Royal Albert Hall
Richard Rodgers: Babes in Arms -- Overture, Victory at Sea -- Symphonic Scenario, On Your Toes -- Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Oklahoma! (concert version)
Maureen Lipman (Aunt Eller), Lisa Vroman (Laurey), Klea Blackhurst (Ado Annie), Tim Flavin (Will), Brent Barrett (Curly), Karl Daymond (Jud)
David Charles Abell (conductor), Kennet Richardson (stage director)
BBC Concert Orchestra, Maida Vale Singers
BBC Radio 3
Richard Wagner: Overture -- Das Liebesverbot, Wotan's Farewell -- Die Walküre
Richard Strauss: Final scene -- Capriccio
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: "Porgi Amor" -- Le Nozze di Figaro, "Madamina" -- Don Giovanni, "La ci darem" -- Don Giovanni
George Gershwin: Overture -- Girl Crazy, "Bess you is my woman now" -- Porgy and Bess
Stephen Sondheim: "Loving you/I wish I could forget you" -- Passion
Rupert Holmes: "Moonfall" -- The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Meredith Wilson: "Seventy-six Trombones" -- The Music Man
Richard Rodgers: "Hello Young Lovers" -- The King and I
Claude-Michel Schönberg: "Starts" -- Les Miserables
Stephen Sondheim: "Not while I'm around" -- Sweeney Todd
Stephen Flaherty: "Wheels of a dream" -- Ragtime
Renée Fleming (soprano), Bryn Terfel (bass baritone)
Gareth Jones (conductor), Paul Gemignani (conductor)
Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
The Proms was originally a pops season for those who couldn't afford to leave London for the cooler coast during the summer. It has always been both adventurous and popular in various ways, so Saturday's programme of Richard Rodgers' music to celebrate the centenary of his birth is not that radical an inclusion. (The much-bruited and still noisy air conditioning in the hall doesn't represent that much of a change either when the television lights are on most nights.) Sunday's concert by Renée Fleming and Bryn Terfel was also well within the Proms tradition of lollipops by stars. Unfortunately, the Rodgers programme, which was performed pretty well by the not-particularly-distinguished BBC Concert Orchestra and a mainly music-theatre based cast, suggested his music doesn't quite stand alone, while the opera singers, accompanied by the pretty-good orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, sounded positively painful at times in some definitely mediocre music.
Rodgers' greatness in music-theatre history is unquestionable. Working with two great lyricists (Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein), he wrote standard songs that combine musical attractiveness with expressive complexity, gifts for performers and a pleasure for audiences. Working with Hammerstein, he produced in Oklahoma! a work that broke the mould of Broadway music theatre by merging American idioms with drama structured by and expressed through music as it is in opera. The songs are mainly still small masterpieces in themselves -- "People will say we're in love" is as wistful and masochistic as any chanson -- but the vision of the territory about to become a state, and of the rough but decent people in it, is the main point, and one that it was difficult to deliver in the Albert Hall.
Still, it was fun. Brent Barrett and Lisa Vroman were ideal as Curly and Laurey, he bumptiously amiable with just a slight edge, she both sharp and sweet. Klea Blackhurst was a touch wholesome as Ado Annie (without her peddler man), but funny enough, and Tim Flavin was jolly as Will. Karl Daymond was good and nasty as Jud. Maureen Lipman was too young and glamorous for Aunt Eller, and barely sang, but her personality was the right size for the hall. Daymond, classically trained, and Lipman, more or less a non-singer, suffered worse from the amplification.
The first half of the concert, a selection of Rodgers' orchestral works, was less rewarding. The overture to Babes in Arms, recently discovered in Buffalo, has some good (famous) tunes and raucous charm that smells of greasepaint. Robert Russell Bennett's suite based on Rodgers' underscoring for the 1952 television series Victory at Sea hints at Korngold and Vaughan Williams, but mainly at, well, television underscoring, though again there is one famous tune. "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" has some dramatic shape, but it is really part of a Gesamtkunstwerk and needs at least some dancers, if not the rest of On Your Toes, of whose action it forms an integral part, unlike some other ballets in musicals one could name.
The hall was packed for the Rodgers concert, presumably with musical fans, though there was room to dance, and a certain amount of dancing, at the back of the arena. It was also reportedly packed for the Sunday afternoon Prom, which was basically a puff for Fleming and Terfel's forthcoming CD. Terfel clearly had a fine old time, beginning with a plausible performance of Wotan's farewell and delivering his show tunes almost as if to the manner born. Fleming began with the last scene of Capriccio and went on to demonstrate that she should not be allowed anywhere near crossover under any circumstances ever. She "Loving you" sound truly execrable, measuring out each note and swallowing consonants like Joan Sutherland at her worst. The words barely made sense, and there was no hint that the character who sings it is sick, ugly and profoundly disturbed. Her other solo numbers were about as bad. Neither singer could disguise the musical mediocrity of most of the programme.
The two of them did some Mozart for fun, which didn't really suffer from its loss of context, and a toe-curling duet version of "Not while I'm around" from Sweeney Todd which came over as a bland love song. You would never have realised pies were intimately involved. "Wheels of a dream" at least worked as a straightforward anthem to end with.