TAMPA — "That was annoying.''
So said a woman in the audience near me Friday night after the Florida Orchestra's rendition of Frankenstein!!, which featured HK Gruber, the composer of the work, as the soloist.
Actually, it was more than annoying; it was inept. The problem was that Gruber couldn't be heard in his performance of the extensive (five pages in the playbill) text in English by his fellow Austrian, Hans Carl Artmann. He might as well have been delivering it in the original German for all I could make out from the mezzanine of Morsani Hall of the Straz Center. Although there was a microphone in front of the soloist, it must not have been working, or something.
The orchestra obviously agreed with the woman's assessment of Frankenstein!! During intermission, a spokesman came on the PA system to apologize that because of a "technical mishap'' the performance had been botched, and to say that anyone at Friday's concert who wanted to hear the work done right was welcome to attend tonight's or Sunday's concerts free of charge. That is a first in my almost 20 years of attending Florida Orchestra concerts — or any orchestra's concerts, for that matter.
The mishap was a shame because Gruber's "Pan-Demonium'' is one far-out piece of music theater, featuring the orchestra in an array of toy instruments from tiny, tinny piano to kazoos, colorful "howling'' hoses to a plastic sax. Music director Stefan Sanderling and the musicians even stood up at one point to sing a few nonsense lines. All this cartoony cacophony is combined with lush romantic and jazz passages to create a wacky, beguiling effect, much in the Kurt Weill cabaret mold. But not being able to hear the satirical text undercut everything.
Sanderling's program is an homage to the new Dali Museum, and it includes deft touches, such as Debussy's orchestration of Satie's languid Gymnopedies and Milhaud's polytonal score to a surrealistic scenario in which a French policeman is beheaded by a ceiling fan, Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof). However, conductor and orchestra seemed demoralized by the fiasco with Frankenstein!!, and they gave a perfunctory, listless account of the music, as if they couldn't wait to get off the stage.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.