James Conlon Leads One of the Cincinnati May Festival’s Closing Concerts

United StatesUnited States Mahler, Boito, Mussorgsky: Soloists, May Festival Chorus (conductor: Robert Porco), Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / James Conlon (conductor), Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH. 24.5.2019. (RDA)

Soloists, May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
and James Conlon (conductor)

MahlerDas klagende Lied

BoitoPrologue from Mefistofele

Mussorgsky – Prologue and Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov


Sarah Vautour – soprano
Taylor Raven – mezzo-soprano
Richard Trey Smagur – tenor
Donnie Ray Albert – baritone
Michael Young – baritone
Morris Robinson – bass

In Mahler’s dramatic cantata, Das klagende Lied (Song of Lamentation), two brothers enter the woods in search of a red flower that will award he who possesses it the hand of the Queen in marriage. The good brother finds the flower and falls asleep. The bad brother kills his good brother and flees with the flower but ultimately meets his comeuppance and the kingdom comes to an end.

The story is vintage Romantic melodrama and the music is by the 20-year-old composer, chock full of the grand gestures that would become his signature years later: substantial writing for big voices, lush orchestration, and clever harmonic twists and turns that — at least early in the game — were more Wagnerian than Mahlerian.

James Conlon led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with assurance in this May Festival concert. All three soloists — soprano Sarah Vautour, mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven, and tenor Richard Trey Smagur — stylishly delivered the demanding vocal lines.

In Arrigo Boito’s often-neglected opera Mefistofele (1868) the title role goes to a bass. It was a good thing that the May Festival could book bass Morris Robinson to sing the Prologue to Boito’s opera, back-to-back with the Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov, to conclude a magnificent concert.

Robinson, now in his prime, has been making the rounds in the international circuit in the bass-baritone part of Porgy in Gershwin’s opera (a role that he will repeat in Cincinnati). Boito’s Devil and Mussorgsky’s ill-fated Czar are career-defining roles — both calling for a big voice that can comfortably dip below the staff and and then ascend to higher registers. Robinson comfortably handled the vocal demands of both.

Conlon led the orchestra and the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus (directed by Robert Porco) in front of a capacity audience on the Festival’s closing weekend — a reminder of how good it is, every spring, to celebrate world-class music-making in Cincinnati.

Rafael de Acha

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