Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Samson at WCO

And for the final leg of the weekend, we had Washington Concert Opera's spring show: a Samson et Dalila featuring Frank Poretta (a last minute replacement for the originally scheduled Brandon Jovanovich), Michelle DeYoung, and Greer Grimsley.

Poretta was seen recently in Washington, as Cavaradossi in the generally competent run of Tosca's that opened the WNO season, for which he received a somewhat lukewarm reception, though I liked him quite a bit. I want to call him a meat n' potatoes tenor, but in a good way. His basic sound is sturdy and muscular, and he doesn't go in for a lot of polish that would fuss it up. Sure he'll try a fancy pianissimo effect here and there where called for but it usually doesn't work out. Sometimes he goes through a bit of a gruff period and you just have to wait it out. But he almost never fails to make the big thrilling sound where it counts, and it is all the more thrilling for sounding like it is connected to a real human being. Those qualities make him a great fit for Samson, which benefits from tenors that sound like they're bolted to the floor (see also my last Samson, the granite-voiced Clifton Forbis in 2006--is he out at the Met now? What happened to him?). Especially given the minimal preparation time he surely had (and you could tell there was some Olympic-quality sight reading going on in the longeurs of Act I) this was a fine contribution.

Michelle DeYoung, also seen recently as Judith in the Eschenbach/Goerne Bluebeard's Castle from earlier this year, was the other original attraction for the program, after the absent Jovanovich. Looking the part rather spectacularly in a turquoise satin number with purple silk accent sleeves/sashes, she spun a glamorous and sensual Dalila with a rich plummy tone just hinted at in her Judith. "Ma Coeur..." a favorite from my primordial days of opera appreciation, can handle a bit more rawness and urgency onstage, but one would have a hard time beating DeYoung for sheer beauty and decadent, over-ripe texture.

Greer Grimsley, whom we have not heard  before, offered a high priest that can only be described as dastardly. This is a unique instrument: a bass baritone of great black depths and unwavering power and consistency. I very much want to hear his Wotan now (especially to cleanse the palate after all of Terfel's shouty faux heftiness), though with the deep impression he made here I fear I may never shake the vision of him as mustache-twirling villain. Kind of like how once Michael Madsen cuts that dude's ear off in Reservoir Dogs you never again believe him as, say, the "dad" character.

There is definitely a lot of chorus in Samson, though it has never registered as particularly interesting as opera choral music goes. That aside, the WCO's chorus did a fine job capturing the varied colors of the anguished Hebrews and the carefree Dagon worshippers. Maestro Antony Walker did his usual superhuman conducting duties at the podium, keeping the whole machine in check, bringing together some memorable climaxes, and, especially in the case of the third Act ballet, driving the band to feverish heights almost through sheer force of will alone. Rough edges here and there marred the overall success only somewhat, including spotty solo work and instances where Saint-Saens' orchestral colors came off middling and thin.

Update: Here are Downey and Midgette.


Mirto_P said...

Frank Poretta: The Early Years ... http://tinyurl.com/7299krc

Will said...

Grimsley was Wotan for me in a Seattle Ring a good many years ago now. I thought him a striking artist with voice to match.

I LOVE S&D. I know that many opera "lovers" go to extremes to describe their boredom with the opera but I like it a lot and always did.

Alex said...

Good intel on Grimsley!

The bad rep for S&D is interesting--I think the charges of "boring" are more a reaction to the feeling that the subject matter suggests a roiling biblical epic but the actual work is much more impressionistic in pacing and tone. The result is that it can feel strangely unsatisfying and unmoving at the end, especially with the vast majority of Act III's weight given over to the showpiece ballet.

I've only ever seen it staged in the current Met production, which despite its exuberant coloring seems fairly straightforward in how it presents the drama. Would be very interested in seeing a version that tried to match that impressionistic tone with a more abstract approach...

Will said...

I think you'd have to go to Europe for that. American productions tend to the historical approach. the previous MET production was certainly that with a very realistic temple collapse. Designer Doug Schmidt (a theater school classmate of mine) did an homage to C.B. DeMille production for San Francisco that was the last word in Hollywood biblical.

Recent European versions I have seen are in the Regie mode and something more like what I think you might like although I don't believe "impressionistic" is exactly the word.

HOUSE said...

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