Hila Plitmann, I like you, and not in an uncomfortable, stalker-fan sort of way. And I really, really wanted to love David Del Tredici’s Final Alice. My inner nerd salivated at the thought of experiencing the imagination of Lewis Carroll performed in such an innovative and intriguing manner. (Anything Alice is life obsession #3 for me, closely nipping at the heels of “hating Mozart” and “obtaining the presidency of the Joshua Bell fan club.”) That said, I could not fully embrace Final Alice, despite its high-caliber content and unique musical flair. It has all of the necessary ingredients for a musical feast: the ultra-talented soprano with a golden voice, the orchestral powerhouse of the PSO, both underscored by the eccentric flair of Lewis Carroll’s literary brilliance. With all of the aforementioned present in spades, what was my problem?
Before I jump in, let me first say that the PSO deserves kudos for taking a chance on a new and daring program. I would be thrilled to see more of these types of shows in the future. This was not your typical, run-of-the-mill, happy little symphonic performance…and I love, love, love that about it. As the program notes point out, this was the first time that Final Alice had been performed at Heinz Hall, and it was exciting to be there for its first run. My issue, however, was not with the program or with the performance, per se—it was just really loud. (Stay with me, here…I’m not going all “cranky lady” on you, I promise.) The volume was a problem. Despite Ms. Plitmann’s vocal power, the sheer enormity of sound that the orchestra creates, coupled with the reverberating acoustics of Heinz Hall, made Final Alice difficult to follow. Ms. Plitmann’s voice was frequently drowned out by the music, even though she was frequently shouting her narration. It makes sense when one considers the vast array of sounds and instruments had been packed into the performance. As conductor Leonard Slatkin himself noted before Sunday’s concert, the percussion section was a veritable “arsenal” of sound, with bells, whistles and sirens; it had just about everything “but the kitchen sink,” and even that may have been thrown in at some point. It would be very difficult for one set of vocals to successfully compete.
Despite the awkward acoustics, the genius of Final Alice is enthralling. Read the poems that became the lyrics to Del Tredici’s arias; I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent much of the performance trying to discern if Lewis Carroll was pulling a “Weird Al” Yankovic by writing his parody poems, or if they were a secret cri de coeur to his very young gal pal, Alice Liddell, taking him dangerously close to dalliances in the land of Lolita. Either option is scandalously delicious. The preconcert discussion with Dr. Marah Gubar, Director of the Children’s Literature program at the University of Pittsburgh (and a former professor of mine), was a perfect accompaniment to the program.
And don’t think that I’ve forgotten David Conrad and Peter and the Wolf. That performance merits its own, separate blog post, but do be forewarned: there will be copious amounts of gushing.