Last night, I had the privilege of attending one of the only two performances of Die Walküre presented by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. These performances are the farewell of conductor Jap van Zweden. In his years with the DSO, he took an okay orchestra and turned into into a world-renowned one. We always knew the day would come when he’d move on. Supporters of the orchestra dreaded it and, when word came approximately a year ago that he would be resigning to accept the post as Music Director at the New York Philharmonic, knew the end of an era was about to happen.
This season, van Zweden has conducted some of the DSO’s offerings but it has also served as a try-out for potential new conductors. Some have been better than others but none have shown the flair of van Zweden. Not that any of them won’t, in their own way, be as good if given the chance.
But talk about a send-off. Last night and tomorrow afternoon, van Zweden conducts Die Walküre, It’s not the full operatic staging with women in breastplates and such. The best way of describing it is Die Walküre in concert.
For those of you not familiar with it, Die Walküre hereis Wagner’s second entry in his Ring Cycle. German, rising arias and vengeful gods are part of it as is forbidden love. You can find the synopsis of the plot . Ride of the Valkyries is probably one of the most well-known tunes, for lack of a better word, around — especially if you are a fan of Buggs Bunny.
Now, wonderful as the evening happened to be — the DSO outdid itself in its performance, the vocalists were some of the best I have ever heard and the meal. . .let’s just say the entire DSO organization went above and beyond all expectations — there was a bump that could have completely derailed the entire performance. The vocalist set to appear as Wotan, a major character in the second and especially the third acts, fell ill. Around noon or so, he let the DSO know he would not be able to go onstage last night. That left them approximately six hours to find someone who could not only sing the role and it is a very demanding role, but who could come in and do it without once rehearsing with the orchestra or the other vocalists.
They found an excellent replacement — in San Francisco. Just before the performance began, the house announced the change, noting that the vocalist was currently still in the air but he would, we were assured, be there in time for the second act to begin.
It was an excellent evening. If I had any complaint, it would be the way the DSO displayed the libretto during the performance. It was adequate but nothing more. Of course, I kept forgetting about the signage they were using because the music was so wonderful — and this is from someone who isn’t a huge Wagner fan. I like parts of his work but, I’ll be honest, sitting through a performance that, with intermissions, ran close to 4 1/2 hours, was daunting. To have it performed so well that I didn’t check my watch and forgot all about the time is indicative of just what a wonderful job van Zweden, the orchestra and the vocalists did.
Here is hoping the DSO can bring van Zweden back as guest conductor from time to time. I wish him well but, damn, we’re going to miss him and his leadership.
Here’s an example of his work.
Farewell, good sir. Good luck in New York.