Well the good news is most people either love Ewa Podles or think she's a big honking foghorn, so the gentle art of persuasion can rest unused in its tissue-stuffed crate for the length of this writing. And the other good news is that the former crowd was out in force on Sunday, not enough so to fill the upper reaches of Avery but you'd never know it by the noise. And the other good news is that, while i Podliani are not utterly unlike Millo fans in their creepy devotion, I think I'm being a tiny bit objective when I say she really earned each precious decibel. God knows she puts out about as many as she takes in over the course of an evening.
Madame Podles, you see, was the featured soloist at the Moscow Chamber Orchestra's matinee concert, though I think it is safe to say the majority of the crowd would have remained in their seats had a bad batch of borsch called for a last minute substition of the PS 153 marching band on backup. This is not to denigrate the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, except for the first violin section. It is to denigrate them just a little, as their pitch issues are something jarring in a world class ensemble, pretty solo playing of the concertmaster notwithstanding. But an opening band can tell when you're waiting for Led Zeppelin, I suspect. (yeah, no idea. I hate Led Zeppelin.)
Meanwhile, they played the Haydn "Pasione" symphony with great gusto and Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives [Rus.: Mimoletnosti] were marked by considerable nimbleness and wit. Shostakovich's chamber symphony was, if memory serves, and it usually doesn't around here, actually arranged for them from the 8th quartet, though I think it's safe to say none of those members are around any longer. And it had gravitas and soul, and we all just wanted Podles to get her besequined ass out there and yell at us some more.
Alright. "Yell" is not the best choice of words. But for the record, this was some exquisitely loud singing, and in the last of the Songs and Dances of Death, the middle register note on the word smert' (death) roughed me up as no note has done in recent memory. And, vulgarian though I may be for saying so, loud does go a long way with me. It's the rugby element of opera.
Meanwhile, there was everything else. Podles' first number was Rossini's Joan of Arc cantata for solo contralto. Podles is no longer 35 (try flipping the digits around a little and you'll get there...I actually only know this because Tommasini did his homework), and she does a crazy-looking sort of calisthenics to catch all the notes in this kind of music, but unless you require your soloists to look like Kiri te Kanawa or the Buddha at all times, it's worth it. Personally I find it kind of fun to watch. And the bravura, the sheer balls of the singing...I think most anyone who was there will tell you this was a unique moment of delirium in this season. In almost anyone else's concerts, you wait for the high notes. And there are good high notes in a Podles concert, but fewer than there used to be [and in the spirit of full disclosure, the high note in the second encore was a good save rather than an easy triumph]. But really you wait for the low notes. To some listeners, they're discordant with the rest of the voice. To these listeners I say: blow me. But in a jokey tone of voice, so we're all still friends.
EP acts her way through even concert pieces, which is also great fun. It's silent movie acting, but it's from the gut. And what's better still is the non-narrative physicality of her singing--some of it from effort, sure, but the majority I think from a brand of whole body engagement with the music I imagine Leider and Garden must have had. Certainly it finds a happy home in Mussorgsky's fairy tale told by a goth drama queen, Pesni i Pliaski Smerti. La P's Russian is a damn sight clearer than her Romance languages, which tend toward the Polynesian, ecole de Sutherland, which also helped out in her two encores, the Nevsky and Moscow Cantata pieces to be heard on her superb Russian disc. (I'm only sad she didn't sing Varvara's Limericks from Schedrin's "Not Only Love" with its slithery portamenti ending in a sort of queasy grunt. Good stuff.) These were followed by much stomping and European clapping-in-time, even, that went on until our game but weary soloist drew a finger dramatically across her throat, the bum's rush as an international gesture.
Would I love Podles as much in subtler material? Gluck's Orfeo can go either way: quiet nobility or gestures on the scale of Marie Falconetti, and hers is resoundingly the latter. I was meant to hear her in Das Lied the year she broke her arm and heard the lovely Susan Platts instead. I'm not sure how much it matters when there's great rep in her range that works the cinematic scale of her art. Certainly I'm beside myself waiting for this summer's Tancredi ([-subtle]...little notational joke for any linguists in the crowd. Thanks, I'll be here all week!) and can hardly type about the Toronto Klytamnestra without fainting, so I'd better sign off, since nothing's less attractive than me passed out at the keyboard.
Up next: Forza. Which is tonight. p.s. not to put too fine a point on it, but did anyone take home a sonic souvenir of this concert, not that any of us moral paragons would do such a thing?