Reviewed by Barb Van Atta
In past seasons, the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra has given full concert treatments to music, much by John Williams, from film sagas such as Star Wars and Harry Potter.
Last night (March 23) at The Forum in Binghamton, the BPO, under the sure guidance of Music Director Daniel Hege, went back to the myths and the music that have inspired Williams and many authors and screenwriters: the Ring Cycle operas of Richard Wagner.
Actually, Wagner preferred to call his massive (17-hour) quartet a collection of “music dramas” in which all the arts – singing, instrumental work and stagecraft – shared equal billing in the eyes and ears of the audience.
Thus, a 90-minute concert such as “Wagner’s Ring Cycle in One Night” was able to put the BPO’s talented musicians squarely in the spotlight with symphonic passages such as Das Rheingold’s “Abendlich” and Siegfried’s “Orchestral Forest Murmurs” as well as in a supporting role for the guest artists’ two vocal selections in the first half of the concert.
And even those selections – “Ride of the Valkyries” and “Wotan’s Farewell and Orchestral Magic Fire Music” from Die Walküre – could not be considered standard arias.
In the former, the BPO’s strong horns and strings captured the excitement of one of Wagner’s most familiar pieces, standing on equal footing with the powerful clarion tones of Jill Gardner, a lyrico-spinto soprano definitely tapping into her spinto persona.
Gardner and her husband, Jake Gardner, are both former Tri-Cities Opera Resident Artists, who now perform nationwide. Besides singing, they shared duties as narrators for the concert, giving overviews of the four operas’ plots and introducing each selection.
As a bass-baritone, Jake Gardner, who grew up in Johnson City, has spent a career singing parental roles. However, this probably was the first time his local fans had heard him express a father’s pain in German. Gardner’s voice may not be quite as strong as it once was, but his burnished tones remain and his maturity added gravitas to his portrayal of Wotan.
Both soloists were a pleasure to hear, albeit too briefly. Thus, audience members were, like me, very pleased when the Gardners presented a lovely encore, the romantic waltz from Lehar’s The Merry Widow.
Sometimes it’s hard to single out high points in a concert, but I was particularly impressed by the French horns, winds and brass in the “Forest Murmurs” and the cellos and trombones in “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Götterdämmerung.
The latter piece moved impressively from somber to sprightly to stately, creating myriad mental images. As primarily an opera person, I admit to sometimes wishing I could see what would be staged for these moments, but that did not detract from the beauty of the music and strong performance by Hege and the BPO.
An editorial aside: At three events this past week, I have heard people talk about how organizations such as TCO and the BPO are “jewels” of our community, yet this concert was far from a sell-out. Both organizations (and many other arts groups as well) are trying to offer programming to appeal to all segments of the community. The community needs to support these efforts, or our “jewels” will be lost.