Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Thus began a night of "music without borders," featuring orchestral and vocal works inspired by Shakespeare and conducted by Joseph Colaneri--director of the opera program at Mannes College and staff conductor with the Metropolitan Opera.
From his first words of introduction it was easy to guess that Colaneri was a New Yorker. Though his accent was slight, he talked with the brisk urgency and blunt sarcastic humor so characteristic of Manhattanites, and his personality and conducting style might have easily won him a position as an occasional Seinfeld character. The final piece on our program was The Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev's suite from R & J, and if you're unfamiliar with this music, you must listen to it immediately! It's an angry gem that communicates the two family's mutual and active hatred so viscerally that I reflexively grimace and ball my hands into white-knuckled fists every time I hear it. When Colaneri conducted the violent sections of this piece he jerked around on the podium like a troll who'd like nothing more than to tear your heart from your chest and eat it, still pulsing, in front of you. His wild gyrations did nothing but encourage the rabid bass trombone player (Dan) whose part buzzsaws in counterpoint with the basses and cellos. It was next to impossible to keep from reacting to this madness while on stage--even in performance--but far from backing down and giving the low brass "the hand" (the universal conducting sign meaning SHHHHH!!!!) Colaneri just demanded that the rest of the orchestra rise to the occasion and mimic Dan's primal energy.
There are also soft and languidly tranquil sections of this piece that evoke a sense of perfect innocence and beauty and Colaneri immersed himself into these moments just as effectively. The contrast produced when this serenity is bracketed by complete and utter hatred is absorbing and unforgettable. Even though I had a total of 5 notes to play on this piece the experience of being in the midst of the orchestra during such a performance made having to sit around and wait on stage totally worth the effort.
The singers featured on this performance were incredible. My favorite piece (next to the Prokofiev of course) was the aria "Salce Salce" from Verdi's opera Othello. I don't remember the name of the girl who sang it (I stupidly forgot to pick up a program), but mark my words...she WILL be famous someday. The sensitivity with which she performed this lengthy and heart-breaking aria made me hang on her every word...even though I understood none of them. Her tone was clear, and brilliant, and warm, and though it was her first time performing the piece, she completely embodied the tragic mood of the character--I'm sure I'm not the only one who was left with a lump in their throat.
After the concert I passed on the "free" glass of champagne offered to all performers by a nearby casino and went back to the Heim for a goodnight skype chat with Rob. I can't think of many better ways to spend a birthday.