Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I went to Kennedy Center last night, my first time on a week night. I stayed awake on the drive home by eating chocolate covered espresso beans, which probably explains why I am writing at four in the morning.

I ate in the very nice café. It was a beautiful evening, so I went strolling on the outside decks that surround the building, patios with very nice willow trees and fountains and a view of the Patomac. There seemed to be something resembling a dance company at work among the concert goers. They all seemed to be wearing red and black to make them look like they went together. There was a saxophone player dressed in jeans, a black jacket and red all stars who improvised. There was a woman in a black tutu who did ballet moves, more or less. The others were all in ordinary black and red clothes with soft shoes. One of them would be standing around and then suddenly form into an odd shape on the ground. I wanted to do it too, but my outfit was green and brown. I thought I could suddenly fall onto the pavement and writhe around, but maybe they would just call an ambulance.

I went to see Renée Fleming do Richard Strauss' Daphne with the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne. WDR stands for Westdeutschen Rundfunks, west German broadcasting. The piece was performed as though it were one of Strauss' tone poems with incidental singing, which means that the singers were either bellowing away (Apollo) or drowned out (Daphne). A little toning down would have gone a long way. Opera orchestras are used to this, but a regular symphony has to be told to cool it. Strauss was doing his part, thinning the orchestration when necessary, but they weren't helping enough.

This is the Ovid Metamorphosis with a character added to make it a love triangle. Daphne (sung by Renée) has a mortal suitor, Leukippos (sung by Roberto Sacca, a singer who has not managed to open up his voice) whom Apollo (sung by Jon Frederic West, a true Heldentenor) kills in a rage. It is difficult to imagine this staged, but perhaps it isn't intended to be.

I have heard Renée Fleming in a variety of venues--Carnegie Hall, the San Francisco Opera, Zellerbach--and have not experienced her in this situation before. The part is clearly ideal for her voice, and the music from 1937 is very beautiful, though not progressed beyond Rosenkavalier, certainly. The hall has a cavernous look and the seating is cramped. There was a burst of applause for Anna Larsson, a contralto who sang Daphne's mother.

The work was conducted by Semyon Bychkov who conducted in his shirt sleeves. There was not sufficient love for me. It deserved greater passion.

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