a range of operas, had only a piano for accompaniment along with minimal set and costumery, and instead relied on the infectious dedication of the performers and directors.

The night opened with the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, directed by Christopher Browner, CC’16. The titular role was sung by Devon Mehring, CC/BCJ’14 (that’s Columbia-Barnard-Juilliard), with a strong and wonderfully textured voice fitting for the seductive Carmen. The scene was presented with chorus, and Mehring’s “l’amour“s projected carefully and hauntingly over them.

We then jumped back in time to Mozart’s Magic Flute, directed by Lisa Campbell, BC’13. Here we saw the Act II quartet with the three spirits and Pamina. The harmonies between the spirits–Emily Buttner, CC’13, Hannah Gorman, CC’16, and Esther Adams, BC’16–were even and pretty, with emphasis in the high lines from Buttner. Kyle McCormick, CC’14, sung Pamina with passion.

Isabella Livorni, BC’16, did a more reeled in interpretation of Verdi’s Rigoletto than has been seen lately. The Act III quartet where the Duke seduces Maddalena as Gilda and her father, Rigoletto, look on in horror, is a fun one to stage. Livorni was able to very effectively portray Gilda as the naively delusional young girl in this one scene. Omar El-Okdah, SIPA’12, showed his booming baritone voice as Mehring returned with force. Anna Dugan, CC/BCJ’14, sang a wide-eyed Gilda with a voice a hundred times stronger than her character. Both girls really stole the scene with highly controlled and well-tuned voices to match their convincing acting.




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img January 30, 201310:00 pmimg 4 Comments

get out there

On Broooaaadwaaay

As campus groups are still rolling into the new season and you still don’t have a shit-ton of work, why not go further?  Break out of the bubble while you still have the chance and catch some of Bwog staff’s cultural picks for the week.


  • The Institute for Comparative Literature and Society is hosting Remembering Edward W. Said: A Conversation and Performance and Miller Theatre on Friday at 7 pm, $12 for students.  The conversation will be between Daniel Barenboim and Ara Guzelimian (Dean and Provost of Juilliard); the performance will be by Barenboim and members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.


  • From January 22nd to February 7th it’s Broadway Week!  This means that 2 for 1 tickets are available for some of Broadway’s hottest shows, including Annie, the Lion King, Newsies, and Spiderman.  Go and bring a friend for a great night out.
  • Similarly, from January 28th to February 10th it’s Off-Broadway Week.  Check out the Blue Man Group or STOMP for rollicking good fun.
  • Once is still on Broadway and still completely dazzling.  If you haven’t seen the wonderful adaptation from the charming and heartfelt film, try for rush tickets this week.  Fall in love, have your heart broken, laugh, cry, and get into heated arguments about whether it’s better than the movie or not.


  • The All Tschaikovsky program is continuing at the New York City Ballet.  Many pieces feature Balanchine choreography, and the performances culminate in a full-length staging of The Sleeping Beauty from February 19-24.

Opera, visual art, music, and film after the jump



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img November 13, 201210:00 amimg 0 Comments

what are stamps?

Send us a postcard if you go

Today and tomorrow the Metropolitan Opera will be having their Eastern District National Council Auditions right here at Columbia.  Singers are competing for an opportunity in the final round to sing onstage at the Met, where tickets run up to $80, and winners get a sizable chunk of money and press.  Most winners wind up at huge opera houses all over the world–Renee Fleming, for instance, was an audition winner.  Today and tomorrow you can stop by for however long you want to hear competitors sing an aria or two.  It’s basically a really good concert.

Singers will be singing today from noon to 7 pm and tomorrow from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm in Casa Italiana.  Entrance is free, though there is a suggested donation.  Snacks and refreshments will be served tonight.

Entrance could cost less than this stamp via Shutterstock



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img September 13, 20127:00 pmimg 0 Comments

la di daaaa

The 2012-2013 season at Miller Theatre opened last night with Venezia. It will be playing again tomorrow and is sold out, but a stand-by line will be open at 6 pm. Wannabe Venetian Alexandra Svokos checked it out.

Miller Theatre opened their season with the words “I do not know if I am awake, or if I dream still.” This sentiment could have been repeated by the audience of Venezia, a dream-like, fantastical program of Baroque opera featuring Music Hum fav Claudio Monteverdi among other composers. Venezia was performed by Le Poéme Harmonique, a musical group that focuses on 17th and early 18th century works, and was intended to create the experience of a concert  in 17th century Venice. Indeed, the six musicians played authentic Baroque instruments such as the viola da gamba (remember that from Music Hum?) and sat onstage lit by candelabras and otherwise no set. Johannes Frisch on violin provided a majority of the instrumental melodies masterfully while the other musicians were strong and kept the audience rapt with lovely pieces.

There were four singers: a soprano, two tenors, and a bass-baritone. With a dim and stark stage, the singers took on most of the weight of enlivening the performance—and did it well. They sang emphatically, with large gestures and comical bits of acting and mugging to the audience. The proximity to the musicians also allowed them to become part of the active show; singers frequently sang to the musicians, egging them on or pulling them in for a little joke. Tenor Serge Goubioud, in particular, was a playful actor, contorting his face into dramatic masks, physically succumbing to weakness during a miserable aria, and, memorably, meowing and hissing like a cat during the enjoyable comic song “Misticanza di vigna alla bergamasca” by Manelli.

This piece included all of the singers and, indeed, even solo arias featured other singers. Like the Supremes to Diana Ross, two or three singers would add harmonies and light commentary to dramatic arias. Soprano Claire Lefilliâtre held her own as the only female singer. Her voice was strong with lovely lyric coloring, pulling heartbreaking arias such as “Son ruinato” by Ferrari to even more devastating emotional depth. Another highlight was Monteverdi’s “Lamenta della Ninfa,” a haunting and hypnotizing tune featuring all four voices, with bass-baritone Geoffrey Buffière, solid through the whole night, keeping a low beat.

Jan Van Elsacker opened the night exquisitely with “Dorma ancora” from Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland—whattup lit hum? As his opening line introduced the blurred lines of dream and reality, this production really succeeded in bringing the audience into the dream of 17th century Venice, so much so that there was an enthusiastic call for two encores. Well, it was a dream until the woman one row back turned on the light of her cell phone to read the program. Damn, I’m still in the 21st century.

Photograph via Miller Theatre



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img April 19, 20128:29 pmimg 15 Comments

hopefully at the end you don't die of consumption.

Flight of fancy

It’s finally the weekend again!  After what we’re sure was a hot mess totally composed Bacchanal experience, perhaps you’d like to regain some dignity points.  With this in mind, Bwog urges you to try something new and follow this handy guide detailing the ideal operatic soundtrack to your drink of choice.  Toast to your friends and, as always, be responsible.

White Russian
TraviataLibiamo ne’ lieti calici
Let’s be serious.  If this song wasn’t on the list we’d lose all credibility.  Just as Violetta gives Alfredo a white flower to show her love, give your beau a white Russian.

HamletO vin, dissipe la tristesse
“Let wine lighten my heavy heart!” Hamlet sings, convincing the troupe of players to perform at dinner–where he will prove that it ain’t a party till someone totally loses it and pours wine all over himself.

Jose Cuervo
Carmen: Les tringles des sistres tintaient
You just wanna go out and dance with your bitches?  Carmen feels ya, honey.

J. Roget Champagne
Don GiovanniChampagne Aria
Don Giovanni is such a kind soul that he just wants to invite all of the peasants into his house to drink!  …or he’s trying to sleep with the bride-to-be.  But come on if Mariusz Kwiecien came onto you on your wedding night, would it really be a struggle?

Shots of Nikolai
Is someone totally harshing your vibe at the pregame going on about the ghost of the man they just had killed? Lady Macbeth knows how you’re feeling, man.  Roll your eyes and take a shot with her.

Faust: Le veau d’or
Just give up.  If the Devil’s there, your story will always be topped.  He will win every drinking game.  Never have you ever been hypnotized by the Devil?  Boom, drink up.

La Boheme: Musetta’s Waltz
Sure, Mimi and Rodolfo are the leads, but it’s Musetta who steals the show.  In an attempt to make her ex jealous, she sings about how she’s so hot that all these men follow her around and give her nice things. Like you’ve never been there before.

Precursor to Moulin Rouge via Wikimedia Commons



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img April 12, 20129:45 amimg 1 Comments

creepy ass creature

This guy knows something about slouching

While Charles Manson was denied parole, George Zimmerman was charged for second-degree murder.  (Los Angeles Times, New York Times)

Not one but two Columbia University affiliates were published in HuffPost – Ravita Segal, Barnard research assistant and TA, and Rosario Quiroz, CC’11 (Huffington Post)

In another instance of California natural ailments striking the east coast, a brush fire burned in the Meadowlands. (North Jersey)

Columbia Prof. Ronald Breslow warns about intelligent space dinosaurs.  They’d probably make for a good Wagner opera. (Gawker, Wall Street Journal)

Horrifying critter via Wikimedia Commons



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img February 09, 20121:01 pmimg 10 Comments

Our beloved Hawkma has been spotted on the JJ10 balcony, gloriously resting there as she has in the past.  Perhaps confused by this inconsistent weather, she looks out over campus in concern, pondering our fates.  We can only hope that she will continue her reign as Queen of the Night rather than puzzle us with riddles and that she will soon give a rousing speech, bringing us all to victory over threatening snow storms, global warming, and bio midterms.

The Greatest Photograph courtesy of David Brann

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