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Chuck Lavazzi

This August, Union Avenue Opera will present the last installment of its four-year traversal of Richard Wagner's "Ring" operas: "Götterdämmerung" ("Twilight of the Gods"). This weekend David Robertson, soprano Christine Brewer, and the St. Louis Symphony are presenting "Brünnhilde's Immolation," the final scene of that opera. Think of it as something of a preview.

Chicago opera lovers are getting a "twofer" with this season's dark and compelling production of Puccini's 1900 political melodrama "Tosca." Originally created by British director John Caird for the Houston Grand Opera in 2010 and later revived for Los Angeles, Lyric's "Tosca" opened on January 24th, closed on February 5th, and then re-opened with new singers in the principal roles of Tosca, Cavaradossi, Scarpia, and Spoletta on February 27th for a run that concludes March 14th.

I have a dream. I dream that some day I'll be able to walk into an opera house and not be faced with a production in which the stage director has imposed some sort of high concept on the piece that is either irrelevant to or openly contradictory to the intentions of the composer and librettist. Alas, as the Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Wagner's "Tannhäuser" demonstrates, that's still a dream.

If you missed last week's big double dip of Russian romanticism or if (to quote a famous Big Band-era lyric) you just "can't get enough of that wonderful stuff," the St. Louis Symphony has another helping helping of it for you this weekend as Hans Graf leads the orchestra and violinist Augustin Hadelich in a program of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, and Lyadov.

The young (late 30s) Slovenian conductor Juraj Valcuha came to town for his SLSO debut this weekend with a stack of impressive reviews from locations as diverse as London, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Brahms to Szymanowski. Critics have praised his big sound, his precision, and what the Los Angeles Times critic called "his eloquent and flowing baton gestures."

Works by two giants of the Russian romantic school are on the Powell Hall Stage this week as the St. Louis Symphony under guest conductor Juraj Valcuha takes on Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" in C Minor, Op. 18 (first performed in 1901) with famed pianist André Watts as soloist and Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6" in B minor, Op. 74 (a.k.a. the "Pathetique"), which had its first performance only eight years earlier.

A bit of spring blew through St. Louis a couple of months early this weekend, and I’m not just talking about the temperatures outside.  Inside Powell Hall it was unseasonably vernal, as well, as Principal Flute Mark Sparks and the St. Louis Symphony under guest  conductor Stéphane Denève gave voice to Debussy’s sultry “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”).

The theme running through this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts, as Daniel Durchholz writes in his program notes, is "ecstatic expression". Specifically, "the sensual delights of Debussy, the religious rapture found in the deep devotion of [Scottish composer James] MacMillan, and Dvořák’s reveling in the country comforts of his homeland." I think he's on to something there.

"O the tango is done with a thin black moustache a wide scarlet sash, black boots and a whip."  When Jerry Leiber wrote those lyrics for "The Tango" (recorded in 1975 by Peggy Lee), he was reflecting the darkly sensual reputation this dance, with its historically murky origins, has had for over a century.

Sons who go into the family business are often less successful than their fathers. In the case of the J.S. Bach family, though, it was just the opposite. Four of the ten Bach children who survived to adulthood went on to careers as composers and the two represented in this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts—Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788) and Johann Christian (1735-1782)—went on to eclipse dad in popularity, at least during their lives.

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