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With only two weeks left in their season, the Metropolitan Opera looked forward to the summer with an exuberant presentation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (“The Abduction from the Seraglio”) last Friday night. The piece, which premiered in 1782 when the composer was only 26 years old, is a German singspiel – an opera in which spoken dialogue is interspersed between arias and ensembles. The story includes antiquated notions of the relations of East and West and is certainly of its era, but listening to Mozart’s timelessly ebullient music still makes for a mirthful way to spend a springtime evening.

Entführung is set in a Turkish seraglio into which three European travelers – the noble lady Konstanze, her maid Blondchen, and Blondchen’s sweetheart Pedrillo – have been sold into servitude for the ruling Pasha Selim. When the opera begins, Konstanze’s betrothed, the Spanish gentleman Belmonte, has arrived at the harem to rescue Konstanze. But before doing so, he and Pedrillo must outmaneuver the palace overseer Osmin in order to free the ladies, while Konstanze struggles to remain firm against the Pasha’s advances.

Just a week after the Met announced that Music Director James Levine would resign from his position due to health concerns, the conductor was back on the podium for this performance. Thanks to the smaller demands of a chamber orchestra and only half-a-dozen cast members, Levine was able to keep all the musical forces together and led a buoyant yet lithe rendition of Mozart’s early masterpiece.

As Konstanze, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova offered a portrayal marked by refined timbre, rosy tope notes, and crystal clear vocal runs. Shagimuratova especially excelled in delivering Konstanze’s two formidable arias, which she dispatched with both precision and sophistication.

Kathleen Kim brought her characteristically radiant soprano and charming persona to the role of Blondchen who, despite her small stature, goes toe-to-toe with the towering Osmin to protect her modesty. Hers was also an enchanting characterization throughout.

Tenor Paul Appleby sang with a polished focused sound, that, while appropriately Mozartean, often struggled to fill the Met’s expansive auditorium and receded into the background during ensemble singing. Making his Met debut, Brenton Ryan was an adorable Pedrillo. With outgoing physicality and enthusiastic singing, Ryan brought great charisma and winning energy every time he appeared onstage.

Bass Hans-Peter König as Osmin plumbed the depths of his vocal range and sang with a dark, booming sound that nicely complemented his cast mates’ lighter voices. In the spoken role of Pasha Selim, Matthias von Stegmann gave a satisfactory if unremarkable interpretation.

The Met continues to use John Dexter’s 1979 staging of Die Entführung aus dem Serail each time they revive the opera despite the fact that, with its reliance on dusty flat scenery and some garish velvet costuming, is rather outdated. More remarkably, the production does little to address the cultural stereotyping in the source material. Not that Entführung is a terribly offensive piece considering the context of its composition, but this presentation still relies on dark makeup and “Middle Eastern-inspired” clothing to depict the Turkish characters. All this being said, this revival of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail features an accomplished cast that enlivens the evening with (mostly) stellar musical performances, making for an exciting way to celebrate the end of the season.

Performance of Die Entführung aus dem Serail run through May 7th with the final performance broadcast live on WQXR 105.9 FM. More information can be found online at the Met’s website.

From their study of the great texts of Ancient Greek literature, many Columbia students are well acquainted with the curse that hung over the House of Atreus, but far fewer are likely to be familiar with the operatic setting of the story by German composer Richard Strauss.

The plot of his opera “Elektra” focuses an episode in the family’s story after Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, has been murdered by his wife Clytemnestra after retuning from the Trojan War. Composed in 1903, Strauss’ frenzied score flirts with the then in-vogue move towards atonality in order to covey the opera’s violent subject matter. It is one of the most challenging operas to perform, so extra care goes into the preparation of a production as was the case when the Metropolitan Opera presented the work on April 14th.

The evening marked the premiere performance of a new staging by the late director Patrice Chéreau. Throughout his career, Chéreau was known for bringing an insightful perspective to many of the repertory’s most complex works, offering audiences revelatory theatrical experiences.

The entire evening unfolds against Richard Peduzzi’s towering set – a set of imposing, drab walls that seem to add to the opera’s sense of suffocation and despair. The scenery’s simplicity is complemented by pared down costumes by Caroline de Vivaise, both of which help focus attention back on the psychological drama unfolding onstage.

When the opera begins, Agamemnon’s daughter Elektra is so obsessed with destroying her mother and avenging her father that she has descended into a state of semi-madness. She awaits the return of her brother Orestes who will enact vengeance, but these hopes are dashed when messengers arrive to inform the family that Orestes has been killed. Ultimately, Elektra discovers that one of the messengers is actually Orestes himself, and brother and sister are reunited in order to overthrow their mother.

The weight of a successful performance of “Elektra” greatly rests on the shoulders of the soprano executing the incredibly taxing title role. Only moments after the curtain rose, Swedish soprano Nina Stemme took the stage and did not exit for the remainder of the nearly two-hour-long presentation. Not only was her stamina unflagging, but Stemme delivered Strauss’ music with a throbbing, steely tone that successfully sliced through the opera’s bewildering orchestration. Stemme owned the night with a crazed interpretation of the title character, but she also lent the character a sympathetic humanity that made her portrayal far more poignant.

Chrysothemis, Elektra’s sister and only ally, is conflicted about the plans to assassinate Clytemnestra and instead longs for a peaceful life of domesticity. In this role, Adrianne Pieczonka sang the role with a lustrous tone that soared over the orchestra and nicely contrasted Stemme’s intensity.

As Clytemnestra, veteran mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier proved that, even with age, her rich timbre still has the power to tackle incredibly dramatic parts. Meier brought great nuance to her portrayal, balancing the character’s mental anguish with her regal elegance.

Eric Owens is a favorite of Met audiences, but at times, his hefty bass can seem too weighty for the roles he undertakes. Orestes, however, was a natural fit for his instrument, as the character’s reserved determination was evident in Owen’s dignified performance. Burkhard Ulrich brought a penetrating tenor to the smaller but essential role of Clytemnestra’s lover Aegisthus, while the remaining members of the well-cultivated ensemble of singers contributed strong performances all around.

As is the case in the composer’s other masterpieces, Strauss uses the orchestra in “Elektra” to convey the narrative throughout and paints vivid musical pictures with genius orchestration. As always, the Met Orchestra performed the score with great dexterity, but as is often the case for especially demanding works, they infused an extra degree of passion into their playing, here under the baton of renowned conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen.

In all honesty, “Elektra” demands a great deal from listeners. The music and language are dense, and there is little physical action onstage for much of the evening. That being said, it is a standout masterpiece of 20th century opera, and this production, cast, and orchestra offer a superb rendering of a challenging work.

Performances of “Elektra” run through May 7th with the April 30th matinee performance being broadcast live into movie theaters and broadcast on WQXR 105.9 FM. More information can be found online at metopera.org.

Photo Courtesy CU Now Show

Have you seen the newest CU Now video? The video, released last night, features Shreyas Manohar (CC ’18) covering a gamut of issues alongside the Dean of Columbia College, James Valentini.

To better understand student reactions to the video, our team went out and polled students from a variety of academic years and backgrounds about their reactions to the new video. Check out what students said below.

Continue Reading..

Photo Courtesy of Karlee Rodrigues

As part of our elections coverage, The Lion is sharing responses from candidates about the following questions:

  1. What motivated you to run for this position?
  2. If elected, what would your goals be?
  3. What is something you want to fix at Columbia? How would you plan to address it?
  4. Any additional comments you would like to share with voters?

Below, you can find the candidate(s)’s unfiltered responses to help in deciding who you choose to vote for.  The Lion has yet to endorse any candidate at this time and the views below do not necessarily represent the views of our team. For more information, email submissions@columbialion.com.

What motivated you to run for this position? 

I first started attending GS’ Student Council meetings to learn about what resources, clubs, events, network, and financial opportunities were available on campus for students. I was inspired by the serious commitment and dedication from the council members and got overwhelmingly excited at the incredibly diverse opportunities they were creating for students that I was unaware even existed! I wanted to help create and spread this information with the rest of the student body. Therefore, I joined the council as part of the Communications Committee!

On council, I served as the communicator between the student body and GSSC, as well as spreading communication between committees. Adding to the council’s weekly agenda and taking Meeting Minutes made me quickly learn what’s working for the Columbia Community and what isn’t, what we had to improve on and what should remain the same, as well as how long each type of event or resource takes to plan.

Having this great overall understanding of the student body’s needs and GSSC’s needs (finance, policy, campus life, communications, international students rep, MilVets rep, etc.) made me feel qualified enough to run for Student Body President. Similarly to my goals when I first started council, I want to make sure the bountiful amount of resources academically and financially on campus are being taken to full advantage students to help and progress our Columbia community.

If elected, what would your goals be? What is something you want to fix at Columbia? How would you plan to address it?

Here are some of my key points!

COMMUNICATIONS:

As President I will enforce “Operation Organization,” organizing the plethora of diverse resources already available on campus, such as club info and important events so that they are appropriately presented to students so that they are aware of the diverse opportunities and initiatives that already exist!

I plan to address this integration issue by making this information easily accessible to students online and physically.

– An updated online clubs page with their objective, meeting times, and meeting locations.

– Physical packets with club info available in the GS Lounge for those who have limited access to internet/social media.

– Making the GS Lounge a hub for resources. Adding a monitor that displays GSSC led events for the week! (Or for more cost-friendly purposes, a bulletin board).

– A BRAND NEW UPDATED GSSC WEBSITE. The council has worked on this during the Spring 2016 term, however, I want it to be fully implemented in the Fall! We are in negotiations for access to both the gssc.columbia.edu and yourgssc.com domain with CUIT and the former VPs of council. We have a template ready and secured. And if we do not get access to either of those domains – we have a plan C to start from scratch and the design already planned.

– On this website will be a public Google Driven calendar where GSSC students can directly import an event.

– As President, I liaise with the other university presidents to present a system so that everyone has access to GSSC events but also CC, SEAS, and Barnard.

Once this system is organized and enacted – the communications committee can reach out to groups like the MilVets to ensure that if there is an event that might be of great benefit for their members, they will know about it. Additionally, if the MilVets host an event for their club, they can easily reach other students on campus.

FINANCE:

Financial security for students is a huge topic currently being presented to council.

Once “Operation Organization” is complete, students in financial need will be able to easily locate resources to help them financially. From scheduling appointments with advisors to applying for GS institutional scholarships, GS special scholarships, outside scholarships, and scholarships for nontraditional students.

As GSSC President, I will be continuously requesting sponsorships and in-kind donations rather than using our valuable money in the budget for food, for example, at many if not most of the GS events. Our savings would be put together for a Student Body Scholarship for those in financial need (and eventually perhaps, a second that’s need-blind). Through this scholarship, applicants can write to council about their experience on campus life – what they found to be beneficial and what could be improved. This way, council will have an array of continuous feedback and we would be building a students’ financial security for the semester. I plan to address this proposal by working closely with the VP of finance to determine how much exactly we have saved that will be distributed in the scholarship. Additionally, I will speak with administration to have this scholarship apply towards tuition. This means I would also reach out to the Accounting Office for easy transactions and billing info. If the cannot apply towards tuition (although I will petition and strongly advocate for it), the scholarship could benefit students for the cost of living expenses.

Additionally, I will continue to advocate alongside prospective VP of Policy Silin for emergency meal funds and a food bank (which was just passed at tonight’s meeting woo hoo). GSers should have a food pantry in the GS Lounge for those who are in need of a meal. I plan to address this by continuing to advocate alongside the council for the construction of the pantry. We already have a contractor on board.

I also strongly agree with prospective Senator Ramond about child-care services. Right now, PHD students are offered child-care services. However, GS students are not. We must offer GS parents child-care services!! Advocating for this is extremely important.

POLICY:

As GSSC President I will promote SVR (Sexual Violence Response) initiatives that Columbia mandates in orientation. I want to review and change the TA policy on campus. Right now TAs can be hired regardless of a sexual assault violation. This should not be the case. Offenders find content in exuding power over their victim. Why then would we give these offenders (who is known to find this fulfillment in exuding power) power in the classroom?! It would be a trigger!!! Changing the policy would be ensuring students safety and peace of mind.

It came to my attention recently that a student took a medical leave and as a result, was denied to use the psychological/medical service centers during the time of their leave. This is a moment where students might be needing these services the most. Students should have access to these resources their ENTIRE TIME at Columbia. I will speak to CPS and administration to make change happen.

Any additional comments you would like to share with voters?

A suggestion box will be created in the new year so that students can share their ideas with council and how we can improve!

Last but certainly not least, if the Student Body/Committees are divided on a topic, before making any decision, I would weigh the pros and cons. I will enforce a political, financial, and social discussion. What would be the financial benefits and/or consequences of this situation. How would this decision impact students on campus? Are there any alternatives? Can there be a trail period for our decision?

The Columbia Lion wants candidates who will make a change. While many candidates brought up issues we care about: more student space, mental health improvements, and supporting students, we want a candidate who is going to do something that will make an impact. And while comforting words are nice, they don’t really do much. If we want to continue calling student government ineffective, fine, but if we want actual change, it’s time to take a risk and vote for individuals who have a passion for making change rather than people who are simply going to deliver big words and leave us with blank promises of goals for the future. For this reason, The Lion team is pleased to announce our endorsements for General Studies Student Council:
 
International Students’ Representative: Valeria Pizzi
Student Body President: Karlee Rodrigues
University Senator: Ramond Curtis
Veteran Students’ Representative: James Ward
VP Campus Life: Brett Kasner
VP Communications: Raisa Flor
VP Finance: Daria Greeno
VP Policy: SiLin Huang
Voting ends at 5PM today. Be sure to cast your vote through the link sent out by the Columbia Elections Board

Sincerely,

William Essilfie, Editor-in-Chief

Arlena McClenton, Managing Editor

Joshua Burton, Director of Operations

Yael Turitz, Director of Campus Outreach

Michele Lin, Director of Technology