Festival caps stunning season
by Christopher Key
Bellingham Festival of Music Artistic Director Michael Palmer knows how to put an exclamation point at the end of a superb concert series. The festival drew its final standing O of the year for a dazzling concert version of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio. It may be the only opera he ever wrote, but it has all the passion and power that define his symphonies. The plot involves the incarceration and torture of political prisoners, which makes it disturbingly contemporary. It’s also about the triumph of married love, a subject dear to the composer’s heart.
If you want to know more about Fidelio, look it up in Wikipedia. I’d rather use the space to sing (sic) the praises of soloists, orchestra and chorus. Soprano Katie Bolding, who sang Marzelline, has an unusual background for an opera singer. She began her career as singer and rhythm guitarist for a blues-rock band. Her voice is wonderful, but I can’t help but be curious about how she sounded in her previous incarnation.
For this concert, Bolding was reunited with her former teacher and mentor Mary Jane Johnson. As Leonore, the heroic wife, she was perfectly passionate and well-matched with tenor Jeffrey Springer, who played Florestan.
Springer’s voice is simply thrilling. He combines extraordinary power with exquisite control and the conviction he brought to the role of the political prisoner was heart-wrenching.
Western Washington University alumni Gary Jankowski is as satisfyingly profundo as any basso you will ever hear. His interpretation of the jailer, Rocco, was delivered with touching sensitivity.
W. Dwight Coleman played the villainous Don Pizzaro with obvious relish. He has a fine voice, but it lacks power in the lower end of his range and he was, unfortunately, inaudible much of the time. I have since learned that he was quite ill and deserves great credit for getting onstage at all.
Tenor Richard Clement was outstanding in Wednesday’s concert when he sang Benjamin Britten’s settings of several English poems. His role as Jaquino in Fidelio was relatively minor, but equally well performed.
Don Fernando appears all too briefly in the second act, personifying the cavalry rushing in at the last minute to save the day. Portland’s Clayton Brainerd is as imposing a stage presence as you will probably ever encounter and made the role memorable.
One of the things that makes the Festival truly spectacular is the astonishing chorus that Maestro Palmer assembles and I wish we could hear more of them. When they pulled out all the stops in the thunderous finale, they gave me what appear to be permanent goose bumps.
One of the major challenges for the Bellingham Festival of Music is trying to top the previous year’s performances. I have it on good authority that there are surprises in store for next season that won’t be revealed until fall. I’m breathless, if not speechless, with anticipation.
It’s firmly established that this festival is indisputably world-class and if you haven’t experienced this local treasure, you need to revise your bucket list. Keep an eye on the site, www.bellinghamfestival.org, for those aforementioned surprises and it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all to get your tickets early since sellouts are the rule rather than the exception.
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