Notes from Philly

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Archive for October 2010

Jasper’s Philly debut

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Jasper Quartet
Astral Artists
October 17, 2010
Trinity Urban Center

The Jasper Quartet opened Astral Artists’ season Sunday. The debut was thrilling, Four strings, none under 30, in a town where we are accustomed to great quartets. The artists, in residence at Oberlin Conservatory, played Schubert, Beethoven and Aaron Kernis. Trinity Center for Urban Life was packed: this audience knows what to expect. But the Jasper Quartet was even by Astral’s standard’s a surprise: the refinement, the beauty of tone – the rich, unified sonority – it reminded of eminences. —–

The Schubert Quartetsatz could not have not have made a better start: a string cyclone, pulsing out its melancholy. Then, Kernis’s Second Quartet (Quartet No. 2) the one that won the Pulitzer. The first movement (“Overture”) is built upon Baroque and Renaissance dances though they change so fast that unless he’d told you (which he did) you couldn’t have known. The structural integrity and intensity of the music is adept: the mix of old and new. “Sarabande Double, Sarabande Simple” has some beautiful ideas beautifully and cohesively linked though one stretch begins to veer toward the sentimental. The finale, “Double Triple Gigue Fugue,”is inspired by the finale of Beethoven’s Opus 59, No. 3, Razumovsky. Ideas crash and topple on another. The music makes a furious chaos. It blisters and these superlative players also make it work.

Beethoven’s Op. 59, No, 3 in C Major concluded. Hearing it in context with Kernis’s homage underscored Beethoven’s emotional struggles with his deafness which violist Sam Quintal discussed before the Jasper performed. Those brooding dissonances to set into balance the coming heroism. The singularity of the Andante’s unbearable lightness. The amazing fugue.

The Jasper’s sensitive members are J. Freivogel and Sae Niwa; cellist is Rachel Henderson Freivogel. Violist Quintal has an uncannily beautiful tone.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

October 18, 2010 at 3:30 am

Macbeth: The Wilma’s first Shakespeare

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Macbeth
The Wilma
Oct. 7-Nov. 7, 2010

The Wilma‘s first foray into Shakespeare is Macbeth, The theatre has done itself proud with a production that features a handsome score by Czech composer Pavel Fjat (pronounce Fight) and sound design by Daniel Perelstein (it includes birds, street and battle noises.) There is aerial choreography Philly’s gifted Brian Sanders. Mimi Lien’s two-tier set evokes the menace and modernity that suits a monarchy edging toward its doom.

C.J. Wilson as Macbeth is convincing in his ambivalence; the warrior’s ambition at war with his morality and fear. As the play moves forward, the evil of his seductive spouse takes hold. I found Jacqueline Antaramian compelling as the self- centered Lady Macbeth, a character as determined in joy with evil – and sadly truer than even the wonderful Iago of Mark Delavan heard recently at the Opera Company’s Otello. These Macbeths are very modern. The interpretations are fascinating: the way the couple switch gears, his growing misdeeds give him power –and madness. Her evil dissolves into a lunatic despair.

The women who play the three weird sisters – or witches – are riveting. Some silly supernatural masks could go in the boil- and- bubble scene; the Sixties’ references in London seems unnecessary whimsy. But the handling of the ghost of Banquo is well done and Macbeth’s hallucinations; also the battle in the Burnham forest.

Least successful is the inconsistent delivery of the iambic pentameter: A challenge for the ensemble unpracticed in Shakespeare. The Bard must not be stilted or sound like poetry. Still: more lines and characters work than don’t: MacDuff, Banquo and Duncan also held my interest.

The beauty of this production is its momentum; the dramatic thrust. Director Blanka Zizka has made a good and oddly suitable operatic start with her first Shakespeare. The Wilma’s Macbeth until Nov. 7.

Written by Lesley Valdes

October 11, 2010 at 3:42 am

Otello

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Verdi’s Otello
Opera Company of Philadelphia
Sept. 30-Oct. 2010

Bad guys are the most fun when they sing like Mark Delavan, the Iago in the Opera Company of Philadelphia’s new production of Otello. Iago’s menace comes from the pleasure of revenge; the power of enjoying another’s weakness. Delavan understands and doesn’t rely on stereotype. He has a gorgeous baritone. He sets the snares for his love- torn employer. He spits out jealous asides. Opening night, Iago rolled onstage at the Academy of Music in a wheelchair because of a newly repaired meniscus. Knee pain or not, Delavan’s ran rings around everyone else in the excellent production. He was the schemer who believes life is mired in mud but enjoys playing in it.

If only Clifton Forbis’s Otello had been as persusasive. Forbis is one of two tenors (the other is Alan Glassman) to share the company’s assignment. The acting was sensitive and aptly contradictory in its emotional range. But the vocalism did not match up; nor hold the attention until the Moor’s pent-up jealousy began to rage in the later acts. Norah Amsellem’s soprano as Desdemona manages in power what it lacks in tonal beauty. Her acting somewhat compensates but the couple’s chemistry did not persuade. Margaret Mazecappa was the stoniest Emilia observed in some time, until that is she accused Otello of his crime. Cassio looked the part of a good soldier but the voice did not project.

Elizabeth Braden’s chorus was a giant success, resonant and thrilling. Maestro Corrado Rovaris’ drew from the pit most of Verdi’s demands and refinements.

The creative team worked theatrical magic; Otello’s set and production values had a splendor matched by this Iago’s pleasure in evil.

Written by Lesley Valdes

October 11, 2010 at 12:38 am

Posted in Opera, Shakespeare