Saturday, June 13, 2015
Multimedia Missa Solemnis at SF Symphony
The San Francisco Symphony is winding down its long regular season with a Beethoven festival through the month of June, starting off with a multimedia staging of the composer's Missa Solemnis. The production is very divisive, with some people loving it like me, and others despising the movement, video, lighting, and spatial sound effects involved with performers positioned all over Davies Hall.
The staging by James Darrah offered non-narrative hints of Catholic processionals and recessionals that were graceful, mysterious and surprising. The scenic design by Darrah collaborators Emily Anne MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Mock was striking and effective, while the lighting design by David Finn was exquisite. The hyperactive video design by Finn Ross was fun, though the images occasionally devolved into the familiar trap of looking like antique screensavers, and it was a relief when the final third of the performance was accompanied by the single cross of light above.
I should probably mention here that Beethoven is not one of my favorite composers and the universal worship of his Great Artistic Genius leaves me cold. There are a few pieces of his that I love, though, such as his opera Fidelio which will also be part of this festival with soprano Joelle Harvey and tenor Brandon Jovanovich above in the cast. On Wednesday, their gorgeous voices projected easily through Davies Hall, and they moved elegantly while singing Missa Solemnis from memory.
I listened to various versions of Missa Solemnis on YouTube ahead of time (Thielemann the clear favorite) and was prepared for a revelation, but the live performance did not do it. For one thing, the marvelous San Francisco Symphony Chorus was too darned loud, and I started to feel bludgeoned about two thirds of the way through. This is a minority opinion, though, and the fault is probably mine. According to Georgia Rowe, Lisa Hirsch, and Janos Gereben, Michael Tilson Thomas offered one of the greatest conducting jobs in his 20 years as Music Director of the orchestra.
There is one more chance this Saturday evening to see and hear a performance, which also includes bass-baritone Shenyang and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke above as two of the wandering soloists. Sasha's voice sounded so creamy it made you want to return across the street hear her again in Berlioz's Les Troyens at the Opera House. June is turning into a very rich musical month on Grove Street.