Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Radu Lupu at the Châtelet; more thoughts on Karita Mattila; more thoughts on Thaïs

I attend a number of orchestral concerts and instrumental recitals every season, but I seldom blog about them, as there's so little I can really say. I can speak about voice, as I know a little bit about singing. And vocal music, with its use of text and theater, is probably more accessible to non-musicians than instrumental music.

My mind always wanders at a piano recital. It's amazing sometimes. I start thinking about one thing, and a few minutes later my head is on something totally different, and I play a little game where I backtrack, attempting to uncover the sequence of thoughts, all the way back to the first. It's not that I'm not paying attention to the recital. It's strange. It's as if a piano recital were for me some bizarre invitation au voyage; I find myself in places I could never access otherwise.

As I noticed at Lupu's performance of Schumann at Daniel Barenboim's Mahler Festival at the same venue last fall, he's a quietly compelling musician. It was remarkable how he used four completely different styles in his program of Schubert, Debussy, Brahms and Beethoven. There were two stunningly beautiful and lyrical encores, but I have no idea what they were.

At some point during Lupu's recital--which, by the way, lasted about 2.5 hours--Mattila floated back into my head. I remembered the gentle, sad swaying of her first encore, Als die alte Mutter. She announced it with: "Everybody knows this, but just in case: it's Dvořák." She referred to it as her "favorite" and "sad." With an introduction like that, how could it not be even more memorable? It was a softly etched performance, deeply felt and staggeringly perfect.

In introducing the second encore, she said, "There is one Finnish composer . . . I hope you didn't get enough!" We all laughed out loud. She sang a Sibelius song, set to a Swedish text, as Swedish is the "second native language" in Finland. She said that in this song, "spring speeds up," and added, "which we all hope!" True, spring has yet to arrive in the Northeast. Martin Katz was translating the text for her, and she stopped him and said, "Why don't you!?", asking him to translate it for the audience. He did that and joked, "Swedish maven that I am," with "blond hair."

When Mattila emerged for her third encore, she picked up the large bouquet that she had placed on the piano during her first curtain call. She caressed it during the introduction, first two verses, and halfway through the third verse of Gershwin's "The Man I Love," sung not in a jazz voice, but in her full dramatic soprano. At that point, she slowly turned her back to us and placed the bouquet on the piano. Suddenly, she turned around, and sang fortissimo "Maybe Tuesday will be my good news day!" The house went insane. There was laughter (not from me, my jaw was on the floor), but not because she was silly. Rather, people had no idea how to react to such an outsize personality. I am under the impression that Mattila is one of those artists who becomes herself on stage. It's her authentic mode of existence. So what we saw wasn't over the top; it was simply who she is. She doesn't hold back; she gives you the real thing, with no apologies.

There's so much I could say about the Finnish songs, but I'll only say one thing, and this is for those of you who will attend her upcoming recitals on this tour. Watch out for "Kun païva paistaa" ("When the sun shines") by Oskar Merikanto. In my program I wrote: "I have never heard so much sunshine in a voice."

Still haven't recovered . . .


I noticed that for tonight's recital, the Châtelet didn't clear the set it had created for Thaïs. Even the screens for the supertitles remained intact. The set consists of a faux-stone frame and faux-stone walls at the rear and sides. A black curtain covered the stage tonight, and Lupu's piano stood on the stage's curve. For Thaïs, there is a raised black platform, rather high, and the backdrop is a screen lit to evoke the sky. It is a very beautiful and most welcome design. Indeed, I have to say that, even during the ballets, I did not miss the presence of sets, costumes and choreography. For one, the evocative score, with its lush orientalism, is so colorful and redolent of perfumes . . .

The orchestra, chorus, and cast were all dressed in black, except for the female soloists, such as this one:

Close-up of Renée Fleming (Thaïs), taken on Monday, April 16, 2007, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Please credit me and link to this post if you use this photo anywhere.

More observations to come following the remaining performances . . .


Ariadne said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, ofthekosmos! Thanks for commenting over on my blog about Mattila and I am SO looking forward to delving further into your delightful blog!!!

PS One long time commenter ("His Brettness") has called Mattila "hopelessly amazing". For me, that moniker pretty much sums it up. She is so completely and totally hoplessly amazing!

Ariadne said...

Oh, and Radu Lupu? Marvelous, marvelous, marvelous!

of the kosmos said...

Thanks for the kind words, ariadne!