Don't believe Pacific Symphony's advertising hype: Jerome Hines is not "the Met's leading basso." A distinguished Metropolitan Opera artist for 41 years, and certainly one of that company's great basses, Hines, 66, only does a few small parts at the Met now.
In scenes from Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" with the Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Chorale, led by Keith Clark, at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa Thursday, Hines showed what world-class singing is all about.
A formidable presence, with the look of an Old Testament prophet, Hines retained much of his big, dark, plush bass and projected a vivid, detailed and compelling sense of character, whether in the guilt-driven hallucinations, the wary, superior questioning of Prince Shouisky (Misha Raitzen) or the final assertions of authority.
Clark accompanied attentively, though he dragged out the closing measures of the death scene long enough for Feodor (Jacalyn Bower) to have been crowned as the new Czar.
But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth.
Right from the start of the program, in a suite derived from Prokofiev's score for Sergei Eisenstein's film "Ivan the Terrible," Clark exhibited a new clarity of gesture. Virtually gone were his frenzied, blurred and largely unfollowable movements. Here, the beat was large and clear, and there were even successful efforts to shape phrases, if rarely to illuminate the music.
As a result, the orchestra demonstrated new ensemble coherence and precision, though one should remember that Clark had conducted exactly the same program with Hines in December, 1985.
Still, for every two steps forward, there seemed to be one step back. Clark could not resist telling the audience the plot of the familiar Mussorgsky opera, though he said nothing about the essentially unknown "Ivan"--not that commentary, especially of that simplistic sort, was at all desirable. And on his own with the orchestra, Clark delivered a slurred, disjointed Polonaise (from "Boris"), which lacked a vital rhythmic pulse.
In both works, the Pacific Chorale sang with richness and strength, whether in the vigorous men's chorus or the lyric hymn in "Ivan" or the well-nourished, though at times too loud, monks' chant at the end of "Boris."
The program was repeated at the Center Friday night.