Royal Melbourne Philharmonic: Tchaikovsky, Angel of Music

This was an formidable program comprising a world premiere of a live performance efficiency of the third Act of Tchaikovsky, Angel of Music, an award-winning opera by the Australian composer Sean Peter Ross, then after interval, the Australian premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Coronation Cantata “Moscow” written for the celebrations for the crowning of Tsar Alexander III, and Tchaikovsky’s not often heard Festive Coronation March written for the 1883 coronation itself. The big forces of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, with a line-up of a few of Australia’s greatest vocal soloists, rose to the problem and met it admirably, with some top-notch and sometimes splendid singing and enjoying. Credit score is because of forceful and efficient conducting by Sean Peter Ross and Andrew Wailes, who all the time offers exemplary instructions to his gamers and singers.

The live performance began almost 10 minutes late and started with an informative however overly prolonged introduction by Andrew Wailes (a lot of it learn verbatim from this system notes). Earlier than the primary program the viewers was invited to face for the stirring Ukrainian nationwide anthem, which was adopted by a short however efficient unaccompanied Prayer for Ukraine written by John Rutter as a response to the struggle in Ukraine. This was sung fantastically by the choir with a delicate dynamic vary.

Within the first half, Ross performed his personal piece that borrowed intentionally from Tchaikovsky’s personal fashion and was subsequently typically harking back to his work. Ross primarily based the libretto on correspondence between Tchaikovsky and his patroness and confidante, Nadezhda von Meck. The synopsis in this system notes helpfully described the stage setting for every of the scenes, so giving this unstaged efficiency higher context (though there was barely sufficient mild within the auditorium to learn this system). The six soloists every took the a part of one of many protagonists (or within the case of Michael Petrucelli, a number of roles), with baritone Christopher Hiller and mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell having the lion’s share of the singing as Tchaikovsky and his patroness respectively.

However the nods to Tchaikovsky, Ross’s wealthy and romantic orchestration was imaginative and various, starting from lyrical passages from solo devices or small sections of the orchestra (for instance, the beautiful opening passage with horn, tender shimmering strings and harp) to exuberant and gutsy sound from the total orchestra. There have been some beautiful references to Tchaikovsky’s personal works, absolutely in tune together with his orchestral colors. The 5 solo singers have been in high quality voice and their diction was wonderful (the textual content was in English), though at occasions they may barely be heard because the orchestral sound was so highly effective they have been virtually drowned out, even with mics. If absolutely staged one would hope for surtitles. Petrucelli could possibly be heard extra clearly – maybe as a result of his articulation, the acoustic of the corridor, the timbre of his finetenor, or the lucky tessitura. Russell impressed with suitably declamatory gestures as she sang. It was a pity that Adrian Tamburini had solely a talking function as narrator, as we missed the chance to listen to his splendid bass singing. I discovered the amplification a little bit disturbing, with an occasional disconnect between the soloists’ voices coming from audio system and stage. Issues would little doubt be higher in an opera home, the place orchestra could be within the pit and the conductor in entrance to manage the stability.

The dialogue was not all the time convincing. Within the demise scene the philosophising took too lengthy, with some barely hackneyed exchanges between Tchaikovsky (Hiller) and his brother Modeste (baritone Andrew Jones). The textual content within the Epilogue appeared considerably stilted – did it attempt an excessive amount of to echo the Pushkinesque metre and rhyming scheme of Eugene Onegin? Maybe it might have been wiser to heed Wailes’s opening phrases. Hearken to the sound – don’t fear an excessive amount of concerning the synopsis.

In the meantime, the choir had been sitting patiently, and finally, greater than an hour later, it was their flip to play the a part of the St Petersburg Opera Refrain singing Tchaikovsky’s setting of Kheruvimskaya Pyesn, a part of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, at his funeral in Kazan Cathedral. The unaccompanied choral contribution was wonderful and touching. My feeling is that this last act of the opera might effectively have ended right here, because the epilogue depicting the composer finalising his work appeared considerably of an anticlimax.

After the interval got here the orchestral Festive Coronation March the place Tchaikovsky used the identical Russian anthem theme from God Save the Tsar that he had employed in his 1812 Overture, and just like the overture the march was triumphal, absolutely majestic and a showcase for the colors of the orchestra. The brass enjoying was terrific.  So good to listen to this assured and really competent orchestra in full flight once more. One nearly wished for a cannon or two. Then adopted the Coronation Cantata for orchestra, choir and two solo voices (mezzo and baritone, sung with verve by Russell and Hiller). Right here you can see how Ross’s opera was influenced by Tchaikovsky, because the latter’s orchestration is by turns lyrical and grandly full-bodied. Moments to recollect embody a beautiful passage with a single flute trilling over the gamers like a hen; a beautiful duet between winds and brass; a terrific fugal background to Hiller thrown from double bass to cellos then higher strings; and a fragile pizzicato accompaniment to certainly one of Russell’s ariosos, actually fantastically accomplished, with a near-perfect stability between orchestra and solo voice. The choir was by turns impressively triumphal and softly imploring and their singing was completely blended, particularly in a unison passage for sopranos and altos. The grand end with repeated declamations of Glory, glory, glory! was thrilling and stirring, notably in order Slava Ukraini has change into a rallying cry for Ukrainians since their invasion by Russia. 4 trombones and a tuba for a bass line – what bliss!

This was a satisfying live performance despite the fact that it ran greater than half an hour time beyond regulation, and there was a good-sized and appreciative viewers within the City Corridor. Regardless of some last-minute absences and replacements as a result of Covid, it was a worthy return to efficiency for the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic after the 2021 and 2022 lockdowns. A last observe: it might have been useful if this system with its complete notes had been accessible to obtain from the RMP web site, as is the apply of different arts organisations.

Picture equipped.


Kristina Macrae reviewed “Tchaikovsky, Angel of Music”, carried out by the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra on the Melbourne City Corridor on July 30, 2022.