Ups and Downs of the Boston Music Season, mostly Boston Symphony with Andris Nelsons, 2016-2017

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.

Jermaine Smith as Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess with Bramwell Tovey conducting the BSO. Photo Stu Rosner.

Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at Symphony Hall – Amplified Again! (Is amplification musical doping?)

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my keen anticipation of this reprise of the 2011 Tanglewood performance of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess — not to here an excellent performance of a “good” version of the opera once again, but to hear it properly for the first time. As I said in my preview of this performance, the Tanglewood performance was totally vitiated — ruined — by the extensive use of amplification for the singers. None of Berkshire Review writers who attended wanted to review it. Although virtually the entire cast consisted of established opera singers, it was thought necessary to provide them with individual microphones.

Laquita Mitchell as Bess and Alfred Walker as Porgy in the Tanglewood performance of Porgy and Bess. Photo Hilary Scott.

Watch out for Porgy and Bess! Or, better, keep an ear to the ground…

Boston audiences may possibly have something truly wonderful to look forward to in September following the gala season opener. Bramwell Tovey will repeat his splendid Tanglewood performance of Porgy and Bess. At Tanglewood it was an extraordinary musical experience — a performance of the operatic version of George Gershwin’s “folk opera” — which is not all that common an event and is likely to become even less common, since the Gershwin estate has approved a “lite” Broadway version running about 90 minutes with a severely simplified score. Add this to the current infatuation of cash-strapped American opera houses with musicals, and the prospect is depressing.

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