A little night music, pt III

Observations, for posterity:

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Ravinia Festival

Gala Benefit Concert: Night of the Century

Setting the stage: 

All is as it should be. Flawless weather, clear blue sky, a meandering breeze, towering white tents, ladies in jewel-colored floor-length gowns, men in tuxedos, row after row of blankets and regular people stretched across the bright green expanse of the lawn.

Highlights: 

* Strauss, Trio and finale from Der Rosenkavalier (Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Heidi Grant Murphy): three glorious soprano voices twining and rising together, sheer perfection marred only by an unfortunate staging decision that leads the audience to laugh over the finale's most famous (and not at all funny) line. Shameful!

* Ravel, Bolero (Chicago Symphony Orchestra): predictable and done almost to death, but stirring against one’s own better judgment. Of special note is the conductor electing to stand motionless for the first 11 or 12 minutes of the piece, leaving only a slight, bald man surrounded by instruments, waiting patiently while they pass the repetition from woodwind to woodwind, from string to string, from brass to brass—thereby creating the illusion that he is silently conjuring the music

Lowlights: 

* Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 (Lang Lang): sorry, but slow slow and too damn long long … and while I acknowledge that he may be a genius, I am no great lover of the piano (heretic!), and the incessant orgiastic head swaying is more than a little disconcerting

* Cicadas. One word: blech.

* A three-hour concert with no scheduled intermission? A crime against humanity.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Ravinia Festival

An Evening with Renée Fleming

Setting the stage: 

Three words: (seriously fucking) H. O. T.

Highlights:

* The operatic portion of the evening: signature after crowd-pleasing signature giving full reign to that rich, soaring voice. In particular, “Ebben, ne andro lontana,” "Merci jeunes amies," and “Cacilie.” Spectacular evidence of a gifted artist in her prime.

* "The Water Is Wide/Shenandoah." Soulful and jazzy.

* Bernstein, Overture to Candide (CSO): bright, sparkling, and lively

* Um, a small but not insignificant thing we like to call “A Backstage Pass to Meet Renée Fleming.” Who proves to be gracious, well-mannered, welcoming, strikingly unpretentious, a little mom-like, and short.

Lowlights:

* Alas, the showtunes portion of the evening is considerably less effective than the rest. Here the voice is simply too big and sounds both overwrought and shrill…displaying an excess of frilly plumage, if you will. Certainly I empathize with the impulse (woo hoo! showtunes!), but the result is forced and ultimately unflattering. And yet it’s heartening somehow to know that even Official Divas can’t do everything.

* Once again: (too fucking) H. O. T.