This memorial concert given by the New York Philharmonic and the New York Choral Artists marked the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Organizers described the concert as a gift to the city, and had originally planned to use Central Park as the venue. Politics and logistics interfered, however, and the event was moved to the Philharmonic’s home, Avery Fisher Hall. Planning for the concert was so intense that then-executive director Zarin Mehta had decided to cancel the orchestra’s popular concerts in the parks over the summer. That move also saved the cash-strapped organization enough money to guarantee a continuation of the parks series into 2013.
This is a captivating and emotional performance of Mahler’s mammoth “Resurrection” Symphony, but not only for the invited first responders, survivors, and other dignitaries in the seats of Avery Fisher. A large screen and speakers set up on Lincoln Center Plaza broadcast the concert to a standing-room only crowd that filled the plaza and spilled onto adjacent walkways. The concert was also broadcast live on the radio. The 90-minute piece gives us the opportunity to watch director Alan Gilbert’s five o’clock shadow grow before our very eyes. Whether stately, furious, delicate, mysterious, or mad, Gilbert plays whatever character is required of him with confidence and grace. The ensembles, too, have lots of bite and lots of tenderness. The group manages to make the performance intensely personal, and by the end, I felt like a bonafide New Yorker. Recommended.
This opera is one of several collaborations between Kurt Weill and German librettist Bertolt Brecht, and it never quite got the traction that their most highly-regarded work, Weill’s Threepenny Opera, has enjoyed around the globe. Weill based this political satire on greed, industrialization, and overindulgence in the late 1920s, and some of his points fit right in with today’s New Normal, Wall Street documentaries, and Occupy movements. The Teatro Real Madrid produced the show in English, and while the original translation is forty years old and is often performed, I found myself longing to hear Mahagonny in German. Catalan theater company La Fura dels Baus represents Mahagonny—a city where the only offense is to have no money—as a literal trash heap. Except for a couple of lengthy and haunting a cappella chorales, the orchestra plows through their discordant score almost mechanically, matching the vivid horror of the soulless actions and desolate surroundings on the stage. There are several other video recordings of Mahagonny available with more impressive casts, but the visual pull of this production is stunning, disturbing, and strong.
American bass-baritone George London, a post-war giant of the stage, sang alongside Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nilsson, and Maria Callas. He was the first non-Russian to sing Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Theater, and the first American to sing the Dutchman in Bayreuth. In the video, testimonies to London’s innate talent and his work ethic are as numerous as comments about his strong vocal presence, musicianship, and his linguistic abilities. He also had his share of idiosyncrasies as a performer, as he insisted on doing his own makeup and finding the perfect wig when the one provided to him would just not do. Paralysis of the vocal cords ended London’s singing career tragically early, so in the second half of his career he focused on administration and teaching. “Every singer who has had an important career is duty-bound to pass on the artistry he has amassed,” London says in the video, in translation. The documentary shows a wealth of archival clips from productions of Otello, The Flying Dutchman, Faust, and Tosca, and there is extensive bonus footage of various opera scenes in costume, spirituals, musicals, lied, and a 1962 TV performance from the Festival of Performing Arts.
– Anne Shelley