As planned, I forwent Pelléas et Mélisande at 3 this afternoon, and went instead to 'On The Upward Path', a concert by four Dunedin singers, presented by the Friends of the Opera. It's been far far too long since I've heard these or any other Dunedin singers, and I wasn't going to give up the chance. Even if it did mean wearing a 'Hello My Name Is' sticker - this concert was open to the public, but it was also the first get-together of the year for the Friends, so there were biscuits, coffee and tea, and name tags. Not to worry: it was wonderful.
We started and finished with Penelope Muir, a semi-finalist in this year's Lexus Song Quest. Her 'Song to the Moon' from Rusalka was a triumph, transcending some rather obstructive piano accompaniment, and an improvement on her already very good rendition from last year's ODT Aria Competition. Kudos also for making Walton's fiendishly difficult 'Old Sir Faulk' look almost easy - I'm looking at the text now and wondering how anyone could be so cruel as it set it to music and expect someone to sing it. Monica's Waltz from Menotti's The Medium did have the odd moment which seemed to sit a little uncomfortably, but overall it was a success.
Then we had Stephen Chambers. Proving that being related to Marie McLaughlin (sorry, I've still got that Figaro on the brain) isn't his only claim to fame! 'Una furtiva lagrima' was just gorgeous, and the song from Die Schöne Müllerin was likewise excellent. 'Aura Lee' doesn't do much for me, personally; but I've no doubt Stephen won the hearts of most of the audience when he finished up with this, like a sort of Dunedin Daniel O'Donnell (in the best possible sense!)
The other boy on the programme was Michael Gray, who holds the honour of being the only baritone I've also heard sing soprano. What am I talking about? Michael and I were at the same primary school, and he was the resident star boy soprano of our school's Junior Choir. But he's even better now! 'Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen' from Zauberflöte was gorgeous, with the sort of humour and vocal characterisation which singers who are still students all too often shy away from. 'Captain Stratton's Fancy' by Peter Warlock is a bit silly really, but nevertheless is sounded great.
I've left the best till last. Claire Barton. I have never never heard Claire sounding this fabulous! She's always excellent, no doubt about it, but today was just something else. I stand amazed. This can't just be my imagination: some very happy transformation has occured in the months since I last heard her sing. I think this was about the third time I've heard Claire sing Marcello's 'Quella fiamma', but it was the first time she's brought me to edge of my seat with it. And 'Vanne, o rosa fortunata' was gorgeous. I wanted a full-length recital. I wanted the CD! Whatever it is you're doing Claire, I beg of you, don't stop!
I decided, however, not to go to the Bach cantata at Knox Church. Which meant I got to hear all of most of Pelléas et Mélisande after all. I would have liked to have heard Act I, with all its eerie forest music, but what I did hear (the last three acts) was just wonderful. Everyone was perfectly cast: José van Dam's Golaud equally convincing both in his violen jealousy and his remorse, Anne Sofie's Mélisande beautiful and ethereal, William Burden an appealing and lyrical Pelléas. Roberto Scandiuzzi's Arkel was likewise excellent, and I can only guess that Felicity Palmer was as well. But it's really very difficult to review something like this, especially when I was hearing it all for the very first time: the music is as elusive and impossible to grasp as the heroine herself.
As with Turandot, I listened to this with a piano vocal score in front of me, which was particularly interesting, on account of the pencilled annotations throughout, obviously left there at some point by a musical student. So every now and then there were notes pointing out themes, key changes, oboes, that sort of thing, as well as the odd comment of the text - all sorts of thing which I'd never otherwise have known were there. Although in fact the best moment came when Golaud grabbed his son. "Sadism again", the student notes. And beside that note, in another, later hand: "Can't be helped."