Te Kōki New Zealand School of Music
Bicentenary of the births of Verdi and Wagner
Verdi: Overture to La forza del destino / ‘Non so le tetre immagini’ from Il corsaro
‘Questa o quelle’ from Rigoletto / ‘O don fatale’ from Don Carlo
Triumphal March from Aida
‘Alla vita che t’arride’ from Un ballo in maschera / Gulnara and Seid duet from Act 3, Il corsaro
‘Tacea la notte’ from Il trovatore
Wagner: Overture (Prelude) to Die Meistersinger / Wesendonck lieder
Entry of the gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold / encore: Prelude to Act 3, Lohengrin
Margaret Medlyn (soprano), Daniela-Rosa Cepeda (soprano), Oliver Sewell (tenor), Elisabeth Harris (soprano), Christian Thurston (baritone), Christina Orgias (soprano, Fredi Jones (baritone), Isabella Moore (soprano), NZSM Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young
Wellington Town Hall
Tuesday, 28 May 2013
The NZSM Orchestra keeps up a pretty hot pace, with relatively frequent concerts. This was ‘the big one’; the annual Town Hall concert, and probably the last for some time, due to the earthquake strengthening to take place at that venue.
However, the coldest day of the year so far would, without doubt, have been the main reason for relatively low audience numbers. This was a shame, because the orchestra was in top form, and coupled with some outstanding singers, they made the tribute to two of the greatest opera composers, into a marvellous concert. The downstairs seating was less than half-full, while there were about four rows full in the main part of the circle upstairs.
The large orchestra (including quite a number of guest players) gave a very fine performance of the overture to La forza del destino, with close attention to rhythm and dynamics to create the appropriate spooky feeling.
Daniela-Rosa Cepeda (formerly Young, and the winner of the Dame Malvina Major Foundation Aria prize and Rosina Buckman Memorial Cup at the 2011 Hutt Valley Performing Arts Competitions in 2011) was the first singer we heard. Her extract from Il corsaro, and the duet by Christina Orgias and Fredi Jones later in the programme, were tasters for the opera the School of Music is to present in July. This testing first aria began accompanied by harp only, followed by pizzicato strings – very effective. The singer’s voice proved to be very well suited to this music.
Oliver Sewell’s famous aria from Rigoletto showed that he was equal to the acoustics of the large hall. Elisabeth Harris’s voice was rich and powerful too, in the difficult, dramatic aria from Don Carlo. While improved from previous times I have heard her, she still sang under the note at times, particularly at the beginning of phrases.
What a magnificent, grand march is that from Aida! It must be one of the most popular orchestral excerpts from all opera. The NZSM Orchestra gave it a fine performance, notable for the splendid trumpets.
Christian Thurston proved to have an excellent voice for Verdi, in his excerpt from Un ballo in maschera, but in the Il corsaro duet, the singers were not well balanced. Fredi Jones was good at conveying his character, while Christina Orgias communicated her words, and the mood, very well, but could not match Jones’s volume. The orchestra played superbly and sensitively.
Isabella Moore proved once again what a promising singer she is – a natural, with confidence, and a lovely voice intelligently used. Her voice production seems effortless, and she rose above the orchestral sound, producing wonderful notes throughout. Her vocal quality is mellow, yet exciting when it needs to be.
After the interval, another grand march, the overture to Die Meistersinger, was taken at a brisk pace, but still allowing the subtleties to emerge. The brass were first class, speaking as with one voice. It was powerful playing; Wagner would surely have approved. Balance was excellent.
Next was a real treat: the Wesendonck lieder, Wagner’s setting of poems by Mathilde Wesendonck. I don’t know that I have ever heard the whole five live before – perhaps once, a long time ago, in London. Margaret Medlyn was just the person to perform them, with her successful experience as a singer of main roles in Wagner music dramas. The first two songs (‘Der Engel’ and Stehe Still’) were sung sublimely, and just right. The radiance of the singer’s voice was never swallowed up by the huge orchestra.
The third song, ‘Im Treibhaus’ (In the hothouse) featured muted strings. The words (in translation in the printed programme) described a state of depression; the tonal changes, dynamics and expression employed by Margaret Medlyn were beautifully judged to convey this state; it was an exquisite performance.
The meaning of ‘Schmerzen’ (Sorrows) was drawn out by Wagner’s fabulous word-painting. As in the first half of the concert, the orchestral accompaniment was notable for delicious harp-playing. Throughout the songs, one could recognise many passages that the composer used later in his music-dramas. The ending of the last song, ‘Träume’ (Dreams) was quite beautiful, and the orchestra did its part supremely well. Margaret Medlyn proved herself again to be a great Wagnerian singer.
The last work listed in the printed programme, from Das Rheingold, had Wagner at his most lyrical. Oboes were important, and their playing was very fine. Although the prelude to Lohengrin was not printed in the programme, Middle-C was aware that it was to be played. It made a familiar finish to the concert, completing a quartet of grand marches and overtures.
Orchestra, conductor and singers should all feel very proud of their achievements in presenting a concert of a very high standard. Although we understand that it was a hard night’s work, one would wish that the orchestra members might convey at least a modicum of pleasure or enjoyment in their faces when they take their final bow.