Weekend Triple Header

This was a busy cultural weekend for me: Nixon in China, Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, and CBST's annual concert, this year titled "Spicy Tsimmes: Ethnic Flavors and Fusion From the Melting Pot of Israel."

The Metropolitan Opera finally presented John Adams' Nixon in China, which was premiered by the Houston Grand Opera in 1987 and has been performed all over the place in the interim.  The production, directed by Peter Sellars, was borrowed from English National Opera, and the composer conducted stellar cast that included the originator of the Nixon role, James Maddalena, and Janis Kelly as a most sympathetic Pat Nixon.  Russel Braun as Chou En-lai was most engaging, Robert Brubaker as Chairman Mao most amusing, Kathleen Kim as Chiang Ch'ing, Mao's dragon-lady wife, suitably chilling.  Poor Richard Paul Fink was cast as Henry Kissinger, the most unsympathetically portrayed character (and a bit underused, I thought).

The production was very effective, the performances superb, the opera has aged a bit, and it struck me that the last act could probably use substantial revision.  This was Adams' first opera, and a big hit at most performances, but I suspect that after a quarter century of compositional maturation and opera-writing experience, he could do a more effective job on a final act.  That said, Act II is thrilling throughout, and Act I, although a bit overextended, captures well some of the historic moments. 

The Met debut inspired musing in the press by reporters who had covered the events about how the opera departs from reality.  Duh!  It's an opera, not a documentary.  Although the first act and a half have a quasi-documentary feel to them, the show then goes into fantasy and speculation, and becomes more of a commentary on events than a depiction of them.  I've no problems with that.  Most operas inspired by historical characters and incidents take liberties and are more "inspired by" than "depictions of."  It's to be expected.

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Piano Trio have been performing together for 35 years, and give well-integrated interpretations.  That said, this was a very conservative program – Beethoven, Ravel and Mendelssohn. The highlight for me was Mendelssohn's Trio No. 2, Op. 66, which stood out as a fluent work of sheer genius with an "Andante espressive" second movement that was heartwarming.  The explosive audience reaction brought a welcome encore: Kreisler's Miniature Viennese March.  Peoples' Symphony definitely had another hit in its Washington Irving High School chamber music series.

Finally, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah's annual concert this afternoon.  Over the sixteen years that they have been presenting these, Joyce Rosenzweig, the congregation's music director, has been a guiding genius and frequent performer.  This afternoon she was honored, deservedly, for her magnificent contributions to the musical and spiritual life of the congregation.  The style of the concert varies from year to year, ranging broadly from classical to pop.  This year is was essentially an Israeli pop-rock concert, featuring the vocal talents of our cantorial intern, Magda Fishman, who has had an impressive secular singing career before entering the seminary and seemed most at home in this repertory.  Guest artists with drums and electric guitars provided the expected ambience and the chorus under Joyce's direction framed the proceedings.  I am not a rock-pop fan, prefering my music acoustical and classical, but the level of talent on offer was high, the level of commitment was palpable, and I came away a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed myself.  But I can still hope that next year's concert will be in a different vein….

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