New York Philharmonic Opening Night:Varied Program but Missing That One Frisson

United StatesUnited States  New York Philharmonic Opening Night: Deborah Voigt (soprano), Alan Gilbert (conductor), Avery Fisher Hall, New York City. 21.9.2011 (BH)

Barber: Overture to The School for Scandal, Op. 5 (1931)
Wagner: “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser (1845)
Barber: Andromache’s Farewell, for Soprano and Orchestra, Op. 39 (1962)
Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser
R. Strauss: Intermezzo, “Dance of the Seven Veils” and Final Scene from Salome (1905)


If this year’s opening night with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic didn’t have the frisson of a world premiere, there was still a rarity on display, Samuel Barber’s Andromache’s Farewell, achingly sung by soprano Deborah Voigt. (The orchestra hadn’t performed the piece since Kurt Masur led it in 2000, when Ms. Voigt sang it then as well.) At just over ten minutes, it shows Barber using his basically tonal language to piercing effect, as Andromache (of Troy) says goodbye to her son Astyanax, knowing he will soon be killed. Gilbert and the musicians gave their guest soloist the most sweeping underpinning possible.

Prior to the Barber, Voigt gave a warm-hearted account of Wagner’s noble “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser, but the real fireworks came at the end of the evening, when she unleashed the vocally punishing final scene from Salome. Richard Strauss’s scoring – for a very large orchestra – occasionally dwarfed Voigt’s considerable power, but this is a minor quibble in a spellbinding performance. Changing from her midnight blue dress (in the first half) into a long red affair that one might equate with a cheerily decadent party, she let a few demented smiles creep in to color her splendid vocal mountaineering.

In the instrumental offerings, the ensemble seemed to get better as the evening progressed. Barber’s School for Scandal Overture was amiable enough but didn’t seem to gel, seeming a little under-rehearsed (and if so, understandably, given the substantial pre-opening night concerts this fall).  The evergreen Overture to Tannhäuser showed the brass at their most resplendent, and the entire ensemble pretty much torched Avery Fisher Hall with a scalding “Dance of the Seven Veils,” melding sensuousness, glitter and just enough sarcasm to show the nastiness when Salome performs (in the opera – alas, no veil-less Voigt was on offer here). At this point the orchestra was probably too loud for some, but I relished the chance to see Gilbert and his colleagues hurl themselves into Strauss’s showpiece with such conviction.

Bruce Hodges