May 1 was an extraordinarily busy day for me. I went first to the Palace 9 to see the Met in H.D. broadcast of Rossini's Armida starring Renee Fleming in the title role, and the usual cast of hundreds of chorus members.
You have to hear it to believe it-five (not the advertised six, but who's keeping count?) tenors, including Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo, the male lead,. In the third act, Borwnlee is joined in a trio with two other tenors; two other tenors, mind you, which brought down the house. His duets with Fleming are models of matching fioriture, and they obviously enjoy working together.
The production was under the direction of Mary Zimmerman, and she and Fleming also apparently get along famously. In one of the act breaks Zimmerman offered anecdotal evidence that indicated clearly that Fleming is not a prima donna in the pejorative sense.
During the Saturday broadcast, however, she was quite vocally exhausted, and although I imagine she had planned the act's ending with her singing the final lines of her final aria in alt for one phrase, and then concluding the opera in lower octaves. The Times reviewer expressed a certain sadness over this loss. Perhaps there is reason to record loss attendant upon the passing of a beautiful voice, but in an interview during one of the intermissions Saturday, Fleming characterized herself as "a Straussian soprano", and she is clearly correct (next year's Capriccio may prove her assessment to be true).
The balance of the cast was on its vocal best behavior, and the orchestra and some of the woodwinds in particular shone under the baton of Maestro Prizza, new to the Met. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon. (Note: Palace 9 will be offering encores of this season throughout the summer, as well as a complete rundown for next year's season. For opera, call 802-660-9300.)
Robert De Cormier, founder and director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus, has once again completed a week-long presentation of music written in the Nazi prison camp located at Terezin (in German, Theresienstadt) or performed there.
Not only were there Jewish composers at this camp, there were singers, instrumentalists playwrights, actors-people who ran the whole gamut of the arts were incarcerated there.
While some aspects of this particular tribute to the unquenchable spirit of Terezin included a display of graphic arts will continue into May, perhaps the most conspicuous example of the greatness of people under enormous pressure just to keep living is the example of performances of Verdi's Requiem that took place under literally death-defying conditions-for example, there was only one score of the work in the camp, so the people performing had to memorize their parts completely. It was in this spirit that the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with four soloists under the direction of De Cormier performed the work Saturday night.
The results of this performance were various, breaking down into two distinct categories: the empathetic and the objective (I don't believe that anyone is entirely objective, certainly not I). Fair reportage of the evening must begin with the fact that the relationship to the prison camp at Terezin was spiritually present in the persons of Marianka Zadikow May and Frederick Terna, survivors, and in the case of May, participants in a concert whose audience included the notorious Adolph Eichman. They were quite eloquent witnesses to the indomitability of the human spirit.
As to the performance itself, well, tenor Steven Tharp and bass Kevin Deas gave highly committed performances; Deas especially finding many moments to exploit the text and notes and molding a performance of consequence.
Judith Engel, alto, seemed discomfited throughout much of the evening, while soprano Indra Thomas, who indubitably has talent and a voice when properly trained that could make this role her own. Whether she had some voice-production difficulties or was simply not up to the assignment on Saturday, she did not realize much of the potential of the part, esp. the Libera Me.
The VSO Chorus made itself proud in its performance. Their diction was just short of impeccable (I heard a strange sound on the syllable do- in the first movement). The orchestra played the.score with all of the power and clarity the score demands. There are moments of quietness and these too were observed. The brass section, augmented by extra players, exhibited solidity of chording that was marvelous to hear.
Robert De Cormier who masterminded the entire project, was the last to acknowledge the tumultuous applause that followed his bringing his hands to rest. It is much to his credit that he would bring off such a performance, this vocalized memento mori to those who died at the whim of such inhumane humans but who live on because De Cormier knows what Auden wrote about the death of Yeats: "...He became his admirers..." Thus too with Verdi, De Cormier, May and Terna.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.