Americans in Rome
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia's
attended by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
attended by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia decided to close its 2014-15 season with a Gershwin Gala. A rather extraordinary choice, in the etymological sense of 'out-of-the-ordinary'. Created in 1585, the Academy is one of the most ancient musical institutions in the world and has, by-and-large, a rather conservative audience deeply affectionate of the seventeenth and eighteenth century classics. Even forays into nineteenth century repertory are not taken gladly; what musicologists called 'the historical nineteenth century' is often considered 'contemporary music', and even experimental. Thus, to close the season with a Gershwin Gala is the sign of a wind of change, brought about by Antonio Pappano, musical director of the Academy, and by the newly elected President of the Academy, Michele Dall'Ongaro.
As customary with the Academy's symphonic programs, the concert was premiered on a Saturday evening and repeated on Monday and Tuesday evenings. I attended the 20 June 2015 premiere. All 2,883 seats were filled and the older 'subscribers' were supplemented by a younger audience. The wind of change continues in the next season, which includes modern and contemporary music and is complemented by a shorter 'contemporary' season of some ten concerts. The symphonic season includes over thirty concerts, each performed three times.
The Gershwin Gala was formed of two distinct parts. The first provided a sample of the works of the American composer: the overtures of Funny Face and Girl Crazy, film music summarized in the Gershwin in Hollywood suite (by Robert Russell Bennett) and Rhapsody in Blue. The second part was the Porgy and Bess suite, in its more extended form with several songs. A great American conductor and pianist, William Eddins, was in charge. A young American soprano, Sarah Nicole Batts, and a mature and experienced American baritone, Rodney Earl Clarke, with the Santa Cecilia chorus (directed by Ciro Visco) and orchestra completed the cast.
With the exception of Rhapsody in Blue, the first part of the concert included music unknown or nearly unknown to the Santa Cecilia audience. It was extremely well received. William Eddins received an ovation for his piano performance in Rhapsody in Blue; he showed his virtuosity in his dialogue with the orchestra.
I found the Porgy and Bess suite, which filled the second part of the evening, less interesting. First of all, the score does not require a chorus of nearly two hundred singers. This is part of a complex agreement between the management and trade unions, requiring all members of the chorus to be called for a symphony concert (so that nobody looses their allowance), but in certain cases, it is not to the benefit of the overall performance.
While Rodney Earl Clarke showed a good voice and was even able to dance, Sarah Nicole Batts seemed fresh out of music school; her CV lists many operas, most probably performed in five-hundred-seat theatres not in a three-thousand-seat auditorium. They both wore microphones. Porgy and Bess is well known and appreciated in Italy, however, and so again there were accolades. The success was such that at the 23 June performance, the Head of State, President Sergio Mattarella, attended the concert and gave a special price to the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.