Friday, June 20, 2008

Two banner events in the next 36 hours!

  • MET Web Stream / WQXR - Met Summer Concert: Live in Prospect Park
    The Met's summertime tradition of free outdoor performances returns with a special one-night only event in Prospect Park. Celebrate the start of summer with two of opera's biggest stars - Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna- singing popular arias and duets. Ion Marin conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus in the operatic event of the summer, sponsored by Bank of America.

Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna have sometimes been referred to as "The Love Couple" of opera, but together or apart, they always generate the kinds of thrills in actual performance that make some opera lovers reach for extravagant comparisons. You can judge for yourself how extravagant at GMT 0000 / EDT 8:00PM (Friday) this evening, when WQXR and the official Metropolitan Opera Web Stream carry tonight's Gala Concert at Prospect Park under the stars. Ion Marin leads Gheorghiu and Alagna and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus in popular arias and duets. This is a special one-night only event, marking the beginning of summer.

  • WFMT Opera Series (numerous stations) - From Lyric Opera of Chicago, Richard Strauss's Frau ohne Schatten-- Sir Andrew Davis conducts a cast featuring Deborah Voigt as the Empress, Christine Brewer as Dyer’s Wife, Jill Grove as the Nurse, Robert Dean Smith as the Emperor, Franz Hawlata as Barak, Quinn Kelsey as the Spirit Messenger, Stacey Tappan as Voice of the Falcon, John Easterlin as Hunchbacked Brother, Daniel Sutin as One-Eyed Brother, and Andrew Funk as One-Armed Brother, and the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Maybe the most exciting Web event of the entire summer will be this Saturday's airing of this past season's performance of Richard Strauss's finest opera, Frau ohne Schatten (Woman without a Shadow), from the Chicago Lyric Opera. This performance received rave reviews at the time. It will be heard this coming Saturday afternoon on the Net and over the air at GMT 1700/EDT 1:00PM! It looks as if this performance may have beaten the jinx that this work habitually must endure, because it's almost impossible to cast with all five principal roles done by equally gifted singers who each possess both genuine vocal power and genuine musicality.

The last time I remember a cast of such magnitude was in the late '60s, when Karl Boehm led performances featuring Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, Irene Dalis, James King and Walter Berry. Since then, there have always been one or two roles that have been "undercast", making the overall experience not the transcendent odyssey through some of humanity's deepest feelings that Strauss clearly intended. The role of the Dyer's Wife in particular (sung by Christa Ludwig in that marvelous '60s ensemble) has suffered terribly since and has now been ghettoized inside the unmusical throats of downright bizarre character singers only. This for a part that was first written for the celebrated Lotte Lehmann!!

I have personally heard, either "live" or over the air, each one of the five singers in this Chicago revival within the past 18 months, and I can vouch that each of them has given real musical pleasure during that period.

Although I didn't regard Voigt this past season as a truly authentic Isolde, primarily because her lower register does not have the richness of texture and color that I expect in an Isolde, her voice today soars effortlessly in its upper reaches, as demonstrated in this past season's account at Carnegie Hall of Strauss's Four Last Songs. This song cycle is considerably closer to the vocal "map" of the Empress's role in Frau ohne Schatten than is Isolde, and I heard Voigt do a splendid Empress at the Met just a few seasons back that showed me the role is a perfect fit for her. The fact that this season she was able to display the same qualities in Strauss's autumnal song cycle reassures me when it comes to the leading role in Frau ohne Schatten.

As for Brewer, every time I've heard her, she has shown unfailing beauty of tone through the most dramatic and heroic vocal territory, and it will be a pleasure hearing the Dyer's Wife truly sung, after the kind of anti-musical vandalism it has routinely received for the past generation.

Smith's Tristan, heard this past season at the Met, was one of the few I've heard that showed not a bit of fatigue in the final act (no mean feat!), and his approach was always musical and lyrical. He may not have the sheer power of James King in the role of the Emperor (in that superb '60s ensemble), but he should have the same musicality.

Hawlata also maintains an authentic musicality whenever he performs, and I always appreciate that.

Finally, it is rare indeed for a Magdalene to dominate the second act of Wagner's Meistersinger, but, on a recent star-studded occasion, Grove's Magdalene more than held her own, making an indelible mark in her impatience with David at the opening of the act, in her melifluous delivery, still brimming over with mischief, of the exchange where Magd. decides to appear at the window as Eva, and in her soaring cries of alarm during the riot at the act's close. Here is a star, and her Nurse in Frau ohne Schatten should be exciting.

So on paper, this could be a superb performance, well worth hearing.

One Chicago patron has written us, giving us a taste of the excitement generated by this ensemble:

"I never expected to see FRAU live and with 5 superb singers. Well, 4 were well known to me, from other productions. Dean Smith was the unknown. The performance was so thrilling that I immediately booked a second trip and just trusted someone would turn in a decent seat for the sold-out night that I could return. It worked. And was equally satisfying the 2nd time.

Although all 5 were superb, Brewer 'stole the show' for me. The beauty of her voice was breathtaking. As we will all hear in a few days!"

Bottom line: I fervently hope many of you can tune in this Saturday afternoon at GMT 1700 / EDT 1:00PM and enjoy!

Happy listening.....


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