Nathalie Stutzmann triumphed in Detroit

Finally a window in time to blog on Nathalie Stutzmann’s triumphant Sunday afternoon in Detroit! From the opening bar of music, finally the orchestra responded to her direction. And as “simple” as that, it was an afternoon to remember. The violin section finally played with deep passion (something much needed but lacking the night before), and since they opened the music, everything fell into place. Nathalie, the soloists, and the chorus were on fire! The first hour *zoomed* by quickly, the 2nd FULL of energy despite the heavier content, and yes, one can NEVER go wrong after a triumphant “Halleluja”. For listeners seeking the meaning in the music, I sat there realizing how rare it was the occasion.

Händel’s “Messiah”
Nathalie Stutzmann, conductor
Emöke Barath, soprano
Sara Mingardo, contralto
Lawrence Wiliford, tenor
Stephen Powell, baritone
Michigan State University Chorale
Detroit Symphony Orchestra (slim)
Sunday December 13, 2015, Orchestra Hall, Detroit

Pardon the rambling format. Am on travel again.. but wanted to get this out! With the orchestra in place, finally more time could be spent following to the individual arias, duets, chorus, and their interactions with the instruments. The Händel swing came back! I remembered smiling to self thinking: this finally sounds like Händel! 😀 . Again, Lawrence Wiliford did a *superb* job with the opening descriptive naration. Every BODY (and valley too) shall be exalted! I LOVE the swinging intro music to this, which follows after a rather tense narration and serving like valve release to spread energy through valleys + canyons! AND YES! FINALLY, the proper support for “But who may abide..”, intense building up of tension, For he is like a refiner’s fire: “Forceful downward runs, leaps and trills of the voice are accompanied by fiery figuration in the strings” (source: wikipedia). YES! that’s exactly what it was, leaps + trills, fiery figuration in strings! And while we (I) grabbed on to the edge of the seat, O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion followed right behind with its swinging tune , i *love* how Sara Mingardo spread the deep voice + high notes around that word, and for the opposite measure, “ of the lord”, deeeeep notes! simply ❤ . In between the 2 arias, the chorus did their job in each group in "single voice" precision to build the the dynamics. Then it was Emöke Barath's turn with rejo..o…y..c..e., and shout, shout! SHOUT! "virtuoso coloratura" yes! my host, who sang this in the chorus before couldn't stop her praise for the breath control and phrasing, mentioning to me how very difficult it is to sing this aria (I of course wouldn't know 🙂 ). Yes yes i know, the baritone has a couple of dabs in between all these but.. how can I pay attention to that when *then* Sara Mingardo laid the waaaaaaaarm phrasing of "he shall feeds his flock..", unto my soul yes, i got teary eyes hearing *her* phrasing, pure joy + luxury of voice mixing in with little sprinkled embellishment and the naïve understanding of the poetic text (spare me the actual meaning, i purposely have never read the entire libretto..).. And while we recover from that, E.Barath's high voice floating above the orchestra.. and i regretted that they were not duetting! in fact that's the only thing Messiah is missing! But it compensates with the ENORMOUS amount of interactions with orchestra that finally we get to hear this time around. So that roughly was my memory of the first hour, simply *STUNNING*. TRUE music making. My host was very happy, because of course like many people i'm guessing she has never heard of N.Stutzmann and would not have come had I not so actively shoved my way into their place :-).

Onto the 2nd part where the chorus took front and center attention, whispers mixing in with ensemble single-voice forceful message. Then all things came to a halt as he somberly was despised and spitted on. Personally i found the tempo to start a little bit slow, until when S.Mingardo entered, and magically, 3-D image formed along with her *very* descriptive vocal line how he was rejected (poor him 😀 ). Yes, this is the right place to provide this link (given that I failed to take photos! truly was taken over by the force)

HARK!! that video was taken down! NO!! hark hark!
(this one with Sir Colin Davis)

The mob then barged in, Let him deliver him. If you want to fully understand the mob-mentality, on how by-standers can suddenly turn into monsters, this is how to do it! the tempo is again quite brisk, but i find it justly done and highly effective. An URGENT message from the rowdy mob with unpredictable mentality! quite on edge! This transitioned into a heart-breakingly beautiful phrasing of “Behold and see if there be any sorrow” by L.Wiliford. Goose-bump inducing the music, more tears in the corner of eyes, the loooong “Behold”, as heard from a 3rd person perspective narrating along. Quite ironic somehow, very effective. Finally Halleluja came, the real mass stood up blocking my entire view, so i opted to just listen…

The 3rd part came too soon, starting with E.Barath’s lovely phrasing of “I know that my Redeemer liveth”.. but in fact the irony of it all didn’t hit until her last aria “If God be for us”. This was done at medium-fast tempo, and somehow gave the same feeling in my head as the jolly tune in the tomb scene of “I Capuleti e i Montecchi”. Perhaps that is the point, he is buried in the tomb too! Musically N.Stutzmann made the contrasting of tempo and rowdy mass-dynamics versus “taking a step back and reflecting” so vivid, it was as if you yourself took part in the mass beating, then now left to reflecting outside the tomb as he is gone… Prior to reflecting we had the GORGEOUS pairing of S.Mingardo and L.Wiliford in “Oh death, where is thy sting?”. THEY LOVE DUETTING!! Smiling and exchanging glances. Yes yes I know, the content is a bit heavy, but that is the point! Let’s take death head-on! What’s the problem, he can handel this! Their exchanged smiles at the end are priceless, i love them :-). After the little fun, the reflection, the chorus capped it with first the forceful “Worthy is the Lamb..” before engaging in the loooong hymn of “Amen”.

There, a narrative form of my experience. As heard under the direction of the superlative Nathalie Stutzmann. When all participated their parts (orchestra, chorus, soloists), we heard how the story unfolded before our eyes, we took part in the mob, we reflected and pondered, and post-concert, we DIE TO DISCUSS to ANYONE around! YES, post-concert, dear readers, I chased down a friendly usher to ask my way into backstage. I was quite worried they would turned me away because first they asked who I was (nobody, a BIIIG FAN of music! passionate fan!), then took my name down, let me station outside the “access only” door while they ran background check probably.. I was counting the turns of the long-arm of the clock wondering if the singers and Nathalie had left already.. but patience finally paid off, the door opened and I was escorted in! Standing inside the backdoor at the end of a long hallway were S.Mingardo, L.Wiliford, and Stephen Powell with his HUGE suitcase. I chatted with all, discussing the difference in orchestra response in the 2 nights, their wonderful phrasing, their dynamics and duets with orchestra and chorus. E.Barath came out and I promptly made a conversation too (what can i say, after a night like this i DESPERATE for people to talk to!!!) She was very friendly, and was in Boston for 1 semester at Longy school of music! and Yes, Boston is an exceptionally beautiful and wonderful city! In any case, while waiting for Nathalie (and their car driver) we all discussed further musical phrasing, ideas, pop-corn Messiah versus deep meaningful interpretation, concert hall acoustics.. The Detroit concert hall is small and *very* cozy with great acoustic! But Kennedy Center is going to be a challenge am told! But as my discussion with the fan of N.Stutzmann went, we are confident Nathalie will take care of that to make sure we hear well all singers and particular S.Mingardo! In any case, finally Nathalie came out and I exuberantly expressed how much I love her shaping of the music, how I flew to Metz and Paris first to get a chance to hear how she wanted to shape it with her own orchestra so that later we (I) can compare with all other versions. She was happy to hear! We discussed briefly how Sunday’s afternoon performance was much more vibrant, and I told them all I will be there to hear them again in a few days!

So that’s about it. I made 3 new friends in Detroit, my wonderful wonderful hosts who picked me up at the airport, drove me to the concert hall on saturday (40min drive!) , picked me up afterward, delivered me (and i dragged 1 of my hosts along) to the 2nd performance, picked up again AFTER waiting while i maneuvering backstage.. and treated me to a NIIICE dinner before dropping me off at the airport. I had not much to return except for my enthusiastic non-stop discussion of the music and animated descriptions of the difference of the 2 nights. Hopefully Nathalie will come back there as it would give me another opportunity to revisit my newly found wonderful friends.

Signing off as I getting ready for yet another cross-country flight.. then onto DC on the weekend! VERY MUCH looking forward. Will be very curious to hear how it will go with an entirely different chorus and orchestra. I hope all goes well so far with rehearsal and that they had more opportunity to do some walking and sight-seeing in DC. I can’t wait :-).
(ps- sorry for the LOONG narrative rambling. I failed to take photos and now am too tired to dig up my wonderful selfie with host in the concert hall… but have just been told we should visit here for a proper photo! that’s how to do marketing!)