Strauss and Wagner night with a bumpy ride

By Raymond Beegle
Published 1/13/2016

New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert (Conductor), Heidi Melton (Soprano, debut), Eric Owens (Bass-Baritone). SIBELIUS: En Saga Op. 9, R. STRAUSS: “Ruhe, meine Seele", “ Cäcelie", “Pilgers Morgenlied". WAGNER: Ride of the Valkyeries and Act III Finale from "Die Walküre". Saturday 1/9/2016, Geffen Hall, New York City.

During one of the Philharmonic children’s concerts recently a member of the orchestra told his young audience “I gave up my childhood to sit up here.” Every member of the immense orchestra on stage tonight might say the same and they deserve our respect, more respect than was shown them by soprano Heidi Melton, who had not taken the trouble to memorize the two Strauss chestnuts she sang at the beginning of the program. Her performances were technically insecure, and she seemed oblivious to the presence of the orchestra as well as to the conductor who was trying his best to create some kind of ensemble with her erratic phrasing. Also not memorized was the final scene from act III of Die Walküre, which seemed more like a serviceable reading than a performance. The young Heidi Melton has a sizable voice with brilliant luster in the upper middle register, but the tops are already frayed and tenuous. Her colleague, Eric Owens pleaded illness and did the best he could, but it would be unfair to give an assessment of a relatively new singer under this circumstance.

The orchestra was given very few ideas from the podium tonight. It seemed that Maestro Gilbert was simply keeping time in the chestnut Ride of the Valkyries, leaving the various motifs vaguely shaped. Dotted rhythms in the horns were a bit ragged and the ensemble out of focus. The equally famous Fire Music was perhaps the fastest on record and though the tone of the orchestra was dazzling, the dramatic power of the piece was considerably diminished.  

Raymond Beegle reviews classical music and opera for the New York Observer and Fanfare Magazine. For many years he was Contributing Editor of Opera Quarterly, the Classic Record Collector (UK), and also appeared on The Today Show (NBC) and Good Morning America (CBS). As an accompanist, he has collaborated with Zinka Milanov and Licia Albanese.  Currently Mr. Beegle serves on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music in New York City.