(above: Maestro Lorin Maazel and the soloists from the Saturday, March 8, 2008 Beethoven Cycle)
Just back in after a night of Beethoven's Ninth courtesy of Maestro Kim-Jong Maazel @ Milan's Teatro degli Arcimboldi with Symphonica Toscanini and the chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Piero Monti, maestro del Coro). Here are just a few impressions before the full review coming hopefully tomorrow.
(above: the exterior of Teatro degli Arcimboldi)
OC had been sorely disappointed by Maazel's Traviata last summer at la Scala, an unfortunate event plagued by shoddy conducting and by Angela Gheorghiu. But OC, even if it's very fashionable back in NYC, has never really chugged the Maazel Haterade; certainly not the warmest of conductors, Maazel nevertheless has very deep knowledge, the clarity and economy of his gesture is so elegant that he always leaves us speechless, and, to quote ourselves because it's late at night here and we're tipsy on post-performance Château d'Yquem, "a good 90 percent of people put in charge of orchestras nowadays would be well served by watching a few DVDs of Maazel in the quiet of their home and just, you know, pay attention to all the things that Maazel knows and they don't".
Anyway, to get immediately rid of the stuff we didn't like:
--> Maazel, unlike his orchestra -- everybody impeccable in white tie and tails -- showed up in a weirdy double-breasted tuxedo -- no tails, obviously -- and no tie at all and, especially, a pair of icky black shoes with thick rubber soles, the kind of shoes you see midlevel managers of second rate insurance companies wear on the LIRR when the weather's bad. We know the man is in his golden years, but if we can manage to strap on a pair of Gucci 7" velvet-printed platforms for the evening, he can equally compromise. The good news is that he at least got rid of the inexplicable mullet he sometimes favors.
--> Soprano Maria Luigia Borsi chose an unflattering cappuccino-colored dress with a downright bizarre fur stole (raccoon? Lordy, lordy). Her hair, greasy and unwashed, looked even worse than that shameless Spears girl who runs around Hollywood without panties. For somebody who already sang at la Scala, la Fenice, Torre del Lago, and the Opernhaus in Zurich, she should know better than look like Britney's older [opera-singing] sister.
--> Young Russian mezzo Anna Smirnova -- she'll be Princess Eboli this December 7th @ la Scala in Don Carlos under Daniele Gatti's baton so more than a few eyes were on her tonight -- showed up in a very tight (frankly, too tight for her) rubbery black dress with a dominatrix theme, and with an impossibly cantilevered (already quite massive) decolletage that made most people in the audience -- we could read it on their faces -- think "OMG b00bs!".
What about the performance itself, you ask? It'll be mostly the subject of our full review, coming soon, but suffice to say that Maazel chose deliberate tempi and very cool -- and, yes, somewhat restrained -- phrasing (one does not listen to Maazel for the big Lenny moments of unabashed emotion, right?). The only exception came in the 4th movement during the Turkish March, when he picked up pulse very fast, and kind of left poor Robert Dean Smith, the American tenor for the night, trying to chase the orchestra as Maazel mercilessly glanced at the poor man who, by the end of his part (sang quite well despite all) looked positively pink-faced (but gleefully giddy) with exertion.
(above: Maazel thanks the orchestra)