Thursday, November 14, 2019

Wagner (highlights) with the NSO

Some quick reactions on Tristan Act II last night at the Kennedy Center…

There was much to enjoy in this exploratory outing for Goerke’s Isolde, as well as some challenges. It was a real joy to hear her in a concert setting again for the first time in a while. She may not bowl you over with volume in a huge opera house, but in a (slightly) smaller hall you can really appreciate the full heft of her sound. The true excitement here, as is appropriate, was in Isolde’s pealing high music. Goerke’s distinctive quick vibrato continues to differentiate her in Wagner's big moments, bringing a soft, plush texture that is a great vehicle for emotional communication. There was something of a warm up period here, where the sound was confident but a bit on the dry side. But that resolved itself  and by the time the meat of the duet had arrived she had settled nicely into warm, blazing top notes that made the big finish exhilarating.

However that top often seemed disconnected from the rest of the voice. She seemed to have difficulty cutting through the orchestra in the middle and lower registers to the extent that  it was a bit difficult to follow the through line of the music in parts. While the top felt sufficiently free, the effort elsewhere left an overall impression of a lot of work going on. Noseda was not helpful in this respect, driving the NSO at (what were admittedly very fun) full bore with few compromises for the singers, though when the orchestra did dial it back, you could still catch moments of those rich middle register tones. Here's hoping that as she spends more time with the role she can get to a place that feels more comfortable across her range.

A concert performance doesn’t really lend itself to a full dramatic evaluation, but, as she has with some of the other Wagner heroines, Goerke seemed to be keying into a more vulnerable side of Isolde, which I found quite compelling. (Just kidding Stemme unhinged emo princess you’re the only one for me I swear!)

If Goerke was trying some stuff out, Stephen Gould was making big-time Wagner singing look like another casual Wednesday night down at the pub. He may not be the most dynamic Tristan (concert presentation caveats of course), but no matter how unruly that orchestra gets dude is gonna blast Tristan into the back row with only a hint of manly strain. Which is not to say he only has one setting--there was some really lovely singing at quieter dynamics too. I was also impressed with baritone Günther Groissböck who offered a very musical Konig Marke (gotta love having a hot Marke next to a more, er, standard Tristan, like damn girl I guess that potion really worked), and Ekaterina Gubanova’s clarion Brangaene.

As noted above, I hope Noseda is a bit of a better accompanist for the singers when this program repeats. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy what the orchestra was doing. Noseda delivered an urgent, muscular Act II and the NSO was in top form with really passionate, committed playing and excellent solo work (though the offstage hunting horns had some problems). The only disappointment was that we couldn’t hear them take on the rest.

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