Road report: Vancouver Symphony; Shostakovich and Schumann

The Vancouver (British Columbia) Symphony lacks the flashiness of the LA Phil or the studiousness of MTT and the SFS, but over the course of their concert Saturday the 23rd, they impressed me with unflagging technique across a program of big, demanding works which included Robert Schumann’s infrequently performed Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s musical commentary of life under Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union — his Symphony No. 10.

It’s fitting these two pieces were chosen for the program. As East German turned American guest maestro Gunther Herbig explained with the help of concertmaster and soloist Dale Baltrop, contemporaries of Schumann (Brahms among them) assessed the concerto too personal and a touch mad. Its not surprising to know Schumann would lose control of his mind not long after he finished the concerto. Shostakovich’s 10th was considered by many yet another personal statement on the tribulations of composing under the yolk of Stalin and the Soviet system. Both are churning, grand works that explode with fits of virtuosic energy. Schumann’s more so — in my opinion — than Shostakovich’s.
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Road report: Twilight of the Gods, LA Ring

Hagen and Alberich. Photo courtesy LA Opera

By Jonathan Caves

On the last night of the first complete Ring Cycle at Los Angeles Opera Symbolism took the lead: from the moment the curtain dissolved and the stage lights came up we were presented with an array of symbols from across the whole cycle. Loge: hanging over the stage foreshadowing the inferno to come. The Tarnhelm: reminding us that no one is exactly as they seem. Nothung: a symbol of power that is ultimately impotent. These symbols remained in place all night as a constant reminder of the grand themes of the Cycle. There was a rising tension and a sense of inevitability about this production of Götterdämmerung – it was thrilling to watch. When Act I of Götterdämmerung flies by you know you are in for a great night at the theatre.

The Norns told their tales with minimal fuss and some great singing – my only issue was the rather strange costumes – if one of them fell they wouldn’t have stopped until they took out the cello section in the pit.
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Road report: Siegfried; LA Ring

Wotan and Erda; LA Ring. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.

By Jonathan Caves

Siegfried is a problem child: the character can be one of the most annoying characters in all of opera and all too often this opera is the weak link in a Ring Cycle. This was definitely the case last night at The Chandler Pavilion. After the excellent production of Die Walküre (the more I reflect on this production the more I like it) I was ready for an equally impressive production of Siegfried. Unfortunately I didn’t get what I was expecting and I am still trying to work out exactly why.
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Road report: LA Ring, Das Rheingold


By Jonathan Caves

Overall I really enjoyed the production and I am glad to say that the masks did not, at least to my ear, interfere with the singing. I also must state up front that this is indeed a very literal production – I did not see anything that wasn’t in the libretto – Wotan didn’t kill Loge, no one sat at a bar drinking martinis – it was werktreue all be it in a very fantastical form.

I won’t describe too much of what I saw (I know some people reading this are attending later performances) but more my impressions.

The stage really is very heavily raked – but it did not seem to impact the singers too much – though, especially in the case of the Gods, they did spend a lot of time standing, or sitting, on small unraked platforms on either side of the central rotating circle. I only noticed one fall and that was by Loge and he quickly recovered – in fact it was so well done I almost thought it might be on purpose.

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