Sunday December 3rd, 2017 matinee - ERWARTUNG ("Expectation"), is a one-act monodrama in four scenes by Arnold Schoenberg; the libretto is by Marie Pappenheim. Composed in 1909, ERWARTUNG was first performed on June 6th, 1924, at Prague, with Marie Gutheil-Schoder as soloist and conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky.
Today's performance of ERWARTUNG was part of the Sight & Sound series featuring The Orchestra Now in a series of concerts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in which works of a particular artist or from a particular school of art are linked with pieces of associated music which are performed live.
The first half of the evening was given over to a lecture by Maestro Leon Botstein; he led the orchestra and soprano soloist Kirsten Chambers in passages from ERWARTUNG as an exploration of Expressionism in music. This was followed by a slide show of paintings by the composer Arnold Schoenberg, a man of multiple talents, and also of works by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.
The idea behind the program is a good one, and there was a lot of valuable information to be gleaned about ERWARTUNG, its composer and librettist, and the Expressionistic period in art and music . The talk could have been slightly shorter, though, and the artwork shown would have been better-served if the screen was brought further forward. Late seating during the first several minutes of the program was a serious distraction.
But the full performance of ERWARTUNG that followed a brief intermission erased any concerns about the overall presentation.
Of ERWARTUNG, Arnold Schoenberg wrote: "The aim is to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour."
In this monodrama, The Woman is in a state of both apprehension and expectation. She wanders along a forest path, seeking a man: her lover. She talks distractedly to herself, by turns frightened or reassured. She grows more anxious, as the man she is looking for cannot be found. Suddenly, she stumbles upon a dead body, and, to her horror, realizes it is her beloved. She cries out for help, but there is no response. She attempts to revive the man, and speaks to him as if he can hear and understand her. She accuses him of infidelity with a woman who has delectable white arms. She then asks herself what she is to do with her life, now that her lover - who was the soul of her existence - is dead.
The young players of The Orchestra Now rose to every challenge this demanding score presents. Under Maestro Botstein's savvy baton, the music took on the darkling glow that makes it so distinctively magnificent. There are numerous opportunities for the individual orchestral voices to make their mark, and I must specifically mention concertmaster Lili Sarayrah and harpist Emily Melendes.
In October, 2016, Soprano Kirsten Chambers (above) made a very good impression in a concert performance of Strauss's FRIEDENSTAG with the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. This afternoon, in ERWARTUNG, she excelled. A comely blonde, Ms. Chambers tackled this complex and difficult role with total commitment, spending the voice freely and rising up to some bright, sustained high notes. In the more conversational passages, she found appropriate word-colours, and everything she sang had an intense quality that gave her singing a sense of urgency. I should like to hear her as Marie in WOZZECK and also as Cassandra in LES TROYENS.
In a brief Q & A that followed the ERWARTUNG, my long-held belief that it's The Woman herself who has killed her lover and the "white-armed woman" was seconded by another gentleman, who said he was a psychiatrist.
The Met was horribly crowded, and the lines to get in were extraordinary. I had arrived early and planned to do some gallery-wandering, but ended up fighting crowds and trying to avoid the many screaming infants who were there but clearly wished they were elsewhere.