16 December 2020

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Christoph Willibald Gluck — ORFEO ED EURIDICE (N. Tamagna, K. Piper Brown, L. León; Opera in Williamsburg, 15 December 2020)

IN REVIEW: (from left to right) soprano LAURA LEÓN as Amore, countertenor NICHOLAS TAMAGNA as Orfeo, and soprano KEARSTIN PIPER BROWN as Euridice in Opera in Williamsburg's virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, 15 December 2020 [Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK (1714 – 1787): Orfeo ed Euridice, Wq.30 (1762 Vienna version) — Nicholas Tamagna (Orfeo), Kearstin Piper Brown (Euridice), Laura León (Amore), Kinneret Ely (ensemble soprano), Alison Taylor Cheeseman (ensemble mezzo-soprano), Pavel Suliandziga (ensemble tenor), Suchan Kim (ensemble baritone); Opera in Williamsburg Orchestra; Jorge Parodi, harpsichord continuo and conductor [Benjamin Spierman, stage director; Naama Zahavi-Ely, visual designer, video editor, and producer; Eric Lamp, costume designer; Deborah Jo Knopik-Barrett, production/stage manager; Streamed performance by Opera in Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA; 15 December 2020]

Integral to the human condition is the pursuit of understanding, observing phenomena in nature and humanity and striving to discover or devise rationalizations for the inexplicable. From this impulse arose ancient civilizations’ mythologies, via which cultures analyzed the world around them in scenarios that resonated with their unique circumstances. Astronomical, geological, and climatic events beyond the scope of scientific evaluation thus became physical manifestations of interactions among gods, men, and the legions of beings neither wholly divine nor mortal; beings like Orpheus, the prophetic figure, celebrated by Pindar but ignored by Hesiod, whose mastery of song transcended human abilities. Esteemed by Horace as a tamer of savages, celebrated by Aristophanes and Euripides as the prince of poets, and dismissed by Aristotle as a figure of metaphor rather than history, Orpheus was one of Antiquity’s most influential entities.

From Jacopo Peri’s Euridice in 1600 to Philip Glass’s Orphée nearly four centuries later, opera has often turned to Orpheus as a source of inspiration. The son of the Muse Calliope and either the Thracian king Oeagrus or the god Apollo, Orpheus was reputed to have perfected the art of song and Hermes’s lyre to such an extent that even Hades and its guardians could be bewitched by his artistry. The allure of Orphic myths to composers endeavoring to charm audiences with their own arts is obvious. The symbolism of the saga of a musician utilizing his own gifts to subvert conventions must have appealed irresistibly to Christoph Willibald Gluck. Having won acclaim for his contributions to the Late-Baroque bravura style, he resolved to refashion his work for the stage to resurrect the purer aesthetics of Ancient Greek theater, preferring emotional directness to ornate vocal display. Continuing the legacy of pioneering settings of the Orpheus myth by Peri, Claudio Monteverdi, and Luigi Rossi, the Hellenic world’s most hailed musician provided Gluck with an ideal vehicle for his operatic reformation.

Gluck had lived and worked in Vienna for nearly a decade when, in 1761, he was joined in the Habsburg seat by a fellow artist who shared his vision of minimizing the excesses of Italianate virtuosity in opera, the poet Ranieri de’ Calzabigi. Exposed during an extended residency in Paris to the tragédies lyriques of Lully, Marais, and Rameau, Calzabigi regarded the opportunities for displays of vocal prowess demanded by fêted singers as perversions of poets’ and composers’ service to their Muses. In the mythological tale of Orpheus’s refusal to accept the loss of his beloved Eurydice, Gluck and Calzabigi found an aptly non-conformist subject for the azione teatrale with which they launched their ambitious collaboration. The première of their Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna’s Burgtheater on 5 October 1762, received the imperial sanction of Empress Maria Theresa’s attendance. Two-and-a-half millennia after his first known appearances in literature, Orpheus sang anew, expanding his mythology with an opera that continues to epitomize music’s capacities for evolution and rebellion.

IN REVIEW: soprano KEARSTIN PIPER BROWN as Euridice (left) and countertenor NICHOLAS TAMAGNA as Orfeo (right) in Opera in Williamsburg's virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, 15 December 2020 [Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]Gli amanti riuniti: soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Euridice (left) and countertenor Nicholas Tamagna as Orfeo (right) in Opera in Williamsburg’s virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, 15 December 2020
[Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]

Producing opera is ever a Herculean task: producing opera during a global pandemic is the stuff of Homerian epics. The myriad challenges of bringing artistic initiatives of any breadth to fruition in 2020 notwithstanding, Opera in Williamsburg allied an insurmountable will to perform with innovative use of technology to create a satisfying, thought-provoking virtual production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Piloted by the company’s founder Naama Zahavi-Ely, disparate components were recorded, assembled, and edited to construct a digital staging, still undergoing revision in advance of wider release in early 2021, that brought Gluck’s and Calzabigi’s drama to life more convincingly than some fully-staged productions manage to do.

Placing the opera’s action in settings evoked by her own and Tirtza Zahavi’s nature photography and elements of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych in oil known as The Garden of Earthly Delights, Zahavi-Ely’s direction and video editing lent the production admirable Classical eloquence, renouncing the sorts of senseless melodrama, so contrary to the composer’s and librettist’s intentions, that mar some stagings. The work of stage director Benjamin Spierman and production/stage manager Deborah Jo Knopik-Barrett yielded natural but discernibly expressive movement, complemented by Eric Lamp’s attractive modern-dress costume designs. The conditions under which this production was planned and curated are temporary, but the implications of the shrewd use of resources that it exhibited are lasting.

Conducting from the harpsichord, Opera in Williamsburg’s Music Director Jorge Parodi replicated the production’s urbane ethos in the musical performance. The Maestro’s accompaniment of secco recitatives was sensibly paced, maintaining momentum without rushing, and his tempi in instrumental and vocal numbers, particularly the Overture and dances, limned the gravitas of the music whilst wholly avoiding plodding sentimentality. Orchestral playing was reliably polished, the wind parts executed with unerring panache. The precision of ensemble achieved by the musicians would be commendable in the context of any performance, but it was in this virtual reading truly remarkable. Ensuring that the listener’s attention was always focused on the marvels of Gluck’s score, not on the technological wizardry of their recording of it, Parodi’s and the orchestra’s work was worthy of myth.

Consisting of the splendid quartet of soprano Kinneret Ely, mezzo-soprano Alison Cheeseman, tenor Pavel Suliandziga, and baritone Suchan Kim, the chorus sang with extraordinary balance and clarity. They began Act One with an account of ‘Ah! se intorno a quest’urna funesta’ that established an atmosphere of despair. Vividly contrasted, their forceful singing of ‘Chi mai dell’Erebo’ in Act Two was therefore all the more exciting. In subsequent scenes, the young voices intoned ‘Vieni a’ regni del riposo’ and ‘Torna, o bella, al tuo consorte’ dulcetly, projecting involvement in rather than mere comment on the drama. It is Gluck’s writing for the chorus that lends Orfeo ed Euridice much of its emotional potency, as well as its Classical authenticity, and Opera in Williamsburg’s performance offered choral singing of the necessary but hardly ubiquitous majesty.

IN REVIEW: soprano LAURA LEÓN as Amore (left) and countertenor NICHOLAS TAMAGNA as Orfeo in Opera in Williamsburg's virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, 15 December 2020 [Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]Amore ed il sposo doloroso: soprano Laura León as Amore (left) and countertenor Nicholas Tamagna as Orfeo (right) in Opera in Williamsburg’s virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, 15 December 2020
[Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]

With the well-meaning but too frequently ill-executed intention of bringing mythological accuracy to the part, modern productions of Orfeo ed Euridice sometimes assign the rôle of Amore to boy singers. Edith Hamilton would perhaps have approved of this trend, but the male Amore was written for and first sung by a female soprano, Marianna Bianchini, a noted exponent of bravura rôles in operas by Hasse, Jommelli, and Sacchini. Opera in Williamsburg followed Gluck’s example by engaging soprano Laura León to depict Amore, here presented as female. There was an appropriate suggestion of deus-ex-machina intervention in León’s delivery of ‘T’assiste Amore!’ in Act One, and she sang the aria ‘Gli sguardi trattieni’ with bright tone and easy command of the range. In Amore’s scene with Orfeo in Act Three, León imparted the deity’s sincere concern for the parted lovers, and the soprano’s voicing of ‘Talor dispera’ in the opera’s final scene sparkled. The I Dream of Jeannie mannerisms with which Amore’s conjurings were enacted seemed out of character even for the impish young god, but León sang and acted charismatically, lacking only a genuine trill.

IN REVIEW: soprano KEARSTIN PIPER BROWN as Euridice in Opera in Williamsburg's virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, 15 December 2020 [Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]La sposa perduta: soprano Kearstin Piper Brown as Euridice in Opera in Williamsburg’s virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, 15 December 2020
[Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]

Dressed by Lamp in gowns that would not have seemed out of place in Jacqueline Kennedy’s closet, soprano Kearstin Piper Brown’s Euridice exuded physical and vocal opulence. Euridice is in some performances a bloodless cipher but in this staging was a commanding presence in the drama, a woman who merited Orfeo’s death-defying devotion. In her first scene with Orfeo, Piper Brown’s Euridice blossomed with renewed life and feminity, but the joy of the lovers’ reunion was brief. Wrenchingly conveying Euridice’s dismay at her beloved’s seeming indifference, Piper Brown phrased ‘No, più cara è a me la morte’ with anguished pathos. Euridice’s aria ‘Che fiero momento!’ is one of Gluck’s most progressive pieces, anticipating Beethoven’s Fidelio and Weber’s Der Freischütz and Euryanthe, and Piper Brown possessed every quality required to sing the music superbly, rising to gleaming top A♭s. Her enunciation of ‘La gelosia strugge e divora’ in the final scene radiated jubilation. Gluck unquestionably wrote music of greater consequence for Orfeo than for Euridice, but Piper Brown’s vocalism elevated Euridice’s status both in this Orfeo ed Euridice and in comparisons with Gluck’s later heroines.

IN REVIEW: countertenor NICHOLAS TAMAGNA as Orfeo in Opera in Williamsburg's virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, 15 December 2020 [Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]Una canzonetta di speranza: countertenor Nicholas Tamagna as Orfeo in Opera in Williamsburg’s virtual production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, 15 December 2020
[Image © by Opera in Williamsburg]

Created in the opera’s 1762 première by renowned castrato Gaetano Guadagni, Orfeo is one of Eighteenth-Century opera’s most enduring characterizations. Opera in Williamsburg’s production was distinguished by a dazzling portrayal of the rôle by countertenor Nicholas Tamagna. Wielding total stylistic acumen that encompassed effortless tones at the top of the stave and an impeccable trill, he paid homage to Guadagni by performing Orfeo’s music artfully but without artifice, the voice confidently meeting every demand of the music. His despondent cries of ‘Euridice!’ in the opening scene penetrated both the choral lamentations and the listener’s heart, palpably evincing the profundity of the despair at the core of his voicing of the aria ‘Chiamo il mio ben così.’ The scene with Amore reawakened Orfeo’s hope, and ‘Che disse! Che ascoltai!’ throbbed with astonishment and renewed energy.

The representation of the artist in conflict with the establishment in Orfeo’s journey to the underworld in Act Two spurred Tamagna to sing passages like ‘Deh! plactevi con me’ with poignant intensity, his voice assuming the enchanting mellifluence of Orfeo’s lyre. He sang the aria with chorus ‘Mille pene, ombre moleste’ and ‘Men tiranne, ah! voi sareste’ with disarming simplicity. The expressivity of Tamagna’s performance of the arioso ‘Che puro ciel, che chiaro sol’ was arresting, the beauty of his timbre rivaling Elysium’s wonders.

In the Act Three duetto with Euridice, Tamagna sang ‘Vieni, appaga il tuo consorte!’ with perceptible determination, Orfeo’s commitment to recovering Euridice from death’s clutches infusing the voice with a vein of steel. Following the breaking of the divine covenant and the second loss of Euridice, the steel was swept away by a deluge of dismay in ‘Ahimè! Dove trascorsi.’ Tamagna’s riveting singing of the widely-known ‘Che farò senza Euridice?’ justified the aria’s familiarity, but he was no less moving in Orfeo’s subsequent scene with Amore and the final reunion with Euridice. In the unlikely setting of a virtual production, Tamagna joined the ranks of history’s preeminent interpreters of Gluck’s and Calzabigi’s Orfeo.

The 1693 issuance of letters patent chartering the College of William and Mary in the colony of Virginia and John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s investment in the restoration and long-term preservation of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s were bold experiments. Perpetuating the Old Dominion’s venturesome spirit, Opera in Williamsburg’s decision to create opera during this season of worldwide hardship and heartbreak was also a courageous experiment. Like its fellow institutions in Virginia’s colonial capital, Opera in Williamsburg forged success with ingenuity, uniting artists and audiences via technology and a drive to seek refuge in music. Enjoyable and uplifting in its own right, this virtual production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice offered an invigorating reminder that, through calamities of earth and men, opera endures.

14 December 2020

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Gustav Mahler — DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (Clay Hilley, Stephen Powell; Amici Musicorum; Steven White, conductor; Opera Roanoke, 13 December 2020)

IN REVIEW: Gustav Mahler - DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (Opera Roanoke, 13 December 2020; Graphic © by Opera Roanoke)GUSTAV MAHLER (1860 – 1911): Das Lied von der ErdeClay Hilley (tenor), Stephen Powell (baritone); Amici Musicorum; Steven White, conductor [Streamed performance by Opera Roanoke, Jefferson Center, Roanoke, Virginia, USA; 13 December 2020 (recorded on 20 November 2020)]

The work of Gustav Mahler is one of Western music’s most consequential crossroads. Regarded by some musicologists and music lovers as a prophet whose scores inaugurated modernity in Classical Music and by others as a talented but over-esteemed creator of cacophonous musical behemoths, Mahler was both a man and an artist of contradictions. To the traditions of Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms he brought Jewish and Bohemian sensibilities, his singular, ever-evolving notion of an artist’s relationships with past, present, and future shaped by his own interactions with the cultures that nourished his creative impulses. In his music, Mahler fused Renaissance polyphony, Baroque counterpoint, the symmetry of Viennese Classicism, and Romantic temperament with innovative thematic development and bold instrumentation that translated the idioms of previous generations into the musical languages of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. All roads do not lead to Rome, but it can be argued that, particularly in his Symphonies, all music meets in Mahler.

His characteristic pragmatism did not lessen Mahler’s superstitious wariness of the precedent of no major composer since Beethoven having survived beyond the completion of a ninth symphony. Keen to circumvent the effects of the seeming curse on composers’ ninth endeavors in symphonic form, Mahler styled his ‘Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester’ not as a conventional numbered symphony but as Das Lied von der Erde, a colossal musical essay in six movements that at once harkened back to Robert Schumann’s Szenen aus Goethes Faust and prefigured Schönberg’s contemporaneous Erwartung, composed in 1909 but not performed until 1924.

The ruse failed: following his completion of the symphony that he acknowledged as his ninth, Mahler died before finishing its successor. The 1907 publication of Die chinesische Flöte, Hans Bethge’s collection of German translations of poetry from China’s Tang dynasty, influenced Teutonic artistic circles much as Goethe’s writing had done a century earlier, and Mahler found in words written in the Eighth Century echoes of his life’s sorrows, doubts, and fleeting joys. Returned from his acclaimed début season on the podium of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Mahler spent the summer of 1907 in the Tyrolean countryside, where the vivid imagery of Die chinesische Flöte inspired the aural tableaux of Das Lied von der Erde.

The composition of Das Lied von der Erde was to some degree a means of confronting adversities that plagued Mahler in the months prior to his departure for New York in late 1907. The deteriorating political climate of the final years of the Austro-Hungarian empire ended his directorship of the Wiener Hofoper, his beloved daughter Maria was lost to illness, and his own mortality was manifested in the diagnosis of the heart condition that ended his life in May 1911, six months before Das Lied von der Erde’s world première in Munich’s Tonhalle, a structure that, as seems sadly portended by its association with this product of Mahler’s anguish, was destroyed during the 1944 Allied bombing of the Bavarian capital. Bethge’s translations of texts by Li Bai, Zhang Ji, Meng Haoran, and Wang Wei spurred the composer’s musical response to his contrasting suffering and success.

Filmed in Roanoke’s Jefferson Center on 20 November 2020, Opera Roanoke’s performance of Das Lied von der Erde adapted the power of Mahler’s score to the physical limitations and emotional implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, movingly enacting the timely conflict between hope and resignation that permeates the piece. Under the baton of Opera Roanoke’s Artistic Director Steven White, the fifteen musicians of the recently-formed chamber ensemble Amici MusicorumAkemi Takayama (violin and concertmaster), Matvey Lapin (violin), Bernard DiGregorio (viola), Kelley Mikkelsen (cello), John P. Smith IV (double bass), Julee Hickcox (flute and piccolo), William P. Parrish, Jr. (oboe and English horn), Carmen Eby (clarinet, E♭ clarinet, and bass clarinet), Scott Bartlett (bassoon), Abigail Pack (horn), William Ray (percussion), Al Wojtera (percussion), Scott Watkins (piano), Erica Sipes (harmonium and celesta), and Jeff Midkiff (mandolin)—transformed the subtleties of Arnold Schönberg’s and Rainer Riehn’s arrangement of Mahler’s opulently-orchestrated score, to which White rightly restored the crucial writing for mandolin, into expressive details that melded like stones in a mosaic to create vibrant soundscapes.

Mahler’s music demands technical prowess of the sort demonstrated by Amici Musicorum in this performance, but the musicians’ playing achieved mastery of considerably more than notes and rhythms. Even when Mahler’s original orchestrations are employed, the prevailing atmosphere of Das Lied von der Erde is often reservedly contemplative, the surging swells of sound accentuating passages of introspective intimacy. Though unfailingly effective from a musical perspective, Mahler’s complex instrumental writing sometimes emphasizes awkward phrasing in his word settings, but White ensured that Amici Musicorum’s sonic textures supported the singers’ efforts at elucidating text. Indeed, the instruments frequently seemed to communicate the words as naturally and impactfully as the voices. Midkiff’s spirited playing validated the sagacity of White’s reinstatement of the mandolin in ‘Von der Schönheit’ and ‘Der Abschied,’ and Sipes adroitly exhibited how integral the distinctive timbres of the harmonium and celesta are to Das Lied von der Erde’s sound world. The many challenges for strings, winds, and percussion were exultantly and gracefully conquered.

White’s affection and respect for the music were apparent in his discerning but unaffected handling of the score. The first and many subsequent performances of Das Lied von der Erde were conducted by Mahler’s friend and champion Bruno Walter, whose interpretation of the score is extensively documented on recordings. White’s conducting of Opera Roanoke’s Das Lied von der Erde integrated a sense of enraptured solemnity reminiscent of Walter’s performances with elements of Hans Rosbaud’s stylistic acuity and Jascha Horenstein’s fervor. His tempi were drawn from rather than imposed upon the score, his pacing closely aligned with the cadences of the text. As in all of Mahler’s symphonies, evincing the emotional gravity of the transitions of tempo and dynamics that drive Das Lied von der Erde is arguably a conductor’s paramount duty. White wholly fulfilled this responsibility, his reading of the score ennobled by selfless service to the music.

IN REVIEW: Gustav Mahler - DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (Opera Roanoke, 13 December 2020; caricature of the composer by Enrico Caruso for THE MUSICAL COURIER, 1908)Der Liedermacher: caricature of Gustav Mahler by tenor Enrico Caruso for The Musical Courier, 1908

Throughout the performance, tenor Clay Hilley sang strongly, only a few instances of compromised intonation and avoidance of Mahler’s quieter dynamic markings betraying the exertion expended in his voicing of the music. He vanquished the assault on the voice’s passaggio in ‘Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde,’ confidently projecting both the profusion of Fs, F♯s, and Gs at the top of the stave and the euphoric top B♭. Hilley articulated ‘Ein voller Becher Weins zur rechten Zeit ist mehr wert’ heartily, and his assured singing of ‘Das Firmament blaut ewig’ heightened the psychological reverberations of the text, underscoring the kinship between Mahler’s vocal lines and Wagner’s music for his Tristan. Hilley delivered the repetitions of ‘Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod’ pointedly, giving each statement unique inflections.

Baritone Stephen Powell was also tasked with overcoming difficult tessitura, and his poised singing of the pianissimo opening of ‘Der Einsame im Herbst’ epitomized the uniformly high quality of his work. The shimmering colorations of Powell’s voice were tailored to the nuances of the words, not least in his insightful enunciation of ‘Der süße Duft der Blumen ist verflogen.’ The baritone’s clear diction allowed the listener to appreciate Mahler’s visceral tone painting with uncommon immediacy, the poet’s symbolism illuminated by the singer’s vocal acting. Aided by White’s eloquent sculpting of the instrumental substratum, the sincerity of Powell’s voicing of ‘Ich weine viel in meinen Einsamkeiten’ fostered a poignant aura of desolation that intensified the music’s intrinsic quest for hope.

The virility of Hilley’s singing of ‘Von der Jugend’ was exhilarating, his top As secure and sonorous. In ‘Auf des kleinen, kleinen Teiches stiller,’ a passage in which Mahler expressed his desire for tranquility with a specification of ‘Ruhiger,’ the tenor lightened his voice to disclose the narrator’s vulnerability. Hilley’s vocalism grew more resilient as he sang ‘Alles auf dem Kopfe stehend,’ the bronzed patina of his tones imparting the primal wildness that lurks in the music. Wagner’s influence on Mahler’s vocal writing was again unusually perceptible, Hilley’s singing prompting thoughts of Act Two of Tannhäuser.

The descents below the stave in ‘Von der Schönheit’ rarely troubled Powell, his voice retaining resonance and focus to the bottom of the range. Particular care was devoted to his voicing of ‘Gold’ne Sonne webt um die Gestalten,’ and Mahler’s marking ‘Immer fließend’ was meticulously observed by singer and conductor in their exquisite rendering of ‘Das Roß des einen wiehert fröhlich auf und scheut und saust dahin.’ Blending beauty of tone with unwavering concentration on communicating the words, never more effectively than in this movement, Powell’s singing recalled the Lieder performances of Herbert Janssen.

Hilley’s finest singing of the performance was heard in ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling,’ in which he deployed boundless energy and imagination. Here, too, his top As were produced with elan, White’s tempo—or, rather, Mahler’s tempo, precisely realized by White—facilitating congenial placement of the tenor’s upper register. The cry of ‘Horch!’ was uttered with surprising but understated spontaneity, Hilley approaching the passage with touchingly inward reflection. The song’s climactic top B♭, vigorously sung, rousingly asserted the intoxicating credo of the text and brought the journey of Hilley’s performance to a memorable destination.

Powell’s singing of ‘Der Abschied’ displayed tremendous breath control, his phrasing of the meandering lines guided by cognizance of each word’s function in the music’s cumulative narrative trajectory. An attitude of discovery suffused his account of ‘O sieh! Wie eine Silberbarke schwebt,’ metamorphosing into weariness in ‘Alle Sehnsucht will nun träumen.’ Powell’s intoning of ‘Er sprach, seine Stimme war umflort’ was tinged with cynicism, exploring an undercurrent of disquieting doubt that courses through the text and is amplified by the chromatic ambiguity of the music. Powell’s voicing of ‘Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz’ resounded with pained yearning for inner peace, and his hushed singing of the statements of ‘Ewig’ with which the song ends evoked surrender to the inevitable cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

In too many performances of Das Lied von der Erde, overabundances of reverence for Mahler’s legacy as a progressive, sometimes inscrutable musical trailblazer beget pomposity that undermines the piece’s capacity to lure listeners into an exotic world in which words and music tell stories that are both familiar and always new. Mahler’s genius should be revered and his music studied and respected, but of what real value is genius if it can only be experienced from a respectful distance? Despite the physical separation necessitated by the battle against COVID-19, Opera Roanoke’s superbly cathartic performance of Das Lied von der Erde breached the barriers that often prevent audiences from connecting with Mahler’s music on a personal level. The words are of another millennium, the music from a time not so distant but inestimably different from today, but this was unmistakably a song of our earth.

Opera Roanoke’s performance of Das Lied von der Erde can be viewed below or by clicking here.