Doomed lovers were the focus of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s extraordinarily fine concert Sunday at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono.
The program, titled “Star-Crossed: Romeo and Juliet,” included “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by Claude Debussy, the Prelude and Liebestod from the opera “Tristan und Isolde” by Richard Wagner, and selections from “Romeo and Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev.
Conductor Lucas Richman pulled every ounce of passion from the compositions but the piece de resistance was Prokokiev’s ballet based on William Shakespeare’s tragic tale of young lovers amidst a fatal family feud. Richman included movements that highlighted scenes from the ballet, finished in 1936, including a tumultuous opening that musically describes the Montagues and Capulets involved in a brawl. The famous balcony scene is lovingly scored and followed by the sword fight that ends with the death of Tybalt by Romeo’s hand. The piece ended with the death by suicide of the young lovers that filled the concert hall Sunday with musical wails of grief.
Although there were no dancers on stage, Richman so emphasized the drama of the story that I could see the ballet performed in my mind and hear the swords clashing. The orchestra’s interpretation of the death scene stirred in concertgoers a sense of sorrow and loss they carried out of the Collins Center along with the joy that comes from hearing beautiful music perfectly and lovingly played.
In the first half of the program, Mezzo-Soprano Michelle DeYoung was the guest soloist who performed the Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde.” She gave a shimmering performance as Isolde when she dies of heartbreak over Tristan’s body in the opera, which was first performed in 1865 in Munich, Germany.
The orchestra at times overpowered DeYoung’s voice Sunday and she could not be heard easily from my seat in the sixth row. Also, having the English translation either included in the program or projected above the orchestra would have allowed opera novices, like me, the ability to better understand what she was singing even though the Celtic tale of the Middle Ages was familiar to most concertgoers.
Principal flutist Jonathan Laperle beautifully opened the concert with Debussy’s most well-known work based on a poem. First performed in 1894, its opening solo flute is unique, according to the program notes. Its “languid, meandering melody invites the listener into a hazy, illusive dream world.”
Richman and the orchestra took the audience back to a quiet and sunny summer day as the temperature and the leaves dropped outside. The joy woven through Debussy’s score carried over into the latter two pieces and dulled the pain of the lovers’ deaths and underscored the immortality of their love.
Sunday’s concert is available for streaming Nov. 29 through Dec. 13 at watch.bangorsymphony.org.