I should be hoarding my stipend and beefing up lecture notes in these last weeks of summer... but the Mostly Mozart festival has begun, and I could not resist its siren call! As always in the wake of these reckless concert-related decisions, I'm inexpressibly glad I went; surely lecture notes will be the better for my brain and heart having absorbed some Mozart beforehand? The program notes were unusually lively, as well as informative, maybe stretching a little too far in its attempts to convince us that all the evening's music shared a uniting theme both natural and profound, but still good. Jane Moss, the festival's director, claims in the program booklet that it is hard to imagine "a more sublime and rewarding way to experience summer in New York than celebrating the genius and inspiration of Mozart," a sentiment which, while perhaps overly fulsome, I find hard to argue with.
Louis Langrée and the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra started the evening off, appropriately, with a Mozart overture: that for Clemenza di Tito. It was played with balanced precision which, while undeniably elegant, didn't seem to me to quite capture the high emotional stakes which are present in Tito. Enlightened governance is more moving if lots of personal anguish is involved!
Emanuel Ax is just a treat. My lovely roommate (and Faithful Companion in Opera-Going) and I heard him give a recital with Dawn Upshaw last spring, and last night confirmed me in the belief that this man who looks like a benign grandfather has a mystical connection with Chopin. He channeled the youthful energy and hope and aching tenderness of the second piano concerto exquisitely. The audience was collectively rapt as pianist, conductor, and orchestra showed us what early Romanticism is all about. And then it erupted. Retreat to the wings and motion to the orchestra as he might, Ax couldn't subdue the roar of enthusiasm. So, eventually, he gave an encore: also Chopin, and I'm tempted to say a mazurka, but I'm afraid my recognition didn't stretch beyond that. (As of Thursday afternoon, the program website didn't have it listed.)
After that, we got an intermission, and after the intermission, we got Stephanie Blythe! While my aforementioned roommate and FCOG had heard her Orfeo, my only previous experience of her was from the rebroadcasts of the Met's Trittico. This had left me powerfully impressed with her voice and stage presence, but with little idea of what she could do in the baroque/early classical repertoire. Well, clearly, I was in for a treat. I couldn't understand all the words of "Aure, deh! per pieta!" from Giulio Cesare, but even before Blythe launched into "Dall'ondoso periglio," she was utterly committed, turning to regard around her in disoriented bewilderment as the orchestra evoked the lapping waves. And then she sang it, with great vocal sensitivity and what I can only describe as dignified pathos. I loved the rich weight of her timbre, as well. It only got better with "Che farò senza Euridice," where I could understand all the words, and it brought a tear to my eye. Justly applauded, Ms. Blythe also gave an encore: what she called "a shorter ditty by Mr. Handel: the loveliest love song ever written... to a tree." Knowing laughter. And then, of course, "Ombra mai fu," liquid, lovely.
Like the composer himself, apparently (see page 10 of those program notes), I always forget how much I like the Haffner Symphony. The orchestra and conductor were quite patently enjoying themselves (especially the timpanist). Stately without being staid, this rendition of the piece was also unabashedly festive, overflowing with infectious joie de vivre. And so, energized by Mozart, I return to work.
Another valuable lesson was learned this morning: opera can save you from bears. Nota bene, Gentle Readers.