Soprano delivers power and presence in season opener

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 September, 2009, 12:00am

Soprano Deborah Voigt with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Ends tonight

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's new season opened last night with a patchwork gala of pieces by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, composers who have been championed by Edo de Waart since his appointment as the orchestra's artistic director and chief conductor in 2004.

This ice-breaker for his sixth season was marked in the wings by the great and the good from government and business circles, and centre stage by one of the world's pre-eminent opera stars, the soprano Deborah Voigt.

Given The Metropolitan diva's fine reputation, it was surprising to see the hall only partly filled to hear her sing the closing scene from the Strauss opera Salome, recalling a complete concert performance of the work at the start of de Waart's tenure that was also hard to sell.

Voigt had little problem selling us her version of the deranged Salome, however, and was dramatically bolstered in the process by de Waart and the players.

Whether or not it made a suitable conclusion to the evening is debatable.

Dich, teure Halle, a four-minute cherry plucked from Wagner's Tannhauser, hardy justifies its place on a programme unless it goes flat out on the ecstasy stakes.

The orchestra sounded well-mannered, but Voigt gave it to us between the eyes, radiant in presence and effulgent wherever she placed her voice.

Hers is a big sound, to say the least, and in choosing to accompany rather than partner her in the Prelude and Liebestod - the concert version of the aria from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde - many of the orchestra's details were unfortunately lost. De Waart's approach was far from heart-on-sleeve here, while the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner's Lohengrin arched dynamically but hardly moved spiritually.

Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg was the no-nonsense curtain-raiser in which the blend and precision from the orchestra was generally efficient, but not at its usually razor-sharp level.

De Waart caught the brute machismo in Strauss' tone poem Don Juan by setting a suitably cracking pace to contrast with the more relaxed pitch for the seduction interludes.

The climaxes left little to the imagination, though some highprofile split notes from the horns probably cooled the philanderer's ardour.