Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

A Child of Our TimeThe Florida Orchestra
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Silence! The Musical

The Florida Orchestra's most recent Masterworks Concert combined Sir Michael Tippett's cantata A Child of Our Time with an orchestral suite, with vocals from George and Ira Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

I have always said that Verdi's Falstaff is my number one favorite opera, but I realized when attending this concert that Porgy and Bess is and always has been my real favorite. Hearing these excerpts made me realize how ready I am for a well done complete performance, especially since the last time I saw it, in Charleston, South Carolina, where it is set, it was disappointing at best.

Selections from Porgy and Bess—Concert Suite, arranged by Andrew Litton leads off with the opening bars of the opera, continuing through "Jazzbo Brown" (a lengthy piano riff supported by orchestra), and into the opera's most famous number, "Summertime." This was sung by Janice Chandler-Eteme in a beautiful floated soprano. It is always lovely to hear the opera or pieces of it sung by voices who can do it full vocal justice. Next up was Porgy's "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'," equally beautifully sung by Kevin Deas, bass. Next we jumped ahead in the opera to the Kittiwah Island scene (act two, scene 2) for the orchestral introduction, into the "I Ain't Got No Shame" chorus, rendered by the 100-strong Masterworks Chorale of Tampa Bay, followed by a short scene for Serena Robbins and sung again by Ms. Chandler-Eteme, this time a little out of her best range, as Serena is a mezzo role. More jumping ahead in the opera proceeded, to the detailed orchestral prelude to act three, scene three, and including the "Good Morning, Sistuh" chorus, then another jump to the opera's finale, "Oh Lawd, I'm on My Way." shared by our two soloists.

The orchestra played magnificently under Maestro Michael Francis and I was able to appreciate details that get lost in a full performance. He set fine tempos for each of the segments, but didn't quite convince me that he is the man to lead the whole opera, which meanders from full out opera ("Bess, You Is My Woman Now") to music more rooted in Broadway ("A Woman is a Sometime Thing") to spiritual filtered through George Gershwin's personal sensibility (all of act one, scene two the Robbins funeral scene). James Levine went way amuck when he attempted this opera at The Metropolitan Opera.

After intermission it was time for the major focus of this program, the oratorio by Sir Michael Tippett. I am familiar with two of Tippett's operas, The Midsummer Marriage and the rather thorny The Knot Garden, which is polytonal. This piece is in reaction to what is now known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, on November 9, 1938, in Germany, considered to be the beginning event of Nazi persecution of Jews. The Oratorio is in three parts, much as earlier Bach and Handel oratorios were. In the first part, the text is about trying to make some sense of the horror. The second part gets more personal.

In this piece, the tenor soloist representing a young man at the emotional center of it all experiences the trauma while the soprano representing his mother despairs of trying to help. The bass continues as narrator and the child's uncle while the alto is the child's aunt. Part three represents trying to make some sense of it all. All sections end with a spiritual, which is more harmonically focused than most of the rest, and meanders quite a lot in and out of different keys, but always tonal. There is also another spiritual in the midst of the second part. For many listeners, this A Child of Our Time may have been musically challenging. For sure it was emotionally so.

Our forces consisted of the aforementioned Ms. Chandler Eteme as soprano soloist and Mr. Deas as bass soloist. Susan Platts was our mezzo soprano soloist and Dominic Armstrong our tenor. All three have beautiful voices, fully up to strong demands placed upon them by the composer. The Florida Orchestra had a string section of approximately 50, so probably 80 or so players on stage, plus the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. The playing and singing was on a very high level, thanks to our fine Maestro Michael Francis. No recording could ever hope to duplicate the experience of hearing this huge piece live. All of this was presented at The Mahaffey Theater, a venue I have not previously experienced which proved to be beautiful and acoustically lovely. On Fridays and sometimes Sundays The Florida Orchestra performs at other venues in the region.

Masterworks Concert featuring Sir Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time was presented November 9-11, 2018, at various locations in the Tampa Bay Area. For further information about this and up coming concerts, visit The Florida Orchestra has another round of Masterworks Concerts featuring Ralph Vaughn Williams' A London Symphony coming up November 16-18, 2018.