Soprano Lori Guilbeau leads a boisterous season opener for Monterey Symphony.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The Monterey Symphony opens its 65th “blue diamond” season this weekend in grandiose fashion with a program of German composers: Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Johannes Brahms.
The German thing is just a coincidence, says Michelle Lang, the symphony’s director of development in charge of marketing and fundraising.
“We try to find pieces that have a similar size to orchestrate,” she says.
The symphony’s interim manager and board member Lee Rosen adds, “And it’s an opportunity to showcase the vocalist, Lori Guilbeau.”
A soprano from Louisiana, Guilbeau (pronounced “Gilbo”) earned a hard-fought breakthrough earlier this year when she was announced as one of the winners of the prestigious and portentous Metropolitan Opera 2010 National Council Auditions, which culled her and four other singers from 1,500 entrants between 20 and 30 years old. (The highly competitive process is captured in Susan Froemke’s 2009 documentary, The Audition.)
The Met calls the win an “opportunity to launch a major operatic career.” And with her feature spot in the Monterey Symphony’s season opener, to be followed by the role of Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore with the Den Nye Opera, it looks like it’s just begun.
Lang and Rosen cite music director and conductor Max Bragado-Darman’s deft vision and ear for securing Guilbeau in this weekend’s program, which he formulates sometimes two years in advance. He signed her on before the Met crowned her.
“She was Max’s discovery,” Rosen says.
The program will be preceded by the symphony’s longstanding tradition of leading with a concert pre-lecture, this season by the Carmel Bach Festival’s David Gordon, to “provide patrons with understanding of the music they’re about to hear,” says Lang.
The program opens with the overture to Wagner’s Romantic opera The Flying Dutchman, a characteristically big, soaring piece with horns and strings leading the charge. Guilbeau debuts on the next portion, Strauss’ Four Last Songs for soprano and orchestra, an innovative song cycle in which the composer finds peace and reflection at the end of his long life (he died in 1949, at 85, a year after finishing the score). And a special treat presents itself in a little-known fifth song, “Rest my Soul.”
“It’s not performed often,” Lang says. “I talk to a lot of opera buffs and they are amazed that there’s a fifth song.”
After the intermission, the symphony, some of whose members also play in the Monterey Bay Symphony and, collectively, make more than 200 outreach visits to local schools, will tackle Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73, a work that bridges German symphonic traditions to Romantic advances in tonality. The composer is often included in the “three B’s” of classical music, alongside Bach and Beethoven.
This is an auspicious follow-up to past triumphs like last October’s Ansel Adams: America, composed by Dave and Chris Brubeck, and a worthy lead-in to the coming concerts of Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.