FEI Classical Music and Opera Reviews: Rusalka | Opening concert | Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra | Philharmonia Chamber Players
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
By moving their production of Dvořák’s fairy tale opera, Rusalka, from a purpose-built open-air opera pavilion that seats 650 people in the folds of the Chiltern Hills, to a theater in the city center of a capacity of nearly 2,000, there were bound to be challenges for Garsington Opera coming to Edinburgh. Musically there is no doubt that the Philharmonia Orchestra, playing superbly under the direction of Douglas Boyd, brings a bounty of life and color to underpin what is happening above them, while a fine cast of singers led by Natalya Romaniw in the title role lends authenticity. to a story that is no different from The Little Mermaid. Some elements of the production are doing less well. In its dark green hues and more or less permanently icy misty staging, it’s as if something was missing from the overall look. From a seat in the front, the visual impact of the water – at the center of the opera house – was lost as it could not be seen, although occasional slurpy sounds as the figures wade around are proof that he is there. While understanding of the Czech language was mixed, Romaniv stood out as he played Rusalka with increasing intensity, punctuating with overwhelming emotion until death’s last kiss.
What a view. The Usher Hall stage was packed for this first concert to open the festival back to normal in three years, with the swollen ranks of the BBC SSO enjoying the euphoria of the occasion under Sir Donald Runnicles, and behind them the dual strengths of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and NYCOS’ super-effective, bright red-shirted National Girls’ Choir.
Like the latter, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is a pure and straightforward experiment in primary colors, which doesn’t make it the best piece of music ever written, but its primal energy, bawdy feelings and carefree spirit seemed perfectly suited. on occasion. It’s time to open the party poppers and let the hair down. We have long needed an injection of something more complacent than a Covid vaccination.
As such, Runnicles was the man to make it happen, his rugged personality shining through a performance equally driven by the euphoric bombast of O Fortuna, the carefree swagger of Floret silva nobilis or the lustful seduction of The Court of Love. . There was also that hint of risk, which he favors, the instances where he backed off and let the spontaneous happen. This is especially the case, the tumultuous and heartbreaking inevitability of the final moves is the ultimate example of this, even if there were minor losses along the way, the moments when the friendliness or the balance were not no apparent priorities.
What a trio of soloists: the mischievous spark between soprano Meechot Marrero and baritone Thomas Lehman, the brilliantly agonizing roast swan of Sunnyboy Dladla, their theatrical interactions matched by gloriously charismatic vocal performances.
There was an equally thrilling warm-up from the SSO, Respighi’s Pines of Rome, itself an ostentatious riot of color, the thundering organ and off-stage brass enveloping the audience adding exhilaration to the closing bars by offering the ultimate surround sound experience. What sound.
Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra ***
Two weeks ago, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra did not exist. Imagined by conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, it brings together Ukrainian musicians, some working outside Ukraine, some recent refugees and many still in the country authorized to lay down their arms in favor of the instruments. They were in Edinburgh as part of a whirlwind Anglo-American tour, as Wilson put it, “in honor of Ukrainian culture.”
The event began with a more strident political message from Ukrainian activist Zhenya Dove, who told the crowded Usher Hall, “We are fighting for freedom, and there is nothing better to fight for.” Subsequently, the message was purely musical.
Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Symphony No. 7 sets a dark tone, its brooding disquiet evaporating into nothing but human breath, its poignancy sadly sabotaged by an errant cellphone. The tone brightened with the affectionate pianism of Anna Fedora in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and the powerful singing of soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska on O, my homeland from Verdi’s Aida.
What until then had seemed a little understated erupted into an impassioned presentation of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and a sumptuous encore arrangement of the Ukrainian national anthem. The standing ovation was a real response to the music and the cause.
Philharmonia Chamber Players****
Let’s start with Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, because that’s where Saturday’s opening Queen’s Hall concert got interesting. It was here that Philharmonia’s changing band Chamber Players – in this case a string septet – presented us with Rudolf Leopold’s more compact version (based on Strauss’s early sketches) of his 1940s lament on the destruction of German wartime culture, best known in its luscious 23-string version.
Rather than a leaner experience, it’s a mesmerizing manifestation, replacing opulent sparkle with focal intensity. That’s what made this performance so incisive, so captivating. It was also the simplest presentation of the overall program, group cohesion complemented by catchy and intersecting internal dialogues.
Such family struggles have also illuminated Louise Farrenc’s E-flat Nonet, which has recently come to the fore as hitherto overlooked 19th-century female composers begin to gain the attention they deserve. Driven by the same dynamic strings against wood as Schubert’s Octet, these musicians, after a cautious start, reveled in his dynamic know-how.
Hans Gal’s String Trio, Op 104, opened the recital, his post-Romantic Austrian-German seriousness typical of the 20th-century Edinburgh-based scholar. It hurt for more emotional input than this performance offered.