Monday, August 13, 2012

Tanglewood at Night

Last night I attended a concert which was a part of the 'Festival of Contemporary Music' at Tanglewood. Tanglewood is 'just up the road' from Rood Hill Farm but I don't get there very often anymore.

Last night, with two friends, I  heard a remarkable concert with music by Niccolo Castiglioni and Oliver Knussen. Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center provided the very fine orchestra and singers.

The first work, Inverno In-Ver by Castigliano, was a series of short sketches, musical poems as it were, about the iciness and whiteness of winter. While interesting in its plan and orchestration, it is not the work I want to have with me when stranded on a desert island. There is a certain sameness to many of the movements and the orchestration is so brilliant, both in concept and in actual sound, that I found it irritating. Mr. Knussen conducted this work wonderfully well and obviously had this difficult score fixed securely in his mind.

Second on the program was Mr. Knussen's own Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! or There Must Be More to Life, a charming fantasy composed in collaboration with the brilliant Maurice Sendak, based on his book of the same name.  Netia Jones was the video designer and live video performer and had created a remarkable animated film that was shown on a large screen at the rear of the stage in Ozawa Hall.

One of my friends attending the concert with me was Mike Miller, the illustrator, who introduced Knussen to Sendak years ago at Tanglewood, thereby setting in motion this collaboration.

In this work, Knussen's brilliant and humorous score set forth Sendak's tale of his little dog, Jennie, who goes on an imaginary voyage of discovery, finally to find her way back home at the end of the opera. The role of Jennie was brilliantly sung by the wonderful mezzo-soprano Kate Jackman, who embodied  every inch of Jennie.

The Potted Plant, Baby, and Mother Goose were sung by soprano Ilana Zarankin, Rhoda and the Baby's Mother were sung by soprano Sharon Harms, the Cat-Milkman was Zach Finkelstein, a remarkable tenor, the Lion was Richard Ollarsaba, bass-baritone, and the Pig-Ash Tree was performed by Douglas Williams.

All of the singers were very fine, especially Ms. Jackman and Mr. Finkelstein.

The demanding vocal score fit Ms. Jackson like a glove. If I were to make any criticism, it would be that the roles for the other soprano had so much stratospheric singing that it was impossible to hear the text. On the other hand, some of the bass arias went so low that these young men really didn't have these notes in their voice. Composers should realize that while some sopranos are able to sing incredibly high pitches, one should not put a lot of text on the high C's and above if you want anyone to get an idea about what the singer is trying to convey textually. The reverse is true for the men, of course. If you don't have a solid low E, don't try to sing Baron Ochs.

The opera is a work of two geniuses and I am happy that I could be there.