Sweeney Todd, The New York Philharmonic

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 1.34.32 PMThough not a member or patron, I’ve been to the New York Philharmonic twice in the last week (both times with Ron Trost, who is a patron), and was stunned by the versatility of the great symphony orchestra and conductor Alan Gilbert.

Last Saturday, we saw the matinee of “Sweeney Todd.” I’ve seen all of the Broadway productions, as well as the 2000 Philharmonic version of this great Sondheim work. This was the best of them all. The voices were uniformly strong and perfect for their parts –- even the surprisingly good singing of Emma Thompson. Like Angela Lansbury in the original production, her English accent is truly authentic. Unlike Angela, Emma can not only act, but also sing, and this production used both talents. Bryn Terfel had an amazing range -– far more than either Len Cariou or the wonderful Michael Cerveris. Contrary to the New York Times’ Charles Isherwood, we thought his acting was excellent –- of course he had a few more performances to perfect it. Unlike the 2000 Philharmonic version, the cast threw away the books and did the performance after having learned all their lines. Our only regret was missing Audra MacDonald’s reprise of the Beggar Woman, which she did in 2000, although Bryonha Marie Parham sounded uncannily like Audra. I can’t wait for the video to be available.

Then, tonight (Wednesday) we went back to see Alan Gilbert conduct an all-Nielsen program (not the ratings, the Danish composer Carl Nielsen). It was one of the most accessible performances I’ve heard. I didn’t know his music, but learned that Leonard Bernstein was a huge fan and had conducted and recorded it. The Symphony No. 4 –- The Inextinguishable –- was done without pause, and was both melodious and insistent in achieving Nielsen’s aim to “express what we understand by the spirit of life. Everything that moves, that wants to live, life and motion, though very varied is yet connected in one big movement or stream.” It received a well-deserved standing ovation.

I’ll have to get back there more often.

Howard Morgan

One Response to “Sweeney Todd, The New York Philharmonic”

  1. Agree completely about Sweeney Todd, and I’ve seen both other versions. I did see Audra MacDonald as the beggar woman, who was her usual phenomenal best. The big surprise was Emma Thompson — who knew she could sing and dance? Plus, the staging was very inventive, with a big red hand appearing above Sweeney’s victims after their throats were cut.
    To my mind, the music in this piece rivals many “real” operas in sheer beauty and variety. Altogether a thrilling experience.

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