Sunday, September 25, 2011

New York Philharmonic - Barber, Wagner & Strauss - 09/21/11

Barber: Overture to The School for Scandal, Op. 5
Wagner: "Dich, teure Halle", from Tannhäuser, Act II - Deborah Voigt
Barber: "Andromache's Farewell", for Soprano and Orchestra - Deborah Voigt
Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser
R. Strauss: Intermezzo, Dance of Seven Veils, and Final Scene from Salome - Deborah Voigt

As another season is finally looming, a bunch of opening nights are all happening in quick succession in the Big Apple, starting with the New York Philharmonic last Wednesday night. The program frankly did not look particularly inspired - Barber has never done much for me, and reducing Wagner's and Strauss' œuvres to short excerpts sounded more like a merciless tease than a fully satisfying experience. On the other hand, the wonderful Deborah Voigt was going to be there, the New York Philharmonic is always a pleasure to listen to, and a comp ticket had unexpectedly ended on my lap, so why not?

After a rousing "Star-Spangled Banner", the concert started in earnest with Barber's overture to The School of Scandal. Written when the composer was only 21, it had a pleasant, melodic directness to it, the kind that I happily enjoy while I hear it, but soon forget as soon as it is over. The polite but restrained applause from my fellow concert-goers made me think that I was not the only one of that opinion.
The audience's enthusiasm, however, quickly went up a notch or two when hugely popular soprano Deborah Voigt made her appearance on stage for an aria from Wagner's Tannehäuser. That's also when the acoustics shortcomings of the Avery Fisher Hall became painfully obvious as the muddled sounds from the orchestra were often unceremoniously covering her clear, powerful voice. Granted, sitting in a side box probably did not help matters either. Bottom line is, what could have been a thrilling collaboration between one of the today's top opera singers and one of the world's most highly regarded orchestras turned out to be only intermittently exciting.
The same unfortunate circumstances applied to "Andromache's Farewell" by Barber, not to mention that, let's face it, Barber is no Wagner, and I'm no fan of Greek tragedies. Next.
The overture to Tannhäuser fared much better. Even if it gets repetitive and brass-heavy toward the end, the lively, gutsy performance of it by the fired-up orchestra briefly reconciled me with the concert hall.
Less than a year ago, my move from DC to NY was way too hectic and costly to allow me to keep up my regular performance schedule, and one of my biggest regrets was to have missed Deborah Voigt in Salome with the Washington National Opera. On Wednesday, it looked like I would at least have a taste of it thanks to a trio of excerpts from Richard Strauss' shocker. Alas, while the Intermezzo and the Dance of the Seven Veils were appropriately fierce and bold, the final scene was another frustrating combination of vibrant, full-throttled singing sporadically drowned by instrumental sounds going off all over the place, allowing for just a few fleeting, right-on moments to come through brilliantly. Better than nothing, of course, and enough, I guess, to have us come back next season.

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