By Truman C. Wang
Musically, this Dudamel-lead performance on April 7 was a marvel of beauty and sensitivity, finding an ideal balance between heated emotionalism and stark austerity. The chamber music minimalism of many songs revealed striking contributions from the brooding English horn (No. 2), and the melancholy flute (Nos 4, 5). And on rare occasions when the large orchestra played together in tutti (Songs Nos. 1, 4, 6), the result was a magical translucence that perfectly complemented the nirvana-inspired spiritualism of the final poem.
Also memorable was Tamara Mumford’s marvellous realization of the mezzo songs (Nos 2, 4, 6). Listening to her singing, one experienced the feeling of being enveloped by a tone at once refulgent, warm and deeply expressive. Phrase after phrase poured from Mumford’s throat with effortless ease. She might not bring quite the emotional charge of Ludwig or Baker to these songs but she cut them pretty close. The great Farewell (“Ewig…”) was simply heartrending as delivered by her, Dudamel and the LA Phil strings.
Tenor Russell Thomas, a triumphant Cavaradossi in LA Opera’s “Tosca” last season, sang his three songs of wine and sorrow with great sensitivity and cheerful abandon. The Song No. 5 “Drunk in Springtime” was strikingly memorable for its disarming charm, birdsong for violin and flute, and hightly engrossing animated video effects.
Which brings us to the main feature of this performance, a video projection of animated objects – some lifelike, some obstract – that interacted with the two soloists as they explored the narratives and dreamlike state of their songs. A brainchild of avant-gardist and Mahler aficionado Yuval Sharon in collaboration with the Chilean video arts company TeatroCinema, the video effects merged seamlessly with the singers to create illusions of sailing through the air on Tristan’s Cornwall ship (an obvious Wagnerian reference explained in Yuval’s stimulating pre-concert lecture), or a drunkard viewing his own rippled reflection from a bridge. The video animation/live actor special effects recalled LA Opera’s “Magic Flute” in 2016, but far surpassed it in immersive realism.
The Sunday April 8 concert of “Das Lied” was music-only, but those who experienced the multimedia presentation would not soon forget its vivid imageries and high-tech poetry.
Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.