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Home / Articles / Arts / Art Features /  Where Are the Songs of Summer?
opera-noahs-flood
Ah, youth.
Ken Howard

Where Are the Songs of Summer?

In our own backyard no less

August 13, 2013, 12:00 am
What? Yet more song cycles from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival?  Well, why ever not, since the SFCMF’s 4th and penultimate week’s opening concerts Aug. 4/5 showcased a couple of the crazy successes of the summer so far. Matthew Worth, superb baritone hero of Schumann’s Dichterliebe the week before, now cycled his way through Mahler in a subtle, deeply felt account of the four Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (“Songs of a Wayfarer”). Mahler’s wayfarer (more accurately, a wandering apprentice) bears significant resemblances to the wandering poet of Schumann’s cycle.

Both are rejected lovers; both find themselves in a teeming natural world that ignores their sorrow; both end in grief-stricken disillusion. Worth embodied that forsaken apprentice—a Mahler self-portrait of sorts—with consummate understanding and hair-raising intensity. It’s a many timbre-d voice, as comfortable in the high tessitura of the closing verse as in the sustained legato that ends the first song. Keep an eye on this guy.

Conductor Lawrence Foster led 10 instrumentalists in Schoenberg’s sensitive reduction of the Mahler orchestral score, with its abundant premonitions of the composer’s first symphony. Fluid, focused and wonderfully played, the reduction sharpens our perception of that much more elaborate full score.

Opening the concert, Foster—a noted Enescu enthusiast—programmed the Rumanian composer’s “Dixtuor,” Op. 14, written for double wind quintet with an English horn replacing one of the oboes. A busy, breezy piece, reminiscent of Carl Nielsen’s popular wind quintet but much more ambitious, it made a pleasant if rather long-winded addition to the summer evening.

Some aged audience members may remember a performance of Schoenberg’s decidedly tonal, early string sextet, “Verklärte Nacht,” when a board member made her dramatic, voluble exit.The SFCMF’s audience has come a long way since then, baby. Schoenberg’s prickly “Pierrot Lunaire” closing the concert received a rapturous reception, ovations galore, and had much of that formerly-known-as-timid audience on its collective feet.

Foster led his five formidably talented instrumentalists—pianist Shai Wosner, violinist Soovin Kim, cellist Peter Stumpf, flutist Joshua Smith and clarinetist Carol McGonnell—in a deft accompaniment to soprano Lucy Shelton’s sensational presentation of the cycle’s 21 songs. A surrealist cabaret years ahead of itself, sung and screamed and whispered and wailed in Shelton’s wildly expressionistic performance, this terrifying, exhilarating “Pierrot” won’t be soon forgotten.

Schoenberg’s grotesque songs of experience found a counterpart last Sunday afternoon at the Santa Fe Opera’s O’Shaughnessy rehearsal hall when the SFO with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony presented Britten’s delightful piece for, mostly, amateurs, Noah’s Flood. Songs of innocence indeed!

Britten crafted his mini-opera for children from an early 16th century Chester mystery play, part of their three-day Corpus Christi cycle. (The city’s water-carriers enacted Noye’s Fludde.) At the composer’s request, it’s generally heard in an ecclesiastical setting. That’s fitting since the text is biblical, with broad comic additions, and Britten’s score calls for a processional and recessional plus three hymns for the congregation.

With an outdoor SFO rehearsal hall sheltering the show, this production brought New Mexico front and center—bright sky and brilliant sunshine all around. Super-santero Charlie Carrillo’s designs captured the light-handed charm of the piece: Noah’s adobe home, colorful Hispanic-accented costumes for the principals plus animalitos of mostly local provenance.  

Kathleen Clawson directed the crowded ensemble with great good humor, and Gabriel Gordon conducted his talented young orchestra with precision. Professionals included Kevin Burdette speaking the stern voice of God, Alan Dunbar singing Noah and Ellie Jarrett Shattles as his very difficult wife. Eight energetic dancers and property persons assisted the action.

But those fresh kids stole the show, two dozen sweetly masked beasts in the ark and an irresistible near-dozen more in featured roles, all bursting with charm and energy. Ah, youth.  

It’s contagious. Most of us felt a few years younger when we stepped out into the sunshine. You could almost feel foxy grandpa, that centenarian Britten, smiling through the cumulus, way way above our ancient Sangres.

SFCMF
$20-$73; through Aug. 19
The Lensic, 211 W San Francisco St., 982-1890

SF OPERA
$32-$285; 8 pm through Aug. 24
Crosby Theater, 301 Opera Drive, 986-5900

 

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