Sunday, June 25, 2017

Princeton Festival Chamber Concert with Baroque Orchestra. June 24, 2017.

Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary.  General Admission ($30.)

Beatus Vir, SV 268 by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).
Kyrie, RV 587 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).
Miserere, ZWV 57 by Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745).
Chanos Anthem no. 11a, “Let God Arise,” HWV 256a by Handel (1685-1759).

Michael Duryea, Maria Hagan, Kyle Hanson, Shohei Kobayashi, Simon Shiao.

During the Festival a group of conductors (mostly but not all young) attended master classes conducted by Jan Harrington, retired Chair of the Choral Conducting Department at the Indiana University.  This concert is the result of their hard (I assume) work for the last several weeks.

A couple of the pieces were conducted by a single conductor, and the other by a combination of them, sometimes with a switch after a short movement (e.g., Miserere.)

I had time the day prior to listen to all the pieces on YouTube, and managed to find scores for three of them (couldn’t find Vivaldi’s Kyrie.)  The music, with solo, choral, and orchestral parts, looked quite a bit more complicated.

Instead of getting bored, or only using my “left brain” to listen, I found today’s concert generally more captivating. Perhaps the addition of lyrics helped a lot.  Although I do not know Latin, and had some trouble getting the words in the Handel piece, I had some idea what the pieces were about.  Beatus Vir was based on Psalm 112 which begins with “Blessed is the man;” Kyrie has three simple phrases: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison,” meaning Lord and Christ have mercy, yes one phrase is repeated; Miserere is based on the Psalm of repentance by David (Psalm 51), and Handel’s lyrics are from Psalm 68 and 76.

Here are some details:

Monteverdi.  He also lived in Venice, and preceded Vivaldi by 100 years.

Vivaldi.  Three segments are Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, and Kyrie eleison.

Miserere.  Zelenka was more Bohemian in style (per our friend David).  Today’s piece consists of: Miserere I, Miserere II, Gloria Patri I, Gloria Patri II, and Miserere III.  M I and M III are very similar (M III appears to be an abbreviated I), yet they sounded very different with two different conductors.  M I was serene, M III was agitated. I don’t know how Zelenka intended it, but I am sure M III hews more to the taste of today’s listener.

Handel.  This is the longest of the four, and the movements are Symphony, Let God Arise, Like as the Smoke, Let the Righteous be Glad, O Sing unto God, Praised be the Lord, At the Rebuke O God, and Blessed be God.  I thought there was a part that sounded very much like Messiah, Chung Shu also pointed out it sounded like one of his coronation anthems.

There were on occasion some voice ensembles, some involved the soloists we heard earlier (Johnson and Bello).  Our seats were in the first occupied row, so everything sounded loud and clear, and I got to observe how critical technique was in their delivery.

At the end of the concert.  Eventually other conductors and soloists would join these people in the front.

Many of the conductors also sang in the chorus, which also included Richard Tang Yuk, the Artistic Director of the Festival.  One string player played the viola da gamba, the viola, and the violin.  (A search of the web identifies her as Stephanie Raby.)

Indeed Chung Shu and Shirley decided to join us, so we carpooled out together.  The six of us stopped by the reception (can’t turn down free food) and had a simple dinner at Mamoun’s before we went our separate ways.  During the reception I really wanted to ask one of the string players why their instruments go out of tune so easily, but couldn’t find anyone standing there alone.  Anne told me many of them had changed out of their black clothes; so they were around.

The group dates back to the 1970s, when were were students at Cornell (Anne and I were undergrads, the others were graduate students.)

We left some food on our boat yesterday, so had to stop by to dispose of it – otherwise it would really reek given the hot weather we expect to get.  So it was about 10:30 pm that we got home.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra. June 21, 2017.

Miller Chapel, Princeton University.  General Admission ($35.)

Concerto di Viole (Concerto Grosso) in D major by Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682).
Concerto Grosso in B minor, HWV 330 by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Da Tempeste from Giulio Cesare, HWV 17 by Handel.
Oboe and Violin Concerto in C minor, BWV 1060 by John Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
“Concerto Polonois” in G major, TWV 43:G7 by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767).
Symphony, Op. 5, No. 6 in G minor by Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783).

Our friends Vivien and David, who recently returned from a 10-day Bach Festival in Leipzig, decided to attend this concert also.  We had an early dinner at Triumph Brewing Company, which is right next to the Panera Bread on Nassau that we frequent.  It was good to catch up with these friends from our college days.

Today was the first time I visited Princeton Theological Seminary.  I have seen a few seminaries before, and I must say this is impressive.  The new library houses over 1 million books.  The concert took place at the Seminary’s chapel.  Around 150 people attended,

I took some time before the concert to go over several pieces that I could locate on YouTube.  That affirmed my theory that these compositions are probably interesting pieces to analyze, but not necessary emotionally appealing.  Requiring more of the left brain than the right, so to speak.

Members of the Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra at the conclusion of the concert, inside Miller Chapel.

Here are more details:

Stradella.  Reynaldo Patifo, violin; Chiar Stauffer, violin; Anna Steinhoff, cello; Arash Noori, theorbo.  Several musicians played from the balcony.  There was a viola da Gamba in the ensemble.

Handel Concerto Grosso. The movements are Largo; Allegro; Aria; Largo; and Allegro.  Maria Romero violin; Alice Culin-Ellison, violin; Anna Steinhoff, cello.

Handel’s Giulio Cesare aria Da Tempeste.  Paloma Friedhoff Bello, soprano.  Her singing was enjoyable.  We saw the opera a while back, but I couldn’t quite place the song in the broader context.

Bach.  The movements are Allegro; Adagio; and Allegro.  Caroline Giassi, oboe; Juan Carlos Zamudio, violin.  Interestingly the original composition was lost, and this was reconstructed from a two-harpsichord transcription done by Bach himself.

Telemann.  The movements are Dolce, Allegro, and Allegro.  Scores I saw from the web has an extra movement “Largo” stuck between the two Allegros.  It was short, but was clearly there.

Hasse.  The movements are Allegro, Andante, and Allegro.

The scores that I looked over before the concert all had minimal parts.  Does interpretation of baroque music include a liberal use of (say) the oboe other than basso continuo?  There was a piece with two recorder players.

The instruments, especially the violins, seemed to go out of tune easily.  That may explain why the intonation often sounded off.  Wonder if there are inherent reasons why this is so, or simply that strings were wound improperly on the pegs?

Concert ended at around 8:45 pm.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Princeton Festival Musical Man of La Mancha. June 17, 2017.

Matthews Acting Studio at Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University.  General Admission ($45.)

Production and Cast
Michael Dean Morgan, director; Louis F. Goldberg – music director; Cervantes/Don Quioxte – Jess Malgieri, Sancho Panza - Jordan Bunshaft, Aldonza – Sandra Marante, Governor/Innkeeper – Patrick James, Duke/Carrasco – Kyle Guglielmo, Antonia/Fermina/Gypsy Dancer – Joanna Connolly, Maria, Innkeeper’s wife – Kristin Titus, Padre/Paco, a Muleteer – Pierre Le Grange.

Musical Numbers
Overture – Orchestra; Man of La Mancha – Don Quixote & Sancho; It’s All the Same – Aldonza; Dulcinea – Don Quixote; I’m Only Thinking of Him – Antonia, Padre, Housekeeper & Dr. Carrasco; I Really Like Him – Sancho; What Does He Want of Me? – Aldonza; Little Bird, Little Bird – Muleteers; Barber’s Song – Barber; Golden Helmet of Mambrino – Don Quixote, Sancho & Barber; To Each His Dulcinea – Padre; The Impossible Dream – Don Quixote; Knight of the Woeful Countenance – Innkeeper, Aldonza & Sancho; Aldonza – Aldonza; A Little Gossip – Sancho; Dulcinea (reprise) – Aldonza; The Impossible Dream (reprise) – Aldonza & Don Quixote; Man of La Mancha (reprise) – Don Quixote, Aldonza & Sancho; Finale Ultimo – Company.

The Baroque Chamber Concert, subject of the last blog, concluded at around 5 pm.  Our plan was to visit the sculpture garden in Hamilton, and then come back to Princeton for the musical. Our plans were quite loose as we considered the musical an option that we wouldn’t fret about missing.

When we reached the sculpture garden at about 5:30 pm, it was pouring, making an outdoor activity quite impossible.  We headed first to the Quakerbridge Mall, and eventually decided to go to iHOP to have a simple dinner.  When we got to the Lewis Center it was about 7:20 pm.  People were already lining up outside the theatre entrance as it was open seating, and the ticketing people (same we saw earlier today, per Anne) told us there were 3 tickets left.  So that settled it.

The Festival Book lists 11 performances of this musical, which is quite impressive, even considering the small theater seats about 150 people.  For tonight’s performance it was filled to capacity.

We saw the Broadway version of this many many years ago.  The first thing I noticed was I didn’t find the story so confusing.  Anne thought the whole thing was a dream or recollection by Cervantes while he was in prison waiting to be called by the Inquisitors; I think it is a bit more complicated than that.  Of course having some actors playing multiple roles only added to my confusion.

Even with the overall setting lost to me, I still found the individual scenes quite compelling.  Worth particular mention was how Cervantes’s love Aldonza eventually saw herself as Dulcinea, the idealized version envisioned by Cervantes.

The singing was uniformly great.  Prior Broadway shows I have seen all had singers miked up.  As far as I can tell that wasn’t so today – the theatre is very small, after all.

The set is simple, a simple stage with a few crates that were moved around to form different props, such as a cross, and with the addition of a piece of plywood, a table. There were quite a few bright lights that came on at different instances.  By and large the setup worked.

The two actors in the front are Aldonza (Sandra Marante) and Cervantes (Jess Malgieri.)  What is seen in the back is most of the set.

The play lasted longer than the advertised 1:45 hours, and was performed without an intermission.  It didn’t feel long at all.

While seeing this musical wasn’t high on our list of things to do, we are glad to have seen it.

Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra Chamber Concert. June 17, 2017.

Princeton Abbey, Princeton, NJ.  General Admission ($30.)

Artists (member of PF Baroque Orchestra)
Juan Carlos Zamudio, violin; Reynaldo Patino, violin & viola; Maria Romero, violin & viola; Anna Steinhoff, cello; Gregory Geehern, harpsichord.

Harmonia Artificioso-Ariosa, Partia V in G minor by Heinrich Biber (1644-1704).
Sonata Seconda (a 2) in E minor by Johann Rosenmuller (1619-1684).
Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab G Major, BuxWV 38 by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707).
-        Evelyn Johnson, soprano.
Cello Sonata No. 1 in G major by Domenico Gabrielli (1659-1690).
Trio Sonata, Op. 5, No. 1 in A major, HWV 396 by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
Divertimento in B-flat major, K. 137 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

In an email exchange with our friend David Y we found out about this Princeton Festival, which bills itself as “NJ’s premier performance arts festival.”  During the month of June multiple events scheduled in the Princeton area include lectures, dances, jazz, baroque concerts, a musical and an opera.

We decided to sample the festival by buying tickets to this chamber concert, with musicians from the PF Baroque Orchestra.

Other than Handel and Mozart, all the composers were (mostly) seventeenth century figures, a group to whom I have had only limited prior exposure.  Turns out these were all well-known composers of that period, and the selection traces an arc from Austria and Germany to Italy.  Regrettably I found out after the concert as in the booklet they handed out at the concert there was no program notes to be found.

At least from what the bows looked like, the program was performed with period instruments (of course some period instruments are being manufactured today.)  One generally gets a more “country” (for lack of a better description) tone out of these instruments.  The other fact seems these instruments’ tuning drifts rather readily, there was a lot of tuning between pieces and movements.

The cello and the harpsichord often acted as the basso continuo.  It was interesting to hear in one piece (forget which one) the continuous droning repetition of the cello of an ascending scale that evoked the rhythmic equivalent in the snare drum in Ravel’s Bolero. (I did some research as I was writing this, this occurred in the “Passacaglia” movement of the Biber piece.)  In general, I was impressed with the competency required of the musicians, even though none of the works can be considered “virtuoso” by today’s standards.

The musicians Maria Romero, Juan Carlos Zamudio, Gregory Geehern, Anna Steinhoff and Reynaldo Patino taking a bow after the concert.

I was joking to Anne that the program exhausted all the baroque music in the repertoire.  That of course isn’t true.  But it did give me all the baroque music I wanted to hear in one sitting, even though the one hour program had pieces by Handel and Mozart in it.  Actually, if I had had more time before the concert, and the inclination, it would be interesting to try to analyze the structures of the pieces – that’s what I did as theory students in college, after all.

It takes quite a bit of chutzpah to bill oneself as a “premier” event, and I am not sure if this is an expression of self-confidence, or simply a marketing trick.  Certainly on the classical music side the Festival provides a very limited glimpse, limited to the baroque period at that; and I am not sure it can honestly bill itself as the “premier baroque” event.  Nor the “premier jazz,” “premier musical,” for that matter.

From reading the bios of the artists, there seem to be quite a few graduate students from Indiana University.

The Festival Book has the venue listed as the Princeton Abbey.  The place now calls itself the Princeton Abbey and Cemetery.  It started in the early 1900s as a Catholic Seminary, which eventually closed down in 1992.  Recent zoning changes allow 12 acres be turned into a cemetery and depository for cremated remains.  The facility will be non-religious.  There are no obvious crosses or other Catholic references in the Abbey, although the stained glass windows continue to depict people and events in the Bible, as far as I can tell.  It isn’t air-conditioned, so felt a bit stifling on this warm (not hot) but humid day.  The place was filled, about 150 people.

There will be a concert by the full orchestra this coming Wednesday at the Princeton Theological Seminary, we may go see it.

And we stayed in the area so we could see the musical Man of La Mancha, but that is the subject of the next blog entry.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Jersey Symphony – Xian Zhang, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano. June 10, 2017.

Count Basie Theater, Red Bank, NJ.  Balcony (Seat E108, $38).

Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 () by Brahms ().
Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 (1937) by Shostakovich (1906-1975).

A couple of days ago we had an impressive season finale for the New York Phil; the program for tonight’s NJSO’s season finale is also quite impressive.  Powerhouse Bronfman playing Brahms’s second piano concerto and one of Shostakovich’s popular but difficult symphonies constitute a great program for any orchestra.

The most memorable melody for the Brahms’ concerto is first heard from the horn.  The first phrase was good, but there were a few misfired notes in the second phrase.  The melody is simple enough, so I think it had to be nerves that caused the stumble; so I felt bad more than I felt cheated.

Unfortunately, this unpropitious start lingered on as the concerto went on.  There were no more blatant mistakes, but very minor one became amplified, hard as I tried to ignore them.  Such is the workings of the human (or at least my) mind.

I have read quite a few people describe this concerto as being more cerebral than the first one.  It certainly didn’t start in the angular manner the first concerto did, but there were many moments when I thought the whole thing was too loud.  Indeed Bronfman sounded much harsher than usual at times.  There is however no doubt this is a virtuoso piece that Bronfman made look easy.  I just wish it provoked more than just “awe” from me.

The cello plays a prominent role in the third movement, and Spitz really made the melody sing.  The Program Notes aptly describes the instrument as “the warmest and most human-sounding” string instrument.

Yes, a concerto thrives on the tension and cooperation between the soloist and the orchestra.  I wish there was more cooperation tonight, that’s all.

The long concerto (46 minutes per the notes) has four movements: Allegro non troppo, Allegro appassionato, Andante, and Allegretto grazioso.

The applause was one of the loudest and most prolonged I have observed in New Jersey.  I hope that will be a factor Bronfman considers if he is asked to come back; that may offset the many empty seats in the theater.

Bronfman was enthusiastically applauded by the audience after performing Brahms's Second Piano Concerto.

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony certainly is a difficult piece to pull off.  In looking over the score, I was wondering how an orchestra could keep things precise with a double dotted eighth note followed by two 32nd notes.  It would be difficult to do it precisely as a soloist, much less when you have a whole section playing together.  NJSO actually did all right in this front.

Shostakovich was criticized by Stalin for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and wrote this symphony as a way to redeem himself.  I am impressed that Stalin actually knew music well enough to calibrate how revolutionary a particular piece is.  I am also impressed that Shostakovich actually understood as he obvious could write in such a way that fixes those “mistakes.”  In any case, the fifth got him rehabilitated.

Regardless of its political significance, the piece supposedly talks about the struggle of the individual, with Shostakovich saying “… the finale resolves the tragedy and tension … on a joyous, optimistic note.” Not unlike the program for Sibelius’s violin concerto.

Having “studied” the first two of the four movements, I got to appreciate the “rhythm theme” and the interplay of horns in the second movement.  The markings of the movements are simple: Moderato, Allegretto, Largo, and Allegro non troppo.

Many people we know also bought tickets to the concert.  One couple actually was saying they would like to go to more concerts.  Good news indeed.

We were at Ellie’s in the afternoon, so we postponed dinner (quarter pounder with cheese) until after the concert.

New York Philharmonic – Alan Gilbert, conductor; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Anthony McGill, clarinet. June 8, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat EE107, $45.50).

Program.  Alan Gilbert Season Finale: A Concert for Unity
Ibn Arabi Postlude (2007/2014) by Azmeh (b. 1976).
The Latina 6/8 Suite (2014) by Perez (b. 1978)/Traditional.
Symphony No. 7 (1904-05) by Mahler (1860-1911).

Artists.  Musicians from the New York Philharmonic and the Silk Road Ensemble.
Ibn Arabi Postlude.  Yo-Yo Ma; Anthony McGill; Johnny Gandelsman, Alan Gilbert – violin; Cynthia Phelps – viola; Carter Brey – cello; Edward Perez – bass; Shane Shanahan – Percussion.
The Latina 6/8 Suite.  Christina Pato - Galician bagpipes and piano; Johnny Gandelsman, Alan Gilbert – violin; Cynthia Phelps - Viola; Yo-Yo Ma – cello; Edward Perez – bass; Shane Shanahan, Christopher S. Lamb, Daniel Druckman – percussion.

This is it.  Alan Gilbert will end his tenure as NY Phil’s music director after this series of concerts.  If I understand things correctly, the Mahler piece – very substantial at close to 90 minutes – was featured in all the concerts in this program.  Invited to participate in the orchestra were musicians from more than 20 orchestras, the majority of them from overseas. For those who were fortunate to have tickets to tonight’s concert, there were two additional modern pieces by “foreign” composers who now live in New York, and Yo-Yo Ma and players from his Silk Road ensemble would be playing also.  To top it all, Gilbert would be playing the violin (second) in the two modern pieces.  He has on occasion played the violin in concerts, but I never had the chance to see them.

I am writing this review on June 15, a full week after it happened, so have forgotten a lot about the specifics of the pieces.  But I am sure I am right in saying that I will remember this more as an occasion rather than a musical moment – not that the music was not great.

The concert started with a video message from Antonio Guterrez, the Secretary-General of the UN, who mentioned various dignitaries were in the audience.  This was followed by Ma and Gilbert having a “conversation” before the whole thing began.  I must say Ma needed work as a comedian, and I am not sure any of this added much insight to either Gilbert, the event, or the musical performance.

Kinan Azmeh was born in Damascus, Syria, now lives in Brooklyn.  The work was inspired by the thinker and philosopher Ibn Arabi (12/13th century).  The six-minute piece featured prominent parts by the cello (played by Ma) and the clarinet (McGill).  Like the piece that followed, it was quite accessible, not nearly as inscrutable as most other modern pieces I have come across.  And to the extent I know what Arab music sounds like, it sounded like that.

Curtain call at conclusion of Azmeh's piece.  From left: Johnny Gandelsman, Alan Gilbert, Cynthia Phelps, Yo-Yo Ma, Carter Brey, Anthony McGill, Edward Perez, Shane Shanahan.

Born in Weslaco, Texas, a town less than 10 miles north of the Rio Grande, Edward Perez, who now lives in Queens, isn’t foreign at all.  (The guy studied Applied Math at Harvard, to further mix up things.)  He did live in Peru for a couple of years to deepen his immersion in Afro-Latin musical styles.  This Suite was commissioned by Cristina Pato, who envisioned the piece “with movements that would each represent a different style of Afro-Caribbean 6/8 rhythms that had travel from Europe to the Americas.”  Fair enough.  The four movements are (i) Tarantella-Muineira (Traditional Sicilian and Galician; arr. E. Perez); (ii) Tanguillo: The High Seas (Edward Perez); (iii) Joropo-Festejo: Muineira de Chantada (Traditional Galician; arr. E. Perez); and (iv) Fandango: Prueba de Fuego (Edward Perez).  They totaled about twelve minutes of performance.

I of course couldn’t tell what was traditional and what was original, and again didn’t get terribly lost.  One instrument I had never encountered before was the Galician bagpipe.  Other than being predominantly black in color, it didn’t look that different from the Scottish ones that I was a bit more familiar with.  The instrument was lively in the hands (and mouth) of Pato, though.

It should be mentioned that Galicia is in the northwestern part of Spain, where Pato came from.  The piece was “a vehicle for exploring questions of identity,” which was described as a chain: “Galician to Spaniard to European to New Yorker – Latina.”  Sounds sophisticated, but I can think of myself as “Hong Kong to Chinese to Asian to Chinese-American.”  I suppose I can commission a work to explore that chain of identify.

Cynthia Pato joining at the end of the Perez piece.

It occurred to me that if I had seen this group of people on the street playing the same pieces of music – especially using amplifiers like they did tonight – I would probably cross over to the other side.  Not because I am afraid, but because I want to avoid the crowds that would inevitably surround them.

This was the second time I heard the Mahler Symphony live.  The last time was about 10 years ago, performed by NY Phil, conducted by Maazel.  I did get a chance to watch the first two movements on YouTube with the score.

Not quite able to critique the score or the performance, I am left with a few observations.  The most prominent one was this sounded more like Bruckner both in scope, “plot,” and dynamics.  It lacked the usual wanderings I expected of Mahler works, instead the development seemed quite traditional.  And there were so many loud passages that I worried about the musicians’ hearing.

Many writeups characterize this symphony as optimistic; the Playbill describes it as tracing “a path from darkness into light.”  Considering the time it was written, there was no reason for Mahler to feel positive; there was some time overlap between this and the very dark Symphony No. 6, afterall.

We did see quite a few unfamiliar faces in the orchestra.  One familiar face we didn’t expect was that of Yo-Yo Ma’s.  He was in the middle of the cello section; Anne thought he was the page turner.  I wonder how much practice Ma put in for the one performance he will do (I assume he didn’t play in the other concerts.)  While the part may not present any technical challenges for him, he still had to “get with the program” of the way Gilbert interprets it.  Interestingly, I don’t see Gilbert acknowledging him (one can argue either way) at the end.

That's it.  Last time Gilbert conducted the New York Philharmonic as its music director.  If you know what to look for, you can see Yo-Yo Ma in the cello section.  With guest artists from twenty-some orchestras, this was a huge production.  I counted, for instance, 14 violas.

The New YorkTimes review is more like a final assessment of Gilbert’s tenure.  To quote its last paragraph: “He seemed not like a man holding one of the major – not to say mythical – positions of its kind in the world, but like just another working musician, surrounded by colleagues, playing a gig.”  Kind, or brutal?  Depends on how snobbish you are, I guess.

So this is the end of one era.  The next era won’t begin until the 2018/19 season, as van Zweden will only be conducting a few concerts in the upcoming season – so far I bought tickets to only one concert he will be conducting.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

New York Philharmonic: Das Rheingold in Concert – Alan Gilbert, conductor. June 6, 2017.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat OO112, $59.25).

Das Rheingold (1851-54) by Wagner (1813-83)

Wotan – Eric Owens, Fricka – Jamie Barton, Alberich – Christopher Purves, Loge – Russell Thomas, Erda -Kelley O’Connor, Fasolt – Morris Robinson, Fafner – Stephen Milling, Freia – Rachel Willis-Sorensen, Froh – Brian Jagde, Donner – Christian Van Horn, Mime – Peter Bronder, Woglinde – Jennifer Zetlan, Wellgunde – Jennifer Johnson Cano, Flosshilde – Tamara Mumford.

I had to make an emergency trip to Australia and returned earlier than I expected.  Some seats were still available for tonight’s concert.  The $55 Orchestra 4 tickets were discounted to $52 for subscribers, yet with extra fees they ended up being $59.25 each.  We did get seats towards the end of the main hall, but they were fine.  The acoustics were great, we could hear most of singing clearly.  With binoculars it was easy to spot the singers, as long as I could see around the heads of the people in front of me.  Quite a few people left during the 2 ½ hours of non-stop music, so that task became easier as the evening progressed.

Being an “in concert” production, the only prop on stage was a short table that different people climbed on and off at various times.  I wished they had a bit more, for example, it should be straightforward enough to fabricate gold from styrofoam so the scene where Freia is covered with gold could be more realistic.  Without the introduction of special effects, it would be difficult to have Alberich transform into first a dragon and then a toad.

Having seen this opera several times before, I could fill in some of the blanks.  Thus I also got to follow the story.  I found myself getting new insight into the characters, and how Wagner even in the first opera made this a somewhat “amoral” group of characters, each with his or her flaws.  There were aspects of the story that I didn’t realize before, such as the symmetry between this opera and Gotterdammerung.  The tetralogy begins and ends with the Rheinmaidens, and the Valhalla built in Das Rheingold will be destroyed in Gotterdammerung.

I often complain there is no perfect seat in the hall, so I was pleasantly surprised how good the sound was at our seat.  Many of the singers had their New York Philharmonic debut at this concert, but I had seen quite a few of them in other contexts.  Christopher Purves, for instance, sang the role of “Protector” in Benjamin’s “Written on Skin,” also conducted by Gilbert.

Overall this was an enjoyable performance, particularly for those who know how the story unfolds.  The orchestra being on stage naturally took on a more prominent role, but that was okay.  Given Gilbert often stood between the orchestra and the singers, prompters and assistant conductors sat in the front to help.  (Anne noticed them.)

Standing from left to right at curtain call: Brian Jagde (Froh), Rachel Willis-Sorensen (Freia), Christian Van Horn (Donner), Stephen Milling (Fafner), Morris Robinsin (Fasolt), Eric Owens (Wotan), Alan Gilbert, Jamie Barton (Fricka), Russell Thomas (Loge), Christopher Purves (Alberich), Peter Bronder (Mime), Kelley O'Connor (Erda), Tamara Mumford (Flosshilde), Jennifer Johnson Cano (Wellgunde), and Jennifer Zetlan (Woglinde).

This series and the next series constitute Gilbert’s farewell performances.  I am glad I caught this, and will be going to the June 8 concert as well.  On that program is Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, another rather ambitious endeavor.

The New York Times review is glowing, calling it "a remarkable evening of music theater."  Supposedly Gilbert's original idea of a 5-hour Messiaen was nixed in favor of Das Rheingold.  I, for one, am glad we heard tonight's performance.

We drove up and had Chinese take-out in our car.  It was quite straightforward to get home.

Jonah. May 23, 2017.

Sight and Sound Theatres, Lancaster, PA.  (Seat 301GG20, $55)

Act I

  1. Prolog
  2. Jonah's Hometown
  3. God's Call
  4. Jonah Escapes
  5. Jonah on the Run
  6. Joppa Boat Dock
  7. Setting Sail
  8. The Storm

Act II

  1. Under the Waves
  2. In the Belly of the Whale
  3. Spit Out on the Beach
  4. Meanwhile, Back at Gath-Hepher
  5. Nineveh
  6. The Hilltop: East of Nineveh
  7. The Plant: Day 40
  8. The Worm, the Wind, the Sun
  9. Finale

This musical (for lack of a better term) is based on the Book of Jonah.  The story is enhanced with some "background" material to explain the hatred of Jonah towards the people from Nineveh.

There are some rather clever effects that add a certain level of reality to the production.  Fishes and other creatures were brought out during "Under the Waves" to simulate the ocean.  Sometimes the props would be comedic, such as the worm that came out to eat the plant.

There is quite a bit of spoken dialog, and fewer musical numbers than I expected.

Live animals are also part of the show, including several geese that looked surprisingly well-trained.

We saw Moses a couple of years ago,and I thought this isn't as good.  Perhaps the formula is a bit too standard and is not as interesting the second time around.

We were in town for a lunch and dinner meeting, and managed to catch the show in between.