The BSO performs Candide with singers (l-r) Anna Christy, Nicholas Phan, Bramwell Tovey conduting, Richard Suart, Frederica von Stade, Paul LaRosa. Photo Hilary Scott.

A Singer’s Notes 93: Denève, the TMC Orchestra, and Berlioz; McGegan and Handel; Bernstein’s Candide at Tanglewood

The excellent Stephane Denève chose two works of Hector Berlioz for his TMCO concert. Wholly remarkable was a performance of Les Nuits d’Été. The maestro gave these songs a sound I’ve never heard before. It was ravishingly quiet to begin with, not unlike the nearly silent playing Simon Rattle can achieve in his Mahler performances. It was like something in the air. Even more unforgettable was the coaching he had done with the young singers, each a Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center. So diaphanous was the orchestral environment for each of the songs, the young voices could merely whisper and be heard. “Au Cimitière” in particular benefitted from this. Sara Lemesh said the words as much as she spoke them.

Lizzie Borden reaches for the axe in Jack Beeson's opera at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Murder Myth Married to Music—Lizzie Borden Wields her Axe at Tanglewood

In Jack Beeson and Kenward Elmslie’s 1965 retelling, Lizzie Borden is unequivocally presented the murderer of her step-mother and father; in the opening moments, as the orchestra starts up with a scream of outrage, Lizzie runs onstage with an axe and plants it firmly in the middle of the family table. It remains there for most of the opera, sometimes reached for, sometimes stroked, and eventually seized with murderous intent.

Andris Nelson conducts the BSO at Tanglewood. Photo Hilary Scott.

Two Weekends in the Country: The BSO and the Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow, the new Clark, Mass MoCA, and Boston Midsummer Opera’s Bartered Bride

As life in the city slows down, life in the country west of Boston ratchets up. I went out to the Berkshires to catch as much as I could of Tanglewood’s fiftieth Festival of Contemporary Music, this year curated by Boston composers and longtime Tanglewood faculty members John Harbison (a composition fellow in 1959) and Michael Gandolfi (a fellow in 1986).

L to R: Carlton Ford as Harlequin, Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, Gerard Michael D'Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Wynn Harmon as Manager of the Estate in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos." Photo Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

A Singer’s Notes 90: Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos at Glimmerglass

Director Francesca Zambello’s Ariadne in Naxos at Glimmerglass was a saucy and well-thought out production of one of Richard Strauss’s most difficult operas. Just shoe-horning the English translation into Strauss’s very specifically shaped German lines was a remarkable accomplishment. The rustic home-spun setting of the Prologue worked remarkably well as an analogue to the simply staged apotheosis. At first I thought that it wouldn’t, but it did.

Manfred Honeck leading the BSO. Photo Hilary Scott.

Match and Mismatch: Contrasting Conductors and Orchestras at Tanglewood

According to the song, “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage,” and the same ought to apply to orchestras and conductors. When they do, the results are like love, but when they don’t, it’s a relief when the partnership dissolves. Two concerts at Tanglewood with two very different orchestras and conductors illustrated this dramatically. The orchestras in question were the venerable Boston Symphony working its way through another intense summer of three programs per weekend, and the extremely youthful (ages 16-18) National Youth Orchestra which first assembled this month, at the start of a nation-wide tour. The conductors were the Austrian Manfred Honeck, currently director in Pittsburg, and the American David Robertson, Music Director in both St. Louis and Sydney.

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