Monday, March 07, 2011

PBO & Zheng Cao

Philharmonia Baroque's program at Herbst on Friday was nicely varied in its musical styles & moods. It began with a suite of short but bright dance pieces by Jean-Fréy Rebel, which in this performance more or less ran together. Music Director Nicholas McGegan completed the orchestration, adding parts for woodwinds, trumpet & even the tambourine.

Mezzo Zheng Cao, performing a program originally designed around Frederica von Stade, entered looking joyful to the point of tears, yet she sang “Scherza infida” from Handel's Ariodante with a sustained mood of despair. The bassoon obligato sounded appropriately dark, hollow & ghostly. Ms. Cao received warm applause & practically ran back on stage & then off again for her 2nd bow. The orchestra's 2 flutes stood while playing the serene, dispassionate Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Their straight tone had a far-away sound. Ms. Cao returned to sing “Che faro senza Euridice,” sounding masculine & dropping easily into the aria's mournful mood. She executed a few discrete improvisations in the da capo.

After intermission, Ms. Cao sang 3 songs by Nathaniel Stookey, set to texts by Ms. von Stade & expressing clear, personal sentiments. The 1st song opens with a solo violin playing broken chords in the manner of Bach's solo partitas. This gives way to a bouncy waltz & references to Cherubino in the words & music. The slower, lugubrious 2nd song derailed after the singer entered & had to be restarted. Its text baldly expresses anxiety about growing old. The set ends with a comic patter song which Ms. Cao communicated with very clear diction. The audience laughed when she couldn't decide whether to watch "Oprah or Ellen" & when she expressed approval of her own shoes. Ms. Cao offered an encore of Handel's “Lascia ch'io Pianga,” which Maestro McGegan called a "bon-bon" for us.

The closing suite of dance music from Rameau displayed many contrasts in tempo & instrumental color. A piccolo solo was as high & piercing as a dog whistle. I was constantly entertained by Maestro McGegan's playful gestures, especially when he directed the speed changes for a wind machine. It looks like a large up-turned tub, & the percussionist clearly gets a work-out turning the handle. He was the 1st musician that Maestro McGegan singled out during the curtain calls. At intermission, I ran into the sharp-eyed Cedric, who pointed out David Gockley, Daniel Handler & Mr. Stookey among the audience.

§ Zheng Cao: The Life of a Singer
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Zheng Cao, mezzo-soprano

JEAN-FRÉY REBEL: Les Caractères de la danse
HANDEL: “Scherza infida” from Ariodante
GLUCK: Selections from Orfeo ed Euridice, incl. Dance of the Blessed Spirits, Aria “Che faro senza Euridice,” and Ballet – Chaconne
HANDEL: “Lascia ch'io Pianga” from Rinaldo (Encore)
NATHANIEL STOOKEY: Into the Bright Lights (U.S. Premiere)
RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes, orchestral suite

Fri, March 4, 8:00 pm
Herbst Theatre

No comments: