The Mainly Mozart Festival has come a long way since the series’ early years in a Coral Gables hotel ballroom. The past two installments of the annual summer event under new artistic director Marina Radiushina have brought an expanded number of concerts in a variety of venues and more diverse and ambitious repertoire.
Sunday afternoon at downtown Miami’s Arsht Center, Radiushina presented her most innovative offering yet — a multidisciplinary production that mixed elements of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy and Franz Liszt’s 1857 Dante Symphony. Combining narration, music, dance, film and lighting design, the production was both stimulating and artistically rewarding.
Dante’s allegory tells of his journey down to the lowest depths of the abyss, the cleansing of his soul and his climb through purgatory to the gates of heaven — where he is received triumphantly by God and the angelic hosts. The three sections of Liszt’s orchestral score (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso) parallel Dante’s expedition.
It is one of Liszt’s stronger works, in many ways atypical for the composer. While the initial Inferno section brings much bombast and thumping in the manner of Liszt’s piano scores and tone poems, the remaining two movements are unusually subtle and ruminative, and the concluding choral Magnificat beautifully conveys the heavenly ambience.
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The production utilized excerpts from Liszt’s own two-piano transcription with highlights from Dante’s text. Liszt originally intended to incorporate visual images into the performance of his score, but the technology of his time proved inadequate. An ongoing video production in Sunday’s performance tried to approximate Liszt’s original concept.
Musicologist Frank Cooper read Dante’s text from a side balcony box with clear enunciation and the dramatic fervor of a thespian. Grace Fong and Radiushina had the strength and technique for the virtuosic pages of Liszt’s depiction of the three circles of the underworld, and the pianists captured the fury of the frightening vision of Satan and his minions against a red-lit stage. The sensitivity and tonal coloration of their playing in the softer moments wonderfully complemented the choreography of Adriana Pierce. Liszt’s music is well suited to dance, and the whirling patterns and romantic ardor of Pierce’s balletic depiction of the doomed love of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo matched the passion of Liszt’s keyboard writing.
The athletic leaps and fitful angular movements of the penitents were brilliantly executed by dancers Emily Bromberg, Leigh-Ann Esty, Michael Sean Breeden and Eric Trope from Miami City Ballet. With soprano Maria Aleida contributing to the high vocal lines, the ethereal voices of the Miami Children’s Choir under the direction of Timothy Sharp soared from a balcony in the Magnificat, concluding the performance on a rousing and inspired note.
While video can often distract from the music in less artful productions, filmmaker Ali Habashi’s depiction of Dante’s writing (partly based on the illustrations of Gustave Doré) splendidly conveyed the scenes of fire and the beauty of the more sublime, star-filled world. Images of the dancers complemented the live dance sequences, and the fusion of theatrical elements was astutely conceived and successfully brought off.
In the program’s first half, the festival’s namesake was given a twist with Edvard Grieg’s two-piano version of Mozart’s Sonata in C Major. The tight collaboration and nimble playing of Radiushina and Fong finely traced Grieg’s quirky additions to Mozart’s original.
Aleida contributed a wobbly rendition of “Solveig’s Song” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt, and a stylish, if somewhat edgy, version of one of the Queen of the Night’s arias from The Magic Flute. The soprano was heard to better advantage in a finely articulated rendition of Mozart’s concert aria “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio,” the high notes floated in fine, clear fashion, with Radiushina nicely supporting Aleida’s phrasing.
A large and remarkably attentive audience turned out on Father’s Day for this challenging concert. Radiushina deserves accolades for bringing new life and creativity to the Mainly Mozart Festival. Hopefully, her future presentations will continue to expand the series’ artistic scope.
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