Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, making an auspicious BSO debut, is widely admired for singing the title role. She revealed a silvery, twinkling coloratura and an idiomatic sense of language (the opera is in Russian). She was an irresistible and touching Nightingale, loving the Emperor she sings for ("Your tears are my reward") and loving her freedom even more. A deeply engaged performer, she was a pleasure to watch even when she wasn't singing, completely involved in what her colleagues were doing.
Soprano Olga Peretyatko sang the title role in Stravinsky's The Nightengale with Charles Dutoit and the BSO, 10.25.12
As the Fisherman, who frames the opera with his haunting folk-like prayer, Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas made another strong BSO debut. British baritone David Wilson-Johnson was a dignified and moving Emperor, and there were characterful performances in smaller roles by Swiss mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef (as Death), the always welcome tiny French tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Boston baritone David Kravitz, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
The only two previous BSO performances of Ravel's opera (1974, the great Jan de Gaetani heading a stellar cast of mostly Boston singers, and 1996) were led by Seiji Ozawa, and I remember these as Ozawa's most endearing work. If Dutoit conveyed this dazzling score (wind-machine, slide whistle, prepared piano, and hilarious contrabassoon burps) with elegant sophistication, Ozawa brought to it the wide-eyed wonder of a child, each moment a fresh surprise. Programmatically and musically, the Ravel was a marvelous counterbalance to the Stravinsky. It even begins with a similar hypnotic see-saw theme, this time for two oboes.
In the title role, French-Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne (who sang so feelingly as Berlioz's Béatrice in Opera Boston's Béatrice et Bénédict), was an ideal naughty Child. The audience responded to Boulianne the moment the Child complained about math homework. But Boulianne captured more than just the naughtiness. This is a child who takes out his frustration on the very objects and animals he loves. He's torn his book with the fairy-tale princess. He's pinned the dragonfly's mate to the wall. He's caged the squirrel in order to look into its beautiful eyes. He has a vivid imagination, but it stops short of feeling what his victims are feeling (we call it empathy). At the very end, after a wild fray in which the squirrel is injured, he binds the wound, hardly noticing that he himself has been wounded. The animals know that he has achieved wisdom and generosity, and they help him call his mother in a choral hymn that Leonard Bernstein seems to look back to in the moving final chorus from Candide, "Make Our Garden Grow," in which all the childish characters achieve some kind of wisdom.
Some of the singers in the Stravinsky were also outstanding in the Ravel. Peretyatko was a blistering, scintillating Fire; Naef the concerned and demanding Mother, the bereft Dragonfly, and the jazzy Chinese Cup (dropping the name of Japanese film star Sessue Hayakawa) fox-trotting with Montvidas's Teapot; Fouchécourt the deranged Arithmetic and a stuttering Frog; and Wilson-Johnson a loopy malfunctioning Grandfather Clock and an oversexed Black Cat, meowing hilariously over the back fence. The TFC was back as the elegant wallpaper shepherds and shepherdesses and a whole gardenful of twittering and buzzing insects, threatened and threatening animals. French soprano Sandrine Piau, a Baroque music star with a delicate but thinly monochromatic upper register, made her BSO debut as the Child's beloved Princess.
I have a distant memory of Jan DeGaetani sitting on a high stool next to Ozawa. I wish Boulianne had been similarly consistently visible as the focal center of this opera. The attendance at Symphony Hall was shockingly, mysteriously sparse. And so many empty seats also meant that with their recent re-padding, many of the empty seats kept tipping over and banging on their wooden supports — an unwelcome extra addition to the percussion section. Can't the BSO install some foam or rubber padding to keep the persistently falling seats from making so much noise? For more than one reason, I wish every BSO regular and newcomer could have been there.
FYI: after last summer's successful program of free downloads of historic live Tanglewood performances, there are still some concerts available for paid download at Tanglewood.org. The BSO has also added, for free streaming, two master classes, one with BSO concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, the other with trumpeters Thomas Rolfs and Benjamin Wright:WWW.TANGLEWOOD.ORG/MASTERCLASSES.