Sting's string show at Ravinia a lavish take on his hits...
The image playing on the video screen behind the orchestra was from the silent
horror movie 'Nosferatu', but the shimmering strings and descending brass were
indebted to Alfred Hitchock film scores as Sting sang from the perspective of a
vampire on 'Moon Over Bourbon Street'.
It was the most audacious moment of his performance with the Royal Philharmonic
Concert Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival Saturday, and the concert could have
used more like it. Instead, the first of Sting's two sold-out Ravinia shows this
weekend--which ran two hours and 45 minutes with an intermission--was more
lavish than it was inspired.
Sting's foray into classical music marks the latest and probably inevitable
musical turn for the artistically ambitious and high-minded 58-year-old singer,
who previously has dabbled in jazz and world music while leading the Police and
during his solo career. In the past few years he's released a record of
Elizabethan-era lute songs and appeared in a theatre production about the
composer Robert Schumann.
The concert followed last week's release of 'Symphonicities', a recording of
Sting singing some of his old songs with orchestral accompaniment. Inspired by
his benefit performance two years ago with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sting
undertook the project with the help of a bevy of arrangers, the Royal
Philharmonic, a large British ensemble, and conductor Steven Mercurio.
Throughout the concert, a four-man combo, including members of Sting's regular
solo band, added globe-spanning rhythms and rippling acoustic guitar.
With one glaring exception - a clumsy rendition of 'Next to You' that found him
yelping over manically sawing strings - Sting wisely avoided trying to recreate
his rock performances. Instead, the best moments allowed the orchestra to
transform the songs, as the staccato guitar riff of 'Roxanne' was replaced by
eddying strings that suggested a waterfront at nighttime, and the country death
song 'I Hung My Head' drew on Aaron Copland's evocations of the American West.
Much of the time, though, the arrangements were just more sumptuous versions of
the original song's accompaniment, particularly when it came to big hits like
'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' and 'King of Pain'' To his credit, Sting
took advantage of the format to dig into lesser-known corners of his songbook as
well such as 'The End of the Game', but they often left the orchestra providing
an elaborate backdrop to the songs rather than melding with them.
Although Sting's voice was a bit shrill as he reached for his high notes (even
after transposing some songs to a lower register), his glowering tone and punchy
intonation were as formidable as ever, and vocalist Jo Lawry added plaintive
harmonies, particularly on 'My Ain True Love'.
Sting has given some detached performances over the years, but he was at his
most personable as he explained his songs' origins, and his enthusiasm for his
undertaking was evident in his acknowledgements of the orchestra and its
soloists. If he could make better use of them, he might be on to something.
(c) The Chicago Tribune by Kevin McKeough