Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 9, 2008

Hartford Symphony Masterworks

The Bushnell, Hartford
January 9
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Today’s inconveniences of international travel were bypassed by the Hartford Symphony saturating a Masterpiece Series evening with the romantic music of 19th century ebullient Vienna.

In his pre-concert talk, Conductor Edward Cumming described "the first half of the program as formal and the second half as fun." The sum was one hundred percent delightful.

Johann Strauss, Jr.’s "Overture to Die Fledermaus" (literal translation: flying mouse) introduced the spirit of the effervescent Viennese who, praise be, escaped being handicapped by Victorian rigidity. The orchestra’s sensitivity to the operetta’s jinks (both high and low) created invisible actors behaving deliciously silly and slamming-doors naughty.

The contrast between the score for the comical farce and Franz Lehar’s operetta, "The Land of Smiles" was stunning from the moment tenor soloist Matthew Plenk began singing the aria "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!" ("My whole heart belongs to you!"). The audience, spellbound, absorbed Plenk’s strong tone and shading of the heartrending longing for the love of his life. In spite of vigorous applause, the clamoring for more of his voice was not to be. No wonder this young man will make his Metropolitan Opera debut this season as the Voice of the Young Sailor in "Tristan and Isolde"– the first voice that is heard as the curtain rises.

Because Cumming’s teacher had been a student of Richard Strauss, amusing anecdotes now have been passed along during the pre-concert talk. (If you weren’t there, you missed out.) Cumming also waxed eloquent about the four guest soloists, extolling them for their "immaculate intonation" and intelligence of mind and heart. During the suite and final scene from "Der Rosenkavalier" by Richard Strauss, the commingling voices of the three sopranos – Adina Aaron, Janna Baty (mezzo), and Amanda Forsythe – gave me chills.

Following intermission, a baker’s dozen students from the Hartt Music Theater Program shared their youthful dynamics, especially the all-male kick line of "You’re Back Where You Belong" from Lehar’s "The Merry Widow."

HSO’s New Year’s welcoming concert bubbled.