Nancy Gibson has the distinction of once being grounded by a volcano. Barring any other natural disasters, the internationally-known soprano will perform Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss on Saturday, Sept. 24, with the RDSO.
Gibson was originally slated to sing the Strauss selections with the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra in the spring of 2010. But constant eruptions by an Icelandic volcano, which was spewing dangerous ash into the sky, caused her flight to be cancelled.
Musical director Claude Lapalme re-jigged the program and booked Gibson to return at the earliest possible opportunity. This will be at the RDSO’s Autumn Cruise concert — the first of its 25th season at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
Lapalme said the RDSO will be thrilled to finally perform with the Toronto native, who’s known for her proficiency with the post-Wagnerian repertoire as a member of the City of Chemnitz Opera.
“She’s lived in Germany for a bazillion years, so her German is impeccable,” said Lapalme, of his former classmate from their student days at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music.
Gibson will perform a poignant selection of German poetry, which was set to music by Strauss — at his son’s suggestion.
Lapalme said the aging composer, then in his 80s, had been preoccupied with his ill health. In an attempt to divert his attention back to music, his son suggested he compose a few short songs.
Strauss complied after reading three poems by Hermann Hesse, called Spring, September and Going to Sleep, as well as the poem At Sunset by Joseph von Eichendorff. By incorporating these poems in his Last Four Songs, Strauss made a personal statement about death that’s not in the least depressing, said Lapalme.
The first song about beginnings is contrasted with the autumnal September, “a time for repose,” added the music director, who noted imagery of sleep and death are blended throughout the second song.
The third song is about being weary of the day and yearning to sink into “night’s unfettered sphere.”
Von Eichendorff’s poem completes the series by painting a picture of the poet taking a nighttime walk with his lover. “The image cannot be clearer,” said Lapalme, who recounted lyrics about walking through a starry garden with the thought “let us not lose our way.”
“It’s a very elevating work, extremely inspiring. You feel a rising power in the music near the end.”
For a complete change of pace, the RDSO will also perform Robert Schumann’s popular Symphony No. 3 — “a fun piece” that takes listeners on a tour along the Rhine River.
This five-movement symphony has a rather spiritual fourth movement inspired by the world’s largest cathedral in Cologne. Lapalme said Schumann drew on his experience of watching an archbishop being installed in the imposing structure.
The concert will begin with another audience favourite, a short work called Spring’s Promise by Edmonton composer John Estacio, who has become better known for his operas.
“The last time we played this piece, the symphony office had calls the next morning from people saying how much they enjoyed it,” recalled Lapalme. His only regret is, “We never get to do it in the spring!”
Tickets to the 8 p.m. concert are $47 ($45.50 seniors/$32.50 youths or seats in the first three rows) from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.