L'Histoire du Soldat

MTT Conducts L'Histoire du soldat

Mahler51213* Notes * 
This weekend Michael Tilson Thomas (pictured left, photograph by Kristen Loken) is conducting seven members of the San Francisco Symphony in performances of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat. The vivid piece is narrated by Elvis Costello, who does a fine job declaiming his lines. Nick Gabriel (The Soldier) is earnest and Malcolm McDowell (The Devil) certainly is charming. It is adorable when MTT himself speaks the lines of The King in Part II. The playing is incisive and spirited. Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik sounded particularly lovely, as did clarinetist Carey Bell.

The performance starts with John Adams conducting his 1982 piece Grand Pianola Music, which is being recorded for future release. Adams addresses the audience before commencing the piece, explaining the genesis of the piece and its influences. He also notes a tuba solo in Part I, which he called a "bovine moment."

The work, in fact, is startlingly beautiful. The pianists, Orli Shaham and Marc-André Hamelin play cohesively. The orchestra, which included woodwinds, brass, and percussion, sound grounded. Synergy Vocals is wonderfully ethereal, the three singers make for haunting sirens.

* Tattling * 
The audience on the orchestra level was very quiet for the John Adams. For the most part people were also quiet for the Stravinsky, but a woman in Row W Seat 102 was compelled to whisper to those adjacent to her as the ensemble played in Part II.

Stravinsky at Oakland Opera Theater

Renard-oakland-opera  * Notes * 
Last night's press opening of L'Histoire du Soldat and Renard at Oakland Opera Theater was highly entertaining. Both pieces are based on Russian folk tales but were translated into English for this production. This works well, especially for L'Histoire du Soldat, which does not include any singing. Reset to the present day by Rebecca Lenkewicz, the work is meant to be "lue, jouée et dansée," and it certainly was. Some of the text did sound slightly ridiculous, there was much rhyming that seemed forced and somewhat ungainly. Also, the updating is inexact, one doubts very much, for instance, that the General could really offer up his daughter in marriage as a reward in 2008. However, the players did well with it, Kirya Traber displayed her acting talents as the Narrator, speaking the words of many of the characters. Her enunciation was strong, though I wish she had been a bit more down stage whilst the orchestra played as the brass instruments did make her difficult to hear. Mattias Bossi was suitably unctous as the Devil, and provided fine comic relief. Ben Jones gave a perfectly good performance as the titular Soldier, his dancing with Abigail Munn (Princess) was impressive. Munn's movements were all very clear, and she was the best of the dancers. The dancing in the finale was remarkably unsexy, perhaps the heels worn by the dancers were to blame. The orchestra sounded jaunty under the direction of Deidre McClure, and the violin solos were quite beautiful.

The orchestra was perfectly together during the second half of the evening as well, though there was much competition for attention. Soprano Kimarie Torre sang Stravinsky's "Pastorale" (1907) before Renard, her voice is cold but pleasant, not at all shrill. Renard, Histoire burlesque chantée et jouée was utterly delightful, including both burlesque dancing and all manner of circus arts. The singers sat with the orchestra, up stage, but for the most part they were audible. Tenor Ben Jones has a warm, clear voice with good volume, while tenor Darron Flagg has perhaps a prettier voice but was less loud. They were quite distinct, in any case. Igor Vieira's baritone is quite rich, and the percussiveness of his singing was apparent. Bass Richard Mix seemed a bit quiet at first, but his volume improved during the course of the piece.

The dancing was very cute, and the costumes were completely adorable. David Hunt juggled knives, walked a slack rope, and spun hoops around his limbs with aplomb as the Rooster. Erin Schrader (Cat) did well with the hula hoop and the aerial hoop. Breonna Noack acted well as Renard, her contortions showed her incredible flexibility and her work on aerial silks was certainly fun to watch.

* Tattling * 
There was a little whispering during the music, but no electronic noise whatsoever. The house looked entirely full, and the seats are set close together and tied for fire code purposes, so it was not terribly comfortable. The person to my left did elbow me in the arm several times. He also managed to kick me in the shin, though he did apologize aloud for this. As marvelous as circus arts are at the opera, it was annoying that the audience applauded for the juggling during the music.