Live from Carnegie Hall

It’s a party!  The second act of Merry Mount launches with the christening of a maypole and ends with a searing love duet.  At the start, the Cavaliers celebrate a wedding, but they are having way too much fun, at least in the eyes of the Puritans.  As soon as the ceremony is over, minister Wrestling Bradford and his followers enter and set fire to the Cavalier settlement.   Bradford pulls Marigold (the woman with whom he’s obsessed) away and tries to convert her to his religion and his weird brand of love. She rejects him and he attacks her. Her finance enters and fights with Bradford, getting killed by one of the Puritans.  Then things get Faustian.  Lucifer appears with all sorts of hellish creatures and demonic temptresses sent to seduce the preacher. Satan offers Bradford wealth and power, and the Puritan minister resists these temptations.  But when Lucifer offers him the goddess Astoreth—(a role sung by the actress who plays Marigold)--Bradford caves and signs the Devil's Book.  He and Astoreth sing a duet as the curtain falls.

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There’s a mystique about Carnegie Hall.  Maybe it’s the resonance. Play or sing and note and it sails back to you like a gift.  Maybe it’s the history; so many iconic works such as Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Gershwin’s An American in Paris premiered there. Maybe it’s the gold-washed elegance of the hall.  Whatever it is, it was such a thrill and privilege to be on the stage last night with the world-class musicians of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

Have you seen the film Twenty Feet from Stardom, the documentary about the back-up singers behind wildly successful stars?  In it, Stevie Wonder says, “Get into the experience that you are singing about and sing your heart out.” That’s what we members of the Eastman-Rochester Chorus did last night. We were incredibly well-prepared by our conductor William Weinert.  In Merry Mount we became insular, enraged Puritans. A few pages later we morphed into fun-loving English settlers, dancing around an imagined maypole.  At one point I heard a high B-flat float out of my body and I thought, “I am really doing this. This is really happening.”  It was a special thrill knowing the concert was beaming live to friends and family back in Western New York via WXXI-FM.

WXQR host Elliot Forrest introduced the opera and welcomed New York Lt. Governor Robert Duffy.  Rochester’s former mayor walked stiffly onstage, (did not mention the news that he would not seek re-election) and described the partnership between Kodak founder George Eastman and conductor Howard Hanson that established one of the most prestigious conservatories in the world.

When guest conductor Michael Christie emerged, Hanson's only opera began.

Honeyed notes wafted out of the clarinet section like clouds drifting in front of the moon.  Bassoons snarled.  Flutes blossomed into a bed of flowers for members of the Bach Children’s Chorus, singing from an upper tier. RPO conductor emeritus Christopher Seaman once described the thrill of standing close to so much talent, and I felt that, too, hearing the low brass producing bars of burnished gold.

After the last note, audience members clapped and shouted and waved lilac-colored hankies emblazoned with the name of the RPO, the orchestra they love.

Today, we're coming home.