Notes from Philly weblog

Super Bowl Sunday: Curtis Symphony and Golden Age revisited

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Sunday matinees are fun. Surprise: some braved the ice on Broad Street for the pre-game shows:

Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano, conducting,
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
February 7, 2010

Golden Age,
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
February 7-February 14, 2010

Winterreisse felt the right name for the Penderecki Horn Concerto that Jennifer Montone played with the Curtis Symphony Sunday afternoon given the city’s record snow still piled high on Broad Street. (The night before the Philadelphia Orchestra wasn’t the only gig in town to call in a cancellation.) Penderecki’s Winter Journey, composed during 2007-08 is far from the bleak and inward style that reminds of Schubert’s song cycle.
It’s a robust 25- minute musical workout. Full of chase, external drama. Some of it sounds a carnival. Montone, principal of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2006, revels in its virtuosity which has her performing almost nonstop during its two (slow-fast) movements.

Montone, who teaches at the Curtis, did not study there, she studied at the Juiliard School, where she also is a professor; though on stage at the Kimmel she still looks young enough to be one of these Curtis prodigies.

The Sunday afternoon concert was well attended considering those 28 inches of snow we were digging out from. Robert Spano, the Curtis alum, who heads the Atlanta Symphony, made a fine leader. He kept the Penderecki vibrant, moving forward, its authority never in question and the expressiveness of the French horn soloist beautifully supported. Just as Spano had kept the opening, Vaughan-Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis coordinated: its broad lines and thrusts; its many solos by the agile woodwinds and the strings. The string principals include a violist who can take one’s breath away, Vicki Powell is so understanding of tone; and an ardent young concertmaster, Joel Link. Natalie Helm led the vibrant cellos.
The Fantasia proved cinematic in the best sense. At the end, the orchestra observed Spano’s grand slow fade.
After intermission came Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, The Romantic. The program contained a audio download permitting access 24 hours following the concert.
Next week (beginning Feb. 18) Curtis opera opens its production of Bellini’s La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) at The Prince. Which reminds: Down the block at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Terrence McNally’s world premiere fantasy on bel canto: Golden Age continues until Feb. 14.

McNally’ play is located backstage during the first performance of Bellini’s opera, I puritani, The Puritans, a device that offers promise but also sets it up for defeat. Golden Age talks too much about the powers of art, about Bellini’s music, sometimes talking right across those incomparable duets or high B-flats and Fs we by now are yearning to hear. The Santo Loquasto staging is glorious. So are RIchard St. Clair’s costumes. The women pretending to be famous sopranos (Amanda Mason as Maria Malibran; Rebecca Brooksher as Giulia Grisi) are very good; Hoon Lee as bass Luigi Lablache is my favorite. Christopher McFarland who play the famous tenor Rubini and Marc Kudisch as the baritone Tamburini are excellent if only the script did not have them overdoing the stereotypes. (The actual singing is via historic recordings, especially Callas.)

Jeffrey Carlson plays Bellini. He looks 19th century wonderful but overdoes the neurosis and effete gestures, do we blame the director, Austin Pendleton? Golden Age moves faster than opening night. More cuts are needed, more of the art talk. (Singers do not go on about art; they do talk about money, about their roles about what’s for dinner) more of the baritone’s visual and vulgar jokes; maybe even the 2nd intermission. The part of Florimo, Bellini’s friend is wooden. Florimo natters endlessly, talking over the best music. The ending remains sentimental.
For a character so wild and indie, Mason as the divine Malibran speaks with a diction curiously labored; the gifted George Morforgen as Rossini is miscast and so is his part, talky once again, though the part is small, it might be cut by half. Golden Age is too ambitious, it tries too hard to contain all the ideas McNally has about bel canto, about forgiveness in the life of the artist. There are wonderful ideas and funny and poignant. Just too many. See for yourself: Birth is difficult.


Written by Lesley Valdes

February 8, 2010 at 3:41 am

One Response

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  1. Good point, re: singers and artists in general don’t go around talking about art and other high-minded stuff. At least, not with our colleagues. I know that architects and musicians (at least the ones I know) talk a good deal about money- mostly how much they’re not making. But, life doesn’t always make good art or theater that’s engaging to watch. What if the characters in the play did stand there and go on about money, what they had for dinner, etc? Would it still be enjoyable to watch? I guess it depends on the writing…

    Brian Billings

    February 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm

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