Busy Cultural Calendar – Suzuki at the NYP, Don Carlo at the Met, Marlboro Musicians at PSC, The Revisionist at Cherry Lane Theatre, The Lying Lesson at Atlantic Theater Co.

From the title of this posting, you can see that I’ve attended quite a few things over the past few weeks, and I’ve been too busy to write about them individually, so herewith a summing up.

On March 8 I was at the New York Philharmonic to hear Masaaki Suzuki, making his debut conducting the orchestra, in works by Mendelssohn and Johann Sebastian Bach.  The program had a nice symmetry, beginning with Bach’s motet “Singet dem Herrn ein Neues Lied”, BWV 225, and concluding with his Magnificat in D, BWV 243.  In between, we had Mendelssohn’s Magnificat in D from 1822, and surviving selections from his incomplete oratorio, Christus (published posthumously as Op. 97).  Thus, each half ended with a Magnificat!  I had become acquainted with Suzuki’s work through his Bach recordings on the BIS label, as I have been collecting his serious of the complete Catatas as they have been issued.  I also have and greatly admire his recording of Monteverdi’s 1610 publication of the Mass and Vespers Service.  Suzuki melds the best of “historically informed practice” with lively tempi, well-articulated rhythms, and full, colorful sound, verging at times on the romantic.  All of those merits were on display with the Philharmonic.  The selections from “Christus” were a delighful musical discovery for me. The music was intensely dramatic, and the solo singing by Sherezade Panthaki (soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Tyler Duncan and Paul Tipton (baritones) was right on the money.  The excellent combined forces of Bach Collegium Japan and Yale Schola Cantorum (Suzuki directs both) provided a rich, well-focused sound and brought generally youthful enthusiasm to the music.  Mendelssohn’s Magnificat, a youthful work (age 13) predating his “breakthrough” accomplishments of the Octet and the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, is well-crafted but not yet at the level of mature individuality that this composer would achieve within a year or two.  The Bach motet, performed (unusually) with the accompaniment of an instrumental octet & organ, made a grand introduction with it’s 8-voice polyphony.  The highlight for me was Bach’s Magnificat, which I had the pleasure of playing (as an orchestra member) in college.  I’ve long regarded this piece as one of Bach’s finest achievements, verging on opera at times, bringing out the drama inherent in the text of this ancient Latin poem.  Once again, the solos were thrilling, especially Nicholas Phan’s “heroic” performance of the Deposuit.

The next afternoon I was at the Metropolitan Opera for the Saturday matinee performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo, conducted by Lorin Maazel.  The Met performs the original 5 act version, written for the Paris Opera, but in an Italian translation that was original conceived for the 4-act version presented in Italy and then expanded.  I think Verdi was smart to leave out the original Act 1 when he introduced the work in Italy.  It is the least inspired of the acts, it makes the piece extra long, and it is not necessary to the dramatic action, as the “back story” can be provided to the audience before the performance.  (One friend, disagreeing with my view, points out that Act 1 ends with the only really happy music in the opera.  True enough.)  Maazel’s slow tempi ensured that the 5-Act version made for a very long show, beginning shortly after 11 am and concluding at close to 4 p.m., with two intermissions, one after Act 2 and one after Act 3.  I thought Ramon Vargas was not really up to the challenges of the title role, but Ferruccio Furlanetto was excellent as King Phillip of Spain, and Tommaso Matelli was stunning as the Grand Inquisitor in his big scene with Furlanetto.  Barbara Frittoli and Anna Smirnova in the female leads were also excellent, but the real stars of the afternoon were the Met chorus and the orchestra, as is often the case in this house.

That evening, I heard a group of Musicians from Marlboro presented by Peoples’ Symphony Concerts at the High School of Fashion Industries in Manhattan.  A string quartet made up of Michelle Ross, Ida Levin, Michael Tree and Paul Wiancko gave excellent performances of Haydn’s Op. 77, No. 1, and Schumann’s Op. 41, No.2.  Levin returned with Emily Deans and Gabriel Cabezas for a very dramatic rendition of Schoenberg’s String Trio as the interlude between the two quartets.  This was music-making on a very high level, as always from Marlboro groups.  PSC remains at the HSFI as renovations are dragging on at their usual home base of Washington Irving High School.

Sunday afternoon it was down to Greenwich Village and the Cherry Lane Theater for Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s production of Jesse Eisenberg’s new play, The Revisionist, starring Eisenberg, Vanessa Redgrave and Dan Oreskes.  Redgrave plays an elderly Polish Jewish woman playing host to her “cousin” from American, played by Eisenberg, who drops in for a week to work on a book he is writing.  He’s a terrible houseguest, and she is tortured by a secret she eventually has to share with him about her past.  Oreskes plays a taxi driver who provides transportation and male attention to Redgrave’s character.  Most of the dialogue between Redgrave and Oreskes is in Polish!  Or at least a convincing representation thereof.  Eisenberg’s character seems a near variant of the part he wrote for himself in his prior Rattlestick production, Asuncion, and not far different from the part of Mark Zuckerberg he played in the movie, “The Social Network.”  Time for Eisenberg to show more range and stop playing the same personality type in different settings.  Redgrave is incredible in this and makes it worth seeing, creating one of those truly unforgettable characters.

Finally, on Tuesday night (March 12) I saw the last preview performance of “The Lying Lesson,” an Atlantic Theater Company production of a new play by Craig Lucas, which opened the following night and got its NY Times review this morning.  I agree with the NY Times review, having also found this tale of the elderly Bette Davis a bit thin on the ground, although nicely produced and acted by Carol Kane and Mickey Sumner.  Kane channels Davis, although I thought in the first half hour or so her strange way of talking and walking seemed more caricature than performance.  Sumner is entrancing as a young woman who “breaks in” to the house on the Maine coast that Davis is in the process of buying and worms her way into Davis’s confidence.  I guess people who are infatuated with the image of Bette Davis will find this entertaining, but I was bored.

Tonight I look forward to a concert performance of Andre Previn’s operative treatment of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Carnegie Hall.

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