Lincoln Center Festival Memories

By Sedgwick Clark

The Tsar’s Bride

What a night at the concert opera, primarily due to the conducting of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky! Returning to New York after far too many years for a pair of performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, he reminded listeners once again of the importance of character in a musical performance. A silly, self-evident observation, you say? Some complained of ragged attacks—in fact, the opening of Act III was so messy that Rozhdestvensky banged his music stand twice with his baton to get the Bolshoi players in tempo—but I couldn’t have cared less in light of the abundant warmth and beauty achieved at their maestro’s broad pacing. Moreover, the soloists inhabited their roles with extraordinary verve (with Agunda Kulaeva’s dark, dramatic mezzo as Lyubasha a knockout). Only the erratic subtitles detracted from the July 12 performance.

Rozhdestvensky is 83, and the Met, the Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, or Carnegie would do well to get this great conductor back to New York again before it’s too late.

The Passenger

Houston Grand Opera’s impressive production of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera at the cavernous Park Avenue Armory on July 13 was superbly produced, directed, and performed. The action takes place on two levels: Aboard an ocean liner bound for Brazil in the 1960s and inside the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. A tri-level set depicts the ship, and moving train cars on stage represent the Auschwitz scenes. The orchestra, well conducted by HGO Music Director Patrick Summers, was off to the right of the set. Too bad the music evanesced in one’s memory so quickly. Of all the subjects one might expect to be composed in a dissonant idiom, this is it. But such is not Weinberg’s style, and I found the music joltingly consonant as well as unmemorable. Equally disconcerting, the Auschwitz train was too damn clean. Did the Nazis hose them down after each trip? Frankly, my most lasting memory was that the music ended and the lights went down everywhere but the spot on the conductor, which remained for several seconds before dimming. Never underestimate a conductor’s ego.

Swan Lake

I expected more than facile beauty from the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake on July 15. The corps was lovely, Svetlana Zakharova (Odette/Odile) was obviously quite accomplished but seemed to me straight out of Dracula’s castle, and David Halberg (Prince Siegfried) seemed to be marking time until his next lift. The Bolshoi Orchestra sounded distant and wan in the David H. Koch Theater, perhaps due to my usual experience of the music on record by the world’s greatest orchestras in the finest recording venues. But about Pavel Sorokin’s inexpressive conducting and cloddy ritards at the end of many of the dances I can unequivocally say I loathed it.

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