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Lisboa Conducts the CSO’s “Set Free”–& the Piece That Changed Her Life

Posted on: Dec 5, 2019

The flute player was hypnotized. The cellist was crying. The conductor is rearranging the program order after Wednesday’s Concordia Symphony Orchestra dress rehearsal, because nothing can follow soprano Aidan Ferguson‘s rendition of an iconic Wagner aria.

The flautist shares:

A voice that strong not only dominates a hall, but captures the hearts within it. Despite not knowing German, I was able to completely understand the emotional weight Wagner’s piece held through Aidan’s choice of inflection and body language during her performance. Aidan transferred Isolde’s heartache so clearly it became mine to bear.

CSO conductor Danielle Lisboa was a teenager when she heard the late Jessye Norman singing Wagner’s Liebestod in the documentary Karajan in Salzburg–Isolde singing over her dead lover’s body, at the end of Tristan und Isolde–and was hooked. The profound truth in the performance utterly captivated her. Her near obsession with the piece led eventually to a Master’s degree from the University of Houston with special emphasis in opera conducting, and then a PhD from Eastman School of Music.

Someone else’s words, that she herself could have written:

I saw part of the film “Karajan in Salzburg” on PBS about ten years ago. I was channel surfing and happened across Jessye Norman singing “Isoldes Liebestod.” I . . . had no notion of what Norman was singing. I couldn’t understand her German. Yet I could feel the hair rising up on the back of my neck. By the time she had finished, I was crying.

That brief seven-minute film clip was an epiphany for me. I fell desperately in love with Richard Wagner and Jessye Norman . . . Wagner at his most sublime. The climax is Norman’s clear, tender ‘Liebestod’: “Do I alone/ hear this melody/ which, so wondrous/ and tender/ in its blissful lament,/ all-revealing,/ gently pardoning,/ sounding from him,/ pierces me through . . .”

Because nothing can follow such a climax, Danielle will shift the remaining repertoire in Sunday’s program, Set Free. In addition to Isolde’s transfiguration, Aidan will lend her voice to Richard Strauss’s Befreit. The orchestra will present Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, “Spring,” the composer’s first venture into orchestral writing, which interweaves the conflicts of his three alter egos. No longer concluding the program: an éclat of gypsy themes in Sergei Rachmaninov’s Caprice bohémien.

And then the pièce de résistance. See you there!

Sunday, December 8
3 pm in the Robert Tegler Student Centre

Free ticket for Concordia students, faculty, and staff available from Jennifer in A304. Additional tickets ($20/$15) available from the Bookstore, Tix on the Square, or at the door. Special Family Admission: $40 (available at the door only).