Friday, November 25, 2011

Thoughts About The Philadelphia Orchestra

My introduction to symphony orchestras came when I was a little girl and I got to go with my dad to the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra) when my mother didn’t go. My parents had had a subscription for years. We used to get a ride to the concert with Melvin Bryant, a second violinist with the orchestra and the husband of my piano teacher. They lived a few blocks from us in Belmont, Massachusetts (now famous as the home of Mitt Romney and the John Birch Society, but I digress). On the way to the concert, Mr. Bryant used to regale us with some “inside dope” about orchestra doings. For example, it seems that orchestra members did not care for it when Leonard Bernstein conducted from the piano. The conductor I remember best from that era was Serge Koussevitsky.

After I’d gotten married and moved to Philadelphia in 1954 my then husband, Lee, and I were invited by his uncle and aunt who lived in Ambler, PA to attend their Philadelphia Orchestra series with them. They’d arranged for their daughter Susan to baby-sit with our very young son West. As it turned out he howled the entire time we were gone. Poor Susan. But it was a nice chance for us to get away for a bit from household chores (me) and medical school studies (Lee) for a change. Lee and I continued to attend the orchestra for many years after that. Eugene Ormandy was conducting then.

More recently, twenty-five years ago or so, my present husband Bob and I again became orchestra subscribers, and experienced the move from the venerable Academy of Music to Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. We had superb seats in the second tier at the Kimmel Center. We enjoyed the “new sound” even though the critics didn’t care for it so much. Evidently the adjustable doors on the sides of the hall never worked as they were designed to.

As time went on, though, certain things began to aggravate us. For one thing, we had begun traveling more, and it was difficult to exchange tickets for a more convenient night. For another, we’d been looking around at other US orchestras and found that our orchestra was beginning to seem stale – behind the times. The powers that be, behind the scenes, just didn’t seem to understand that times were changing. And then there were the programs. We found that, for our taste, there were too many abrasive, “modern” selections on the program. We understood that new composers need to be heard, but enough’s enough on any one program. So, reluctantly, we gave up our subscription. That was five years or more ago, when Christoph Eschenbach was the conductor in residence. To say that he had no charisma would be a gross understatement.

Evidently we were not the only people who’d become disenchanted with our orchestra. Where, in the past, someone would have to die before a subscription would become available, now there were empty seats. Just recently the orchestra went through bankruptcy proceedings. A very sad situation for such a venerable institution. For comparison, one looks to Los Angeles where Gustavo Dudamel is exciting the music public at Disney Hall. And to the New York Philharmonic where Alan Gilbert has brought enthusiasm and excitement to the audience.

So now to a more hopeful present for Philadelphia. In 2012 we’ll have a new conductor in residence, Yannick Nezet-Seguin from Canada. Bob and I had seen him conduct “Carmen” in a Met Opera HDTV production and were interested. Yannick is conducting a few concerts this year. (Charles Dutoit is still the current conductor in residence.) On a recent Friday afternoon I went downtown to see Yannick conduct Mozart’s Symphony #40 and Brahms’ German Requiem, with two soloists and the Westminster Choir. It was wonderful. I sat way up in the third tier, where the sound is terrific. I had my binoculars with me, and could see everything as well. It was spectacular. The hall was nearly full, and the audience was enthusiastic and excited.

So I think PhilOrch is back. And I think I’m back, too. It’s a good feeling.
Posted by Jane at 9:41 AM 0 comments
Labels: music

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Met Opera HDTV Offerings for 2011-12 – A Banquet of Beautiful Sounds, Scenes and Stars

Met Opera HDTV Offerings for 2011-12 – A Banquet of Beautiful Sounds, Scenes and Stars

It’s HDTV Met Opera season again, and I’ve seen three of the ten offerings for 2011-12: “Anna Bolena”,” Siegfried” and “Don Giovanni”. They’ve all been terrific.

When I talk with other opera buffs, someone invariably says, “But it’s so much better in the opera house.” Yes, absolutely, it is. I used to go to the Met back in the 1980s. That was when a good seat in the orchestra cost $75. Now a good seat like that costs nearly $400. Way out of my range. We’ve gone to the Met a few times relatively recently. For a $100 ticket you get a seat that feels like it’s in the next county. Of course there’s Philly Opera too. It’s very good. The only problem is their schedule doesn’t ever seem to work for us. On the other hand, an HDTV Met Opera production makes me feel as if I’m there. I get a close look at the new stars, and some of them are really something. The camera work is generally excellent. The only quibble I have with it is when they’re showing a grand scene, like the second act of “La Boheme”. I’ve seen that one at the Met, and it’s fabulous, horse cart and all. It doesn’t come through in the same way on a DVD. But that’s a small objection.

Side benefits of attending the HDTV productions are the between the acts interviews with the performers, set designer, conductor, wardrobe mistress, as well as a tour behind the scenes. Opera stars, such as Renee Fleming and Deborah Voigt often conduct the interviews.

In "Anna Bolena", the beautiful, charismatic Anna Netrebko starred as the ill-fated queen, driven insane by her unfaithful king. It was quite a show. Donizetti’s music is wonderful, and the sets and costumes were spectacular. Others in the cast included Ekaterina Gubanova, terrific as Jane Seymour, Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII, and Stephen Costello as Lord Richard Percy.

Next up: “Siegfried”, the third opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
I had seen the two previous Ring operas during the 2010-11 season. The first in the cycle, “Das Rheingold” was broadcast on October 9, 2010. The uniquely massive $40,000,000 set was unveiled for that one. The floor of the Met stage had been required to be reinforced to accommodate the weight of it. It involved huge moving parts, which made it possible for the Rhine Maidens to slide down a huge ramp, among other things. The costumes were awkward. Bryn Terfel, as Wotan, was dressed up like a Marvel Comics hero, with greasy-looking hair disguising his missing eye. For me, the outstanding performer was Eric Owens as the dwarf Alberich. Sometimes Alberich is portrayed as a one-dimensional evil character. Owens presented him as conflicted by what he is driven to do: steal the Rhine Maidens’ gold.

Then, on May 14, came “Die Walkure”. This is the opera in which the twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, fall in love and eventually beget the hero, Siegmund. Deborah Voigt sang Brunnhilde, daughter of Wotan. This opera furthers the conflict between the humans and the gods. At the end of “Die Walkure”, Wotan sentences Brunnhilde to sleep on a rock, surrounded by a wall of fire that only the bravest hero can pierce. This hero turns out to be Siegfried, the child that Sieglinde bears.

“Siegfried” finally brought it all together. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris, from Paris, Texas, stepped in at the last minute to substitute for Gary Lehman, who was ill and unable to perform, in the role of Siegfried. Morris had recently performed the role at the San Francisco Opera. It is one of the most challenging in all of opera. He was terrific. He was full of energy and in good voice. Bryn Terfel again sang Wotan, appearing in disguise as the Wanderer. The unique sets were used to good advantage in this one, and the grand design gradually became apparent. Digital effects, including a flying bird, were effectively employed. In the last act, Deborah Voigt came through brilliantly as Brunnhilde, aroused by Siegfried, along with her horse, Grane, after a 17-year siesta. Earthly love ended her immortal life. And thus ended “Siegfried”. The final opera of the Ring, “Gotterdammerung”, will be aired in mid-January. I’m looking forward to it.

On a completely different note, the third HDTV Met Opera of the 2011-12 season, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” aired on October 29. I guess everyone knows the story of Don Giovanni, aka Don Juan. That was a great production as well. The music is gorgeous. “Don Giovanni has a charismatic lust for life, but he’s not just some serial seducer – he’s a dark, complex individual,” says Michael Grandage, director of this production. The don meets his comeuppance at the end. When he refuses to repent, he is consumed by flames. Mariusz Kwieken, as the Don, Ramon Vargas Mojca Erdman and Luca Pisaroni all delivered stellar performances.

The next operas, in order, will be: “Satyagraha” by Philip Glass, which explores the origins of Gandhi’s philosophy; “Rodelinda” by Handel and starring Renee Fleming; “The Enchanted Island”, a Baroque pastiche; “Gotterdamerung”, which completes the Ring Cycle; “Ernani” by Verdi, in which Elvira is courted by three men; “Manon” by Massanet, in which Anna Netrebko portrays the tragic courtesan. The HDTV season closes out with Verdi’s “La Traviata” with Natalie Dessay.