The week before, Christoph von Dohnányi returned with a noble but slightly stolid Brahms German Requiem, the fine German bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann singing warmly but maybe overacting his fear of death, and the German soprano Anna Prohaska never quite coming into focus, either vocally or interpretively. This is essentially a choral piece, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus carried the weight.
The week after Salonen, BSO conductor emeritus Bernard Haitink returned to an orchestra that seems to love playing for him more than I love hearing him. His Beethoven Symphony No. 1, the composer still hanging onto the classical traditions of Haydn and Mozart, never quite got off the ground, except for the lovely little flute (Elizabeth Rowe) and oboe (John Ferrillo) game of tag in the first movement.
The big event was Mendelssohn's masterful Overture and Incidental Music for Shakespeare's AMidsummer Night's Dream. He composed the precocious Overture when he was 17, and added the inspired incidental music 16 years later. This is music that I thought could survive Haitink's non-committal approach, merely pretty without much content. But I was wrong. For one thing, at the weekend's first performance, it took a while for Haitink's usually impeccable control to kick in. The messy opening chords were embarrassing. And the quicksilver strings — a Mendelssohn trademark — were a little blurry. But the bigger problem was that Haitink never seemed to acknowledge Mendelssohn's magical transitions — from joyful fanfare to haunting nocturne, from the sound of Bottom's hee-haws after he's turned into an ass to the celebratory Wedding March, to the final mysterious closure of the departing fairies (those opening chords returning and dissolving into the thin air one last time). The great conductors of this piece (Toscanini, Klemperer, Peter Maag) convey a sense of discovery, and are always alert — and make the listener alert — to Mendelssohn's startling, prestidigitating shifts of tone and color. This BSO performance simply continued mechanically, almost obliviously, from one section to the next. It had nearly everything but the magic — but the magic is everything.
Two superb young Metropolitan Opera singers, soprano Layla Claire and mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, along with the women of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the PALS Children's Chorus, were especially lovely in the heavenly lullaby to Titania, and the celebrated actress Claire Bloom recited the connecting passages from Shakespeare with clarity and dignity, though the back-and-forthing between the words and the music at the end was yet one more thing that got in the way of Mendelssohn's magic.
After its last venture into contemporary opera, an inspired and scary version of Peter Maxwell Davies's The Lighthouse staged at the JFK Library, the Boston Lyric Opera has lowered its sights to composer John Musto's The Inspector, a production "adapted" from last year's premiere production at Wolf Trap and apparently considerably revised since then (at the Shubert Theatre through April 29). Playwright Mark Campbell, in his fourth collaboration with Musto, has supplied an amusing libretto based on NikolaiGogol's landmark 1836 satirical play The Inspector General (which was also turned into a 1949 movie starring Danny Kaye as the penniless hero who's mistaken by corrupt town officials for a feared government inspector traveling incognito). But unlike another Gogol operatic adaptation, Shostakovich's The Nose, a success for both the late Opera Boston and the Met, The Inspector is missing the most crucial element for music theater: a memorable score.