Was it a Symphony? Was it an Opera? Was it a Tribute to Spain? Was it a Tribute to Ravel?
It was conveniently, all four…
It was a wild scene on the stage of Jones Hall the weekend of February 11-13, 2011, as lovers hid in giant grandfather clocks, adulterous deceptions repeatedly took place, clocks with and without suitors hiding inside were carried up and down stairs to a bedroom for illicit trysts over and over again, a Muleteer found unexpected good fortune, and a lot of opera about Spain was sung in French, with English Surtitles!
Oh yes, and all of this with a beautiful musical accompaniment by Maurice Ravel, performed by the Houston Symphony conducted by Hans Graf. Quite an adventure! A delightful Spanish musical feast, with Boléro as the scrumptious dessert.
It was a chance to see Opera once again performed on the stage of Jones Hall 25 years after the Houston Grand Opera last used it as a regular venue in 1986. Actually a mini-opera, if you will, courtesy of Maurice Ravel, the Houston Symphony, and The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
The occasion…was an all-Ravel concert of six separate pieces celebrating Spain:
Ravel: L’heure espagnole (The Spanish Hour)
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole
Ravel: Don Quichotte à Dulcinée
Ravel: Chants populaires
Ravel: Vocalise (Pièce en forme de habanera)
All of the vocal pieces were sung in French, except for the Vocalise (Pièce en forme de habanera), which was lyrically sung in Spanish by mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, who is also a Professor of Voice at The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.
The other excellent operatic voices in the concert, all making their Houston Symphony debuts, and also all students at The Shepherd School of Music, were: tenor, Brenton Ryan; baritone, Samuel Schultz; tenor, Rafael Moras; and baritone, Stephen Anthony Ray.
Last but not least was Boléro, which is one of those dynamic and famous concert pieces heard many times in recorded form, but is a true special event to be heard performed by a full orchestra at the top of their game, like the Houston Symphony. It repeats the same theme 18 times, building and building with ever increasing intensity and volume, and a continuing expansion of orchestration and instrumental sound effects coming from the musicians; with the violin section playing a great deal of pizzicato, and at one time were even seen holding their instruments horizontally in their laps and strumming them like guitars (or mandolins, which have the same tuning as violins). Quite a variety of sounds and techniques.
A look around Jones Hall revealed that Boléro had many feet tapping, and many hands keeping the beat on excited knees, as it built to an inevitable crescendo and exploded in its maniacal finish, which brought the audience to its feet in ovation.
Was this enough Ravel for one concert, or should there have been more Ravel?
The answer: Ravel for everyone in the House…
Contact Gary at: firstname.lastname@example.org