As I wrote in a previous column, I purchased a $75 season pass to Tanglewood available to Berkshire residents. What a steal: I have already attended over 25 performances and I am down to less than $3 per show.
Friday nights and Sunday afternoon performances are usually more lightly attended than Saturday night’s performance, which is the "big night." In fact, when the Boston Symphony Orchestra performs on Friday night (not the Pops), lawn tickets are only $9.
I chanced on two women from Pittsfield who have been going to Tanglewood for a long time. They said the audience sizes have gone down dramatically over the years and blamed it on former music director James Levine, stating there was there was too much opera and voice. Levine has a four decade-long relationship with the Metropolitan Opera. While I thoroughly enjoyed Wagner’s "Die Walkure" (you know, the one in Bug’s Bunny’s "Kill the Rabbit" or the helicopter cavalry scene in "Apocalypse Now") on August 20, the audience on the lawn was disappointingly light. It was a shame; they had an extra-big orchestra that night, four harps, extra wind instruments, and magnificent singers.
The one major change from the Tanglewood of the past is the big screens for the evening performances. The large screens considerably change the experience for those on the lawn and the back of the shed. This is especially notable for concertos, where there is focus on one instrumentalist and the symphony accompanies.
Two Beethoven piano concertos on August 2 and 3, one by the German Lars Voght, and one by China’s Lang-Lang, were for me the highlight of the season. Both had mechanical mastery that far surpassed anyone in the rock or jazz genres. But their facial and body gestures -- Voght’s bouncing his head as he ended a part of Piano Concerto 4 while the symphony continued with the same notes, or Lang-Lang’s eyes-squinted expression of bliss as he played Piano Concerto 1 -- added another dimension to Beethoven in a way that would have been only available to front row customers only half a decade ago.
On Sunday August 4, Yo-Yo Ma came to play a Dvorak cello concerto. While the Sundays up to then have been lightly attended, the lawn for Yo-Yo was as jam-packed as it is for popular artist, if not more so. He was like a rock star, with admirers standing outside of the preparation rooms behind the shed.
No doubt, the popular highlight of the summer is Tanglewood on Parade, with its traditional fireworks and Tchaikovsky’s "1812 Overture" with cannon salute. They had all the members of the symphony, the Pops, and the Tangle-wood Music Center orchestra on stage performing -- there were so many people on the stage I think they had a violinist in the roof rafters. I was taking to a gregarious sheriff who said in the old days they used real Civil War vintage cannons from Eastover. Since they have been sold, they now use a pyrotechnic display with electronic firing for precision -- it was so powerful it literally knocked my cell phone out of my hand as I tried to record it.
There is a minor criticism I have of Tanglewood. While English subtitles were on the big screen for "Die Walkure," they usually do not have them in the shed, even at night. It is tedious to read a translation from the program, and you never know if you are at the right part when you are reading it yourself. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus’ performance of Poulenc’s "Stabat Mater" at the Shed, and Britten’s "Curlew River" and Purcell’s "Dido and Aeneas" at Ozawa Hall would have been much better experiences with sub-titles; voice music is so much better when the words are understood.
"Dido and Aeneas," an old opera (circa 1688) from Henry Purcell which concerns the legendary founding of Rome by the Trojan hero Aeneas who fell in love with the queen Dido of Carthage on his way to Rome after Troy’s fall, was wonderfully accompanied by the Mark Morris Dance Company; but there was no way in heck I was going to stop watching to glance down at a brochure. There were words for the modern opera’s "Great Gatsby" and Benjamin’s "Written on Skin"), but the screens, just large televisions, are far too small.
Rinaldo Del Gallo is a local attorney whose columns have appeared in newspapers across the country.