In many ways, the Berlioz has been the polar opposite of the Bach. You name it: the language, the fluidity, the logos vs. pathos, the approach to learning, the pickiness of the conductor, the amount of time spent memorizing, the mastery of technical mechanics vs. the mastery of emotive singing, the chorus as center of attention, the size of the chorus, the presence of John Oliver for the run — everything. The only similarity so far has been the thorough enjoyment of being in each performance.
Tonight was the first of three performances of Romeo and Juliet. I never thought I could have so much fun “yelling” at the other half of the chorus! The back and forth answers — sorry! Interruptions. If you’re “answering,” then you’re LATE — that interplay adds so much vitality to the piece. I make my mean face every time as we holler back and forth: “Non! (Non!) Non! (Non!) Non! (Non!)” while the music builds up the [melo]drama.
Maestro Charles Dutoit is all swirls and graceful, occasionally exaggerated, movements. You’re not always sure where the beat is — in fact, some choristers commented that he somehow manages to take a slightly different tempo every measure! But it doesn’t matter, because you’re still always in time, as he’s somehow very clear amongst the movement. He has strange cues sometimes like holding his hand up and opening his thumb and forefinger to indicate our upbeat. His rehearsals usually involved playing through an entire movement, as if to capture the entire emotional sentence. (Compare that to Maestro Suzuki’s rehearsals, which, as you may recall, stopped every 10-30 seconds for a correction.) Maestro Dutoit’s corrections were often for balance or volume, rarely if ever for pronunciation or mechanical concerns. (In fact, sometimes we weren’t even sure WHY he stopped us, as he would pause, smile, and then start us again!) The result of all this is being fully engaged and part of the big picture, rather than the individual elements, of the piece. This is forest, not trees. It’s Degas and his ballerinas, not Seurat and his pointillistic compositions.
The performance tonight was sound–at least, what parts we were involved in. Frankly, there are few places for us to make any big mistakes, I think. I expect reviews will praise the strong soloists and Dutoit’s masterful direction. They may scoff at the fluidity of the tempo, which I think confused a few orchestra members from time to time. And the chorus will get maybe two adjectives talking about the convincing strength of our argument and subsequent denouement. It was definitely a pleasant performance that will live in our memories pour toujour.