September 27th, 2019


Schoenberg & Bartók

This week the Philharmonic opens with Schoenberg’s harp concerto. It’s an unusual example of the genre due to the vocal part. No, wait, it was Erwartung. The “fully staged” conception for this week’s program put the staging on a platform at the back of the stage, putting the singers roughly where they’d be in relation to the orchestra in an opera house. The orchestra’s position in relation to the audience was still concert-hall standard. So the singers were up high from the audience point of view, and the supertitles even higher. The third tier had for some (non-apparent) reason been closed by the production, so we were moved to orchestra seats, close on the left. This put harpist Nancy Allen directly in front of us, and given the prominent harp part in Erwartung (and the height of the singer and titles), that’s where my attention settled. Katarina Karneus was good, but she and the piece were secondary to me. The production, such as it was, didn’t help. Whatever was going on up there, it didn’t bear watching.

Bluebeard’s Castle after intermission, with Nina Stemme and Johannes Martin Kränzle, was infinitely more watchable. It also left the Met’s more-staged production, which we saw last season, in the dust for sense and clarity. Stemme is a force of nature, and as conceived here Judith gains strength with each door as Bluebeard unravels; in the end she stands in triumph with the previous wives, rather than joining them in sticky end.

So, musically all rather successful; stage-wise one no, one yes. Though the same end (or better) could have been reached with a standard (or more-standard concert format, I can’t fault JvZ and the orchestra for stretching themselves and trying new things.