Sunday, May 11, 2014

Miláčku, znáš mne, znáš? Rusalka in Budapest

My experience of the Budapest Festival Orchestra reads like an optimistic statistician's assessment of the effects of orchestra tours on cultural tourism. Having heard the orchestra several times in New York, I convinced my mother and sister that their plans for a long weekend in Budapest had to be combined with hearing the BFO at home. My advocacy was the more impassioned because Rusalka was on the schedule. My high expectations were not disappointed, and the acoustics of the Béla Bartók proved to be delightful, with the gently curved exterior walls allowing for warm resonance that served the orchestral sound well. I quite liked the aesthetic of the hall, too. Under the leadership of Iván Fischer, the BFO gave Dvořák's atmospheric score with rich nuance and dramatic sweep. In this concert performance, the singers also gave performances notable for emotional depth as well as vocal subtlety.

The challenges of giving Rusalka in a concert performance were met almost ideally. My reservation comes chiefly from a feeling that the singers, all off book, could have done still more if given additional space for interaction. The impassioned orchestral performance was richly evocative of Dvořák's forests and moonlight and shimmering, mysterious waters. Even the ball scene, which I can find dull, was filled with drama. Iván Fischer's impassioned and precise conducting was a joy to watch, considerable range of gesture (from a slight movement of the hands to near-dancing) bringing out corresponding range in orchestral expression. Tempi were subtly varied, and Fischer used dynamics boldly and effectively. Although there were a few brass quavers, the hunting horns were lovely, and the percussion was impressively responsive. The strings conveyed warmth and warning with equal facility, and special tribute should be paid to the ethereal woodwinds. The score's intricately woven motifs emerged poignantly; more importantly, so did its emotional directness. Friday's performance conveyed powerfully that, although Dvořák's water sprites and witches may be the stuff of fairy tales, its drama of love and jealousy, folly and hope and forgiveness, is viscerally human.

 The vocal forces of the evening were polished and vigorous. The Czech Philharmonic Choir contributed incredulity, anger, and sheer gossipy nosiness with beautifully shaped phrases and exclamations. The three dryads (Lucie Silkenová, Alžběta Polácková, Michaela Kapustová) coordinated their blue-green gowns, as well as achieving good vocal blending and  contrast. Kapustová also characterized the Kitchen Boy vividly. As the Huntsman and Gamekeeper, the young baritone Jiří Brückler displayed a rich, smooth sound which he colored expressively; I was very impressed. Peter Mikuláš, in the role of the Water Goblin, sang with notable dramatic nuance. For gains in textual specificity, he sacrificed some beauty of phrase, but it was a vivid performance. Doubling as Jezibaba and the Foreign Princess, Jolana Fogašová had compelling  presence, as well as an impressive vocal range. She used her physicality the most strongly of any of the principals, characterizing the mysterious Jezibaba and the malicious Princess distinctively. Fogašová used vocal color well, as well as demonstrating command of rich tone at both ends of her range.

The naive prince was engagingly sung by Aleš Briscein. He sounded occasionally pushed at the top of his range, but showed a pleasing, bright timbre. He sang warmly and with a forward resonance that also suited the prince's ardor. Briscein's dramatic commitment had me feeling unusually sympathetic towards the wavering prince's final plight, as his desperate remorse was well conveyed as his desire. Both he and Pavla Vykopalová, in the title role, showed admirable emotional nuance in the final scene. Vykopalová sang Rusalka's great, yearning phrases with conversational immediacy. She showed an impressive range both in well-controlled dynamics and in vocal color. My Czech is, regrettably, almost non-existent, so that I can offer no more detailed appreciation of Vykopalová's use of text but that she sang with great expressivity and directness, with radiant warmth in her love, and terribly convincing loneliness in her heartbreak. Such was her effectiveness in evoking Rusalka's hope, and her fears, that I wished she'd had more opportunity for physical as well as vocal communication. Even in the absence of staging, however, the orchestra and singers told a nuanced and moving story.

Concert hall photos:

Exterior of Millennium Palace of Arts (concert hall inside!)

Colorful concert hall! Taken from second tier seating.

Spiffy interior stairway
(warning: upper levels of festival hall not easy to find in rush.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Start a conversation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...