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Review: Philadelphia Orchestra Pairs Ballet and Opera at Carnegie Hall

The Philadelphia Orchestra

By Jose Andrade, Contributing Writer, March 13, 2017

Carnegie Hall’s commitment to presenting the best performers in classical music today was evident last Tuesday, March 7 as the Philadelphia Orchestra brought an evening of ballet and opera to New York. Led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, two fairy-tales were presented: selections from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake and Béla Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle.

Although there were no dancers in this concert performance of selections from Swan Lake, Maestro Nézet-Séguin certainly gave us a most athletic, animated and enthralling performance of his own on the podium. A delicate opening gave way to a faster, slightly maniacal tempo with an occasional suspension to spice things up and favoring ending sections quickly with elegant sforzandos. The dance selections from Act 3 were sufficiently colloquial, especially the jaunty Spanish dance. Concertmaster David Kim’s violin solo during the Russian Dance favored dash and élan, eventually giving way to subtlety. Nézet-Séguin settled into a more relaxed tempi for his next two selections, but brought us back to a very driven, white-knuckle finale which favored brash form over sentimentality.

Bartok’s Bluebeard Castle is a perfect opera for a concert setting and in the hands of the Philadelphia orchestra and Nézet-Séguin, Bartok’s sumptuous sonorities and mysterious tonalities were extolled flawlessly. Nézet-Séguin conducting showed more variation and flexibility than his Swan Lake, and carefully drew sound out of this most dense, complex work. Based on a French fairy-tale, Bluebeard escorts his new bride Judith to his castle and allows her free reign in the castle except for seven doors which must remained locked. Of course, the opera is about opening all seven doors and the psychological consequences that follow.

The two soloists offered a study in contrasts; John Relyea a commanding presence and Michelle De Young, a hesitant, softer heroine. Mr. Relyea was excellent in all facets of his performance: clear diction, an ample lower register, and rock-solid authority that could effortlessly match the orchestra, easily make him one of the best vocal interpreters of this role on the scene today. As for Ms. DeYoung, favoring softer, rounder phrases than Relyea, her reserved temperament served her well, delivering a tender solo before door number one. As the action intensified, so did her temperament, but occasionally dropping final notes of phrases just as the orchestra’s volume grew.

Arguably the climax of the opera is the fifth door when Bluebeard reveals the immensity of his kingdom, performed in a triumphant C major and a high C from DeYoung. Four trombones and four trumpets situated in the third circle of the balcony for this moment created a veritable bath of luxurious sound, an excellent use of antiphony in Carnegie Hall.


The Philadelphia Orchestra in concert at Carnegie Hall on March 7, 2017. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Music Director and Conductor. Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano; John Relyea, bass.

TCHAIKOVSKY Selections from Swan Lake
BARTÓK Bluebeard’s Castle

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Cover: Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; photo: Steve J. Sherman.


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