Prokofiev and Del Tredici and Leonard Slatkin

Let me get a few things out of the way before I start my blog post.

It looks like the PSO had a bad evening on Friday.  Here’s Andrew Druckenbrod of the P-G:

What a shame that a night in which the PSO should be congratulated for performing the complete version of Mr. Del Tredici’s 1975 setting of the “Wonderland” Trial Scene that the orchestra ran into technical malfunction. A loose connection in the microphone on soprano Hila Plitmann caused countless earsplitting explosions. Their unpredictable arrivals (eerily reminiscent of the infamous balloon gala) filled one with anxiety at first and then gave way to frustration.

And Mark Kanny of the Trib:

Last night’s performance was seriously undermined by a problem afflicting soprano Hila Plitmann’s body microphone. It kept producing a loud sound as though the microphone was being hit, but was probably a loose wire. More than half the piece was over before a hand-held microphone was passed to her.

Each review, however, praised Plitmann’s abilities and performance.

We weren’t at Friday’s performance.  The lovely wife and I were at Sunday’s and whatever mic malfunctions there were two days before were long gone. Plitmann, however, was still amazing.  The PSO was amazing.  The Prokofiev was amazing.  Amazing.  Amazing.  Amazing.

A couple of questions, though, before I begin. Final Alice has a part for a Theremin. Which would seem to require a Theremin player. Question: Where does one get a Theremin player these days?  Does Julliard have a Theremin department?  And when David Del Tredici walked up on stage to collect his well earned applause, he was wearing a white scarf and a dinner jacket emblazoned on the back with (and I kid you not) a large cartoon image of “He-Man, Master of the Universe.” Question: Where does one get a “He-Man” dinner jacket?  And if one goes through all the trouble of wearing the jacket to wear it on stage, shouldn’t there be a matching scarf to go with?

I kid.  I kid because I care.

Now, onto my post.

I don’t think Druckenbrod approved of Peter Leo’s reworking of Peter and the Wolf.  He writes:

Opening the concert was a work that might well have asked, like Alice, “Who in the world am I?” The PSO presented Prokofiev’s beloved “Peter and the Wolf” with a Pittsburghese twist — a new text by Peter Leo. He is the former Post-Gazette humor columnist and a friend of mine. But his poking fun at Pittsburgh, however funny or well-articulated by narrator David Conrad, deprived the audience of the full experience of the work many loved as a child and remains a masterpiece.

Though Kanny didn’t seem to mind:

“Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev began the concert. It was performed with a new text for narration of the story by Peter Leo, former columnist for the Post-Gazette, and delivered with winning style by actor David Conrad.

After the traditional introduction, which tells that the bird is represented by the flute, Peter by the strings and the wolf by three horns, Leo retains the direction of the story but adds a lot of locally oriented references and jokes. It plays to the audience, which laughed in all the right places.

I can see Andrew’s point, and while he’s certainly entitled to it, I don’t necessarily agree with it. While the yinzer additions did distract the audience from Prokofiev’s original folk tale, so what?  Kenneth Branaugh reset Hamlet in the late 19th Century, Kurosawa reset Macbeth in feudal Japan.  Each loses something from the original with each resetting but each gains something else in its place.  In this case it was all in good fun – what difference does it make?

On to the Del Tredici

Final Alice is an immensely complicated piece.  It’s written, in Del Tredici’s own words as:

a series of elaborate arias, interspersed and separated by dramatic episodes from the last two chapters of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, centering on the Trial in Wonderland (which gradually turns to pandemonium) and Alice’s subsequent awakening and return to “dull reality.”

Nonetheless, it’s also quite accessible even though it’s thoroughly “modern.”  Atonal, it’s not.  Loud and largely tonal (though hardly Mozartean or even Straussian), it leaves the audience humming the tunes on the way out the door.

A “grand concerto”, Del Tredici says, for voice and orchestra. Luscious  harmonies support the text from beginning to end.  Inspired, he said in 2008, “partly by Lewis Carroll and partly by Martin Gardiner whose 1960 book, The Annotated Alice showed that many of Carroll’s nonsense verses were based on popular songs of the day.”  Colors from the Del Tredici’s palette were bold and far-reaching.  Especially beautiful was the final aria, an acrostic poem written by Lewis Carroll.

What’s an acrostic?  Here’s the beginning of the final aria:

A BOAT beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,

And so on.  See the first letters of each line?  It spells A-L-I-C-E.  That’s an acrostic.

Funny where you’ll find them.

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