Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Gala Evening

Up to Ravinia Saturday night. It was the Gala Benefit Evening. Which means two things: top quality performances and lots of rich people.

I arrived in time for the procession of the tuxedoed elites. It's the walk from dinner tent to music pavilion which those who are there for the Gala event must make for the concert, itself. It takes them at least twenty minutes and is accompanied by baroque trumpeting on the sound system.

I watched them pass while snatching my place to stand at the back of the seating area. So much money here then gone. (Not one even offered me a dime, let alone work. Perhaps if I had held up a cardboard sign.) At least they got to their seats relatively on schedule, meaning we didn't have to wait much. In the past this has been a problem. One would think that the town's high society would have enough sense to actually sit down and shut up while we peons observe their impoliteness. But then, the "real lovers of music", perhaps are better cultured in manners and such than this crowd of North Shore types.

The dinner tent, itself, was magnificent. Glowing from the back of the park's lawn, it was white with sidewalls curtained to allows a peak inside. Burnt umber drapes shone under lighting all the way across the park. Crystal centerpieces glimmered fantastic. And tables clothed deep in green. I wish I had a picture, but with the rain, I wisely left the camera home.

The meal looked marvelous. Check out the offerings!

One wonders how much it all cost. (It is reported that the event raised 1.7 million.)

Then the baton fell. The National Anthem was sung, led onstage by two Ravinia bigwigs. They jokingly dubbed themselves "The Two Tenors". Thank you, thank you, oh and thank YOU. Now, that those appreciations are out of the way, I'd just like to offer MY gratitude to the Women's Board for bringing together this night "which we will not soon forget."

Hearing Placido Domingo in recital is an opportunity which one does not often have. Which made springing fifty bucks for a mere lawn admission well worthwhile. As a special treat, a big video screen was set up to enable those on the lawn to watch. It is an idea which Ravinia ought to consider employing more often, say, when there is a particularly special event onstage or performance piece worth seeing and not just hearing. But I didn't get to see him on "TV". Instead, I found my oft park perch behind the pavilion. It's canopy kept me nicely dry on this rainy night. The hearty lawn crowd proved a delightful panoply with their colorful umbrellas decorating the field as one looked back upon the scene.

It takes some time to accustom oneself to the sound of opera over amplification. I found myself ducking in, tilting my ear in any way which might give me a more clean sound scape. Ah, and the crickets like to sing along, of course! Indeed, Placido's first number was slightly difficult to listen to and seemed a bit overbearing. But this was straightened out soon enough for his reappearance thereafter. The wonderful thing about this most astounding of vocalists is his ability to offer warmth, depth, yet cleanness of vocal lyricism. Nothing overdone. Full yet lovely. Just genuine, believable. Indeed, I would readily take him over any other opera star out there today. Perhaps best yet were the duets where he paired with Ana Maria Martinez. The sheer drama inherent to the works combined with these voices lifted the experience to another level.

Martinez, indeed, acquitted herself well. With strong, bold voice that can also lilt in places she paced through several pieces both as soloist and alongside Placido. One of the most impressive moments was their take on Bernstein's "Tonight" from West Side Story. Martinez sang the English cleanly while Domingo added an interesting element with his wonderful accent. Ravenous applause began on the lawn and worked it's way up to the stage at it's end.

And, of course, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra sounded superb under it's summer director, James Conlon. I especially enjoyed their offering of Korngold's Prelude, Serenade and Intermezzo from Der Schneeman ("The Snowman").

An extended series of encores followed and included Domingo and Martinez engaged in dancing to a final waltz from "The Merry Widow".

The overall selections for a concert like this were impressive for their wide range. Not only were several languages and operatic styles involved, but they avoided the mere collection of all too predictable standards which sometimes take over such gala events to offer something more eclectic and of overarching appeal. Included were, certainly, well known gems, but also the offbeat and lesser performed. Below is the program list:

After the concert I had the chance to stand humbly united amidst the men of means, proving that we all are equal at the urinal. Back for drinks they then proceeded. And I to the awaiting rail car which would bring me happily home.

No comments: