Monday, December 15, 2008

DRIVING MS ELEKTRA: A BRIEF NOTE

On Saturday evening Sam Shirakawa revisited the N. Y. Philharmonic's concert Elektra for its final performance . . .

New York Philharmonic

13 December 2008

Backstage following one of her concert triumphs in 1961, Judy Garland is said to have told a gushing admirer who had just seen her perform live for the first time: Don't attend again. She explained that her on-stage magic rarely struck twice.

I recalled that odd piece of advice while attending the fourth and last Elektra on Saturday evening given by the New York Philharmonic. The first performance over a week ago was nothing less than a sensation. Word-of-mouth on the second and third performances was enthusiastic. But the net-net of Saturday night's presentation struck me as more summary than summation. A couple of missed cues, an unnerving memory lapse and some pitch issues were among the cardinal signs that magic wasn't striking.

Deborah Polaski sounded tired. Who can blame her? At least this time. But her handlers should be raked over the coals for letting her sing one of the most grueling roles in the operatic repertory four times in ten days. (Not even Flagstad had to do anything like that "back in the day...") And the Philharmonic management should be reminded: it's not fair to subscribers.

With one exception, the other lead singers appeared to be relieved rather than elated to be giving their final accounts of their roles, for now. Only Anne Schwanewilms seemed as deeply involved as she was on 4 December -- again a thrill to hear.

The New York Philharmonic was in a boisterous, end-of-a-long-haul mood -- behaving more like a Mack truck than a Maserati. But Lorin Maazel's firm grip steered the orchestra without knife-jacking over some rugged terrain in Strauss' treacherous score, making it sound, all in all, as though it was meant to be played that way.

┬ęSam H. Shirakawa

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