We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Karita Mattila (photo by Pete Checchia)

An evening spent with Richard Strauss is a glorious evening indeed.  And with principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Fabio Luisi replacing an ailing Lorin Maazel on the podium, we have no complaints.  We have never seen Maestro Luisi as animated and energetic as he was at Carnegie Hall, putting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra through its paces.  We enjoyed hearing works from different periods of Strauss' life.

The final work on the program was Ein Heldenleben, Op.40, a programmatic work which premiered in 1898.  Strauss composed the work with himself as the eponymous hero; his youthful narcissism fits right in with contemporary culture.  This is a colorful work in which Strauss filled the pit with no less than 8 horns and 5 trumpets, even more than in his Der Rosenkavalier Suite which he arranged nearly a half century later.

This orchestral mammoth shook Stern Auditorium with its vibrations.  It is divided into six contrasting segments and is replete with variety from the bombastic opening theme to the dissonant depiction of his enemies, the critics (uh-oh),  to the gentle love theme and the wild battle scene.  Most notable was the virtuoso violin solos so gorgeously performed by Concertmaster Sreten Krstič.  The ending was marked by a horn-violin duet that was astonishing in its beauty.

The opening work, Der Rosenkavalier Suite, was orchestrated and premiered in 1944.  Anyone who loves the opera, present company included, was sitting there in total bliss as scenes from the opera were evoked.  Indeed, we found ourselves seeing the sets in our mind's eye and visualizing the opening scene which culminates in a rather intense climax in both senses of the word.  Likewise for that charming tinkly theme on the celeste involving the presentation of the silver rose. 

The score is filled with waltzes, some taken at a very slow tempo and others which made us want to get up and dance.  Maestro Luisi did the dancing for us as he used his entire body to rouse the orchestra to great heights.  Luscious sweeping melodies were played by the massive corps of strings.  There was dynamic variety aplenty.  We loved the renunciation theme which was followed by a fast-paced, raucous and dizzying waltz which brought the work to a stunning close.

From the very last period of Strauss' long life, we heard  Vier letzte Lieder sung by the world famous soprano Karita Mattila whom we well remember for her stunning performance in "Salome".  Her huge voice cut through the massive orchestral forces like a hot knife through butter and her voice was thrilling from the highest register to the lowest, but the words were sadly not understandable, although that is often a difficulty with writing in such a high register.  My native born German companion likewise needed to read the text. 

Three of the texts are by Hermann Hesse--"Fruhling";  "September", with its elegiac message and taps-like trumpet solo; and "Beim Schlafengehen" which opens with a growling from the double basses.  Our personal favorite and the one with the most direct end-of-life symbolism was "Im Abendrot", the setting of a text by Joseph von Eichendorff, with its thrilling horn introduction and its use of the piccolo to represent larks.

It was a fine survey of Strauss' oeuvre--50 years in two hours.  One wondered whether he changed styles all that much!  Not that we object--Strauss is, after all, Strauss-- and this Strauss-fest was just about right.

© meche kroop

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