A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 22: To Sing in Endless Morn of Light

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Kara Cornell and Alexina Jones as Hansel and Gretel in Humperdinck's Opera
Kara Cornell and Alexina Jones as Hansel and Gretel in Humperdinck's Opera

The very short apotheosis at the end of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel at Hubbard Hall made me think of confluences — the building, the performers, the audience. All of these were here in a gentle and honest synch. It was the most evenly cast opera I have heard in this venue. The staging was honest. The two singers in the title roles were convincing in the simplest way. They looked right, and they sounded right. In the dream sequence, which no staging can match, director Dianna Heldman brought to me a naturalness which was moving in its humility and acceptance of the place in which it was performed. The old hall itself seemed an ideal house for this reality. Nothing which Alexina Jones and Kara Cornell did as Gretel and Hansel was prolix. There was no fake childishness. Humperdinck could be said to have produced an adult’s version of what childhood is- simple tunes, good things to eat, etc.  I suppose when compared to “The Magic Flute”, an opera which really is childlike, this is true. But this dead-honest production and its raptly attentive audience in the golden light of the hall made it seem a miracle. There were no weak links on stage, and there were no false steps in the staging. It was great.

Another confluence happened a few nights earlier at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Charles Dutoit was conducting his last concert as Maestro with the Philadelphia Orchestra in this venue. There was a large crowd. There was an outpouring of affection from the orchestra. This is a conductor who with one rehearsal per concert and not-easy but familiar works to play, repeatedly play, made the limitations work. He doesn’t pontificate or make a show of his musical might. One might even call him reticent, but he is reticent with class. He is reticent with ease.  The La Mer they played on this concert was magnificently comfortable, a beauty shared between conductor and orchestra not for the first time, maybe one of the last. The “Alpine Symphony” of Strauss which I heard these forces do two years ago (they had already rehearsed it and played it in their regular season in Philadelphia) was one of the most accomplished orchestral performances I have ever heard. If grace and ease are beauty, then the music that Maestro Dutoit has made with this great orchestra is beauty incarnate. I will miss him.

Elliott Carter sat quietly in his seat about seven rows back in Seiji Ozawa Hall the other night listening to an elegant young woman, Sarah Joanne Davis, sing his 2009 composition “What Are Years, 5 poems of Marianne Moore”. This was the most miraculous confluence of all — the superb young voice expertly negotiating the angular and somehow natural settings which had come out of Mr. Carter’s centenarian head. Art knows no age. Age is no limit to it. With just a piece of paper and some marks on it, the old speak to the young, and the young sing back.

The night before Oliver Knussen and Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” was marvelously sung by the Tanglewood Fellows. We all enjoyed the wild rumpus enormously. The terse and terrible tale, fleshed out a little bit, held us rapt in its kaleidoscope of colors, fears, and especially (at the end) good things to eat. This marvelous opera, like “The Magic Flute”, allows the child world its own reality, darkness with the sweetness.

So many limits and boundaries are crossed by music. We measure our lives by journeys we have taken in the concert hall. They all come out of time somehow, but they are not in time. In memory, in hope, in dreaming, in listening, we live our lives.

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