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    Review: To a Rare King Arthur Opera, Bard Says ‘Welcome Back’

    Superb singers and a clear production make a strong case for Ernest Chausson’s seldom heard “Le Roi Arthus.”ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — It took just two words over the loudspeakers for the audience at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College on Sunday evening to break into vigorous applause: “Welcome back.”Welcome back, indeed, to Ernest Chausson’s seldom heard opera “Le Roi Arthus,” being presented as part of Bard’s SummerScape festival. And welcome back to many in the audience, for whom being in a theater for live opera with a full orchestra and chorus, after such a long deprivation, was truly something to cheer.“Le Roi Arthus,” based on the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, proved a powerful work for this fraught, polarized moment in American life. It is the story of an idealistic ruler who fails to bring about the era of enlightenment he strives for, but whose principles will endure, as an angelic chorus assures him at the end of an often ravishing score. The production is the latest project in the conductor Leon Botstein’s long campaign to break classical music from its fixation on repertory staples and call attention to neglected works.This remarkable opera, first performed in Brussels in 1903, four years after its composer’s death in a cycling accident at 44, is especially deserving. Chausson, who also wrote the libretto, labored on it for almost a decade — not because he was stuck, but because he wanted to get it right. He did. The Bard production, directed by Louisa Proske, is scenically spare but richly costumed and dramatically effective. And Botstein, leading the American Symphony Orchestra, an impressive cast and the excellent Bard Festival Chorale, made a compelling case for the piece. (How has it languished when many lesser scores by French composers of Chausson’s era — especially, for me, Massenet — keep returning to international stages?)The Bard production, directed by Louisa Proske, is scenically spare but richly costumed and dramatically effective.Maria BaranovaThe influence of Wagner, especially “Tristan und Isolde,” looms over “Le Roi Arthus.” Chausson was a Wagner devotee, no question: For his honeymoon in 1883, he took his wife to the Bayreuth Festival to see “Parsifal.” As he worked on “Arthus,” Chausson exchanged letters with his friend Debussy, who had a love-hate relationship with Wagner. In one letter Chausson wrote that the similarity of subject matter between his opera and “Tristan” — both concerning overpowering feelings of love that lead to betrayals of marriage and duty — would not matter to him if he “could only successfully de-Wagnerize myself.”Wagnerian strands run through the music, even hints of motifs from “Tristan” and the so-called “Tristan” chord. Yet the score also comes across as beholden to the French heritage Chausson was born into, especially Franck and Massenet. His use of thick chromatic harmonies is less dark and elusive, more ludic and radiant, than Wagner’s writing. The score is rich with lyrical stretches that almost break into song.The orchestral prelude teems, at first, with swashbuckling music that suggests the triumphant battle the king’s forces have just waged over the invading Saxons. We meet Arthur, with his wife, Guinevere, at his side, presiding over a celebratory gathering of his court. The baritone Norman Garrett, in elegant robes and gold crown, looked and sounded splendid as Arthur. His voice, deep-set but capable of lightness in its high range, easily conveyed authority and dignity. Yet even in his opening monologue he plumbed the music for hints of the king’s vulnerability.The opera’s illicit lovers, Lancelot (Matthew White) and Guinevere (Sasha Cooke), are reminiscent of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.Maria BaranovaWhen the king singles out the valiant knight Lancelot (the ardent tenor Matthew White) as a “true victor,” the other knights mutter their resentments, especially the menacing Mordred (Justin Austin, a youthful baritone). In this telling of the story, Lancelot and Guinevere are already deeply consumed by illicit love. As the queen, the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke brings gleaming sound and a touch of self-destructive volatility to her singing. Unlike Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, this couple is fully aware that they are betraying their king and their oaths. But, as Guinevere sings, “love is the only law.”The singers brought dedication to an important project, learning these demanding roles for this production. Botstein’s enthusiasm for a score he has long championed came through — sometimes too much. In bringing out the brassy richness and intensity of the music, he sometimes let the orchestra overpower the singers. Still, he brought urgent pacing and color to this nearly three-hour score.The opera ends with a series of death scenes, one for each of the principal characters — a dramatically risky move that Chausson handles deftly. In a daringly slow, mesmerizing monologue, Guinevere strangles herself with her own long hair. Lancelot, having offered no defense in a battle with former comrades who are avenging their king, comes back to the castle mortally wounded, living long enough to ask Arthur’s forgiveness in anguished yet noble phrasesThe shaken Arthur, seeking death, is greeted by a group of heavenly maidens who offer to take him away — not to death, but to eternal sleep. Chausson turned this sequence into a shimmering, harmonically lush double chorus, performed here by choristers in celestial white robes. “Your name may perish,” they tell Arthur, but “your ideas are immortal.”Let’s hope this production helps Chausson’s opera thrive as well.Le Roi ArthusThrough Sunday at Bard College; fishercenter.bard.edu. Also streamed at that website on July 28. More

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    Pop Smoke’s Second Posthumous Album, ‘Faith,’ Hits No. 1

    The new release by the Brooklyn rapper, who was shot and killed last year, tops Billboard, but fell short of his studio debut.“Faith,” the second album by the Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke to be released since he was shot and killed in February 2020 at the age of 20, tops the Billboard chart this week, just as the previous one did.But the difference in listenership was stark: “Faith” opened with 88,000 equivalent album units, including 113 million streams and 4,000 in sales, according to MRC Data, Billboard’s tracking arm, while “Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon,” from last July, was nearly three times more popular in its opening week, earning the equivalent of 251,000 albums sold, with 268 million streams and 59,000 in sales (including now-restricted merchandise bundles).“Faith” received tepid album reviews, with some questioning its posthumous assembly and the inclusion of more than 20 guests (Dua Lipa, Kanye West, Chris Brown) across the album’s 20 tracks. A deluxe edition adding four more songs was released on July 21, the day before the chart week ended.Pop Smoke, born Bashar Jackson, once a leader of Brooklyn’s rising drill movement, was killed last year during a home invasion in the Hollywood Hills after inadvertently revealing his address on Instagram. Los Angeles police officers said at a hearing in May that five teenagers had plotted to rob the rapper, coming away only with a watch that they sold for $2,000.Three people have been charged in juvenile court with Pop Smoke’s killing, while the alleged getaway driver, who the authorities say conceived of the plot and was 19 at the time, is being charged as an adult. A 15-year-old boy has been accused of firing the fatal shots, the authorities said, according to The Los Angeles Times. One person remains at large.Also on the Billboard chart this week: “Sob Rock,” a 1980s tribute by John Mayer, debuts at No. 2 with 84,000 in equivalent units, including 29 million streams and 61,000 in sales. “Sour” by Olivia Rodrigo is No. 3 with 77,000 units; “Planet Her” by Doja Cat is No. 4 with 59,000; and “Dangerous: The Double Album” by Morgan Wallen, who has apologized for his use of a racial slur in February, is No. 5. More

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    Review: At Wagner’s Festival, a ‘Dutchman’ Never Sails

    With neither ship nor sea, Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new Bayreuth Festival staging recasts the opera as a tale of violent revenge.BAYREUTH, Germany — The pilgrims to the Green Hill, who have been making their way to the storied festival Richard Wagner founded here 145 years ago, looked more like cattle on Sunday. The theater’s bucolic grounds had become a network of roped-off, one-way sidewalks and checkpoints.With stricter pandemic safety measures than many other European opera houses, the Bayreuth Festival’s opening night — a new production of “Der Fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”) — lacked some of its usual glamour. Indeed, the romance ended at the sight of mobile bathrooms outside the theater; the ones inside had been deemed too risky. The audience was limited to 900, less than half the house’s capacity.Yet the unpleasantness of these restrictions faded as the lights dimmed, the hall resounded with the stormy opening of “Holländer,” and the Bayreuth experience began to work its usual magic.And what a sound it was: The orchestra, propulsive and spirited from the start, was led by Oksana Lyniv, the first female conductor in the festival’s history. Much has rightly been made of that milestone, however embarrassingly overdue.In Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production, the opera takes place firmly on land, with the opening scene at the bar of a small town.Enrico Nawrath/Bayreuther FestspieleLyniv’s “Holländer” was occasionally a little brash, but it was always both driven by and driving the drama, with sharp attention to detail and pacing — in a work whose repetitive score can easily sag under a less assured baton.She wasn’t the only newcomer at the festival this summer: Dmitri Tcherniakov, virtually unavoidable at European houses in recent years, was directing his first Bayreuth production. And Asmik Grigorian, a steel-voiced soprano and one of the finest acting talents in opera, was making her debut here as Senta — a performance met with a roaring ovation.There was polite applause for Grigorian’s colleagues, as well; the audience seemed ready to warmly greet whatever they saw after Bayreuth was canceled last year. But although there were some elements of normalcy on Sunday — Chancellor Angela Merkel was even back in her usual box — the festival was still far from its former self.The full forces of Bayreuth’s fabled chorus, for example, were not allowed onstage. Instead they were divided: half singing in the theater, complemented by an ensemble of lip-syncing actors, and half broadcast from a separate hall. The effect was at times acoustically disorienting.From left, Marina Prudenskaya as Mary, Eric Cutler as Erik and Grigorian as Senta.Enrico Nawrath/Bayreuther FestspieleAs a director, Tcherniakov is often interested in trauma: the ways in which it is overcome, sublimated or succumbed to. Here, that was manifest in the Dutchman’s origin story, recounted in a series of vignettes during the overture.The Dutchman, in this telling, grew up in a small town — possibly coastal, though there is neither a ship nor sea in sight — with uniform, clean, monochromatic, rather sinister architecture. His single mother had an affair with a married man, who violently broke things off with her. Gossip spread, and she became an outcast, isolated in an already isolating place. So she hanged herself; the boy, unable to help, was left mournfully holding onto her swinging foot.He leaves his hometown and later returns — like the libretto’s cursed Dutchman, docking his ship every seven years in search of a love that will redeem him. Now an adult, with an imposing build and furrowed brow, he is unrecognizable at a local bar, where he tells his tale to a half-interested crowd. (The baritone John Lundgren’s delivery of the monologue was strained, and misaligned with the menacing force of his demeanor.)Among the people the Dutchman meets at the bar is Daland — in the libretto a sea captain and the father of the opera’s heroine, Senta, but here a clean-cut, middle-class man. (Indeed, the one who ruined his mother’s life.) The bass Georg Zeppenfeld portrays him with a warm tone and a touch of naïve insouciance.From left, John Lundgren, Prudenskaya, Georg Zeppenfeld and Grigorian in Act II of the opera.Enrico Nawrath/Bayreuther FestspieleThe cityscape shifts between scenes, its buildings fluidly rearranging into new configurations. At the beginning of Act II, they create a plaza-like space for the “Spinning Chorus,” led by Mary, Senta’s nurse (though in Tcherniakov’s staging presented as her mother and played, often silently, by Marina Prudenskaya with weary exasperation).This scene introduces Grigorian’s Senta, a young woman with Billie Eilish hair and a defiant streak. She sings her Ballad — which recounts the Dutchman legend, with an emphasis on his redemption by a woman who will be faithful to him until death — with dramatic gesticulations and a sense of ironic overstatement. But later, when she is alone onstage and her theme returns, Grigorian delivers the tune with quiet, sincere longing, perhaps seeing in the Dutchman a kindred spirit.She and the Dutchman meet over an awkward dinner at her house, separated by her parents and seated at opposite ends of the table, which is laid out slowly and fussily. It’s not exactly a meet-cute, but something clicks, and the parents fade to invisibility as Senta and the Dutchman sing what came off on Sunday as a mismatched duet, Grigorian luxuriously lyrical and Lundgren a little thin. (Eric Cutler, who sang the role of Erik, the Dutchman’s rival for Senta’s affections, similarly struggled to rise to her level.)The Bayreuth Festival’s chorus was divided in two, with half singing onstage, complemented by silent actors, and the others broadcast from a separate hall.Enrico Nawrath/Bayreuther FestspieleAct III opens like most any “Holländer” production, with the town’s women bringing the men food — only here they gather to enjoy it together. Off to the side, though, is a group of sullen men whose dark clothing contrasts with the earth tones of the locals. Traditionally, they would be the Dutchman’s ghostly crew, and they provide one strategic use of the broadcast choir. As their lines are played through speakers, the men onstage remain threateningly silent.They are, it becomes apparent, willing collaborators in the Dutchman’s plot to exact deadly revenge on the town. After Erik confronts Senta about their now-broken promises to each other, a fight breaks out in which the Dutchman coolly shoots someone while the crowd retreats back into the town — which the mysterious men have set on fire.As smoke fills the space and the Dutchman violently casts Senta aside — just as her father once did to his mother — Mary enters with a shotgun, aims it directly at the Dutchman’s chest and pulls the trigger. It’s a lot of violence in not a lot of time, and it wasn’t easy to follow on opening night.But one thing was clear. Even though this production, as it had been described in advance press, is focused on the psychology and background of the Dutchman, the redemptive power of Senta was inescapable. Rather than join him in an act of eternal devotion, she takes the gun from her shaking mother and holds her, bringing a sense of calm as the curtain comes down.So while Tcherniakov might have been most interested in the psyche of an angry and vengeful man, the only character who truly changes — and, indeed, matures — in his staging is Senta. Especially with Grigorian onstage, it’s very much her opera.Der Fliegende HolländerThrough Aug. 20 at the Bayreuth Festival, Germany; bayreuther-festspiele.de. Also streaming Tuesday on DG Stage; dg-premium.com. More

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    Asian Composers Reflect on Careers in Western Classical Music

    For all their shared experiences, each of these five artists has a unique story of struggles and triumphs.Asian composers who write in Western classical musical forms, like symphonies and operas, tend to have a few things in common. Many learned European styles from an early age, and finished their studies at conservatories there or in the United States. And many later found themselves relegated to programming ghettos like Lunar New Year concerts. (One recent study found that works by Asian composers make up only about 2 percent of American orchestral performances planned for the coming season.)At times, the music of Asian composers has been misunderstood or exoticized; they have been subjected to simple errors such as, in the case of Huang Ruo, who was born in China, repeated misspellings of his name.For all their shared experiences, each of these artists has a unique story. Here, five of them provide a small sampling of the lessons, struggles and triumphs of composers who were born in Asia and made a career for themselves in Western classical music. These are edited excerpts from interviews with them.Tan DunMusic is my language. To me “West” and “East” are just ways of talking — or like ways of cooking. I’m a chef, and sometimes I find my recipe is like my orchestrations. It would be so boring if you asked me to cook in one style. Eastern and Western, then, have for me become a unique recipe in which one plus one equals one.I am in a very special zone historically. I’m 63, and part of the first generation of Eastern composers after the Cultural Revolution to deal with Western forms. But it’s just like rosemary, butter and vegetables. You can cook this way, that way — and that’s why the same orchestras sound so different, from Debussy to Stravinsky to myself.I’m lucky. When I came to the United States as a student, my teachers and classmates gave me enormous encouragement to discover myself. And I learned so much from John Cage. After this, it felt so easy to compose. And when people approach me for commissions, I re-approach them about what I’m thinking about. I remember when Kurt Masur asked me to write something for the New York Philharmonic — the Water Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra — I said, “Can I write something for water?” He said, “As long as you don’t flood our orchestra.”Yes, we often are misunderstood. It’s like when you cook beautiful black bean with chili sauce and chocolate. They may say, “Hey, this is a little strange.” But you explain why, and that can be very interesting. Thank God I love to talk. And there has been progress for us. I am the first Eastern composer to be the dean of a Western conservatory, at Bard. That’s like a Chinese chef becoming the chef of an Italian restaurant. That’s the future: a different way of approaching color, boundary-less, a unity of the soul.Du Yun”If I’m a spokesperson,” Du Yun said, “it’s for my own voice.”Caitlin Ochs for The New York TimesOne thing about composers like Tan Dun: They came out of the Cultural Revolution, after a door had closed for so many years. So there was so much focus on what China was doing, a lot of curiosity — curiosity rather than active racism. Our generation — I’m 44 — is so different.We learn Western music with such rigorous systems. And we do not close our ears to different traditions or styles; that attitude determines early on that you don’t have that kind of boundary, or ownership. But you still hear those conversation topics about “East meets West.” It’s so tiring. East has been meeting West for thousands of years; if we’re always still just meeting, that’s a problem.Programming Chinese composers around Lunar New Year is in general very problematic. Do we need to celebrate the culture? Yes. Do we need to celebrate the tradition? Absolutely. But it can be part of the main subscription series, or a yearlong series. Then you can really tell stories, not just group people by a country.My name does not give me ownership of Chinese culture. There are so many things I don’t know. There are so many burdens and fights — as the woman, the woman of color, the Chinese woman — that I decided to fight nothing and just create my own stuff. I told myself that if I had a great body of work, that would speak to what a Chinese woman can do.I never wanted to be pigeonholed, to be a reduced representation. I wanted to always open that Pandora’s box of messiness — and I encourage others to celebrate messiness, the unclean narrative of your life. Every immigrant has her own path; your work should absolutely be reflective of that. So if I’m a spokesperson, it’s for my own voice. And through that particular voice, I hope there is something that resonates.Bright ShengWhen someone asks Bright Sheng whether he’s a Chinese or American composer, he responds, “100 percent both.”Nora Tam/South China Morning Post, via Getty ImagesWhen I left China, it was a time of economic and, in a different way, cultural reform. I’m glad I came to the United States, but I do have a little bit of guilt. I probably could have done more there. But my agenda was to try to learn Western music and become the best pianist, conductor and composer I could be. I was fortunate to meet Leonard Bernstein, and I was under his wing for five years. Now, at 65, when someone asks me if I consider myself a Chinese or American composer, I say, in the most humble way, “100 percent both.” I’m well-versed in both cultures.There has been racism and misunderstanding, but that is inevitable. Would that be different if there were Asian people running orchestras? Yes, of course. My response has just been to try to write the best music I can. I wrote an opera for San Francisco Opera — “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which they’re reviving. It’s a very popular Chinese story, and when I worked on it with David Henry Hwang, we asked ourselves: “Is this for a Western audience or Eastern audience?” We decided first and foremost it should just be good, and it had to be touching. Good music transcends.For example, a piece of mine, “H’un (Lacerations),” premiered at the 92nd Street Y in New York. It is subtitled “In Memoriam 1966-1976” — about the Cultural Revolution — and it is very harsh and dramatic, with no melody. My mother was there, and she said it brought back a lot of painful memories. I was also sitting next to this very old Jewish woman, and after I took a bow onstage, she leaned over and said, “If you changed the title to ‘Auschwitz,’ this would be just as appropriate.” That was the highest compliment.Unsuk Chin“I believe in multiple identities and think that without curiosity,” Unsuk Chin said, “any style or any musical culture atrophies and risks becoming a museum.”Julie Glassberg for The New York TimesThe Korea of my childhood and adolescence was a very different place from what it is today. In the 1960s, it was an impoverished developing country, devastated by colonialism and by the Korean War, and until the late 1980s, there was a military dictatorship in place. In order to develop as a composer, one had to go abroad, as there didn’t exist an infrastructure for new music. Now 60, and having lived for 35 years in Europe, it remains important for me to contribute to the contemporary music scene in Asia.When I moved to Germany, there was a tendency to put composers in certain boxes, with all the aesthetic turf wars back then. Since I was neither interested in joining any camp or fashionable avant-garde or other trends, fulfilling exotic expectations, or assumptions of how a woman should or should not compose, I had to start a career in other countries while still living in Germany. Prejudices such as viewing an Asian composer or performing musician only through “sociological” lenses are still relatively common in various countries, but times are changing. Of course, there exist prejudices and complacency in the whole world, including in Asia. Perhaps the only remedy to this apparently, and sadly, all-too-human impulse is try to retain a sense of wonder and attempt to find distance to oneself.I have worked in different countries for decades, and have felt a need to stay curious about different musical cultures, traditions and genres. I believe in multiple identities and think that without curiosity, any musical style or culture atrophies and risks becoming a museum: Art has always thrived when there has been cross-fertilization.At the same time, one should be wary of the danger of exoticism and superficial cultural appropriation. I think that a contemporary composer needs to study different cultures, traditions and genres, but make use of those influences in a selective, historically conscious and self-critical manner.Huang RuoHuang Ruo said that if he spoke English with an accent, he composed with one, too.Rathkopf PhotographyWhen people heard I came from China, they would often say, “Does your music sound like Tan Dun?” I don’t think they meant any harm, but it shows a certain ignorance. I tried to explain that China is a big country, and we all speak with our own voice.I started as an instrumental composer, and a lot of those works got programmed at Asian-themed or Lunar New Year concerts. I didn’t notice at first, but you begin to see patterns. I don’t feel my work has any less quality than my other colleagues who are not minority composers, but for conductors, programmers and artistic directors, it doesn’t seem to come to their mind that you can naturally program an Asian composer’s work next to Beethoven or Tchaikovsky.That’s one of the reasons I turned to opera. I thought, there must be no opera company having a themed season devoted to Asian composers. So finally, I got to be programmed next to “Fidelio” and “Madama Butterfly.” That was my revenge. Also, I’ve wanted to write on subjects that reflect Asian or Asian American topics, to really share these stories. In this case it is actually me making the choice.Someone once told me I speak English with an accent. I said, “Otherwise, how would you know that’s me speaking?” I feel the same way as a composer. I want to have my own originality, to speak with my own accent — with my love of Western musical styles, but also this heritage I carry of Chinese culture.Without coming to the United States, I would be a different composer. If I went to Europe instead, I would also be very different. But I feel I made the right decision, and at 44 I fully embrace who I am today, and where I am as well. More

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    Testing Britney Spears: Restoring Rights Can Be Rare and Difficult

    To get out of conservatorship, the pop star will likely have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, an uneasy melding of legal standards and mental health criteria.Her voice quaking with anger and despair, the pop star Britney Spears has asked repeatedly in court to be freed from the conservatorship that has controlled her money and personal life for 13 years. What’s more, she asked the judge to sever the arrangement without making her undergo a psychological evaluation.It’s a demand that legal experts say is unlikely to be granted. The mental health assessment is usually the pole star in a constellation of evidence that a judge considers in deciding whether to restore independence.Its underlying purpose is to determine whether the conditions that led to the imposition of the conservatorship have stabilized or been resolved.The evaluation process, which uneasily melds mental health criteria with legal standards, illustrates why the exit from strict oversight is difficult and rare. State laws are often ambiguous. And their application can vary from county to county, judge to judge, case to case.Isn’t Ms. Spears’s artistic and financial success proof she is self-sufficient?Yes and no. A judge looks for what, in law, is called “capacity.” The term generally refers to benchmarks in a person’s functional and cognitive ability as well as their vulnerability to harm or coercion.Under California law, which governs Ms. Spears’s case, a person deemed to have capacity can articulate risks and benefits in making decisions about medical care, wills, marriage and contracts (such as hiring a lawyer), and can feed, clothe and shelter themselves.Annette Swain, a Los Angeles psychologist who does neuropsychological assessments, said that because someone doesn’t always show good judgment, it doesn’t mean they lack capacity. “We all can make bad decisions at many points in our lives,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that we should have our rights taken away.”Even so, Ms. Spears’s professional and financial successes do not directly speak to whether she has regained “legal mental capacity,” which she was found to lack in 2008, after a series of public breakdowns, breathlessly captured by the media. At that time, a judge ruled that Ms. Spears, who did not appear in court, was so fragile that a conservatorship was warranted.Judges authorize conservatorships usually for one of three broad categories: a severe psychiatric breakdown; a chronic, worsening condition like dementia; or an intellectual or physical disability that critically impairs function.Markers indicating a person has regained capacity appear to set a low bar. But in practice, the bar can be quite high.“‘Restored to capacity’ before the psychotic break? Or the age the person is now? That expression is fraught with importing value judgment,” said Robert Dinerstein, a disability rights law professor at American University.Records detailing grounds for the petition from Ms. Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, to become his daughter’s conservator are sealed. A few factors suggest the judge at the outset regarded the situation as serious. She appointed conservators to oversee Ms. Spears’s personal life as well as finances. She also ruled that Ms. Spears could not hire her own lawyer, though a lawyer the singer consulted at the time said he thought she was capable of that.Earlier this month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny said Ms. Spears could retain her own counsel.Does “capacity” differ among states?Yes. Some states, like California, detail basic functional abilities. Others do not. Colorado acknowledges modern advances like “appropriate and reasonably available technological assistance.” Illinois looks for “mental deterioration, physical incapacity, mental illness, developmental disability, gambling, idleness, debauchery, excessive use of intoxicants or drugs.”Sally Hurme of the National Guardianship Association noted: “You could be found to be incapacitated in one state but not in another.”Who performs the psychological assessment?Ideally, a forensic psychiatrist or a psychologist with expertise in neuropsychological assessments. But some states just specify “physician.” Psychiatrists tend to place greater weight on diagnoses; psychologists emphasize tests that measure cognitive abilities. Each reviews medical records and interviews family, friends and others.Assessments can extend over several days. They range widely in depth and duration.Eric Freitag, who conducts neuropsychological assessments in the Bay Area, said he prefers interviewing people at home where they are often more at ease, and where he can evaluate the environment. He asks about financial literacy: bill-paying, health insurance, even counting out change.Assessing safety is key. Dr. Freitag will ask what the person would do if a fire broke out. “I’d call my daughter,” one of his subjects replied.Who chooses the evaluator?Ms. Spears has not been able to choose her evaluators in the past because the conservator has the power to make those decisions. However, if she moves to dissolve the conservatorship, she can select the evaluator, to help build her case. If the conservator, her father, opposes her petition and objects to her selection, he could nominate a candidate to perform an additional assessment. Ms. Spears would likely pick up both tabs as costs of the conservatorship.To avoid a bitter battle of experts and the appearance that an assessor hired by either camp would be inherently biased — plus the strain of two evaluations on Ms. Spears — the judge could try to get both sides to agree to an independent, court-appointed doctor.What impact does a mental health diagnosis have on an evaluation?Many states explicitly say that a diagnosis of a severe mental health disorder is not, on its own, evidence that a person should remain in conservatorship.Stuart Zimring, an attorney in Los Angeles County who specializes in elderlaw and special needs trusts, noted that he once represented a physician with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who was under a conservatorship. The doctor’s rights were eventually restored after he proved he was attending counseling sessions and taking medication.“It was a joyous day when the conservatorship was terminated,” said Mr. Zimring. “He got to practice medicine again, under supervision.”The association between the diagnosis of a severe mental disorder and a determination of incapacity troubles Dr. Swain, the Los Angeles psychologist.“Whatever they ended up diagnosing Britney Spears with, was it of such severity that she did not understand the decisions that she had to make, that she could not provide adequate self-care?” she asked. “Where do you draw that line? It’s a moving target.”Does the judge have to accept an evaluator’s findings?No, but judges usually do.What standard does a probate judge apply to reach a decision?In most states, when a judge approves a conservatorship, which constrains a person’s autonomy, the evidence has to be “clear and convincing,” a rigorous standard just below the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”But when a conservatee wants those rights restored, many experts believe the standard should be more lenient.Some states indeed apply a lower standard to end a conservatorship. In California, a judge can do so by finding it is more likely than not (“preponderance of evidence”) that the conservatee has capacity. But some states say that the evidence to earn a ticket out still has to be “clear and convincing.”Most states do not even set a standard.“There’s an underlying assumption that if you can get the process right, everything would be fine and we wouldn’t be depriving people of rights,” said Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “Our take is that the process is fundamentally broken and that we shouldn’t be using guardianship in so many cases.”If someone is doing well, isn’t the conservatorship no longer necessary?Yes and no. “Judges are haunted by people they have had in front of them who have been released and disaster happens,” said Victoria Haneman, a trusts and estates law professor at Creighton University. “So they take a conservative approach to freedom.”Describing the Kafkaesque conundrum of conservatorship, Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a disabilities rights lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “If she’s doing great, the system is working and should continue. If she is making choices others disagree with, then she’s unreliable and she needs the system.”Or, as Kristin Booth Glen, a former New York State judge who oversaw such cases and now works to reform the system, put it, “Conservatorship and guardianship are like roach motels: you can check in but you can’t check out.”Can an evaluator recommend a less restrictive approach than a conservatorship?At times. Judge Glen once approved the termination of a guardianship of a young woman originally deemed to have the mental acuity of a 7-year-old. After three years of thoughtful interventions, the woman, since married and raising two children, had become able to participate fully in her life. She relied on a team for “supported decision making,” which Judge Glen called “a less restrictive alternate to the Draconian loss of liberty” of guardianship.A supported decision-making approach has been hailed by the Uniform Law Commission, which drafts model statutes. It has said judges should seek “the least restrictive alternative” to conservatorship.To date, only Washington and Maine have fully adopted the commission’s recommended model. More

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    Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s Prison Break, and 13 More New Songs

    Hear tracks by Remi Wolf, Camila Cabello, the War on Drugs and others.Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos. Just want the music? Listen to the Playlist on Spotify here (or find our profile: nytimes). Like what you hear? Let us know at theplaylist@nytimes.com and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow, ‘Industry Baby’Lil Nas X continues his victory lap around a world of his own making on the triumphant “Industry Baby” with Jack Harlow, featuring appropriately brassy production from Take A Daytrip and Kanye West and a video in which the duo busts out of Montero State Prison. “Funny how you said it was the end, then I went and did it again,” he sings, his braggadocio packing extra bite since it’s directed not just at generic haters but pearl-clutching homophobes. (“I’m queer,” he proclaims proudly, in case there was any confusion there.) The wild video’s most talked-about set piece will probably be the joyous dance scene in the prison showers, but its most hilarious moment comes when Lil Nas X catches a guard enjoying the video for his previous single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” LINDSAY ZOLADZRemi Wolf, ‘Liquor Store’“Liquor Store” (and its “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” meets Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” music video) is a perfect introduction to the neon-Brite imagination of Remi Wolf, a charismatic 25-year-old pop singer from California. The song is a catchall repository of Wolf’s anxieties about sobriety and long-term commitment, but she tackles these subjects with such idiosyncratic playfulness that it all goes down smoothly. ZOLADZCamila Cabello, ‘Don’t Go Yet’Fifth Harmony’s original defector Camila Cabello returns with the fun, exuberant first single from her upcoming album, “Familia.” Cabello leans harder than ever into her Latin-pop roots here, but there’s also a sassy rasp to her vocals that brings Doja Cat to mind. “Baby don’t go yet ’cause I wore this dress for a little drama,” she sings, and the song’s bright, bold flair certainly matches that sartorial choice. ZOLADZAlewya, ‘Spirit_X’Alewya, a songwriter with Ethiopian and Egyptian roots who’s based in England, has been releasing singles that rely on a breathless momentum. “Spirit_X” has a defiant, positive message — “I won’t let me down” — expressed in terse lines that hint at African modal melodies, paced by looping synthesizers and a double time breakbeat. She makes a virtue of sounding driven. JON PARELESKamo Mphela, ‘Thula Thula’Amapiano music is sparse and fluid, representing the hypnotic elasticity that is baked into South African dance music, simmering the textures and drums of jazz, R&B and local dance styles like kwaito and Bacardi house into a slow, liquid groove. “Thula Thula,” a new single from the genre’s queen Kamo Mphela, captures the hushed energy of the genre: a shaker trembles alongside a sinister bass line and a rush of drums claps under the surface. Mphela offers a summertime invitation to the dance floor, but the track’s restrained tempo is a reminder that the return to nightlife is a marathon, not a sprint. ISABELIA HERRERALorde, ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’Lorde has always been an old soul; when she first arrived as a precocious 16-year-old in 2013, there was even a popular internet conspiracy theory that she was only pretending to be a teenager. Although she’s still just 24, Lorde sounds prematurely weary on her new single “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” from her forthcoming third album “Solar Power.” “My hot blood’s been burning for so many summers now, it’s time to cool it down,” she sings atop a muted chord progression that bears a striking resemblance to Lana Del Rey’s “Wild at Heart,” another recent Jack Antonoff production. The mellifluous “Stoned” flirts with profundity but then suddenly hedges its bets — “maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon,” she shrugs in each chorus — which gives the song a hesitant, meandering quality. But perhaps the most puzzling declaration she makes is how “all of the music you loved at 16 you’ll grow out of.” Is this perhaps a self-deprecating wink at her own past, or a gentle hint that her new album might be a departure from what her fans have been expecting? ZOLADZIlluminati Hotties, ‘U V V P’As Illuminati Hotties, Sarah Tudzin has been rolling out deliriously catchy, high-octane summer jams for the past few months, like the incredibly titled “Mmmoooaaaaayaya” and the effervescent “Pool Hopping.” Her latest preview of her forthcoming album “Let Me Do One More,” though, slows things down considerably. “Every time I hear a song, I think about you dancing,” she swoons on “U V V P,” buoyed by a beachy beat. Late in the song, a spoken-word contribution from Big Thief’s Buck Meek transforms the vibe from a ’60s girl-group throwback to a lonesome country ditty, as if the versatile Tudzin is proving there’s no genre she can’t make her own. ZOLADZIndigo De Souza, ‘Hold U’Sometimes a song only needs to communicate the most honest and heartfelt emotions to work. That is the spirit of Indigo de Souza’s “Hold U.” There’s a splatter of programmed drums; a jangly, soulful bass line; and the melted caramel of de Souza’s voice, which gushes with simple lyrics (“You are the best thing, and I’ve got it, I’ve got you”) and blooms into a falsetto, her sky-high oohs curling into the air. It is a love song, but it’s not just about romance — “Hold U” is about living fully with your emotions, and embracing the love that emerges from being in community, too. HERRERABrandi Carlile, ‘Right on Time’Piano ballad turns to power ballad in “Right on Time,” an apology that rises to a near-operatic peak as Brandi Carlile acknowledges, “It wasn’t right.” It’s clearly a successor to “The Joke,” but this time, she’s not helping someone else; she’s facing the consequences of her own mistakes. PARELESThe War on Drugs, ‘Living Proof’The War on Drugs reaches back to the late-1960s era when folk-rock, drone and psychedelia overlapped, when the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead weren’t that far apart. But it’s self-conscious retrospection, aware of what’s changed in a half-century. “Living Proof” lays bare that awareness. “I know the path/I know it’s changing,” Adam Granduciel sings, as he returns to an old neighborhood and finds it’s not what he remembered. “Maybe I’ve been gone too long,” he reflects. The song has two parts: feathery acoustic guitar strumming and piano chords and then, at the end, a subdued march, as Granduciel declares, “I’m rising, and I’m damaged.” PARELESJordyn Simone, ‘Burn’An old-fashioned soul song is at the core of “Burn”: an invitation to “stay the night” that escalates toward despair — “There’s no hope for people like me” — and fury, as Jordyn Simone declares, “I didn’t ask for no goddamn savior.” Simone, 21, was a strong enough singer to be a teenage contestant on “The Voice,” and in “Burn” her vocal builds from a velvety tremulousness to flashes of a bitter rasp. Meanwhile, the production’s lugubrious strings and club-level bass open up new chasms beneath her. PARELESWilliam Parker, ‘Painters Winter’ and ‘Mayan Space Station’The bassist, organizer and free-jazz eminence William Parker released two albums with separate trios on Friday: “Painters Winter,” featuring the drummer Hamid Drake and the saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, and “Mayan Space Station,” a sizzling free-fusion workout, with the guitarist Ava Mendoza curling out surf-rock lines and conjuring spacey fuzz while the drummer Gerald Cleaver drives the group steadily on. Together the LPs give an inkling of how broad Parker’s creative footprint has been on New York jazz. For a fuller measure, look to the 25th annual Vision Festival, happening now through next week in Manhattan and Brooklyn; he helped found the festival a quarter-century ago with the dancer and organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker, his wife. At 69, he hasn’t slowed down: Parker is slated to perform in no fewer than five different ensembles over the course of this year’s festival. RUSSONELLOKippie Moeketsi and Hal Singer, ‘Blue Stompin’’The alto saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi was among the first to fit bebop’s musical language into South African jazz, but he didn’t import it whole cloth. He made the language sing rather than banter, and he played with a circular, spinning approach to rhythm — related to marabi and earlier South African styles — not the typical American sense of swing. On his unaccompanied intro to “Blue Stompin’,” Moeketsi leaps in with a sharp, bluesy cry, then nods toward a carnival-style rhythm before growling his way to the end of the cadenza. Then he locks into the main melody, playing in unison with the American tenor saxophonist Hal Singer, who wrote the tune. A former Duke Ellington Orchestra member who had scored some radio hits of his own as a jump-blues saxophonist, Singer was in South Africa in 1974 on a State Department tour when he recorded a few tracks with Moeketsi. Those became an album, originally released in South Africa in ’77; it has just been remastered and released digitally by the Canadian label We Are Busy Bodies. RUSSONELLO More

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    Kanye West Unveils ‘Donda’ Album, With a Verse From Jay-Z

    As fans packed the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to get a first listen, West danced in a spotlight but chose not to say a word.ATLANTA — A man who is rarely short on words, Kanye West didn’t even have a microphone.Premiering his new album, “Donda,” in front of a packed crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium here on Thursday night, the rapper, who has become known as much for his failed presidential run and his pending divorce as his music, chose not to say a single thing.Dressed in a red jacket with matching pants, West walked around on a white tarp, delivering outsize gestures and dance moves to his new music for less than an hour before leaving. It was a decidedly different tone from his previous public listening sessions, including one he held in 2016 at Madison Square Garden before the release of “The Life of Pablo.” For much of the night, West stood in the center of the stadium’s football field, in the middle of a spotlight, surrounded by fog. When he walked around the venue, he spent a good portion of his time in front of the section where his four children with Kim Kardashian, North, Saint, Psalm and Chicago, were seated. Despite the fact that she has filed for divorce from West, Kardashian and her sister Khloe were also in attendance.“Donda,” West’s 10th studio album, was scheduled to be released by G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam Recordings on Friday, but it did not appear at midnight, when new music typically reaches streaming services, and still has not surfaced. Representatives for West did not respond to requests for comment about the plan for the album’s release.The album, his first since 2019’s “Jesus Is King,” was named after the rapper’s late mother, Donda West, who began her career as a professor at Morris Brown College in Atlanta in the 1970s. Kanye West was born in the city during this time, although the family would eventually relocate to Chicago. His mother died in 2007 from complications related to plastic surgery. Presumably in honor of her Atlanta ties, West gave 5,000 tickets to Thursday’s listening session to faculty and students at historically black colleges and universities in the city, including Morris Brown, Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman.Fans were given few details about “Donda” before the event, and the excessively loud speakers at the stadium made it hard to decipher lyrics or other key details. What was clear from the public listening session, which also streamed live via Apple Music, was that the album continued to explore themes of religion both sonically and lyrically, and featured a bevy of guest artists, including a new collaboration with Jay-Z.The lyrics from “Donda” seemed to have little to do with the rapper’s late mother directly, although the album does feature her voice in a few interludes. (“No matter what, you never abandon your family,” she says at one point.) The first track that was played during the event featured West repeatedly chanting “We gonna be OK” over an organ as the crowd illuminated the stadium with cellphone lights. Even on the more boastful songs (“Excuse my manners, I got status. Excuse my problems, I got commas”), there were still heavy nods to his Christian faith. One hook from the album featured the lyrics “I know God breathed on this,” as well as the cheeky lyric “God the father like Maury.”“Donda,” West’s 10th studio album, was scheduled to be released on Friday but has not yet surfaced.John CanonWhile an official track list has not been released, the songs played during the listening session featured guest appearances from rappers including Pusha T, Lil Baby and, perhaps most surprisingly, Jay-Z. Despite their close relationship early in West’s career, they had been open about the strain in their friendship in recent years. The new collaboration teased a “return of the throne,” nodding to the pair’s joint album “Watch the Throne” a decade ago. One Jay-Z lyric appeared to reference West’s onetime support for President Trump: “Hold up, Donda, I’m with your baby when I touch back road/told him stop all of that red cap, we goin’ home.”A few lyrics on the album seemingly nod at his separation from Kardashian, including one where West pleads, “I’m losing my family.” Elsewhere he raps, “Single life ain’t so bad.”It is unclear if the songs played at the event represent the entirety of “Donda.” West, who appeared to still be working on the album in the hours leading up to the event, according to his social media, is known to make changes to projects up until they are released, and sometimes afterward. (Jay-Z’s verse was recorded at 4 p.m. on the day of the listening session, according to Young Guru, the rapper’s longtime recording engineer.)The crowd for the event packed the Atlanta stadium, where there are no restrictions on crowd size despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Attendees were given paneled posters that featured a blurry image of the rapper and his mother. The back of the poster included instructions on how to transform it into a fan, as well as the words, “Mom West was a remarkable woman and a role model who we all loved dearly and cherished. We are fortunate that our lives crossed paths.” Merchandise with a childhood photo of West’s mother was also available, in addition to a beige long-sleeve shirt that featured the name of the album, the date and a Mercedes-Benz logo.Although it had only been announced three days earlier, the listening session attracted fans from outside Atlanta, too, including three friends from Madison, Wis. The trio said they traveled from Madison to Milwaukee at 3 a.m. to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight to Atlanta.“Kanye’s the best producer/rapper out there,” Sam Brink, 22, said. “That justifies the money” the friends spent to attend, he added. Even before the event began, he said he had high expectations for the album and hoped it would be released as scheduled.“I’ll put it this way, if it doesn’t drop, we’re flipping cars,” Brink said with a chuckle. By the time the friends were headed back to Wisconsin on an 8:30 a.m. flight Friday morning, there was still no sign of “Donda” on streaming services. More

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    Lil Nas X in the Pop Stratosphere

    “Old Town Road,” remember? Were we ever so young?In just the handful of years since, Lil Nas X has become a bona fide pop star, even if his music is sometimes a step behind his persona.His recent single, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But he made as much noise by releasing the song in several different versions (à la “Old Town Road”) to squeeze maximum value from it, and by making easy sport of swatting down internet combatants dissatisfied with how he expresses himself, his sexuality and his art.On this week’s Popcast, a conversation about Lil Nas X’s unconventional path to pop success, his unconventional methods of maintaining it and his possible futures beyond it.Guest:Jazmine Hughes, The New York Times magazine staff writer and Metro reporter More