Queen of Spades (Pique Dame) Opera by Peter I. Tchaikovsky) Russian Opera Workshop, Ghenady Meirson, Music Director & Pianist, Academy of Vocal Arts, Helen Corning Warden Theater, 1925 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Performed July 24, 25, 26, 2012. Review of 7/25 for WRTI, 90.1 fm
The Russian Workshop that summers at Academy of Vocal Arts took on a big challenge this month with Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. Adding to the challenges of the dificult opera, the heat was stifling in AVA’s shoebox theater. Just as well that the 13 emerging artists from all over the map weren’t in costume. So tight were they stuffed on stage for the concert performance – with music director Ghenady Meirson at the keyboard. Meirson needed a better piano for the ravages of this tale. Queen of Spades, based on Pushkin, is another love story that doesn’t end well. Herman, who gambles, also not well, has his heart set on Liza, who’s engaged to someone else. If he can win the secrets of the cards from Lisa’s grandmother, the countess, he thinks he’ll win the girl. Fate of course throws its hand. But not before lots of girl and guy friends put in their money’s worth. The cast of young singers in the Russian Workshop production at AVA were nicely matched. At the performance I heard (July 25). Herman was sung by tenor Steven Williamson of Westminster Choir College, who gave the role an increasingly obsessive ardor. Liza was Nathalie Avila, from Miami, whose power and range is immense. Michael J. Davis was an excellent Tomsky. Maude Paradis took the Countess or the Queen of Spades at this one but all the women’s roles were notable especially the governess of mezzo Raehann Bryce Davis of Manhattan, who sang the title other nights. Look for these young artists everywhere.
Beyond the Score: Pure Melodrama? An exploration of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, conductor, Fred Child, narrator, Leonard C. Haas, actor, Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, April 19, 2012. Review for WRTI, 90.1 fm.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless it’s worth 1,000 notes. Beyond the Score, a multi-media project conceived by the Chicago Symphony to immerse newcomers with more than just the music is a good concept. We’ve enjoyed this kind of program before at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Thursday night, the score to get into and beyond at Verizon was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. Fred Child, of American Public Radio, narrated and Leonard Haas acted incidents concerning the life and process of one of the Russian master’s greatest works. (They did a good job.) Love, depression, marriage, homosexuality, these were factors. So was Tolstoy’s influence and the dominant theatrical value of the time, melodrama. Beyond the Score, uses a screen directly above the orchestra stage. As Childs and Haas traded remarks — the screen above the Philadelphians projected a narrative, often art scenes or characters from fiction. This one was a bit like watching a PBS biography of a composer to his own live accompaniment. Thirty minutes might have held my complete attention. But an hour of show, tell and quotation can girdle the imagination. I looked forward to the music on it’s own, and conductor Jaap van Zweden didn’t disappoint. The fate symphony, written in such anguish, caught fire early and never lost momentum. Many subtleties were also captured. The melancholy second movement, opening with Dick Woodhams’ oboe was every bit as as lovely as the pastoral landscapes on screen. Another pleasure of this concert was the preponderance of happy young people filling the hall. I spoke to high school band students from Mechanicsville, Va., and college students signed on for the orchestra’s Meet & Greet reception. . Some one in marketing: Nice work.
- Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, cond., Yaja Wang, piano
- Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
- Dec. 8-11, 2011, Review of Dec. 8 on WRTI, 90.1 fm
The program that music-director -in-waiting Yannick Nezet-Seguin chose this week was energy from the get-go. Jen Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra opened, its five movements challenging the Philadelphians and its audience to attention. Higdon’s exciting work was more rambunctious than I remember in Nezet-Seguin’s reading; more extrovert than even the extrovert composer herself but the orchestra’s centennial commission remains a score of glow and substance. Higdon tailored the concerto to the Philadelphians’ many gifts, the second movement highlights strings; the third, woodwinds; during Thursday night’s performance, I was partial to the jam session for keyed percussion created by the final movements. Piano, celesta, wood blocks, xlyophone, vibraphone – and more – are mysteriously evoked in this slowly escalating chiming music.
When Yaja Wang came out, her red dress warmed us. The 24- year- old pianist has warmed considerably on stage. She smiles now, looks friendlier than she did onstage a season ago. The virtuosity is unquestioned! Thursday night Wang lit into the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. The ivories glittered. Rachmaninoff’s chords thundered. There were elastic pauses. The Curtis graduate, from Beijing plays like she’s hungry – for the keys. When she’d gobbled the variations – except the popular slow theme – the house roared its approval.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2 in C Minor, Opus 17 was the second half. The “Little Russian.” It opens with the brass proving wonderfully stalwart. The strings take things down a notch or two for a gentle march. There’s a graciousness to the young work. And optimism. As they had during the Higdon, the families of the orchestra showed their prowess. When it was over, the house was electric. After the bows, Yannick led a bit of The Nutcracker. Perfect.