Boston Symphony Orchestra New Season

Ruslan and Ludmila – Overture
Eugene Onegin – Letter Scene
Mussorgsky, orch. Ravel
Pictures at an Exhibition

Maija Kovalevska (soprano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
James Levine

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 24 September, 2008
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

James LevineA healthy James Levine was back on the podium to lead the gala opening night concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 128th season. During an afternoon press conference at Symphony Hall, Levine, the BSO’s music director, who missed most of the Orchestra’s Tanglewood season this past summer after surgery for kidney cancer, described himself as being “in great shape” and “rarin’ to go” in this his fifth season as Music Director. The evening’s performance confirmed his opinion. The 65-year old maestro, looking slimmer and healthier than he has in a long time, conducted the short but splendid all-Russian program with great vigor and affection. And the BSO musicians followed suit.

Following the enthusiastic standing ovation that greeted his arrival, Levine led a breathlessly brilliant performance of the overture to Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmila”, bringing out all the color of Glinka’s writing, and the orchestra’s playing was totally responsive and glittering.

Maija KovalevskaIn her first appearance with the BSO, the young Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska – who made an unexpected Metropolitan Opera debut in December of 2006 replacing Anna Netrebko as Mimi in “La bohème”, and was immediately engaged for the company’s 2007 production of “Orfeo ed Euridice” under Levine (also music director there) brought her tall, striking beauty and emotionally-resplendent voice to the ‘Letter Scene’ from “Eugene Onegin”.

Radiant in a flowing taupe gown, Kovalevska sang with the requisite fervor and lyricism, conveying the full pathos of the young Tatiana who, love-struck by her first meeting with the dashing Onegin, stays up all night and pours out her adolescent heart in a letter to him. The orchestra warmed to Tchaikovsky’s music and perfectly complimented Kovalevska’s golden, vibrant voice. Levine’s attention to orchestral detail was inspired, and the contribution of the BSO woodwinds called for special commendation.

Discussing his choice of music for this opening night program, Levine claimed he wanted something that would be “fun and familiar” to the audience. “I didn’t want to do a complicated new piece that would make our wheels spin”, he said in his press conference. “I had conducted ‘Pictures’ in 1972 in my very first concert with the BSO, so it seemed appropriate.” And very appropriate it was, and splendidly played as well. Levine conducted Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s popular masterpiece with extraordinary warmth, and the orchestra responded in kind, delivering a knock-out, totally involving performance that brought each of artist Viktor Hartmann and composer Mussorgsky’s pictures vividly and entertainingly to life.

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