Götterdämmerung – Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music
Tannhäuser – Overture
Parsifal – Parsifal Weile! … Ich sah das Kind
Lohengrin – Prelude to Act I
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 5 April, 2013
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Ending its three-concert visit to Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniele Gatti, marked the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth with a concert of excerpts from five of his operas. Hearing this music performed from Stern Auditorium’s stage, rather than from an opera-house pit, was a marvelous experience, topped off by the radiant singing of Michelle DeYoung.
The first half consisted of excerpts from Götterdämmerung strung together into a continuous orchestral work. Gatti, conducting from memory (as he did throughout the evening), led the ‘Dawn’ segment with exaggerated gestures as the strings played the motive of the mortal Brünnhilde, and the brass, with trumpets gleaming, brought a majestic variant of Siegfried’s horn-call to a shattering crescendo. As ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ began, with the horn call in its original solo form played offstage by James Sommerville, Gatti’s demeanor became much more relaxed, at times seeming to be listening to the genial music rather than conducting it. His gestures became agitated again as the orchestra turned to the dark subject of ‘Siegfried’s Death’, based on the hero’s own motif with allusions to his love-duets with Brünnhilde. This flowed directly into the stirring ‘Funeral March’, featuring fine solos by Thomas Rolfs (trumpet) and Robert Sheena (English horn), with four harps adding a regal touch. Gatti controlled the pace, holding brief silences for the tiniest extra beat to allow the drama to build, and managed the dynamic ebbs and flows to maximize their impact, finally ending on a hushed, quivering chord.
After intermission, the BSO gave a spirited account of the Overture to Tannhäuser. This performance was a gem in which the strings, horns and brass were outstanding, with violinists Elita Kang and Julianne Lee and clarinetist William Hudgins combining in a diverting passage. Gatti’s tempos and phrasing were exemplary; he never allowed the pace to drag, gesturing impassionedly as the final climax built. Then Michelle DeYoung, wearing a long black gown, gave a superb account of Kundry’s narrative from Act Two of Parsifal, soaring above the BSO with exact intonation and clarity of diction. She intoned “Küssen” tenderly as Kundry asks whether Parsifal had abandoned his mother Herzeleide out of fear of her kisses. Then – to an accompaniment of twisted sforzando figures on clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoons that were echoed by the violas and cellos – DeYoung dramatically described Herzeleide’s grief, ending in a near-whispered description of her death from a broken heart. Gatti struck a fine balance between singer and players, a task much simplified by DeYoung’s penetrating voice.
The Prelude to Act One of Lohengrin showed off the ethereally shimmering BSO strings, and was followed by Tristan und Isolde. DeYoung returned, now clad in a white gown and gold shoes and looking somewhat distracted as the orchestra played the Prelude, launched by the iconic ‘Tristan chord’. Gatti maintained an appropriately mysterious atmosphere, with lush playing by the cellos and pungent woodwind solos by Sheena, John Ferrillo (oboe), and Craig Nordstrom (bass clarinet). In ‘Isolde’s Liebestod’, the performers were true to Wagner’s text. She began softly and calmly, as the opening line (“Mild und leise“) dictates, building inexorably and gloriously to an emotionally charged peak, with the strings surging to represent the swelling waves of rapturous vapors to which Isolde refers as her vocal line begins to subside. DeYoung’s voice faded almost completely away on “versinken” (subsiding), but was crystalline in her concluding “höchste Lust” (utmost bliss). Gatti wrung every bit of pathos from the soft final chord.