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<<  -- 2 --  Kelly Ferjutz    MAGNIFICENT WAGNER


The programs were as wonderful as I'd hoped they would be. Maybe even more so, considering the visuals not so readily apparent when the orchestra is in the pit, rather than on-stage. Please don't misunderstand, I adore opera, especially when staged and costumed and all. But we don't get much Wagner in Cleveland, and even with all the available music performances here, there's still only one organization capable of doing this music justice, and that's the Cleveland Orchestra. (In the last fifteen or so years, we've had the first three operas of The Ring in semi-staged full-scale productions, conducted by former Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi, and they were simply stunning. We're all still patiently waiting for the fourth one.)

Consequently, if you're a Wagner devotée, as I am, you revel in the music when presented, as presented. You'd have to go a far piece to find an orchestra to play Wagner better than ours.

Mr Guerrero runs on stage and bounds onto the podium, darting up and down, here and there, coaxing the music from the players with an elegant and gracefully expressive left hand, while precisely indicating the rhythm with the baton in his right hand. At times, neither hand matches the body english. He also occasionally displays an impressive vertical leap, clearing the podium entirely. The result of this athleticism was spectacular! Standing ovations, shouts of 'Bravo!' and loud applause from the audience -- and the orchestra, as well. He asked for extraordinary effort from the players, but -- he gave back just as much.

Giancarlo Guerrero. Photo © Greg Helgeson
Giancarlo Guerrero. Photo © Greg Helgeson

The result was sumptuous, opulent, sensuous, effervescent, exciting and even -- at times -- transparent. Of course, it was also brassy and clangorous, and sometimes loud, but gorgeously so. There were nine horns (four of whom doubled on Wagner tubas) and four harps, in addition to the normal contingent of players. The only instrument missing appeared to be the contra-bassoon. The percussion section had a few unusual items: Donner's thunderbolt was created by a huge hammer (a chunk of 6" x 6" wood on a long handle) while an ordinary ball-peen hammer, paired with a length of 2" galvinized pipe became, at the skillful hands of percussionist Joseph Adato, part of Alberich's forge where the gold from the River Rhine is transformed into the Ring. Adato also swung the mighty hammer.

The horns, so important to Wagner's music, were marvelous, especially principal Richard King. His playing was luscious and properly heroic, especially in Siegfried's Rhine Journey, that notoriously difficult horn part, which repeats itself several times before moving onward. Of course, anyone in this orchestra is a talented musician, but sometimes they're overlooked, usually because of a lack of solo parts for their instrument, or their position in the orchestra. Steven Witser, acting principal trombone, found himself with almost a concerto effort due to the numerous solos given to his position. He was outstanding; sassy and biting -- as the dragon, limpid or heroic in other places. It was hardly surprising that Mr Guerrero acknowledged Witser first, then King, then tympanist Paul Yancich before singling out the others who also excelled in exposed solos.

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Copyright © 17 May 2006 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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