La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Nagano leads MSO in Thrilling Die Walkure Act I

By Wah Keung Chan



To close the Montreal Symphony’s 2014-15 season, maestro Kent Nagano led the orchestra in a thrilling performance of Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre. From the opening phrases of the prelude, the Friday night concert felt special and I was only mildly disappointed. At the beginning of Die Walküre, the hero Siegmund is in flight from danger, and Wagner’s repetitive heart thumping strains put us right in the midst of the action, and Nagano took it at its necessary frenetic pace. The orchestra played with round tone and a tightness of ensemble.

When German tenor Torsten Kerl entered the stage (recreating Siegmund’s entrance to Hunding’s home), he at once displayed the timbre of the Heldentenor role, bright with German bite. Throughout, Kerl sang with the required Wagnerian phrasing and feeling, though the limitations of his technique revealed itself in the climaxes and fortissimos at the end when he was drown out by the orchestra. American soprano Heidi Melton fared better. Her voice was one size bigger than Kerl’s and she used it with feeling. However, on this night, her high notes were spread and unfocused, making a recovery at the end with her proclamation of “Siegmund, Siegmund.” If she could connect to her breath, her legato would become world class. The same problem could be said of Finnish bass Petri Lindroos in the role of Hunding. Lindroos was sufficiently menacing as the overbearing possessive husband reminiscent of the Hans Hotter recordings, but also with Hotter’s same nagging quick vibrato barking style.

The night belonged to Nagano, cementing his reputation as an opera conductor. His tempos were quick when necessary and tender in slower moments, capturing Wagner’s drama from the conversational first half to the more cantabile second part. I only wished he took the tenor’s aria “Wintersturme” slower. The orchestra followed perfectly with excellent individual solos and sectionals. A spontaneous applause greeted the conclusion, and Nagano rewarded the audience with a spirited encore of the Ride of the Valkyries.

The other disappointment: the sound from my seat in the middle of the Mezzanine seemed muted, and few in section stood compared to the rest of the hall. The Friday night hall was not entirely full, suggesting tickets are still be available for the final performance on Saturday, May 30, 2015. Highly recommended.

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