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Subject: Tchaikovsky's "Maid" Triumphant in Boston
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Mon, 18 Sep 2017 14:27:54 -0400
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Outside of the popular “Eugene Onegin” and to a lesser degree, “The 
Queen of Spades,” Tchaikovsky’s operas have never taken hold in the 
repertoire of the West’s opera houses. This is most certainly the case 
with “The Maid of Orleans,” which, apart from an aria lifted and performed 
frequently as a popular concert piece, rarely is staged anywhere. And that 
is, for anyone who’s seen or heard it, a crying shame. While critics often 
cite its libretto as unwieldy and overpopulated with unnecessary 
characters, the same accusations are frequently leveled at other operas, 
many of which have become beloved staples of the repertoire. 

Presented in concert form, Boston’s intrepid Odyssey Opera, under the 
leadership of Musical and General Director, Gil Rose, made as strong a case 
for Tchaikovsky’s “Joan of Arc’ opera as one is likely to encounter. Over the 
course of its three hours and four acts, Jordan Hall was filled with one of 
Tchaikovsky’s most inspired operatic scores, leaving an audience cheering 
at the end of each act – and sometimes in between. 

“Maid of Orleans” rises or falls on its leading lady and here, Jordan's 
audience was lucky to witness mezzo Kate Aldrich scoring a triumph, 
adding the difficult role of Joan to an already formidable arsenal of 
characters. We went along with her on Joan's journey which began with a 
quiet, pensive defiance as she developed into the beloved, revered military 
prophet whose fate would so tragically turn.   Aldrich sang Joan's 
tender “farewell” to her homeland with moving conviction. Following soon 
is the scene of her “calling” as a chorus of angels informs her she shall 
never know human love and instead of bridal vestments, to gird herself in 
armor and prepare to lead the French to victory. In an instant Ms. Aldrich 
transformed from shy teen, to inspired warrior, and in both voice and 
visage, expressed a baffled wonderment that made the impossible 
believable. Deploying her beautiful, medium-sized mezzo with intelligence 
and emotion, she skillfully scaled back her sound while still being heard, 
leaving plenty of voice in the tank to explode thrillingly at Joan's big 
moments. Her voice smoothly transitions from its lowest range offering just 
enough chest, to the top with a bright, exciting sound. I can't imagine the 
role of Joan being served better than this.

Without benefit of staging and costumes, a savvy singer can, in their own 
clothing, make an even stronger impression than a “one-size-doesn’t-fit-
all,” uninspired costume would otherwise allow. Let’s just say Kate Aldrich 
is the savviest of singers. While two striking gowns helped establish Joan’s 
character, Aldrich achieved a true coup de théâtre when, for her execution, 
she entered the stage slowly, barefoot, her previously upswept hair 
loosened, and clad only in a simple, gray shift, holding her score in front of 
her as though God’s holy writ. As the chorus sang of how young Joan 
appeared, and how every heart was breaking, so did ours. 

 A fleeting romantic alliance with her captured enemy, Lionel, changes the 
course of the story and seals Joan’s fate. With his rich, smooth baritone, 
Aleksy Bogdanov’s Lionel presented the perfect foil as he and Aldrich 
poured everything they had into the great love duet capturing the myriad 
of emotions assigned to their characters, in some of the most beautiful 
singing of the evening.

 As Joan’s first caring then hectoring and accusatory father, Kevin 
Thompson displayed a big, booming sound that impressed, though a 
degree or two more of shading and subtlety would have been welcomed to 
create a character of a bit more depth. That being said, his scenes with the 
attractive ping of tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan’s Raymond, were exciting 
leaving one wishing both had a bit more to sing. 

 Kevin Ray – with his bright, stentorian tenor, made a strong impression as 
King Charles, from his despair over France’s military losses, to rapture at 
hearing the pronouncements of victory from the Maid of Orleans. David 
Kravitz, Erica Petrocelli, David Salsbery Fry, and Mikhail Svetlov filled out 
the character of Charles’ with lovely sound and as much depth as 
Tchaikovsky allowed.

 Throughout the long evening, it was evident from the first to last notes, 
Maestro Rose is passionate about this score and, asking everything from 
his forces they responded as if there were no other choice. While I applaud 
the decision to restore cuts, in this instance the overly long ballet 
sequences, while showing off the orchestra's virtuosity, sounded little more 
than uninspired outtakes from the composer's Nutcracker and, at least for 
this listener, could have happily been excised and tightened the drama. 

 Jordan Hall’s acoustics are among the best anywhere and the renowned 
renowned “wall of sound” experience it presents listeners is one not 
frequently encountered and can leave jaws on the floor. Tchaikovsky’s 
score, with fanfares, massed ensembles and choruses, allows for plenty of 
that right through the raging fire music as Joan meets her grisly doom. 
When it all comes perfectly into play, it cannot help but leave an audience 
cheering. This was one of those nights. 

p.

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