James Conlon conducted the San Francisco Symphony tonight in a solid,
virtually flawless, impressive, and enjoyable performance of the Verdi
Requiem. The fact that in (much) less than half an hour after leaving
Davies Hall I became ravenously hungry for "Aida" must have been a
personal aberration, having nothing to do with the performance.
For whatever reason, I have never been so aware of the Requiem's "Aida"
settings and references, at the end of virtually each section, in the
middle of "Judex ergo," at the beginning of "Libera Me," etc., etc.
Then there was the matter of four most suitable "Aida" principals slumming
here in Davies: how splendid it would have been to hear Christine (Aida)
Brewer, Stephanie (Amneris) Blythe, Frank (Radames) Lopardo, and Vitalij
(Amonasro/Ramfis/King of Egypt) Kowaljow across the street in the opera
house... or right here, in a concert performance.
The Requiem started spectacularly. In this summer-festival production,
coinciding with the departure of chorus master Vance George after 23
glorious years here, the opening measures - silence becoming a far-away
sound, seamlessly - said everything one needs to know about the work,
the impact, the legacy of George... along with Conlon's always-focused,
never-grandstanding direction, giving every element in these large forces
the opportunity to shine. Together.
Conlon deferred to the chorus completely at the beginning, he acknowledged
George persistently at the end - and in-between, he effortlessly held
together huge musical forces, but on a human, non-flashy scale. And,
conducting the long, complex work without a score.
Balances (heard from the orchestra, close to the stagea) were exactly
right, allowing each orchestra section, the chorus, the soloists to be
heard "in context."
As the four soloists entered in "Kyrie eleison," one by one, each sounded
more impressive than the other, although their voices never quite meshed.
The closest to that were duets by Brewer (in a voice that belonged to
her Los Angeles Isolde, not the recent San Francisco Leonore) and Blythe
- the latter with an awesome performance, if with an occasional metallic
tinge to the voice.
Lopardo, who has a mixed (but mostly good) record in San Francisco, was
singing very well, his newly-cantorish tenor most impressive in "Ingemisco."
Kowaljow presented a voice that resounded, but somehow failed to project
fully, falling short in communicating the music to move the listener.
The consistently winning elements of the performance - under Conlon's
direction - were the chorus and orchestra. There are five more performances
of the Requiem, through June 25, and some - if not many tickets - available.
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