Aspen Music Festival (13): A fine Clemenza and Edgar Meyer & Son

20/08/2017

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Aspen Music Festival [13] – Mozart, Haydn, J.S. Bach, Edgar Meyer, Rossini, George Meyer, Bottesini: Soloists, Aspen Opera Center Orchestra and Chorus / Jane Glover (conductor), Wheeler Opera House, Harris Hall, Aspen, CO. 15-17.8.2017. (HS)

Wheeler Opera House, 15 August

Mozart: La clemenza di Tito

Orchestra and chorus, Aspen Opera Center, Jane Glover (conductor)

Cast:

Tito — Ian Koziara
Sesto — Hannah Ludwig
Vitellia — Abigail Shapiro
Servilia — Hayan Kim
Annio — Kady Evanyshyn
Publio — Keith Colclough

Production:

Director — Edward Berkeley
Principal Music Coach — Kenneth Merrill
Scenery— John Kasarda
Costumes — Tracy Dorman (based on the original designs)
Lighting — Lloyd Sobel

Edgar Meyer Recital, Harris Hall, 17 August

Edgar Meyer (double bass),  Tengku Irfan (piano), Alisa Weilerstein (cello), George Meyer (violin)

Haydn/Piatigorsky — Divertimento in D major
J.S. Bach — In dulci jubilo; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her
Haydn — from Twenty-Nine Canons
Edgar Meyer — Canon; The Great Sea Snake
Rossini — Duetto for Cello and Bass in D major
George Meyer — Duo for Violin and Bass
Bottesini — Bass Concerto No.2 in B minor

Conductor Jane Glover wrangled a slender but vibrant-sounding orchestra and a strong cast into a triumphant capper for the Aspen Opera Center’s 2017 season. Heard Tuesday evening at Wheeler Opera House, Mozart’s final opera, La clemenza di Tito, kept building momentum right through to the final glorious chorus.

The opera traces the human jealousies, friendships, and passions that drive plots in first-century Rome against the caesar, Tito (Titus), who in the end rises above it all to forgive his rebellious friends. The Opera Center’s head, Ed Berkeley, focused his direction on individual motivations, his only gloss on an otherwise traditional production. Four stagehands clad in black from head to toe lurked ominously, when they weren’t moving portions of the set.

Atmosphere aside, Mozart’s music is what really brings it all together. Favoring brisk tempos, Glover kept the pace from flagging even in the “dry” recitatives that lay out the plot between some of Mozart’s most pointedly directed arias, duets and ensembles. The cast not only traced their own characters with appropriate color, but interacted with each other like real people.

The star was mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig, whose stage presence, responsiveness to the other singers, and sheer vocal sumptuousness made her every moment in the spotlight special. In the pants role of Sesto, Tito’s childhood friend and Vitellia’s lover, she made her Act I recitative, “Oh Dei, che smania è questa,” a marvel of dramatic ambivalence, and her Act II aria, “Deh, per questo istante solo,” in which she protects Vitellia by taking responsibility for the plot against Tito, could have moved a real-life Caesar.

As Tito, tenor Ian Koziara mustered ringing tone for his big moments to go along with a soft-edged regal mien, especially in Act II. As Vitellia, the jealous woman who sets in motion the plot against Tito, soprano Abigail Shapiro got better as the opera progressed, overcoming a shrill edge in Act I to get real warmth and sympathy into her Act II aria, “Non più di fiori.”

Soprano Hayan Kim, as Servilia, Sesto’s sister, and soprano Kady Evanyshyn, as Annio, her boy friend, brought silvery tone and youthful presence to their assignments. Baritone Keith Colclough, as Publio, commander of the Praetorian guard, dispatched his announcements well.

Thursday night in Harris Hall, string bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer included duets with his son George on violin, and with the redoubtable Alisa Weilerstein on cello. Both were high water marks of a concert that ranged from Bach chorales to a couple of short, fresh and distinctive works by George, all designed to put the bass on display as the opposite of its usual role as the anchor at the bottom of the music.

Meyer can make his instrument sound like a cello. In spots, one might swear that someone sneaked in a violin, only to descend to the resonant depths a moment later. His rock solid technique, consummate musicianship and deft touch make the string bass into a unique musical vehicle. Its soft dynamics almost demand that a listener lean forward and pay close attention. Pianist Tengku Irfan, the regular pianist in the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble and a fine soloist on his own, controlled dynamics and matched Meyer’s sense of rhythm.

The rewards began in the first half. As appetizers, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky’s arrangement of a Haydn divertimento for baryton (a variation on a viol) was a tasty oddity, followed by a couple of short J.S. Bach chorales. A couple of lively Haydn canons made an appropriate segue to Meyer’s own Canon (2002), written as a duet with banjo master Béla Fleck. The Great Green Sea Snake (1986) found Meyer in a funkier mood and injected some humorous interplay with the piano.

In Rossini’s witty (unaccompanied) Duo for Cello and Bass in D major. Weilerstein’s own brilliance highlighted the composer’s signature rapid musical gestures and juicy interplay, including a game of “I can play higher – or lower – than you.”

Meyer and Meyer offered two unaccompanied pieces to open the second half. The more relaxed “#2” from 2009 felt more like a casual exchange of improvisations. The more recent Duo for Violin and Bass, from 2013, conjured unique bass-and-violin sonorities, piquant harmonies and lively rhythms.

George then served as concertmaster for nine student string players accompanying Bottesini’s Bass Concerto No.2 in B minor, which shows off a bassist’s wizardry as deftly as Paganini did for violinists. Dad met its challenges, ranging from the lowest notes to some that extended past the fingerboard into violin range, all with impeccable technique and taste. One could only soak it in, slack-jawed.

Harvey Steiman

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