The House of Atreus Brings Down Met Opera House: A Review of the Met’s ‘Elektra’

The audience roared on Thursday night at the Metropolitan Opera after the premiere of a new production of Strauss’ Elektra by the late Patrice Chereau. Not only did Elektra and her siblings bring down the House of Atreus, they brought down the Met. Swedish soprano Nina Stemme starred in the title role; Adrianne Pieczonka was her sister Chrysothemis; the treasured Waltraud Meier played their mother Klytämnestra; and Eric Owens played the long-awaited returning brother Orest. Conducting the production, which was first done at Aix-en-Provence in 2013, was Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen.

 

Waltraud Meier and Nina Stemme in the Met’s ‘Elektra’. Photo by Marty Sohl.

Under Chereau’s masterful judgement, only the bare necessities of Hofmannsthal’s adaption of Sophocles’ play were kept. The courtyard of Agamemnon’s palace was barren, dominated by hard cement to make real Elektra’s prison-like treatment since the killing of her father. The curtain rises on the maids of the house sweeping the stairs and completing household chores, making it all the more shocking when the first blast of the “Agamemnon” motif puts things in motion. Elektra is made to look as unfeminine as possible in her grey, ragged garments and her short, greasy hair as she crawls around the stage in contrast with Klytämnestra’s regal green dress and jewels.

Ms. Stemme’s Elektra challenges Evelyn Herlitzius’ as far as whose Elektra was better in Chereau’s production. The utterly full, bold sound Stemme produces in such large quantity is astounding. Similarly to Birgit Nilsson, notes were hit confidently without the use of swooping or other mannerisms. Her staggering and unsteady dancing made her look all the more demented, and all the more convincing that she alone was not ready to take on the task of avenging her father’s death until her strong brother returned home. Adrianne Pieczonka played the thin-skinned, idealistic Chrysothemis. On only a couple of occasions did her top become strident, yet she kept it exciting enough to match Stemme. In the small, yet powerful, role of Orest Eric Owens sang with compassion towards/with Ms. Stemme.

Waltraud Meier could have spoken her lines and she would have been just as eloquent. She is a master at understanding character. While many view Klytämnestra as a maniacal, murderous creature, many forget that she has reason to be upset, as Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenie. Instead of playing her as a monster, Ms. Meier played her as the distraught mother who is scared out of her wits by her nightmares and the prophecies of her own daughter. The orchestra covered her in some spots, as her voice did not carry as well as Stemme’s did. However, the many times she was heard her delivery was crystalline, as she made lines such as “Ich habe keine gute nächte” sound like speech.

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s conducting was riveting. He makes conducting a humongous orchestra look so effortless in his smooth motion. The orchestra played with exuberance, especially in Elektra’s dance of death. While Maestro Salonen had them under control, simultaneously the players made it sound as if her dance was going faster and there was no brake, just like Elektra’s demented state of mind. It can’t be easy to control music that is supposed to sound out of control, yet the Met Orchestra unsurprisingly succeeded.

Performances of Elektra run through May 7.

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Redhead Reigns in the Met Premiere of Roberto Devereux

     On Thursday night the Met presented its premiere of Donizetti’s last of his three “Queen operas” Roberto Devereux. In a new production by Sir David McVicar, Sondra Radvanovsky starred as Queen Elizabeth (despite not playing the title role), Matthew Polenzani was Roberto, and Mariusz Kwiecien and Elina Garanca were the Duke and Duchess of Nottingham. Maurizio Benini conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchetra and Chorus.

 

Sondra Radvanovsky as Queen Elizabeth in Sir David McVicar’s production of Roberto Devereux

 
Ms. Radvanovsky sang full throttle, her high register dominating the entire performance. Her high D at the end of the opera rang brightly and contained unbelievable substance. Not only she did she manage to impress the audience with her vocal fireworks, but also with her uncanny impression of Queen Elizabeth; Hobbling with a cane and constantly throwing herself into hysteric fits of frustration. At the very end, she faces her own death by staring into a white light shining on what appeared to be her tomb in Westminster Abbey. Wig-less and sans cane Ms. Radvanovsky dramatically collapsed to give a striking close to the end of the Donizetti Tudor Trilogy.

     Ms. Garanca made the most of her relatively small role as Sarah, the Duchess of Nottingham. Her first aria “All’afflitto è dolce il pianto” was incredibly serene and legato. She grounded large ensembles powerfully and provided richeness in smaller ensembles, especially in her Act III duet with Mariusz Kwiecien. One wishes she could have brought her Jane Seymour to the Met when the first Queen opera, Anna Bolena, was performed (she cancelled the run due to illness). Mr. Kwiecien was dramatic stagewise, yet his singing did not match the dark and vengeful colors of his character. Throughout the evening he sang largely at the same volume, presenting a lack of contrast. Mr. Polenzani played a brutish Roberto, acting as a catalyst for Ms. Radvanovsky’s outstanding rages. He exemplified his middle register nicely, however, due to possibly pushing, his high register began to sound more raw as the evening went along. Maestro Benini conducted the orchestra and chorus fervently, with only a couple of minor pit and stage disconnections.

     Sir David McVicar’s single dark and candlelit set provided a small and chamberesque feeling for such a grand scandal. In all three acts, chorus members or supers are on stage trying to eavesdrop on the four main characters’ conversations. McVicar was quoted as having said he wished to create a “very febrile, claustrophobic, [and] candlelit world”. One felt claustrophobic in the audience in that we, like the supers or chorus members, were eavesdropping on the Queen’s scandal along with them.

     Performances of Roberto Devereux run through April 19. Don’t be like Queen Elizabeth handling Roberto’s death warrant; Buy tickets before it’s too late!

Swedish Steel: A Review of the Met’s Turandot

The Met opened its last run of Turandot for the 2015-16 season on Monday night. Nina Stemme starred in the title role, Marco Berti was the daring Calaf, Anita Hartig sang the tragic role of Liù, and Ukranian bass-baritone Alexander Tsymbalyuk was Timur. Paolo Carignani conducted the Met Orchestra and Chorus. 

Nina Stemme taking her bow after Turandot on Monday night

 

Nina Stemme is a Turandot made of Swedish steel. Maybe the icy waters of the Baltic Sea carry treasures to produce the rich Swedish ranks of Birgit Nilsson, Iréne Theorin, and other dramatic voices. If so, we should be grateful for how they enhanced Ms. Stemme’s solid high notes, dead-on pitch, and perfect attacks. Her performance bade well for what she will bring to the Met’s new production of Elektra, coming from Aix-en-Provence, when she sings the title role. Marco Berti forced as Calaf, causing some of his sustained high notes to either disappear or crumble. It came as a surprise to hear a dead audience at the end of “Nessun dorma”, which normally rouses fanatic applause.

Anita Hartig put the never-ending devotion of Liù’s character into her voice. She never let it drop as she ventured through her pasaggio and jumped registers. Her legato was sensational; none of her phrases died away. Timur’s last appearance in which he is told of Liù’s death was all the more devastating, as Mr. Tsymbalyuk sang so tenderly. He caressed each phrase, particularly when he was singing about Liù and how God would frown upon all who supported her torture. Dwayne Croft, Tony Stevenson, and Eduardo Valdes were hilarious as the kooky trio of Ping, Pang, and Pong, respectively. Each of them stayed on the beat in their tricky passages in Act I. Mr. Croft gently reminisced about his house of bamboo, generating a feeling of sentimentality.

Maestro Carignani conducted without bombast, allowing the singers to be heard and creating an ideal balance in the orchestra. The thorny passages in the woodwinds were managed particularly smoothly. The Chorus acted as a strong force, and the backstage Children’s Chorus acted as a comforting break from the violence caused by Puccini’s special princess.

Performances of Turandot continue through January 30. Go enjoy some hardcore Swedish steel!

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Handel: A Review of the New York Philharmonic’s “Messiah”

New York City is brimming with “Messiah”s this December. Whether one wishes to attend one with period instruments, a full-on orchestra, or something in between, the New York Baroque scene awaits. I chose to attend the New York Philharmonic’s “Messiah” on Saturday night. With a more petite version of the ensemble, including only three stands of first violins for example, a more chamber-esque sound was created on a smaller-scale. Unlike the cherished Sir Thomas Beecham recording, trombones, tuba, triangle, and cymbals could not be found on the stage of David Geffen Hall.

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Jane Glover conducting the “Messiah”; Credits: Robert Altman of the New York Times

Jane Glover, making her debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducted a very loving performance. Without a baton or a score, she genuinely connected with the soloists, orchestra, and chorus to make the whole experience very warm and inviting. I particularly liked her own clever articulation of “All we like sheep have gone astray”, as she placed a pause or lift between “we” and “like”, in order to clarify the meaning of the sentence. Often people take it to mean that the chorus really, strangely, respects sheep, whereas it should be taken to mean that the people are wandering in the manner of sheep.

Heidi Stober demonstrated her versatility through the contrast of her fast gait in “Rejoice  greatly” and her beautiful legato in “I know that my redeemer liveth”. Tim Mead exemplified the fluidity in his voice, never spending too much time singing in straight-tone and making sure to incorporate full vibrato. As his part is commonly sung by a mezzo, he managed to maintain the appropriate timbre for Handel’s requirements. Paul Appleby’s voice has grown since the last time I heard him as David in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Met last season. He gave great emphasis for clarity and diction on “Thou shalt break them”. Roderick Williams was difficult to hear at times, especially in “The Trumpet Shall Sound”, but who could blame him for being covered in that aria? The piccolo trumpet itself was played very clearly and bravely forte.

The Westminster Symphonic Choir sounds professional in everything they do. Sir Simon Rattle just recently led them triumphantly in Beethoven’s Ninth at Carnegie Hall with the Berlin Philharmonic and they are soon preparing to sing under Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra for Mahler: Symphony No. 8 in March. Their blend deserves great admiration considering how young the average age is of each member of the ensemble. They sang freely, kept their faces out of the music, and even moved together in a joyful fashion.

As my first time ever attending a live performance of the “Messiah”, I was very impressed with how uniquely and specifically it was interpreted. The two and a half hours flew by for me. I look forward hopefully to more appearances by Jane Glover both at the New York Philharmonic and the Met.

Saturday by the Lake: A Review of the Met’s La Donna del Lago

On Saturday afternoon I attended my second ever performance of Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at the Met. The cast was virtually identical to last season’s run, with the exception of Lawrence Brownlee singing the role of Uberto, or King James V in disguise, instead of Juan Diego Flórez. Joyce DiDonato, John Osborn, and Daniela Barcellona triumphed again in their efforts to combat Rossini’s merciless coloratura and extreme tessituras.

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John Osborn, Joyce DiDonato, and Lawrence Brownlee in La Donna del Lago, Credit: Sara Krulwich/New York Times

I was shocked to see how sparse attendance was for a Saturday matinee of a performance with singers as well renowned as Joyce DiDonato and Lawrence Brownlee. The new production by Paul Curran sold very well last season, possibly with the help of Juan Diego Flórez who has been notorious for being one of the few twenty-first century artists to repeatedly sell out houses. La Donna del Lago has not yet been fully embraced as a permanent member of the circle of custom bel canto repertoire, however, it surprised me to see multitudes of empty seats for a Rossini opera with such acclaimed singers of that very repertoire.

Joyce DiDonato was fabulous as always, bringing down the house after her glorious aria “Tanti affetti”, which ends the opera. Her voice soared over the orchestra while also blending with other soloists, especially in her Act I duet with Daniela Barcellona, “Vivere io non saprò/ potrò, mio ben, senza di te”. At times, it was difficult to hear Ms. Barcellona over the orchestra. However, her lower register opened up and was audible enough to sound very impressive. Lawrence Brownlee’s Uberto was driven and focused, making his multiple high As, Bs, and Cs sound very exciting. John Osborn’s extension up to his upper register seemed effortless, so much so that his high Ds sounded just as facile as the rest of his upper register. The battle of the “high Cs” between the two tenors, moderated by Joyce DiDonato as part of a trio, at the beginning of Act II left me on the edge of my seat.

The conducting of Michele Mariotti made an afternoon of Rossini all the more enjoyable. He stressed for lightness and character which by no question the versatile Met Orchestra was able to match. The chorus sang robustly to fit the spirit of the camaraderie in the Scottish highlands.

To conclude, here is a bit of fascinating trivia which my father Garry Spector pulled out of the air for both last Saturday’s and this coming Saturday’s double bills: For the first time in history, the Met on both December 19 and 26 will put two Rossini operas on the stage the same day, La Donna del Lago and Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This coming Saturday, La Donna del Lago will switch with Il Barbiere to be the evening show.

Lots of Lieder: A Weekend of Recitals with Tara Erraught and Diana Damrau

Despite the cold that has come upon New York during these past few early days of December, two fulfilling lieder recitals warmed me up this weekend at Carnegie Hall: One by Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught on Friday night and one by German soprano Diana Damrau on Sunday afternoon. Ms. Erraught made her New York Recital Debut on Friday after making her Boston Recital Debut two nights before, while Ms. Damrau took a break from her rehearsals of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Met. Each of them gave monumental performances and exemplified fluidity on their respective programs.

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Diana Damrau (© Michael Tammaro/ Virgin Classics) and Tara Erraught (© Dario Acosta 2014)

Even the biggest of American opera buffs have difficulty placing the name of Tara Erraught. She simply has not sung a lot in this country. Those Americans who are familiar with her might know her from the live simulcasts provided by the Bayerische Staatsoper and Glyndebourne. She recently gave performances as Sesto alongside Kristine Opolais as Vitellia in a production of La Clemenza di Tito from Munich, and as Octavian in Glyndebourne’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier, directed by Richard Jones, both of which were viewable online worldwide.

The iconic richness of her voice is something that cannot simply be appreciated through computer speakers or even a reputable audio system; Her sound in Weill Recital Hall’s intimate space wrapped itself around the audience like a velvety cape. As a mezzo, her middle and bottom registers were rich, however, even her upper register remained sunny, especially so in the Strauss. Her residency in Munich for the past several years as a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s ensemble has evidently helped her in building an appropriate German character for the meaningful songs of Brahms and Strauss. She was just as strong in her inherent inflections of the English texts used by Quilter and Delius. Her assiduous attention to text made for a very devoted, entertaining, and warm performance. Her “Allerseelen” and “Morgen” in particular left me very convinced of her respective messages for each. The playing of Henning Ruhe was attentive and sensitive, especially in the huge, chromatic swells Liszt composed in some of the more stormy repertoire Ms. Erraught performed.

Diana Damrau gave a very similar program, if one subtracted English songs and replaced them with French. After a period of vocal rest, her voice sounded healthier and fuller as she characterized and tore through the lust of Schubert’s and Strauss’ lieder as well as some very comical French works. Her grasp of the German language brought out the true colors of Schubert’s purposeful songs. Her pianissimos were so delicate, especially in her show-stopper (her last encore), “Morgen”. This gorgeous portrayal of Strauss’ sensual prospect of “Tomorrow” was accompanied slowly and dolce by the very sensitive Craig Rutenberg. One could feel the chemistry between the two of them even in the 2800-seat Stern auditorium. Even if the German language is one of her strong suits, the French language draped easily off her tongue in both the Poulenc and Rosenthal. She was absolutely hilarious in the funny, sentimental Chansons du Monsieur Bleu of Manuel Rosenthal. Her versatility truly shined as she showed her mastering of both German and French.

While Diana Damrau is a veteran to the New York stage, Tara Erraught as a newcomer matched her in lingual versatility and sensitivity. Each of their recitals made for a great weekend in New York.

 

 

Welcome Back, Dmitri Hvorostovsky!: A Review of the Met’s Il Trovatore

On Friday night, the Met began its run of the second Verdi opera of the season Il Trovatore. The role of Manrico was sung by Yonghoon Lee, Anna Netrebko was Leonora, and Dolora Zajick sang Azucena. The spotlight, however, was on Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who sang Count di Luna and made his first return to the Met after announcing that he is in the midst of a battle with a brain tumor and is currently undergoing treatment. He is scheduled to sing two more performances of Trovatore, after initially canceling many of his performances for the rest of the 2015 year.

Upon Hvorostovky’s first entrance, the Met audience went absolutely nuts. Many were standing and clapping as loud as possible, so much so that Maestro Marco Armiliato had to stop the orchestra and wait for the applause to cease. He and the orchestra gladly joined in the applause despite the halt of the performance. Hvorostovsky put a hand to his heart and bowed his head as thanks for the support. The performance continued after about an entire minute of applause.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky during the finals bows after Il Trovatore on Friday night. Photo credits to Met Oboist Susan Spector

Dmitri Hvorostovsky during the finals bows after Il Trovatore on Friday night. Photo credits to Metropolitan Opera Oboist Susan Spector

That was nothing, however. At the conclusion of the performance during the sequence of final bows, Hvorostovsky was given yet another standing ovation and overwhelming round of applause. This time, however, the orchestra not only applauded, but each member threw a white rose from the pit onto the stage for him to collect. This simple gesture was comforting not only for him, but for everyone in the opera house. It showed that the Met is not just a boasting center of entertainment made up of the essential employees for each department: It’s family. As Canio describes in “Vesti la giubba”, there is more behind an actor than just what is on the surface, the makeup and costume; they can experience pain and suffering just as regular people do. Unfortunately, Hvorostovsky is currently experiencing that very human pain. His illness has hit the Met at a personal level, because every orchestra and chorus member, stagehand, you name it, knows him as a man with and without makeup. On Friday night, Hvorostovsky was as ordinary as any individual in the audience, and more importantly, acknowledged as a beloved member of the Met family.

His performance as Count di Luna might have been a little rocky simply because of his immediate return, however, his vocal power and astounding breath control were still exhibited. Yonghoon Lee used volume as his main tool throughout the evening, enough so that I was concerned he was not going to make it. However, he managed to make it through the evening even while keeping a consistent forte volume. Ms. Zajick was fabulous as always in her honed role as Azucena. Her push for forward resonance makes for a very powerful sound up and down the register. Singing-wise, Anna Netrebko was the star of the evening. Her move towards the Verdi sphere and out of the bel canto belt has benefited her well. Her voice has grown into an authoritative instrument by using the rigid breath support needed to handle Verdi’s difficult ascents and descents on the scale. She also managed to do all this while acting in her adopted “stage-animal” method, as she climbed and hung from the metal grating of the prison during her Act IV aria “D’amor sull’ali rosée”. It was an unbelievable stunt, similar to the ones she pulled as Lady Macbeth last season.

On any opening night, there are always a few disconnections between pit and stage. Maestro Armiliato led the orchestra and chorus with his Italianate cantabile line, allowing them to play and sing freely and beautifully. At some points soloists made wrong entrances, some early some late, but none were trainwreck-worthy.

Performances this fall of Il Trovatore run through October 17 before its return in early February with a different cast. Buy tickets to see it today, and to welcome back Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the next two performances!

A Review of Opening Night at the Met: Otello Obscured

The Met opened its 2015-16 season on Monday night with Verdi’s masterpiece Otello. In a new production designed by Bartlett Sher, Aleksandrs Antonenko sang the title role, Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva was Desdemona, and Želijko Lučić played the villainous Iago. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin led the Met Orchestra and Chorus.

Sonya Yoncheva and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Act III of Verdi's

Sonya Yoncheva and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Act III of Verdi’s “Otello” © Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera 2015

The production left me craving drama and intimacy. As these two elements are so crucial to Shakespeare’s original play, I felt that they were lost in the shuffle as Sher’s stage simply felt “too big”. The initial storm from Act I plays a role throughout the opera, acting as the backdrop within acts and as a moving projection with churning waves beginning each act. This represented some drama, at least, in that the storm symbolized Otello’s increasing suspicion and unsteady mind, just as his ship had almost capsized. The only solid components of the set were opaque walls that could be rearranged to create his realm, gardens, etc. As the walls were opaque, not transparent, one could say that the lack of transparency and pellucidity represented Otello’s obscured vision at the hands of Iago. Otello is only able to see what Iago has envisioned for him, not reality. Therefore, the frosty walls of his palace represented his inability to see what is truly occurring live. Even with this potential subtext, I missed the intense intimacy between Otello and Iago, as the foggy walls and a plethora of empty stage did not allow for it. Overall, the production was dull and, to a point, tedious after sitting for 150 minutes of music.

Antonenko was a solid Otello. At times, his voice sounded tight, especially near the top, making it difficult to hear him over the orchestra. However, his intensity in both Acts III and IV was frightening, and his voice also seemed to ease up after the first two acts allowing him to sing more strongly. Sonya Yoncheva was an astounding Desdemona. She had the entire audience in the palm of her hand as she sang her Willow Song. She sang it so simply, as the true “old tale” that it is. Her bloom at the top of her register is very attractive and easy-sounding. Lučić was a creepy Iago. I had difficulty hearing the resonance in his sound in order to push past the orchestra, but his acting put his point across. His duets with Otello were thrilling and balanced.

The conducting by Maestro Nézet-Séguin made the performance come alive. His stress for sforzandi and dramatic dynamic changes brought out vigor and agility in the orchestra and chorus. Chills went up my spine at the moment he brought in the double basses on the low E right as Otello enters to kill Desdemona in Act IV. The shifts in mood of the music were so clearly defined. The orchestra followed suit under his baton. The strings particularly sounded like “one voice”, reveling in Verdi’s gorgeous parts. It was also indicated that the brass had the green light to play out, which made the performance all the more riveting. The chorus sounded full and powerful, especially in their two bigs scenes: The drinking scene in Act I and with Lodovico in Act III.

The current run of Otello will be on the Met stage until October 17, until it returns in April with a different cast. Buy tickets today to see one of four Verdi operas this season!

A Review of Mahler 8 at the Shed

On Saturday night the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed erupted with Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Stepping up to the plate for this colossal work was the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and alumni under the baton of Andris Nelsons. The massive double chorus included the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, The Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) Chorus, and the American Boychoir. The soloists were sopranos Erin Wall, Christine Goerke, and Erin Morley as the Mater Gloriosa; Mihoko Fujimura and Jane Henshel as first and second altos, respectively; Klaus Florian Vogt, Matthias Goerne and Ain Anger.

Mahler Symphony No. 8 at the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed. © Hilary Scott 2015

Mahler Symphony No. 8 at the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed. © Hilary Scott 2015

Erin Wall was a powerful presence as the first soprano, nailing every one of her many high ‘C’s. It was fascinating watching her at the end of the first movement bend backwards, grab her music stand as if she was driving an 18-wheeler semi-trailer truck, and open her mouth like a lion to finish off on her C and proceeding B flat. Christine Goerke incorporated her dynamic vibrato to reach the top of her register and to achieve proper head resonance. Erin Morely was a beautiful Mater Gloriosa, floating on top of her line as she stood far above the stage in a nook near the ceiling of the stage right side. Mihoko Fujimura and Jane Henschel were fine Mulier Samaritanas and Maria Aegyptiacas, respectively. Klaus Florian Vogt sang the outrageous part of Doctor Marianus (Mahler hated tenors about as much as Strauss did), as if he was singing a Bach cantata. It was very delicate, light, and legato, unlike how many other heldentenors have sung it in the past. Matthias Goerne sang gorgeously, exhibiting his dark and rich tone for which he was praised in his Winterreise last season at Alice Tully Hall. Finally, Ain Anger sang the role of Pater Profondus with volume and intensity.

The chorus, unfortunately, did not sound as immense as I would have hoped. In this case that could have been at the hands of acoustics, however, there were several problems with blending throughout the night and several voices stuck out. There were also times when the chorus began separating from the orchestra and luckily found its way back. I also wish there could have been more intensity present in the second part, as the closing scene from Goethe’s Faust starts from nothing and grows throughout the duration of the movement. For an orchestra largely made up of students, I thought their playing was top notch. Their playing was hesitant at the beginning, but grew to be more comfortable by the end. The brass played out with confidence, with the exception of the trombones of which I would have loved to have heard more. The wind section did a terrific job taking on the terrifying beginning of the second part, playing in fifths and making entrances out of nowhere. They managed to balance very well with each other. The strings, like the chorus, had trouble blending, and the solos for the concertmaster could have had more emotion and warmth. I also missed the sensation of the hair on the back of my neck standing up when that first E flat chord comes crashing down on the keys of the organ.

Andris Nelsons conducted with such fluidity and agility. He brought out a lot of dynamic contrast and color as he flitted and floated on the podium.

Overall, a marvelous performance was given by all. Mahler 8 is a gargantuan work that takes quite a toll and effort from everyone involved. I missed the sensation of a shaking, crumbling concert hall as the piece came to a close, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Things to Learn from Marilyn Horne: The Song Continues

Marilyn Horne’s autobiography, published in 2004 with the help of Jane Scovell, serves not only to discuss her career and artistry, but also to enlighten young singers in their endeavors to become professional musicians.

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She begins her book telling how she played the mighty and powerful soldier Tancredi, who has been exiled in Rossini’s opera of the same name. In the end, Tancredi wins a victorious battle and is united with his lover Amenaide for a happy ending. Throughout her book, Horne evokes this very confidence as she fought for her career in music; never was there any doubt in her mind that she could make it, even if it took embarking overseas to Europe for opportunities. She eloquently described the fear factor of this whole process, crossing over the Atlantic to countries in which language barriers were prevalent, living conditions were questionable, and the uncertainty of success, even after traveling such great distances, loomed. (Nowadays, as she mentioned, singers are able to start their careers in the United States, whereas up until the mid to late twentieth century singers were obligated to venture over to Europe and beyond).

Cover of Marilyn Horne's 1989 recording of Rossini's Tancredi

Cover of Marilyn Horne’s 1989 recording of Rossini’s Tancredi

As the book is written chronologically, she also describes how she was able to overcome the loss of her parents, siblings, friends, and many others in order to get her job done on the stage; an almost impossible feat in light of such emotional events. This confidence factor that she carried throughout her career is something young singers should take to heart and remember over the course of their trials and errors.

However, just as Rossini revised the ending of Tancredi to have him mortally wounded in battle and learn then that his lover never betrayed him, Horne goes into great detail the pain and anguish the very life of a singer caused her. Even though opera singers largely have individual and self-motivated careers, they all have people in their lives who can be affected by the unattractive aspects of the career: traveling being a big factor. It is clearly shown through her warm reverence that family meant a lot to Marilyn Horne, even though she could not be around for every single life event. She and Henry Lewis loved each other dearly, yet due to the gruesome aspects of the life of a singer, as described by Horne, their marriage was not meant to succeed. There was no operatic betrayal involved, like that found in Tancredi, it was just a real-life, offstage tragedy.

On a lighter note, Horne’s humor made her book truly enjoyable. It is evident how funny she is simply based on what she did for her career. Even at the times when her weight became an issue, she managed to turn it on other people. When one German opera company hesitated in hiring her because of her weight, she stood back and sang a ringing “Ritorna vincitor” for the director, who later ended up hiring her. As weight has become a prevalent issue in recent years for singers due to the Met Live in HD series and more stress placed on productions and “vision”, carrying Horne’s passive and humorous attitude towards the matter is an idea to keep in mind. It is a shame that there was even a slight chance that Marilyn Horne’s weight would have spoken louder of her ability as an artist than her immense talent, corresponding to what happened earlier last year with Irish Marilyn Horne-esque mezzo soprano Tara Erraught at Glyndebourne.

marilyn-horne-masterclass

Marilyn Horne giving a master class at Carnegie Hall on January 13, 2014 (Pete Checchia/Carnegie Hall)

It was a delight reading about Marilyn Horne’s career as both a singer, and later the proponent of the Marilyn Horne Foundation, launched on January 16, 1994. The organization allows young artists to explore the world of recital-based singing, and to participate in master classes, a few of which are held at Carnegie Hall annually during the week of Horne’s birthday, held by guest artists and Ms. Horne herself. I have had the lucky opportunity over the last few years to attend her master classes, as well as adjunct ones taught by Christa Ludwig and Anne Sofie von Otter, in 2014 and 2015 respectively. She is sharp as a tack when it comes to dealing with singers’ proper breath support, of which she is a huge advocate, as well as diction, and having an idea of the background information. In her 2013 master class, I vividly remember her getting on a singer, whose art song was based on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, for not having read the play. This proved to be a valuable lesson in song preparation for not only the poor singer but to every vocal student sitting in Carnegie Hall that night. Her tact and aptness in her preparation during her career showed brilliantly in her autobiography, just as they do in her master classes.

I would recommend this book to vocal students who are looking to pursue solo careers like she had. Many of the hardships she described relate to traveling and feeling far away from home, therefore, I think anyone pursuing a career that requires being separated from family and friends would appreciate her confessions of how tough that life can be. Her book was truly enlightening, just as she acts as a beacon of light for the next generation of classical vocalists.