Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One for the Price of Two

Sam Shirakawa attended this past Monday's performance of Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera. As always, we hereby present his take:




A reviewer of the Met’s current Cav/Pag revival complains that Franco Zeffirelli’s 1970 production is beginning to look old -- maybe too old.


In fact, the sets and costimes, which Z also designed, are beginning to look exactly as they should have when they were brand new -- sun-bleached, dusty and a bit tatty.

Depending on what you think of the Met’s current casting policy, though, some patrons may feel shortchanged: Cav/Pag is usually cast with two tenors, one for each opera. In the current run, Roberto Alagna sang Turiddu and Canio in a few performances, and now Jose Cura is taking over to do double duty.

I skipped Alagna because he doesn’t pique my interest in either role. Cura is another matter. His voice is sufficiently “brown” to bear the pressures both roles impose with the kind of swagger they demand. The animality in Cura’s sound -- brash but vulnerable -- sparks the imagination.

As it turned out on Monday evening, he seemed more involved as the rake Turiddu than as the cuckold Canio. I had the impression that he was rushing the tempo in Pag and looking for a peg on which to hang his costume, rather than sinking into the morbid brooding that drives his character to tragic action.

His Turiddu, on the other hand, rocked with chauvinistic testosterone, brandishing portamento like a deadly weapon. There was more there in Cura's Turiddu, possibly because his Santuzza is far more compelling as a foil than his Nedda.

I first heard Ildiko Komlosi about ten years ago in Mannheim, when she stepped in on short notice as Octavian. She was a pleasant though somewhat reticent surprise on that occasion; she was a wow on Monday night. Komlosi has spent her time expeditiously and her talent wisely in the intervening decade. She sounds like she’s targeting the gap left by Cossotto and Verrett. From the way she cut loose in “Voi lo sapete” and in the protracted duet, she's aiming in the right direction.

Nuccia Focile has a pleasant stage personality, but her vocal profile sounds like it’s in transition from lyric to spinto. Only in the final moments of the play-within-a-play did she finally display the conviction she earlier was trying to muster.

Which brings me to the pair of elements that glued Monday evening’s performance together. Alberto Mastromarino also did double duty as Alfio in Cav and Tonio in Pag. You might want a bit more deadly assurance in the former and a larger dollop of grease in the latter, but his account of Tonio’s prologue had just the right cautery, topped off with an ecstatic A natural.

Pietro Rizzo drew marvelous playing from the Met Orchestra and reminded me again of what wonderful music both scores contain.

Cav and Pag are incessantly derided as warhorses, but when they are treated with the care that the Met is giving them at the moment, they are exciting to ride again and again.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, March 28, 2009


Sam Shirakawa attended the Opening Night of this season's run of Das Rheingold at the Met on Wednesday evening. Here's his squib:

Das Rheingold

Season Premiere 25 March 2009
Metropolitan Opera

If Das Rheingold is on the boards, it must be springtime now and Ring time again at the Metropolitan Opera. Otto Schenk has returned to supervise the final incarnations of his grandly representational production dating from 1987. The new version of what one critic has called “the ultimate mini-series” is set for 2010 and promises to be something entirely different.

This year, there are extra performances of Rheingold and Walküre to supplement the usual three cycles beginning at today’s matineé broadcast and continuing through early May. Expect to hear a lot of Japanese, German, Brit-English and Russian spoken during intermissions. Even in these wretched economic times, the Met remains Mecca for financially intrepid Wagnerites.

The first performance of Rheingold this season turned out to be only the 150th time the company has mounted the work -- by far the least performed of the four Ring operas.

Many of the singers who appeared at the premiere of this production have long since retired, but in an age when change happens too fast and too often, it is comforting to many to have James Morris back once again as Wotan. The incursions of time have diminished his vocal powers, but he was able to summon the requisite strength at the most critical moments -- especially in “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” -- the god’s articulation of relief at the completion of Valhalla. The rest of the cast was about as fine as money can buy these days: Yvonne Naef (Fricka), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Jill Grove (Erda), John Tomlinson and Franz-Josef Selig respectively as Fafner and Fasolt -- all in fine form. In a cast of equals Kim Begley (Loge), Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) and the trio of Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey and Tamara Mumford as the Rhine Maidens were incandescent.

The other holdover from the production’s premiere, of course, is James Levine. Of some 20 odd times I’ve been present to hear him conduct Rheingold in the house, Wednesday evening’s performance was arguably his finest to date -- primarily because he seems to have discovered, finally, the recondite magic and sad sense of wonder in the work, which he palpably missed in his previous excursions into Nibelheim.

All of which led me to reflect afterwards on what take-away the performance may have offered. If nothing else, Rheingold, indeed the entire Ring, is about the Grand-Daddy of all Toxic Assets. The forged ring ultimately ruins everybody in a cumulative tidal wave of devastating collateral. The dire warnings of this intermittently hummable tale, adumbrated so seductively in swathes of wicked harmonies, continue to go unheeded, as the world sucks itself into the Augean stables of fiduciary feculence.

Sooner or later, though, what may get even worse gets better: We are, it seems, living out the Shakespearean-Wagnerian Dialectic. But how long in really real time is the journey between that deceptive E flat pedal which begins the infelicitous tetralogy in whose midst we now find ourselves -- and our arrival enfin at the redemptive D-flat Major coda that only the love which transcends understanding can win?

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, March 21, 2009

Heading today's lineup is the Metropolitan Opera's broadcast of Bellini's La Sonnambula with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez:

  • Metropolitan Opera Broadcast (on numerous stations) - Bellini's La Sonnambula, with Natalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez and Michele Pertusi, conducted by Evelino Pido.
  • KBIA2 also has Evelino Pido at the podium in NPR World of Opera's Turin performance of Cherubini's Medea with Anna Caterina Antonacci, Giuseppe Filianoti and Sara Mingardo.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3 - Vltava - Bizet's Pearl Fishers, featuring K. Gauvin and conducted by Frederic Chaslin.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - Another chance to hear Berlioz's captivating Beatrice et Benedict, featuring Joyce Di Donato, Colin Davis conducting.
  • Radio Tre - From Flemish Opera, Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa, starring Nikolai Putilin, conducted by Dmitri Jurowskij.
  • Cesky Rozhlas - D-Dur - Mendelssohn's Paulus, with Melanie Diener, James Taylor and Matthias Goerne, conducted by Phillippe Herreweghe.

Happy listening . . . .

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Metropolitan Opera's broadcast of Dvorak's Rusalka with Renée Fleming has attracted great attention from the European stations in the Met's network - as a consequence, there are fewer live offerings this afternoon than usual:

  • Metropolitan Opera Broadcast (on numerous stations) - Dvorak's Rusalka, with Renée Fleming, Aleksander Antonenko, Stephanie Blythe, Kristinn Sigmundsson, Christine Goerke, James Courtney, Kate Lindsey, Kathleen Kim, Brenda Patterson and Edita Kulczak, conducted by Jiri Belohlavek.
  • KBIA2 - NPR World of Opera: From Washington National Opera, Wagner's Das Rheingold with Robert Hale, Robin Leggate, Gordon Hawkins, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Ohmes, Gary Rideout, Jeffrey Wells, John Marcus Brindel, Detlef Roth, Corey Evan Rotz, Frédérique Vézina, JiYoung Lee, Jennifer Hines and Elena Zaremba, conducted by Heinz Fricke.
  • Catalunya Musica - From Gran Teatre del Liceu an October 22, 2008, performance of Verdi's Requiem, with Angela Brown, Hasmik Papian, Josep Bros, and René Pape (?), conducted by Enrique Mazzola.
  • DeutschlandRadio Kultur - LIVE from Theater Bielefeld, Glinka's Ruslan und Ludmila, with Monte Jaffe, Victoria Granlund, Michail Bachtadze, Dshamilja Kaiser, Jacek Janiszewski, Sarah Kuffner, Luca Martin, Ljubka Nikolowa, Lassi Partanen and Ulrich Neuweiler, conducted by Leo Siberski.
  • Dwojke Polskie Radio - From Parco Della Musica in Rzym, an October 16, 2008, performance of Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso, with Romina Basso, Manuela Custer, Sylva Pozzer, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Jordi Domenech, Xavier Sabata and Lorenzo Regazzo, conducted by Andrea Marcon.
  • Espace 2 - From the Vienna State Opera, an October 11, 2008, performance of Gounod's Faust, with Roberto Alagna, Kwangchul Youn, Angela Gheorghiu, Adrian Eröd, Alexandru Moisiuc, Michaela Selinger and Janina Baechle, conducted by Bertrand de Billy.
  • Klara - From Teatro Real in Madrid, an October 4, 2008, performance of Verdi's Un Ball in Maschera, with Marcelo Alvarez, Violeta Urmana, Ludovic Tézier, Elena Zaremba, Alessandra Marianelli, Borja Quiza, Miguel Sola, Scott Wilde, Orlando Niz and César San Martín, conducted by Jesús López-Cobos.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - On their late-night program, Esercisi de Memoria, which airs at Midnight European Time on Saturday and Sunday nights, from RAI's vaults come two Wagner broadcasts both conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch: Saturday - a February 15, 1969 performance of Der Fliegende Holländer, with Karl Ridderbusch, Ingrid Bjöner, Sven Olaf Eliasson, Regine Fonseca, Thomas Lehrberger and Franz Crass; Sunday - an October 1, 1972 performance of Tannhäuser, with Manfred Schenk, René Kollo, Wolfgang Brendel, Karl Ernst Mercker, Jef Vermeersch, Martin Finke, Mario Chiappi, Gundula Janowitz, Mignon Dunn and Elke Schary.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) - From the Metropolitan Opera, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, with Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ildar Abdrazakov, Colin Lee, Michaela Martens and Michael Myers, conducted by Marco Armiliato.
  • ABC Classic FM (Autralia) - From the Metropolitan Opera, Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, with Maria Guleghina, Placido Domingo, John del Carlo and Olga Borodina, conducted by Marco Armiliato.

Happy listening . . . .

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mortal Longings

Sam Shirakawa attended the Opening Night of Rusalka on Monday night. Here's his squib:

Dvorak : Rusalka Season Premiere

Metropolitan Opera
9 March 2009

Why would an immortal want to shuffle onto this mortal coil? An answer is to be heard in Antonin Dvorak’s most famous opera Rusalka, now on the boards at the Metropolitan Opera.

Why, Love for a mortal, of course!

But renunciation on such a scale demands commensurate sacrifices. Once the beautiful water nymph Rusalka falls in love with a mortal prince, who has taken a dip in her pool, if you’ll pardon the expression, she must give up all her supernatural perks in order to join him in the earthly universe, as well as submit herself to being stricken mute.

As fairy tales would have it -- The Little Mermaid for example -- her beloved prince rejects her. Why any guy in a marrying frame of mind would snub a prospective spouse who can’t talk back or sass him is a mystery librettist Jaroslav Kvapil never solves. And the impediment also creates a problem for Dvorak because it prevents his lead character from uttering a peep for a significant portion of the opera.

But when Rusalka does speak, she sings gloriously, especially when she’s portrayed so movingly by Renée Fleming, who has also taken the role with success in the Met’s past two revivals of Otto Schenk’s delightful 1993 production. Now that she’s mistress of the part, the question is whether you like her interpretation. She’s not nearly as other-worldly as, say, Gabriella Beňačková, but you’re hard put to reject the passion she puts into a character, who gets the cold shoulder from the mortal to whom she is fatally attracted.

The object of Rusalka’s affections is taken by Aleksandrs Antonenko, making his Met debut. There’s no doubt that the young Latvian newcomer can interpret beefy parts, but the question is whether you like his voice. If you’re used to big-vibrato tenors from the former Eastern Bloc, Antonenko’s voice, despite an occasional squeeze at the top, will please you. If you’re accustomed to rapid-fire vibrato in your heavyweight tenors, you may find him an acquired taste -- though worth the required patience.

Stephanie Blythe drew audience appreciation for her humor-laced inflections as the witch with the right potion for what ails you. As the Foreign Princess, Christine Goerke effectively rendered a different kind of witch. Brenda Patterson made an impressive showing in her Met debut as one of Rusalka's playmates.

Apart from steering the performance with rhythmic incisiveness, Jiri Belohlávek inspired the Met Orchestra to produce waves of gorgeous sound.

Rusalka may be a fairy tale, but it speaks to every age. The Met’s revival also arrives at a moment in our history when it offers more than pretty music: The water nymph renounces her anxiety-free existence for an environment fraught with danger and damnation -- all for the sake of love. And what she ultimately gets is not love requited but its true and withering flip-side: indifference. Her story belongs to the long tradition of tale-telling that exposes the human soul alone, sliding into an alien societal conundrum, deprived of the assets and skills necessary for survival. Depressing maybe, if you care to view the tale as solely reflecting the maze of impecuniosity through which humankind willy-nilly is now groping. But it’s ultimately cathartic too, for unlike Rusalka, we are not, at least for the moment, alone.

Note: The Met's Rusalka has been performed whenever Schenk's Ring Cycle is mounted. Especially on matinee Saturdays. Are some or all of the sets by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen for both productions interchangeable? If yes, it's a shrewd move. Whodda guessed? And is Renée a standby for one of the Andrew Sisters in Walküre...?

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Met Audience: Live! ...and booing!

We have been hearing great things about the singing, but ghastly reports abnout the production from several friends who have attended the new production of La Sonnambula at the Metropolitan Opera this past week. So we were interested to see what Sam Shirakawa might have to say about Friday evening's performance:

Metropolitan Opera
6 March 2009

Well, whaddaya know! The audience at the Metropolitan Opera can boo badness as boisterously as baseball fans berating Barry Bonds.

Such was the widely reported spectacle performed by the crowd attending the March 3d premiere of Mary Zimmerman’s ill-conceived production of Bellini’s La Sonnambula. At the second performance, which I attended, the audience made its displeasure known as the house lights came up for the intermission. Rarely have I heard such hissing and hooting at a Met performance since Ponnelle lifted the skirt on his short-lived Dutchman in 1979.

If you’ve sought out what you’re reading now, you probably already know the details of what elicited the discontent. Mary Dearest has shifted the opera’s locale from the Swiss Alps of the early 19th century to a present-day rehearsal loft -- probably somewhere in Manhattan’s Cast Iron District or Soho -- where a cast, dressed mostly in modern garb, is walking through what appears to be a traditional 19th century production of Sonnambula. Its loose plot involves the impending marriage of a lovely village lassie to her simple boyfriend. Here’s the twist Mary Dearest added to the plot: The lead singers happen to have the same names as the characters they are playing, and they too are romantically involved. Tah Dah! Parallel universe. Sort of. Get it?

Frankly, no.

If the original plot were tighter, the conceit might work. But the libretto as written by Felice Romani (based on a drama by Eugene Scribe) is so implausible from the get-go, that it can hardly bear the imposition of an added synthetic narrative. It’s also hard to know at what junctures the two plot lines diverge or dovetail. Maybe we’re not meant to. Waking, sleeping, dreaming, sleepwalking and so on. Get it?

No again.

As impatience sets in, you begin to suspect that the present-day plot element is simply a cynical ploy to save gargantuan costs for period costumes and scenery. As distraction creeps in, you begin to speculate upon the vast number of operas, operettas and musicals that could be similarly mounted.

So... here's my proposal for the Met management, that would surely ameliorate the company’s current financial crisis: Fit EVERY upcoming new production into the rehearsal room framework posited by Mary Dearest’s concept. With its huge parquet flooring, Daniel Ostling’s flexible unit set would also function as a sounding board to throw the voices out into the house -- much like the tall slabs of scenery for the Met’s new Trovatore. And wouldn’t ya know, there’s even a protracted package-throwing sequence, whose blocking could be cloned for the pillow fight that closes Meistersinger’s second act!

But let’s think out of the box for a moment: How about chucking Zeffirelli’s much-too elaborate Boheme for a stripped down rehearsal version, in which Rudolfo and Mimi fornicate during their love duet? What about a rehearsal version of Carmen-as-Flashback, in which Don José murders his real-life live-in girl friend during the prelude to the first act rather than at the opera’s final moments? But at THIS rehearsal, he uses a real knife. Stop me! Pleeeez!

So how was the performance otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln?

Pretty cruddy, actually, she might aptly reply.

With the exception of the Teflon Tenor, of course.

Juan Diego Florez seems indestructible. In fact, he just keeps getting better and more refined. He’s honed that distinctive burr that gooses the ears, and he’s drained his top notes of that adenoidal honk that’s been giving some of his wussier critics dyspepsia. Standing, sitting, or reclining imperturbably in the midst of the imbecilities being perpetrated around him, Florez simply waits his turn to stand and deliver what opera has always been about in the first place: Great singing. He's really got the Whole Package, folks.

On Natalie Dessay, I run hot and cold. I run hot when she crawls along a table top trilling her brains out. Golly gee! Can that gal multi-task! But I run cold when she lunges at high notes and misses. On her good nights, Dessay too embodies the Whole Package, but its wrapping is beginning to fray at the creases. This becomes increasingly apparent, when she mounts a trajectory that propels her gradually over the orchestra pit, where she sings a generally affecting “Ah, non credea.” The altered ambience into which she is thrust, however, is not kind.

Having intended to become a dancer, Dessay moves as though blessed by Terpsichore herself, but her occasional reversions to that cutesy wind-up doll shtick from last season’s La Fille du Regiment are turning old fast.

Michele Pertusi is a sonorous Count Rodolfo. Jennifer Black is serviceable as Lisa. Jane Bunnell looks too young to be convincing as Dessay’s foster mother.

The less obvious culprits behind the cruddiness of this woeful production, though, are conductor Evelino Pido and his sluggish tempi. It’s hard to tell what he’s driving at -- rapture? lyricism? Whatever the aim, the end-effect is worthy of no less than the goddess Dulness in The Dunciad.

And finally, the ventilators in the lighting eyrie above the Family Circle are still droning too loudly -- not nearly as bad as before, but still loud enough to prevent you from hearing Mme. Dessay essay a pianissimo. Since seats for this location are soon going to cost 33 percent more, surely Mr. Gelb can assign part of this obscene increase to remedy the problem once and for all.

©Sam H. Shirakawa

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, March 7, 2009

A reminder for everyone: Don't forget that tonight -- Saturday night/Sunday morning -- we put our clocks ahead one hour and Daylight Savings Time begins; you'll note our listings start using EDT after 2:00AM tonight.

It's not any old average Saturday afternoon when you can find two different performances of Handel's Partenope to listen to .... Everybody seemed to be talking about Giuseppe Filianoti's difficulties in the Met's run of Rigoletto, but why weren't they talking about Aleksandra Kurzak's delectable Gilda??? So hear it again this afternoon on Bayern 4 Klassisk .... Two stations are giving us all another chance to hear Joyce DiDonato in Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict.

Here are the live offerings for this afternoon:
  • Bayern 4 Klassisk - Another chance to hear the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Verdi's Rigoletto, featuring Aleksandra Kurzak's Gilda, with colleagues George Gagnidze, Giuseppe Filianoti, George Gagnidze, Victoria Vizin and Mikhail Petrenko, conducted by Riccardo Frizza.
  • Deutschlandradio Kultur & MDR Figaro - From Theater Gera, a March 6th performance of Haas's Scharlatan, with Andreas Scheibner, Franziska Rauch, Katrin Strocka, Kai Wefer, Peter-Paul Haller, Günter Markwarth, Johannes Weinhuber, Serge Novique, Bernhard Hänsch, David Ameln, Winfried Roscher, Roman Koshmanov, Andreas Veit and Konrad Zorn, conducted by Jens Troester.
  • DR P2 - From the Vienna State Opera, a February 28 performance of Bizet's Carmen, with Vesselina Kasarova, José Cura, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo and Genia Kühmeier, conducted by Asher Fisch.
  • Metropolitan Opera Broadcast (on numerous stations) - Puccini's Madama Butterfly, with Patricia Racette, Marcello Giordani, Duane Croft and Maria Zifchak, conducted by Patrick Summers.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - From Theater an der Wien in Vienna, a March 1st performance of Handel's Partenope, with Christine Schäfer, Kurt Streit, David Daniels, Patrica Bardon and Florian Boesch, conducted by Christophe Rousset.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana & Klara - Another opportunity to hear a February 7th performance of Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict from Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, with Joyce Di Donato and Charles Workman, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - From the Vienna State Opera, a performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugen Onegin, with Tamar Iveri, Nadia Krasteva, Simon Keenlyside, Ramón Vargas and Ain Anger, conducted by Seiji Ozawa.
  • KBIA2 - NPR World of Opera: From the Hungarian State Opera, a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio, with Tunde Szaboki, Thomas Moser, Friedemann Kunder, Zita Varadi, Attila Fekete, Bela Perencz and Gabor Brentz, conducted by Adam Fischer.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3-Vltava - From the Vienna State Opera, a performance of Richard Strauss's Capriccio, with Renée Fleming, Bo Skovhus, Michael Schade, Edian Eröd, Franz Hawlata, Angelika Kirchslager, Peter Jelosits, Jane Archibald, Cosmin Ifrim and Clemens Unterriener, conducted by Philippe Jordan.
  • Espace 2 - From Netherlands Opera, a performance of Cavalli's Ercole amante, with Luca Pisaroni, Veronica Cangemi, Anna Bonitatibus, Jeremy Ovenden, Anna Maria Panzarella, Marlin Miller, Umberto Chiummo, Wilke te Brummelstroete, Johannette Zomer, Mark Tucker and Tim Mead, conducted by Ivor Bolton.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From Teatro Comunale de Ferrara, a January 14th performance of Handel's Partenope, with Elena Monti, Ambra Mancuso, Sonia Prina, Valentina Varriale, Cyril Auvity, Gianpiero Ruggeri and Accademia Bizantina, conducted by Ottavio Dantone.

Happy listening....


The Best of Times, the Worst of Times?

Sam Shirakawa paid a visit to Baltimore on Thursday evening. His squib follows:

Baltimore Symphony Concert - 5 March

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...”

Who wrote that? Ah, yes. Charles Dickens. Even as the nation and the world now flounder in the midst of ever worsening times, it's the best of times for concertgoers in some cities who seek a thrifty cultural fix.

Take attendance at the Baltimore Symphony, for example. Only a handful of seats went begging on Thursday night (5 March) at the Symphony’s handsome home Meyerhoff Hall, thanks in part to last-minute scaled down pricing. An interesting program led by Jun Märkl also prompted queues at the box office: Stravinsky’s ballet Apollo -- finished in 1928, a year before the Great Market Crash -- and Mozart’s Requiem (K. 626) -- left unfinished at the time of his untimely death in 1791 at age 35. As an apparent nod to our parlous economic times, the orchestra performed the former without dancers; the latter without a casket.

A lip blip at an exposed juncture made Stravinsky’s U-turn from rampant Romanticism to the rigors of classicism a bit more, well, angular than usual. But the orchestra, soloists and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society under Tom Hall were in unison for the Requiem, freeing Märkl to illuminate in glowing terms Mozart’s valedictory view of a new order of classicism.

Contributing to the glow were the uniformly gifted young vocal soloists. Despite a gaffe or two in placement, Christine Brandes’ warm vocalism served her well in her orisons. I couldn’t help wishing that Mozart had composed a larger part for the mezzo, because the cocoa in Susan Platts’ lower register produces the kind of ear candy that makes you crave more. Tenor Roger Honeywell is well known to those who’ve heard him at the Met in Doctor Atomic. His voice is as sweet as the first part of his surname suggests. How well and how deeply it develops remains to be heard. Timothy Jones received the biggest hand among the vocalists, and I suspect what elicited the spike was the smokey gray grain in the timbre of his voice.

The maestro of the evening, though, was Jun Märkl, who currently presides over L’Orchestre de Lyon and the MDR Symphonie of Leipzig. While he’s appeared with most of the major orchestras and opera companies in the United States since his successful Met debut in 1999, he’s among many outstanding conductors the Met has ignored. The one remaining gap in his resume is a gig with the New York Philharmonic. In an age of cyberspace concert going, though, he could ostensibly delay his return to the Big Apple indefinitely. After all, his ascension last year to Music Director of the MDR Orchestra has given him a powerful world-wide bully pulpit and places him in an unique position in the pantheon of current music directors. Why? The MDR Symphonie Orchester is an unjustly underrated ensemble and a media orchestra, unencumbered by the exigencies of tradition under which blue-chip German musical institutions such as the Gewandhaus and Berlin Philharmonic labor.

Pace somnambulistic German bureaucracy, Märkl can make the MDR Symphonie into what he wants, and he has been handed a golden opportunity at a critical historical juncture where the need for cultural sustenance follows only the demand for housing, food and basic services. No conductor since Toscanini at NBC on the eve of World War II has had such potential for international cultural enrichment handed to him -- and he didn't have the internet. Whether Märkl has the ambition, will and vision to lead such an organization according to the social imperative of our time is the question now before him in this our age of foolishness, our season of Darkness.

The program is being repeated Friday in Wye Mills (6 March), Saturday evening in Strathmore (7 March) and Sunday in Baltimore (8 March) afternoon. If you live in or near Baltimore, turn off the utilities and go.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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