Revelatory performance of a modern masterpiece

Gershwin – Porgy and Bess.

 

Porgy – Willard White

Bess – Latonia Moore

Sporting Life – Howard Haskin

Crown – Lester Lynch

Jake – Rodney Clarke

Clara – Angel Blue

Robbins – John Fulton

Serena – Andrea Baker

Maria – Tichina Vaughn

Jim – Michael Redding

 

Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Chorus (prepared by Albert Horne)

Berliner Philharmoniker / Simon Rattle.

 

Philharmonie, Berlin.  Saturday, September 15th, 2012.

 

This was one of those concerts that will live for a very long time in the memory.  Rattle has a strong reputation in Gerswhin and his Glyndebourne recording remains a benchmark for recordings of this work.  Willard White was the Porgy of that recording and he remains a superb singer.  With a strong cast and a chorus that is very experienced in the work, hopes were high for an outstanding evening – and they were certainly realized.

 

It was a very well cast show.  Latonia Moore was a late replacement for new mother Measha Brueggergosman and she is an excellent singer.  I have heard very good things about Moore and so it proved tonight.  She has a wonderful instrument, even throughout the range and a fabulous technique that allows her to do anything she wants with it.  She is also a beautiful lady.  I see that her website essentially lists her engagements for the next year as Bess and Aida.  It would be a real shame if she were typecast in those roles.  I really hope that Moore gets picked up very soon by the leading houses – she is an outstanding Verdi soprano and I think would also make a magnificent Tosca too. 

 

Willard White sounded fresher in this music than he did in his recording of 20 years ago.  The guy is a legend.  He must have been singing for over 40 years now but the voice has lost nothing of its power nor of its stability.  Howard Haskin gave us a wonderfully extrovert rendition singing ‘it ain’t necessarily so’ with the fervour of a gospel preacher and answered quite magnificently by the chorus.  I found the voice lacked a little suppleness – he sings much heavier music than this normally – but overall it was a great performance.  Angel Blue’s Clara gave us a delicious ‘summertime’ and she has a wonderfully individual tone to her voice.  Rodney Clarke’s Jake also distinguished himself by his silver tone and clear diction.  Andrea Baker’s Serena was a little out of her comfort zone – this is a soprano role after all – and ‘my man’s gone now’ stretched her to her limits.  Finally, Tichina Vaughn’s Maria was a no-nonsense lady who nobody would mess with.  Her Klytemnästra-like delivery worked wonderfully.  The voice does lack some integration between the registers but she’s a terrific stage presence and almost stopped the show at several points. 

 

Rattle has been living with this music for decades and it shows.  The hours flew by and there were none of those longueurs that sometimes become apparent in his studio recording.  The Berliner Philharmoniker yet again cemented their reputation as one of the finest orchestras around.  The playing was highly idiomatic and absolutely superb.  The sheer weight of sound with a strong and warm bass line was astounding.  Rhythmically too they were spot on.  There were so many wonderful moments, it’s difficult to single one out but if I had to, it would be the brass playing at the moment when Sportin’ Life takes Bess off to New York.  That sexy big band sound soared completely at that point. 

 

If the playing was exceptional then words fail me when it comes to the chorus. I don’t think I have ever heard an opera chorus like it.  The Cape Town Voice of the Nation Opera Chorus was absolutely, phenomenally incredible.  Often, opera choruses can sound like a blend of competing vibratos that makes the pitch waver terribly.  Here, the blend was superb but it was combined with incredible amplitude that filled the hall with golden sound.  There were only about 50 of them but it sounded like there were 250.  If I could live any moment of that show again it would be the final ‘Oh Lord I’m on my way’ which was absolutely stunning.  I don’t know how well it came over on the Digital Concert Hall but in the hall itself, the sound was absolutely glorious.  It seems that the chorus is made up of some outstanding singers individually but they also know how to sing collectively and they lived this music in a way that only long experience with this score allows.  I would love to hear them in another opera – maybe Turandot, Boris Godunov or perhaps even Les Troyens.

 

This was an exceptional performance of a modern masterpiece.  I’m not always convinced of the strength of this work when listening to it but then a performance such as this shook away any doubts and presented the work with love and affection.  It was blessed with an outstanding cast, superb orchestral playing but also with a chorus that will live in the memory as an example of one of the finest choral performances I have ever heard.  I really hope that EMI can release this performance on disc.  Otherwise, I hope that the Digital Concert Hall recording will be released on DVD.  This was an exceptional show.

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