Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Stabat Mater at the SFJAZZ Center
One summer evening in 1998, the late San Francisco Opera Supernumerary Captain Albert Goodwyn called out of the blue and asked if I'd hop across the street from my apartment to the opera house stage to fill in for the great English bass Robert Lloyd. He was singing the role of Seneca in a production of Monteverdi's opera The Coronation of Poppea, and he had just committed suicide but couldn't stay for the subsequent rehearsal where he was a dead body midstage, so I was filling in as a substitute corpse. After finding the proper place to stretch out a lifeless body, a handsome young bearded man knelt by my side, grinned, and said, "You don't look like Seneca." He then winked and started singing an aria as the Emperor Nero to his deceased friend Seneca in an ethereally beautiful countertenor voice inches away. This must count as one of the most completely memorable musical moments I've experienced in a rich listening life.
The rest of the world discovered David Daniels at around the same time and he's had an extraordinary global career for the next 15 years. Reading between the lines in a number of online accounts of his recent performances, though, there seemed to be some disquiet about his aging, waning voice. So I went to last Friday's Philharmonia Baroque Concert at the SFJAZZ Center with some wariness, but Daniels is just fine. The voice is not as beautiful as it once was, but he's a smart musician and knows how to use his instrument both dramatically and with restraint. It also helped that he was paired with the young English soprano Carolyn Sampson above who had an exquisite voice for Handel and Pergolesi.
On account of the Herbst Theatre retrofitting, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is part of the performing arts diaspora and they decided on continuing their San Francisco season at the new SFJAZZ Center. Original instruments and modernist concrete architecture are an odd, jarring mixture but I rather enjoyed it. The unamplified sound in the Miner Auditorium is strangely dry and lacking in reverberation but that also allowed one to hear every note in a clear and interesting way. The concert started off with a Pergolesi overture that was very bouncy, a quartet of Handel arias and duets for the vocal soloists, and a dull little Concerto for Strings by Francesco Durante, one of Pergolesi's teachers.
Pergolesi is another died-too-young-genius-composer in the mold of Mozart and Bizet. His last work at age 26 was a Stabat Mater that is one of the most deliciously beautiful works of music ever composed. A much older gay friend gave me an LP recording as a birthday present many decades ago, and when he saw my horrified expression after viewing the Tortured Jesus with Standing Mother painting on the cover, he asssured, "Don't worry. It's an "Up" Stabat Mater." And he was right. Hearing it live for the first time last Friday in a lovely performance by Daniels and Sampson was a serious treat.