The ancient world: A classical perspective

The ancient world: A classical perspective

DPO presents “Divine Mother”

By Joe Aiello

I have often wondered how the program committees of various arts organizations come up with the repertoires for the performances they stage and present each season. Doubtless they refer to a list they must keep of past performance repertoires to avoid the possibility of duplication over short periods of time. Of course, there’s always the one program that meets with such audience approval, or that has become more or less a tradition, that repeating it proves downright necessary. Think “The Nutcracker,” “La Bohème,” Handel’s “Messiah” or Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.”

But composing the individual elements of a single program’s repertoire is another matter altogether. Programmers often seem to develop a theme, or hook, for which they can select a suitably pertinent repertoire. For classical music, the all-composer format is often a good choice – for example, all Mozart, all Shostakovich and so forth. Selecting not merely a single composer, but further defining the presentation by concentrating on one certain aspect of his or her works is another. This season, for example, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra has built several concert repertoires around the five piano concertos of Ludwig von Beethoven, resulting in a mini-festival of those works consisting of seven performances across three concert series. Then, there’s the theme aspect, the practice of building a repertoire around a specific theme, for example, romance, music of a certain country, music of a certain time period and so forth.

“Divine Mother” is the third concert in the DPO 2012-2013 Imagine Season’s Miami Valley and Good Samaritan Hospitals Classical Series, which takes place Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center. However, in programming the repertoire for this concert, Music Director Neal Gittleman and the DPO program committee have created what, at first glance, appears to be an enigma. (And there’s not a single work by Elgar on the program!)

At first glance, there appears to be not even a hint of congruity between the three featured works: Hector Berlioz’s “Royal Hunt and Storm,” Michael Daugherty’s “Troyjam,” and Gioachino Rossini’s “Stabat Mater.” The music here is about, respectively, a hunting party, a different musical take on the story of ancient Troy and an emotionally penetrating and beautiful depiction of a unique mother’s love and loss. As John Heard (Paul) said to Elizabeth Perkins (Susan) mimicking Tom Hanks (Josh) in the 1988 film “Big,” “I don’t get it. I don’t get it.”

So, I did a little research, and here’s what I found out.

Hector Berlioz wrote “Royal Hunt and Storm” to fill the time between Acts 3 and 4 of his opera “Trojans” about Dido and Aeneas. (Trojans? They lived in ancient Troy, right?) The music is masterfully descriptive of the action that follows onstage, evoking images of a steamy African forest, water nymphs playing in a pool, Carthaginian hunters, horn calls, a storm and lightning. Think of it as a film preview of a coming attraction, but without the film.

Over 140 years later, composer Michael Daugherty had a different take on the subject of Troy, “Troyjam, that used poet Anne Carson’s unique perspective of the Trojan War.

Okay! There is a connection! Troy.

In this musical fantasy, narrated for the DPO by founding member and resident artist with The Human Race Theatre Company Michael Kenwood Lippert, the Greeks bring a symphony orchestra, not an army, with them to Troy and they and the Trojans have a wild jam session instead of a bloody, prolonged, horrible war.

But here’s where the programming takes a decided turn towards the realm of utter confusion on my part. The concert concludes with a performance of Gioachino Rossini’s version of “Stabat Mater” ­(“the Mother was standing”), the twenty-couplet, 13thcentury Latin hymn describing the sorrows of Jesus’s mother Mary at his crucifixion.

We have gone from ancient Troy with all the penny-dreadful aspect of 19th century operatic melodrama to ancient Troy, where the composer has changed the spirits of Achilles and Hector to those of Timothy Leary and John Lennon. Then, we’ve taken a U-turn to post-ancient Jerusalem and one of the most lamentable and emotionally shattering spiritual events in history.

Director Hank Dahlman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus join Maestro Gittleman and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and open Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” by singing “At the cross her station keeping, Mary stood in sorrow weeping when her Son was crucified. While she waited in her anguish, seeing Christ in torment languish, bitter sorrow pierced her heart.”

Gioachino Rossini’s compelling musical masterpiece combines traditional sacred format with the power of opera. Soprano Adrienne Danrich, mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas, tenor Jason Slayden and baritone Matthew Burns – all of whom have performed with Dayton Opera – join the DPO and DPOC to present this beautiful, emotional and thought-provoking work of art.

With the performance of “Stabat Mater,” the pieces all fall into place, and we see the theme around which this repertoire is built: the vast range of human experiences that our emotions can traverse and withstand because we have hope – the hope of catching or killing game in a hunt, the hope of averting a war and the hope for a life beyond death.

On both concert evenings at 7 pm in the Mead Theatre, DPO Music Director Neal Gittleman will conduct a Take Note pre-concert discussion. Take Note is sponsored by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Volunteer Association.

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents “Divine Mother” Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. Tickets $9 – $59. For more information, visit www.daytonphilharmonic.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@daytoncitypaper.com

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A member of the Writers Guild of America, native Daytonian Joe Aiello is the author of numerous screenplays, non-fiction books, novels, TV sitcom pilots, news features, magazine articles, and documentaries. He fills his spare time coaching College, A, AA amateur and semi-pro baseball teams; answering trivia quizzes; and denigrating himself attempting to play golf. Reach Joe at JoeAiello@daytoncitypaper.com.

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