La Scena Musicale

Monday, 28 June 2010

San Francisco Opera Summer Season A Feast for the Eyes and Ears

Die Walkure Act 3 Final Scene with Mark Delavan (Wotan) and Nina Stemme (Brunnhilde) Photo: Cory Weaver

















By Joseph K. So

San Francisco Opera is reputed to be the second largest opera company in the U.S. in terms of the number of productions, budget, and attendance figures. When it comes to casting, it is decidedly world class, with some of the best singers today on its roster. I've just had the pleasure of catching SFO's summer season, with its interesting offerings of Die Walkure, Faust, and La fanciulla del West. SFO's Walkure, the second installment of its upcoming Ring Cycle next June, is for me the highlight. (As I write this, there is one last performance on Wednesday June 30) Heading the cast is Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, who has gained the reputation as one of today's best Wagnerians. I have heard her live a number of times, including her Senta at the Met about ten years ago. Stemme has since become the great hochdramatisch sopran of choice in the Wagner/Strauss repertoires. The exciting cast also features Dutch soprano Eva Maria Westbroek, whom I have seen as a fabulous Chrysothemis and Jenufa in Munich. She will also be Sieglinde in the Lepage Ring next season. British tenor Christopher Ventris, who was magnificent in the title role of Pfitzner's Palestrina in Munich last season, is Siegmund. The head god is taken on by American baritone Mark Delavan. The highly respected, former long-time SFO music director and chief conductor Donald Runnicles is at the helm. American stage director Francesca Zambello gives us her take on the Ring Cycle. This is a co-production with Washington National Opera, and had its premiere in March 2007. In such capable hands, this run promised to be superlative, and by and large I was not disappointed.

I attended the performance of Walkure on June 22. Before the performance began, a man came out with a piece of paper, which is always a bad sign! As expected, it elicited a collective groan from the full house. He announced that Stemme was suffering from some bronchial problems but consented to sing and asked for the audience's indulgence. I was fearing for the worst, but whatever was ailing her, she showed no ill effects. Her singing was strong and assured, with her customary dark-hued tone. Her characterization of Brunnhilde was altogether winning, exuding youthful energy at her entrance, and plenty of spunk in her interaction with Fricka. Her playful Ho-jo-to-ho was girlishly engaging. Later in the opera, her characterization darkened, with a mature, melancholic, heart-felt expression that was touching. It's clear that Stemme is now the great new Brunnhilde. American baritone Mark Delavan, whom I had heard several times before in Santa Fe and New York, possesses the beautiful voice and the intelligence and musicality for a role like Wotan, if only just a little light-weight for the part. He sang very well on June 22, with the most secure high notes I have heard from any Wotan. So it was unfortunate that his voice was a size too small for the large opera house. There were moments when he was swarmed by the orchestra, and making less of an impact as one would have liked elsewhere. I give him full credit for not pushing his instrument to achieve a bigger sound. Given the quality of his sound and his musicality, Delavan would be a perfect Wotan in smaller houses like Zurich or Dresden. Similarly, Christopher Ventris' beautiful lyric tenor was stretched by the dramatic demands of Siegmund, especially at the low end of his range. He sang beautifully in Act 1, except for a raspy high A near the end when he put too much pressure on the cords. Such a glitch was minor considering how well he sang when his performance was taken in its totality. Debuting German mezzo Janina Baechle cut a matronly figure as Fricka, and she's a bit short on top. Dramatically her Fricka was a slightly hysterical figure bothering on the caricature, but she sang well enough. A highlight of the evening was the Sieglinde of Eva Maria Westbroek, who made an impressive sound. Her high notes were firm and powerful; the quieter moments exquisite. Raymond Aceto was a suitably menacing Hunding - too bad physically he's a bit small for the large-framed Westbroek, making his manhandling of her less than believable. The valkyries were generally fine, with kudos to Tamara Wapinsky for her laser-beam high Cs as Helmwige. Francesca Zambello has some very interesting ideas for the women in this opera, with a vaguely feminist bent to her interpretation. The valkyries are made up to resemble female aviatrices, and their cheer-leader like formation at the end of the Ride of the Valkyries was an unintentionally funny moment. The part where the valkyries supposedly arrived by parachutes also brought chuckles from the audience. The set design by Michael Yeargan is a mix of the traditional and the abstract. Hunding's hut looked rather old fashioned - with all the animal heads and hunting trophies, it wouldn't look out of place as a cabin in the great outdoors of the American West. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this production is its heavy reliance on video projections at the beginning of each act. I do believe that the Ring Cycle, being a fantasy to end all fantasies, would benefit greatly from today's video technologies in its story telling. This hi-tech approach appears to be favored in recent major productions such as the Valencia Ring. Donald Runnicles conducted a beautifully paced, sensitive, lyrical performance, holding the orchestra down to allow the singers to be heard.

There's nothing high tech about the second opera I saw at SFO - a good old fashioned Faust. (Frankly I am grateful, after having suffered through several Regietheater Fausts in European houses the last few years!) Once among the most popular of operas, its star has dimmed, perhaps because its heavy religiosity doesn't sit too well with contemporary sensibilities. It's above all a singer's opera, and SFO's cast is exceptionally strong. Canadian bass John Relyea, a staple at the Met, is surely one of the greatest Mefistopheles today. He combines a sonorous and smooth basso cantante with a handsome and uncommonly charismatic stage presence - devils don't come more charming than Mr. Relyea! Italian tenor Stefano Secco is known for his bright, clarion tenor with its brilliant upper register. American soprano Patricia Racette is a singing actor through and through. This handsome production comes from the Chicago Lyric. Deftly directed by Jose Maria Condemi, the drama moves along nicely. Mind you, the cutting of the Walpurgisnacht helped to speed up a very long opera. The performance on June 23 was riveting, with Relyea a suavely insinuating Mefisto, singing with resplendent tone. Racette was a passionate and tragic Marguerite. The voice sounded a touch heavy for Marguerite and not so comfortable in the coloratura, occasionally going sharp at the end of a rising phrase. But it's an expressive and beautiful instrument. Combined her vocal qualities with an inherent dramatic instinct, Racette's Marguerite was a winning portrayal. If I were to nitpick, it would be her acting in the Jewel Song which was a little too funny - this Marguerite behaves more like Manon Lescaut! It brought hearty guffaws from the audience. But let's not forget that Marguerite is a tragic figure! As Faust, Stefano Secco wasn't the most dramatically acute performer on stage, but he sang with ardent tone and brilliant high notes, including a poised and truly lovely "Salut! Demeure." As Valentin, Brian Mulligan displayed a pleasant and youthful baritone, singing a good "Avant de quitter ces lieux". Among the supporting characters, mezzos Daniela Mack (Siebel) and Catherine Cook (Marthe) were both standouts. An old hand in this repertoire, conductor Maurizio Benini offered sympathetic support to the singers, drawing torrents of beautiful sounds from the orchestra. I liked Robert Perdziola's set design, especially with the "staircase to heaven" finale. The final performance is on Thursday, July 1.

My third show on this trip was the Puccini horse opera, La fanciulla del West in a production from Teatro Massimo in Palermo. Fanciulla is a diva vehicle pure and simple. Convention has the soprano coming on stage in Act 1 firing a pistol to break up a fight, and with all the miners calling out "Minnie! Hello Minnie!" - talk about an operatic grand entrance! The best exponent of this role for me was Renata Tebaldi, whom I saw at the Met in 1970. Her voice was past its prime, but she exuded such star quality that it was a huge success. Now we have Deborah Voigt's star turn, before she assays it at the Met and Chicago Lyric. It would be less than truthful to say Voigt's voice is in pristine shape - it has changed substantially the past few years. The sound is leaner, less opulent, a little shrill and hard at the top, and the lower register lacking solidity. But there is enough remaining - including a reliable top, coupled with engaging stage persona - to make her portrayal of Minnie an enjoyable experience. She was partnered by Sicilian tenor Salvatore Licitra, who sang with idiomatic Italianate sound. Other than the one phrase in Act 1 when he had to attack a high B which he tightened up and belted out, his Dick Johnson was very well sung. Incidentally, I heartily agree with the decision to omit putting Dick Johnson's name in the surtitles in that little exchange between Minnie and him in Act Two - there was already enough laughter from the laughter-prone audience for one evening. Baritone Roberto Frontali was an idiomatic Jack Rance, seizing the few moments of this role to shine. But the real star of the evening was the orchestra under new SFO music director Nicola Luisotti, who lavished loving care on the score, bringing out impressive, if sometimes overly loud, sounds from the orchestra. Whether one likes this "original spaghetti western" or not, this revival (first since 1979 at SFO!) offers a great opportunity to experience this rare Puccini opera. From my perspective, it makes for an entertaining evening at the theatre. There are two more performances, on June 29 and July 2.

www.sfopera.com

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, 18 June 2010

Beethoven rules at TSO season finale

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

A man two seats away shouted "Bravo Beethoven" into the auditorium. A moment earlier, another man nearby jumped up with his hands in the air, the way Swiss soccer fans did when their team beat Spain in the FIFA World Cup earlier this week.

Victory. Such was the joy generated by Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, the Choral performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with soloists and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

In their final program of the season, music director Peter Oundjian and the TSO are throwing a three-night bash of the mighty Beethoven Ninth, which contains one of the most well-known and beautiful melodies known to mankind.

On the second night (June 17), a handsomely dressed Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was glorious and the four soloists — soprano Marianne Fiset, mezzo-soprano Michele Losier, tenor Frederic Antoun, and baritone Brett Polegato — were enchanting. 
The overall ensemble work between the four was exquisite despite difficulty hearing Losier's voice at times.

Oundjian and his players were ecstatic and outstanding throughout, with timpanist David Kent, who by far has the sexist part of the entire piece, stealing the limelight in the first two movements.

It's hard for the Beethoven's gigantic Ninth not to receive jubilant applause, but the TSO gave it such a riveting interpretation it felt like Christmas.

The symphony was proceeded by the composer's earlier Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19. Toronto pianist Stewart Goodyear's thundering fingers and crisp articulation highlighted the work's humble being among Beethoven's five piano concertos. The playfulness of the showy third movement was matched perfectly between orchestra and piano. Not a step was missed.

Not sure if it was intended, but the Steinway sounded a bit underwhelming as it didn't produce the kind of richness one usually can expect from a modern concert grand. It almost sounded like a fortepiano, but not like a fortepiano.

That being said, when the music is this good, it almost doesn't matter what instrument it's played on.

That's right. Bravo Beethoven.

The TSO's third performance of the Beethoven Ninth takes place on June 19. Show time is 11 p.m., with a post-concert party to follow.


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Luminato Festival: All Days Are Nights:Songs for Lulu

Rufus Wainwright in his one-man show All Days Are Nights/Songs for Lulu (Photo: courtesy of Luminato Festival)








Luminato Festival: All Days Are Nights:Songs for Lulu

June 15, 2010 7:30 p.m. Elgin Theatre

Joseph K. So

A genuinely funny moment happened at the show last night. In the middle of the second half of Rufus Wainwright's one-man show, he turned to the audience and said he's dedicating the next song to the Toronto Star, in which the reviewer "compared my opera to a Loblaws bag as opposed to something you'd buy in Louis Vuitton - obviously he's identified himself as a real label queen." This was obviously a jab at John Terauds' review of his Prima Donna. Love him or hate him - and there were no haters at the Elgin Theatre last evening - you can always count on Rufus Wainwright for a good laugh, as he has "the talent to amuse" as Noel Coward would say.

Although the show didn't start out that way. In fact, a man came out before the start to tell the audience not to applaud until after Wainwright's exit from the stage. The singer then came on in a black number with a long, long long train, a feathered collar but as usual with chest hair artistically exposed. He proceeded to play his new album as a tribute to his mother, the late Kate McGarrigle. There was no interaction with the audience. On the screen was a constantly morphing projection of eyes (sometimes one, other times a cluster) slowly opening and closing. During one particularly sad moment in the lyrics, a tear drop appeared at the corner of one giant eye. To my eyes - no pun intended - they resembled some exotic jungle plants like black venus fly traps ready to pounce, but that's just me... If I was left a little underwhelmed by this strange tribute, I don't think I was alone. The theatre was nearly full, but the applause at the end was tentative.

The second half was a different story. Wainwright became the guy his fans have always loved - sweetly pungent, flamboyant, sexy, willful, adorable, self-centered, and above all consummately entertaining. As with the little quip about the Star and the Loblaws bag, Wainwright wasn't about to take a put down laying down. The songs in the second half were his chestnuts and the audience was suitably ecstatic. It was a generous program. Billed to last 2 hours including one intermission, I think it was closer to two and a half hours. He was in good voice, the instrument remained flexible and responsive to the end. As an encore, he sang a song written by his late mother, and sweetly thanked his fans for being so supportive during the past year. The audience was sent home happy.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Yannick Nézet-Séguin Chosen to Head the Philadelphia Orchestra


If classical music had a more honoured place in our culture, Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s appointment to head the Philadelphia Orchestra would have been front page news in every newspaper in the country. Get a life, people, this is an historic event! Never mind that Canadian conductors have long since gotten used to doors being shut in their faces in their own country. It is by now a cliché to say that Canadians have to go elsewhere to find success. But YNS has not only found success abroad, he has climbed Mt. Everest. Two years ago he was conducting opera with Rolando Villazon at the Salzburg Festival, last year he took on the music directorship of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and principal guest conductorship of the London Philharmonic, then earlier this year he made his debut at the Met conducting Carmen.Now, a scant few months later he is announced as the new leader of the orchestra made famous by Stokowski. Even after Stokowski’s departure, with Eugene Ormandy in charge, Columbia Records routinely billed the Philadelphia Orchestra as “the world’s greatest orchestra” and, as I recall, no one begged to differ.
How is it possible that a 35-year old conductor from Montreal can be selected to lead such an orchestra? And – here’s a dose of reality for you - how can he hope to succeed in an organization that has demonstrated administrative incompetence and financial malpractice more often than sublime music-making in recent years? Yes, the fact is that this once-great orchestra has been self-destructing to the point of threatened bankruptcy. It didn’t help matters that some disgruntled musicians and a malicious and destructive music critic ran off music director Christoph Eschenbach before he had even settled in, leaving an artistic vacuum that drove down audience numbers at warp speed.
There is no doubt that YNS is stepping into a situation in Philadelphia that is challenging to say the least. But now there is an executive director in place with an excellent track record – Allison Vulgamore from Atlanta – and a new board chairman in Richard Worley. There are also reports that the deficit at the end of the current season will be much less than expected. And after nearly four years of deliberating and dithering the orchestra has finally chosen a music director.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is clearly part of the solution to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s problems. Without an exciting conductor to galvanize both the musicians and the audiences, not much can be accomplished. Those of us who have watched YNS in Montreal know that he is an exceptional leader. Under his direction the Orchestre Métropolitain has given one inspired performance after another in concerts and on recordings. Some critics scoffed at the arrogance of such a young man to decide to record all the Bruckner symphonies. But the results have been remarkable. Perhaps not yet in the class of Jochum, Karajan or Wand but well-considered and beautiful in their own right.
Make no mistake about it, YNS is a solidly grounded musician with an enormous talent for understanding the music he conducts and for getting musicians to play well for him. But it is a very different matter to conduct a part-time orchestra in Montreal or even a second-level orchestra in Rotterdam, than to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra. When YNS is not there the Philadelphians will be led by guest conductors of the stature of Simon Rattle and Valery Gergiev. It is well-known that Vladimir Jurowski, principal conductor of the London Philharmonic, was under serious consideration for the Philadelphia post and was the number one choice for many of the musicians. He too will likely be a frequent guest conductor with the orchestra in years to come. YNS may have been chosen for the music director position on the strength of his two appearances with the orchestra, but as he becomes a more frequent presence he will have to show that he truly belongs there and that in such elite company he still stands out for his own artistry and charisma. And let’s not forget that Christoph Eschenbach has re-emerged from his unpleasant experience in Philadelphia in a position of potentially greater influence: this fall he takes up his dual post as music director of the National Symphony and artistic director of the Kennedy Center in Washington. Philadelphia is less than 200 km from Washington and comparisons will undoubtedly be made.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is not only a young man in years. He is a young man who exudes youthful energy. He is a young Leonard Bernstein, or more to the point, he is an East Coast Gustavo Dudamel. Dudamel is very physical in his conducting style and so too is YNS. But it is more than that. It is the physical expression of love of life and music that Dudamel conveys to his young Venezuelan musicians and now also to the hardened professionals of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. YNS has that same persona. That is a huge plus for orchestras looking for ways to make classical music fresh again and to bring younger people into the concert hall. But there is a risk too as the LA Philharmonic recently discovered on its first tour under Dudamel. The flash and exuberance is beginning to wear thin and critics are now wondering if there is anything underneath. YNS will face the same scrutiny in Philadelphia and wherever he appears on tour with the orchestra. Is YNS really a serious musician or is he merely an entertainer or a marketing ploy? We’ll see.
And let’s not underestimate what music critics with an agenda can do to undermine music directors. It has happened time and again. Claudia Cassidy famously destroyed Rafael Kubelik’s tenure with the Chicago Symphony. New York critics beat on Baribrolli when he succeeded Toscanini as music director of the New York Philharmonic to the point where he had to leave, and Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer combined backstage gossip, personal attacks and questionable musical analysis to hasten Eschenbach’s departure from Philadelphia. It was illuminating to see that when Eschenbach took the Philadelphia Orchestra on tour the reviews were often ecstatic. But it is the constant drip drip of negative criticism at home that really counts. Eschenbach deserved better just as Kubelik and Barbirolli did before him. And watch out – Dobrin’s initial reaction to YNS is skepticism: “he has proven mostly to be an extremely charismatic manifestation of adrenaline.” Dobrin also says that he would have preferred Jurowski.
And Verizon Hall? Sad to say, the Philadelphia Orchestra plays in a new hall that is a disaster. The entrance is cavernous and gloomy in the extreme – not a welcoming feeling at all – and the concert hall itself has very poor acoustics. The musicians complained for years about their old hall – the Academy of Music – and it was bad. But Verizon Hall is even worse. The hall is not kind to the various timbres in the orchestra, there is neither warmth nor presence, and bass response is disappointing. What is to be done? At a time when the orchestra is struggling to make ends meet it is unrealistic to think that money can easily be found to fix the problems. But it must be done. It is as necessary as finding a new executive director or a music director. Avery Fisher Hall has been improved – several times, in fact – and Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto was greatly improved after years of suffering and denial. And Place des Arts? Even in the OSM’s golden years under Dutoit – at least on recordings - nothing could be done. A generation went by before the OSM’s board found the backbone to do what had been needed for years; either improve Place des Arts or build a new hall. I have no doubt that this will be a priority item on YNS’s agenda in Philadelphia. He has always been a man who knew what he wanted and got it done ASAP.
P.S.
As we celebrate Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s appointment in Philadelphia let’s not forget that two other Canadian conductors are making international careers: Jacques Lacombe has just been appointed to succeed Neeme Järvi as head of the New Jersey Symphony, and Bernard Labadie is in great demand as a guest conductor in the United States.
- Paul E. Robinson

Labels: , ,

Luminato Festival: Prima Donna

Rufus Wainwright at the opening of his Prima Donna (Photo: courtesy of Luminato Festival)

















By Joseph K. So

Wainwright/Colomine: Prima Donna
Regine St. Laurent /Janis Kelly, soprano
Marie / Charlotte Ellett, soprano
Andre / Colin Ainsworth, tenor
Philippe / Gregory Dahl, baritone
Francois /Joe Bucci
Sophie /Miranda Calderon
Tim Albery, Stage Director
Robert Houssart, Conductor
Antony McDonald, Designer
Thomas Hase, Lighting
William Reynolds, Projection

The much anticipated North American premiere of Rufus Wainwright's opera, Prima Donna, had its opening last evening at the Elgin Theatre in downtown Toronto. The glitterati were out in force and and there was the obligatory red carpet photo op in the beginning and a post-performance bash for the invited guests. This work has an interesting history. It was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, but Wainwright and the Met parted company when the composer insisted it be sung in French while Met head honcho Peter Gelb wanted it in English. The work had its premiere in July 2009 at the Manchester International Festival in the UK with a subsequence performance in London. This run of four performances is the first time on this side of the pond. As a regular attendee at the opera, I have to say I recognized fewer people than usual in the audience last evening. I spotted COC General Director Alexander Neef and his wife Eloise, a (very) few opera die-hards, and of course fellow journalists. No, it was not your typical opera crowd dominated by a sea of grey hair - the audience was (mostly) young(er) and hip. They were probably attracted to the event more for Rufus Wainwright than any love of opera they might have.

The production comes from the Manchester International Festival. The sumptuous set, that of a drawing room in a Parisian apartment, is designed by Antony McDonald. The opening scene has the scrim down and the main character, Regine the opera diva, can be seen through the apartment window from the outside. This is reminiscent of a photo taken of Maria Callas in the 1970s gazing out of her window from her apartment at 32 Ave. Georges Mendel in Paris. Perhaps this was what Wainwright and director Tim Albery had in mind. The opera revolves around Regine Saint Laurent the opera diva who abruptly left the stage six years earlier, living in a Paris apartment. Andre Letourneur the journalist who also happens to be a tenor (!) persuades Regine to come out of retirement to sing Alienor d'Aquitaine, an opera written for her. She finds herself falling in love with Andre. Act One ends with a kiss and embrace. Act Two shows Regine vocalizing and preparing to return to the stage, realizing that she cannot go through with this as her confidence is gone. Andre reappears with his finance, Sophie - I wonder if Wainwright was thinking of Der Rosenkavalier at this point! (This little scene also recalls Act Three of Madama Butterfly) Regine is devastated. As Paris is celebrating Bastille Day, Regine hears the revelers on the streets and steps out to the window ledge as the house light goes out. Does she jump? It's left to the audience's imagination.

Opera as a genre is known for the twists and turns of the libretto, often to a fault. As an opera, Prima Donna does not really have enough of a dramatic skeleton on which to hang its action and its music. Why did Regine leave the stage in the first place? Did she lose her voice? Her confidence? No, it turned out that she was jilted by her tenor. For a worldly woman like Regine, this appears to be a rather flimsy reason for wanting to end a career! Why does Philippe the butler turn against her in Act Two, when Regine realizes she cannot go through with her comeback? The relationship of Regine and Philippe is not fully explained. Is he a former lover? Is he a sort of Svengali character in her life - shades of Sunset Boulevard? Actually I find the main characters in Prima Donna surprisingly under-developed. The music, and to a certain extent the drama, in Act One I find under-energized. Together with the stage direction, it takes on a sick room atmosphere - perhaps deliberately so. It sort of drifts along without sufficient dramatic development needed to give the piece propulsion. There is more action in Act Two, but again there are dramatic holes. Musically the piece demonstrates the prowess of Wainwright as a composer of melodies. There are quite a number of inspired tunes, something that doesn't happen very often in contemporary opera. The problem is in the rest of the music, especially in the orchestration, which is often awkward, bumpy and jarring, the instruments often failing to blend. The orchestra under conductor Robert Houssart sounded rough and angular, perhaps more a result of the score than subpar playing or under-rehearsing. I think Wainwright's intentions are good, but his technical execution of something as grand as an opera leaves something to be desired. The production itself is slick and sophisticated, with good lighting and projections. The one exception is the opening projection of some constantly falling objects - leaves? rain drops? - looking more like a technical glitch. Also the surtitles, instead of using projections, were shown on small video monitors. I was in the very last row of the orchestra and had trouble reading the text.

It is often lamented that contemporary operas aren't very singable. I would say it is not true with Prima Donna. Yes, the vocal lines are often challenging, but the singers generally coped well. Scottish soprano Janis Kelly's role as Regine is long and arduous, and there were moments when her voice turned strident or tremulous. She regrouped and sang an affecting final scene. Earlier on, a passage where she was required to trill unfortunately exposed the weakness in her voice, but overall it was an honorable performance. Tenor Colin Ainsworth sang the journalist Andre, a rather one dimensional character. Ainsworth has the the right vocal timbre for the French language and he generally sang well, only struggling when the tessitura rose too high. Baritone Gregory Dahl was impressive both vocally and dramatically as the butler Philippe, his outburst in Act Two a real scene-stealer. Too bad his character is also one-dimensional. Scottish coloratura Charlotte Ellett as the maid Marie showed off a secure top and generally nice tone. But perhaps it was opening night jitters, she suffered from a bad case of tremolo at the beginning of her aria that opened Act Two. She recovered to finish nicely, receiving the first spontaneous applause from the audience. Her diction was also the worst of the principals - anything remotely high, the words were lost.

Operatic history is full of cases where composers revise their original creations - it is often hard to say when the process of creativity of a particular piece ends. To my eyes and ears, Prima Donna remains a work in progress. There are some very lovely moments which will remain in memory, but the piece needs tightening and further development in the drama, and in particular a reworking of the orchestration if it's going to withstand the test of time as an opera. At its present form, it is a pleasant piece of musical theatre, not opera. With revisions, it has the potential to be much more.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, 13 June 2010

This Week in Toronto (June 14 - 20)

Janis Kelly in Prima Donna (Photo: Antony Crook)















Toronto's Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity is in full flight this week, with a plethora of activities throughout the downtown core. There are several top attractions for classical music lovers. (If you missed Dark Star Requiem on the Opening Weekend, you can catch it on CBC2 on December 1, in conjunction with World AIDS Day) At the top of the list this week is Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna. It stars Scottish soprano Janis Kelly in the central role of Regine Saint Laurent. St on Bastille Day, 1970, St. Laurent, an opera singer, is contemplating a comeback after 6 years. This is obviously inspired by the life of Maria Callas, and recalls (but not based on) Callas Forever, a Zeffirelli film starring Fanny Ardant and Jeremy Irons. The story of Prima Donna is also about her love affair with a journalist, sung by Canadian tenor Colin Ainsworth. Others in the cast include baritone Gregory Dahl and soprano Charlotte Ellett. British stage director and Toronto resident Tim Albery, who directed Goetterdammerung of the COC Ring, is the director of this co-production designed by Antony McDonald. It had its premiere at Sadler's Wells, Manchester International Festival and Luminato. This opera was originally commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, but the two parted company when the Met general manager Peter Gelb balked at the insistence by Wainwright that the opera should be in French. It had its world premiere last July in Manchester, with a subsequent performance in London. This will be its North American premiere. The opening is on Monday, June 14 at the Elgin Theatre, and it is sure to be a glittery event. Additional perforances are If you are a Rufus Wainwright fan, you can catch him in his one-man show, All Days are Nights/A Song for Lulu at the Elgin on June 15 and 17. At the Closing Weekend, there's Beethoven 9th ("Choral") Symphony from the TSO at Roy Thomson Hall. Billed as TSO Goes Late Night, the performance is at 11 pm, lasting approximately 60 minutes with no intermission. After the concert is a party in the lobby with live music, a chance to meet some of the TS musicians who will likely show up! For details and ticket information, go to http://www.luminato.com/2010/

This is a busy week for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the Beethoven 9th at 11 pm on Friday, it is giving a performance on Wednesday at the equally unconventional time of 6:30 pm at the Roy Thomson Hall, followed by a second performance on Thursday at 8 pm. Peter Oundjian leads a quartet of soloists (soprano Marianne Fiset, mezzo Michele Losier, tenor Frederic Antoun, and baritone Brett Polegato). The Thursday performance has the bonus of pianist Stewart Goodyear playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19. On Friday, for a single performance, the TSO presents Ravel's Scheherazade with soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, who is Armenian, like the music director Oundjian. The program also features the music of Khachaturian (including three Armenian songs) and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Go to http://www.tso.ca/Concerts-And-Tickets/Events/2009-2010-Season/Isabel-Bayrakdarian-Scheherazade.aspx for details and ticket information.



Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Luminato Opening Weekend: Dark Star Requiem

Image from Dark Star Requiem













REVIEW: Dark Star Requiem (Staniland & Battson)

by Joseph K. So

Dark Star Requiem (Staniland and Battson)
Presented by Tapestry New Opera Works and the Luminato Festival
Wayne Strongman, music director/conductor
Tom Diamond, director
Beth Kates, design and projections
Ben Chaisson, design and projections
Neema Bickersteth, soprano
Krisztina Szabo, mezzo
Peter McGillivray, baritone
Marcus Nance, bass-baritone
The Elmer Iseler Singers
Gryphon Trio

The Fourth Annual Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity opened this weekend with a multitude of events in many venues across the city of Toronto. I attended the world premiere of Dark Star Requiem, staged by Tapestry New Opera Works in conjunction with the Festival. As Battson and Staniland explain in the program notes, the genesis of this piece began when they met at Tapestry's LibLab five years ago. Together they have created a chamber opera, two electro-acoustic sound projects, an art installation and an art song. Three years ago they decided to create this oratorio dealing with one of the most weighty subjects of contemporary society, that of AIDS tragedy. A sequence of 19 poems charting the history of the disease was incorporated into 14 movements. The musical movements are unified through a haunting melody and driving rhythms.

This is a most daunting subject on which to create a large-scale piece, that of a universal epidemic that resulted in immeasurable human suffering. Staniland and Battson are to be applauded for their efforts. It was obviously a labour of love for everyone involved, led by the four excellent soloists - soprano Neema Bickersteth, mezzo Krisztina Szabo, baritone Peter McGillivray and bass-baritone Marcus Nance. In the 70 minute piece - which went closer to 80 minutes last evening - they sang and acted multiple roles with passion and conviction. Contemporary vocal writing is sometimes not the most grateful for the voice, and on this occasion the singers were occasionally stretched by the demands of the music. But they unflinchingly tackled the difficulties head-on, and the result was impressive. Top vocal honours go to Szabo and McGillivray for having to deal so well with music of either extremely low tessitura or sustained passages at the top of the range. Neema Bickersteth's clear high soprano made a strong impact; and bass-baritone Marcus Nance's mellifluous voice lent the proper gravitas to anchor the quartet.

As mentioned earlier, the work is divided into fourteen "movements" roughly detailing the history of the disease from the very earliest days to present. The score is percussive, dissonant yet lyrical and evocative, greatly enhanced by some very well done lighting and projections. I also liked Tom Diamond's direction very much, using the available staging area with economy of means and uncommon fluidity. Cellist Roman Borys played magnificently and his work basically anchored the ensemble, supported by the rest of the trio and two percussionists. The singers, especially the lower voices, had excellent diction, but that said, the text would have benefited from surtitles. Occasionally, as in the "Black Lion" movement, the words were obscured by the very loud percussions. Conductor Wayne Strongman was most impressive, leading the ensemble with power and nuance. The Elmer Iseler Singers showed once again why it is one of the glories of the Canadian choral scene.

I find myself moved at the end of the evening, when the oratorio concluded with a very powerful and haunting Requiem. I have to say there were moments earlier in the work when it did not touch me as I had expected. Why? I find that often in the case of contemporary compositions of a weighty subject, sometimes the complicated intellectual discourse would take over, and the approach becomes rather didactic. There were moments, like in the "Theory" movement, that I felt I was in a history class. "Cuba Libre" with its rather forced humour revolving around the cocktail of medications didn't really work for me, although it did give an opportunity for Szabo and McGillivray to show off their comic flair. But the work has its greatest power and impact when the focus is on the personal, on their emotional response by the individual character to this tragedy. These quibbles aside, I am glad I saw it. CBC-2 taped the performance for broadcast on World AIDS Day on December 1, but I feel this work with its excellent production needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. There is a second performance this evening (Saturday June 12) at 8 pm in Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music. For anyone who cares about this 20th century tragedy, it should not be missed.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, 11 June 2010

FTA : clôture


FTA : clôture

Voici la clôture du Festival Trans-Amériques… Deux évènements  méritent toute fois encore votre attention ! Il s’agit, côté danse, du spectacle  Miroku, du Japonais Saburo Teshigawara,  présenté au Théâtre-Maisonneuve les 11 et 12 juin, à 20 h. Côté théâtre, les courtes trois lectures d’Amour, colère et folie, vous inciteront à participer à Une journée pour Haïti.

Miroku

Le joli  titre du spectacle, Miroku, est le nom du futur Bouddha, celui qui viendra lorsque le monde sera harmonie. Pour Teshigawara, le mouvement jaillit comme le trait pur d’une calligraphie, il exige  un abandon et une présence de tous les instants. Miroku marque le retour à Montréal de Teshigawara après une absence longue de 10 ans. Je vous invite à consulter la critique du spectacle qu’a publié Fabienne Cabado dans l’hebdomadaire Voir.

Le spectacle est présenté  les 11 et 12 juin au théâtre Maisonneuve.


Une journée pour Haïti

Samedi, en point d’orgue à ces 17 jours de propositions artistiques, le festival propose la lecture-solidaritéUne journée pour Haïti.

Cinq mois jour pour jour après le terrible séisme qui a frappé le pays tout entier, le Festival Trans-Amériques nous invite à écouter à l’usine C la mise en lecture d’Amour, colère et folie, de l’écrivaine haïtienne Marie Vieux- Chauvet.  Le célèbre roman, publié en 1968, suscita la colère du despote alors au pouvoir en  Haïti, François Duvalier. Le dramaturge José Pliya a tiré de cette puissante trilogie (Amour, colère et folie sont trois romans réunis sous une même bannière) trois monologues mettant en présence trois figures féminines entières et résolues en dépit de l’injustice.

Toutes les sommes recueillies lors de cette journée, incluant les frais de service du réseau Admission, seront versées au Centre d’étude et de coopération internationale (CECI). Tous les artistes associés à ce projet offrent leur collaboration à titre gracieux.

Avec Une journée pour Haïti , le FTA conjugue avec succès foi et excellence. Martin Faucher, Brigitte Haentjens et Denis Marleau mettront en lecture les trois monologues de  l’adaptation théâtrale de José Pliya. La comédienne et ancienne ministre de la culture Magali Comeau-Denis est venue expressément de Port-au-Prince pour incarner, dans Amour, Claire sous la direction de Brigitte Haentjens la directrice de la compagnie Sybillines.  Denis Marleau dirigera, au grand plaisir des amis de la compagnie UBU Christiane Pasquier. Au regard de la fructueuse collaboration artistique qui est la leur depuis plusieurs années, la lecture de Colère est apriorité prometteuse. Le metteur en scène Martin Faucher – qui est aussi conseiller artistique auprès du FTA depuis 2007 - rencontre pour sa part l’impressionnante Pol Pelletier.

L’événement Une journée pour Haïti se déroule à l’Usine C samedi 12 juin, dès 14 h. À noter : La comédienne Magali Comeau Denis, Mélanie Demers, chorégraphe et directrice artistique de Mayday, et l’écrivain et éditeur Rodney Saint-Éloi, participeront à 18h00 à une table ronde ayant pour titre : « La situation des artistes et des arts en  Haïti aujourd’hui et leur rôle dans la reconstruction du pays. Et nous, ici, que pouvons-nous faire ? »

Pour plus de précision sur l’horaire ou le déroulement de la journée : www.fta.qc.ca.

- Nathalie de Han

Labels: , ,

TSO and YUNDI: Right Ingredients, but not Exceptional

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Aside from the fact that one is Chinese and the other Polish, pianist YUNDI bears an uncanny likeness to the composer that made him famous — the longish hair, the effeminateness, and the pale, sad-eyed look.

And maybe because he was the first pianist in 15 years to be awarded first prize at the 2000 International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition, YUNDI has emerged as a kind of prince of Chopin; he would dazzle us with virtuosic techniques and romantic melodies.

Playing Chopin's 
E-minor Piano Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Thursday night, the 27-year-old pianist did just that. That being said, while YUNDI is a thinking pianist whose quality of playing often outweighs what he actually plays, something was missing from this performance.

He sounded tired, the orchestra followed along obediently, the piece came across fragmented, and the piano was barely audible at times. Despite some really nice moments here and there (in the second and third movements), it was a bit like watching a top chef throwing all the right ingredients into the pot and not produce a kick-ass dish.

Still, the audience showered the star pianist with standing ovation and cheers, and he returned to the stage with Chopin's 
Nocturne In E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2. Here, YUNDI delivered pure poetry that is second to none.

The second half of the program featured the long and abstract 
Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Bruckner.

After Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin backed out of the performance due to "exceptionally heavy schedule in recent weeks, compounded by scheduling changes," Jean-Marie Zeitouni, also Canadian, took over the podium to conduct this hard-sell piece of work.

Bruckner's last and unfinished symphony is a dark, agonizing, stop-and-start piece made up of an orgy of musical motifs that are, for the most part, tonally ambiguous. Even though a string of audiences were seen leaving the auditorium throughout the performance (presumably to line up for an autograph with YUNDI), Zeitouni and the TSO gave a careful reading of the score. The sound was rich, meaty, and full of colours, especially from the winds.

Kudos to principal timpanist David Kent, whose precise strokes gave the performance its soul.

The program repeats at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday, June 12.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Montreal Fringe Fest Starts Today!


Montreal

June 10 – 20

The St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary this summer. Founded by Kris Kieran and Nick Morra, the festival fell into Jeremy Hechtman’s hands in 1996 and has since become one of the Plateau-Mile-End’s largest cultural events. 

This year, the festival has expanded to 20 days and divided itself into three series. Starting June 1st, the Fringe After Dark Series will present a concert, special event or activity every evening, including a slow-dance night and a strip spelling-bee. 

By June 10th, the Fringe Park Series, at Parc-des-Amériques (corner of Rachel and St-Laurent), will host a plethora of outdoor activities including a circus workshop with Cirque du Soleil and a Piknic Électronik dance party on Astroturf. 

Finally, the Fringe itself runs from June 10th to the 20th and has many exciting performances lined up. French and English companies mix with each other and equally share the stage, something distinct to Montreal.

This year, watch out for:

» Transplante-moi un coeur, mon amour, by Les Garçonnes. Four female narrators give four different accounts of the story of a young girl who is incapable of accepting the mundane side of life. Presented in French.
 
» How Coyote Was Swallowed by the Sandia Mountains, by Anna Roth Trowbridge. This  case study of family dynamics affected by mental disorder promises to be a meta-theatrical gem. Leo, suffering from untreated bipolar disorder, commits suicide. His sister Scilla attempts to decipher the reason by writing him into a play. Along the way, haunted deserts meet mythical imagery and comedy meets insanity. Presented in English
 

Espace 4001 Space at 4001 Rue Berri
 
Saturday, June 12 at 5:15 PM
Sunday, June 13 at 8:15 PM
Wednesday, June 16 at 10:00 PM
Thursday, June 17 at 8:15 PM
Saturday, June 19 at 5:15 PM
Sunday, June 20 at 9:30 PM

Admission is $10 at the door, or $8 for ages 25 and under (with valid ID). Advance tickets are also available by telephone at 514.849.FEST or www.montrealfringe.ca. Fringe Passes are also available.

- Jessica Hill, Crystal Chan

Labels: , , ,

Monday, 7 June 2010

Sinfonia Toronto closes season with last-minute cello sensation


By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Canadian cellist Shauna Rolston isn't easily replaceable. But when Soo Bae, another Canadian cellist, took her place at Toronto's Glenn Gould Studio on May 14, the only cellist that mattered was the one featured on centre stage.

Rolston was to give the world premiere of Canadian composer Heather Schmidt's Cello Concerto and perform Tchaikovsky's Nocturne for Cello and Strings. However, she couldn't make it last minute due to personal reasons. 

In a revised program of Sinfonia Toronto's final concert of the season, Bae, 33, charmed the audience with loads of wits and personality in Boccherini's Sonata No. 6 (adagio and allegro only) and David Popper's Hungarian Rhapsody, the latter which she recorded for her self-released CD Bonjour, named after the Stradivarious Bonjour cello she won a three-year loan for from the Canada Council for the Arts in 2006.

Bae kept Canadian composer Chan Ka Nin's Soulmate for Cello and Strings on the program. Taken from the composer's Poetry on Ice, which he wrote for the Guelph Spring Festival in 1995, Soulmate describes the soulful connection between two figure skaters. It was transcribed by the composer for solo cello for Rolston, who later asked him to revise the piece for cello and string orchestra.
 
Even though Bae had just learned the notes on short notice, she delivered passion and grace with utmost precision and absolute confidence in this moving and intimate piece. In fact, she was ecstatic. This is a gutsy and fearless communicator who was born to do what she does best - play the cello.
Sinfonia Toronto under the direction of founder and conductor Nurhan Arman opened the program with Puccini's Crisantemi, originally scored for a string quartet, and closed it with Arman's own arrangement of Brahms's Sextet in G major, Op. 36. Arman brought out an eclectic range of colours and dynamics from this spirited group of largely young musicians. Some of the most beautiful sounds on this occasion came from principal cellist Andras Weber and principal violist Anthony Rapoport.
What a way to close the season.


> sinfoniatoronto.com

Labels: ,

Sunday, 6 June 2010

This Week in Toronto (June 7 - 13)

Photo: Chinese pianist Yundi, aka Yundi Li













Music lovers in Toronto have the great good fortune of hearing two internationally ranked pianists with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra "back to back." Argentinean Ingrid Fliter was in town for Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 last week, and this coming week we have Chinese pianist Yundi Li - now officially re-branded as Yundi - playing Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1. Their presence in Toronto so closer together is particularly meaningful - some of us will remember that these two artists took the top two places in the 2000 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. Yundi Li received the Gold Medal, an honour not given out to any competitor for many years until his win. Fliter came second. By a twist of fate, both Yundi Li and Ingrid Fliter are now on the roster of EMI Classics. Yundi Li ended his relationship with Deutsche Grammophon (home to two other Chinese pianists Lang Lang and Yuja Wang) for reasons much speculated but not confirmed. He has since signed with EMI.

It would be very interesting to have an (almost) direct comparison of these two pianists in Chopin. That said, I personally would have preferred other, more showy Chopin pieces than the two piano concertos. I attended the Fliter concert last Saturday at Roy Thomson. She played with flair, energy, accuracy, assurance, generally pleasing tone, and she was rewarded with an extremely warm reception from the nearly packed house. Despite her fine work, her Chopin played second fiddle - pardon the mixed metaphors - to the monumental Mahler Symphony No. 1, played in near-spectacular fashion by the TS forces under the baton of Peter Oundjian. This week, we'll get to see what Yundi Li can do with Piano Concerto No. 1, which while romantic is more rooted in the classical tradition and as a result more restrictive and harder to really show off the stunning technique and musicality that Yundi Li possesses in spades. The Chopin is paired with Bruckner Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Originally to be conducted by Quebec wunderkind Yannick Nezet-Seguin, he has asked to be released because of his heavy schedule, a truly unfortunate state of affairs as the choice of this heavy-duty Bruckner was his idea. Now it falls on the shoulder of Quebec conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni. I heard him as the conductor at the Montreal Piano Competition two years ago, as well as in a couple of opera performances. It would be interesting to see what he can do with this most daunting of symphonic works. Performances are on June 10 and 12, 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall. For details and tickets, go to http://www.tso.ca/Concerts-And-Tickets/Events/2009-2010-Season/Yundi-plays-Chopin.aspx

The other big news this week is the start of the Luminato Festival, also called Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity. Now in its fourth year, Luminato is a 10-day festival of theatre, dance, classical/contemporary music, film, literature, visual arts and design. The shows, many of them free, are of cutting edge quality. For vocal fans, this year is immensely interesting, with the North American premiere of Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna, which had its world premiere in Manchester, UK last July. That show debuts June 14 and I will have more to say when the time comes. For this week, we have free screenings of three documentaries revolving around Wainwright on Sunday June 13 beginning at 5 pm - All I Want: A Portrait of Rufus Wainwright; Rufus Wainwright Prima Donna; and Rufus!Rufus!Rufus!Does Judy!Judy!Judy! The screenings are at the Toronto Mediatheque at 150 John Street. Since these are free events, be sure to arrive plenty early to ensure a seat!

Also intriguing is the world premiere of Dark Star Requiem, presented by Tapestry New Opera Works, a Toronto company focusing on cutting edge new vocal creations. According to its press material, this is a dramatic oratorio by poet Jill Battson and composer Andrew Staniland, tracing the 25 year history of AIDS from its origins to the present day. This is commissioned by Luminato and co-produced with Tapestry, featuring four soloists and the Elmer Iseler Singers and the Gryphon Trio. Performances on June 11 and 12 at RCM's Koerner Hall. For more information about this and other shows at Luminato, go to http://www.luminato.com/2010/


Labels: , , , , ,

Mahler Resurrection a Dallas Symphony Specialty!


I try to get to Dallas as often as I can to bask in the glory of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, one of the world’s great concert halls. After listening to concerts in other venues, it is always a shock to experience the Meyerson. To hear every instrument in the orchestra as it was meant to be heard, and to hear the perfectly blended sound of a fine orchestra, with a presence that is palpable, is satisfaction beyond words. Simply put, as the saying goes: “You had to be there!”
Of course, the Meyerson is simply a space, albeit a very carefully designed space, and like a Strad or any other fine instrument, makes no sound by itself. One needs musicians, and a gifted leader who can make things happen.
By now we know that Jaap van Zweden is an exceptional leader able to take full advantage of a stage peopled by excellent instrumentalists and singers, and of the hall itself. From the opening bars, one knew that this was going to be a typical van Zweden performance - intense and exciting, but absolutely rooted in the composer’s instructions.
Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) has been important in the life of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) for a long time; for example, when the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall in the Meyerson Symphony Center opened in 1989, music director Eduardo Mata began his tenure with this inspiring piece; in 2006, music director Andrew Litton ended his tenure with it; four years later, in May, 2010, Jaap van Zweden celebrated both the end of his second season as music director of the DSO and the end of the orchestra’s 20th season in the Meyerson with the Mahler Second.
This Mahler Shook the Rafters and Touched the Soul!
All the previous performances were apparently memorable; the latest, under van Zweden, was arguably as good as it gets. To cite just one moment in the Mahler Second performance, when the organ joins the orchestra and chorus towards the end of the last movement: you don’t just hear it – you feel it through your whole body.
The piece opens with the violins and violas playing a tremolo with the dynamic marking fortissimo. Then, in the second bar, cellos and basses play a sixteenth-note figure marked triple forte, and – perhaps for the first time in symphonic music – the German marking "wild", meaning in English “wild” or “violent”.
In this first movement, Mahler is depicting the dark side of life, the struggle of man against natural and human forces, and against oneself. It is the struggle to achieve something worthwhile and to make something of oneself. More specifically it is a struggle for faith in God. For Mahler, this was a very real struggle in his own life and his faith was utterly destroyed many times.
The Mahler Second begins in turmoil and angst, but ends in joy and affirmation of belief in life everlasting. Or was this affirmation simply wishful thinking for Mahler? His personal struggle with faith went on for years and found expression in every piece of music that he wrote. Sadly perhaps, there is neither joy nor affirmation in the final bars of Symphony No. 9 - his last completed symphony.
The conductor’s challenge in the opening bars of the Mahler Second is to not only to play what the composer has written, but also to give it the life and death intensity that defines the essence of Mahler. This is not accomplished by getting the strings to play “loud.” Mahler very carefully calibrated all the dynamic markings and a conductor who ignores the nuances will not come close to realizing the meaning of entire phrases, passages and movements. Van Zweden and the members of the enlarged (for this performance) DSO had clearly rehearsed painstakingly, to accomplish a performance so detailed, accurate and engrossing.
Chorus, Soloists, Orchestra Magnificent Match!
Soloists for the Resurrection were soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, who recently triumphed in the Met production of John Adams’ opera Dr. Atomic, and was seen by millions in the Met HD Live broadcast.
In the Urlicht movement, van Zweden achieved a remarkable blend of vocal and instrumental sound. The brass players breathed as one in their quiet, slow-moving passages, and perfectly matched Ms. Cooke’s phrasing. Even though the soloists were positioned toward the back of the orchestra, Ms. Cooke’s voice came through with both intensity and clarity. The soprano part is much less prominent in this work, and Heidi Grant Murphy did not seem to be at her best.
The Dallas Symphony Chorus (DSC) is one of the finest ensembles of its kind anywhere and it certainly distinguished itself in this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. Longtime DSC director, David R. Davidson, passed away last year, and he deserves great credit for bringing the choir to its present level. Indicative of the seriousness with which these choir members take their responsibilities, is the fact that they sang this performance without scores.
Hellos, Goodbyes, and Forever Malher

With this concert, the DSO introduced Edward Stephan, its new timpanist. It was an auspicious debut, to say the least. His very first timpani roll, four bars before letter 2 in the score, was absolutely thrilling and his strong and multi-faceted playing will be a great asset. Incidentally, Mr. Stephan is no stranger to the Dallas area; he has been playing for some years just down the road, so to speak, with the Fort Worth Symphony. Nonetheless, he had no inside track to get the job. He auditioned and prevailed over dozens of other candidates.
On a somewhat sad note, concertmaster Emanuel Borok recently announced his retirement effective in August, making this Mahler Second his last subscription concert. As usual, he was superb in his solos and his leadership will be greatly missed.

More Mahler to come from van Zweden in Dallas. One of the highlights of the DSO’s 2010-2011 season will be Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. Also programmed: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, both conducted by van Zweden.


Photo by Marita



Labels: , , , , ,