LENOX, Mass. — The Boston Symphony Orchestra, usually heard without visual add-ons, played an accompanying role at the weekend’s Tanglewood concerts, in programs built around something to see.
Thursday’s guest performance of a slightly staged Handel opera was followed by a Friday Lawncast for listeners and a few guinea pigs with personal devices. Saturday brought a concert staging of a Broadway show. The eyes had it.
Handel’s “Teseo,” presented by the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, was sparkling, clever, charming and long, with a convoluted love plot about the mythical Theseus. Musicians played period instruments, each proudly described in the program.
Nicholas McGegan conducted from a harpsichord in the midst of the oval seating arrangement. The lower pitch to which these delicate instruments must be tuned blunted the volume, setting off the singers’ exuberantly accurate coloratura.
The title trouser role was expertly sung by the appealing Amanda Forsythe, hailed as a Tanglewood Music Center fellow in 2002 and blossoming ever since. Marc Schachman, a veteran of the Aston Magna Early Music Festival, treated us to terrific oboe solos.
Friday’s Lawncast outside the Koussevitzky Music Shed did not upstage Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, performed by pianist Emanuel Ax under the effective if ungainly French conductor Stephane Deneve. Glitches have been fixed since last month’s initial Lawncast, and more will be addressed at the one coming Saturday.
The Lawncast premise is that people need to fiddle with devices to make the most of a concert. Does this project pander to people who can’t behave at a concert? Yes. Will it pay off in any way? To be seen.
Prokofiev arranged his evocative score to “Alexander Nevsky” to make a compelling suite, performed on Friday’s second half, which shows signs of outliving the Sergei Eisenstein film; the music transcended its political purpose. The audience’s attentive silence while following the story — with fat measured chords sung mostly by men — showed how depictive the music is.
The Tanglewood Festival Chorus has performed “Nevsky” before, and under John Oliver, “Nevsky” grows richer and more confident every time.
Saturday’s concert staging of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” was a Tanglewood first, as were most of the cast’s appearances. Conducted by Branwell Tovey, the BSO showed off its Broadway chops. But “Candide” is not a Broadway show in any sense other than having opened there in 1956. It’s too complex for a show, too zany for an opera. Bernstein overachieved.
The cast made the work shine. Coloratura soprano Anna Christy as the ditzy Cunegonde brought down the house with her spot-on “Glitter and Be Gay.” (Her visible pregnancy added to the general silliness.) In the title role, tenor Nicholas Phan was riveting in his aria “Nothing More Than This.” As the narrator/philosopher Pangloss, Richard Suart was smooth, clear, lively and funny.
Frederica von Stade loved her scenery-chewing role as the Old Lady, playing the Eastern European accent to the hilt. Small roles were sung and acted with verve, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus waved ribbons, donned sombreros and jumped around shouting.
The highlight of Sunday’s annual Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra concert was an exciting performance of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 by Nikolai Lugansky. He looks too fragile for this blockbuster, but his performance ranked with the best. Conductor Charles Dutoit, who began and ended the program with Stravinsky, respected the orchestra’s every detail. The audience cheered and cheered, for him, Lugansky and the young orchestra.