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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
OPERA REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Friday, July 14, 2017
Jason Sherbundy, conductor. Ann Woodhead, stage director.
Sergio Gonzalez: Ernesto; Sara LeMesh: Norina; Bojan Knezevic: Don Pasquale; Ben Brady: Dr. Malatesta

Principal Singers July 14 at the MMF Opera

DONIZETTI'S DON PASQUALE HAS LYRICAL CHARM IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

by Elly Lichenstein
Friday, July 14, 2017

Mendocino Music Festival's production of Donizetti's beloved opera buffa Don Pasquale - a one-night affair July 15 that was presented in an enormous tent on a greensward overlooking the Pacific Ocean - delighted an audience of more than 600 while doing some real justice to this frothy gem of commedia hi-jinx, low-brow hilarity and slyly delicious scoring.

Resources were spare. The set consisted of strategically placed furniture and a few essential properties. The costumes may have been purchased from rummage sales and thrift stores, but then embellished lovingly to comic effect, proving that a successful evening of joyous opera doesn't need to break the bank. In fact, the lack of bells and whistles placed the onus of bringing Pasquale to life squarely on the shoulders of the directors and performers, happily to mostly delightful effect. Miraculously, even those bits and pieces of homespun costuming enhanced the comic effect to a tremendous degree. Bravi tutti There was no mention of a costumer in the printed program, so one must assume it was a group effort? Staging was necessarily simple, blurring the line between concert presentation and full-on theatrics.

The 41-piece orchestra, led with muscular intelligence and vigor by Jason Sherbundy, was placed behind the action, partially seen and therefore part and parcel of the proceedings. The acoustics were interesting. The strings, though seemingly abundant, sounded almost tinny, and were overshadowed by an exuberant brass section and percussion that sometimes fairly shook the tent. The woodwinds fared best in the space, sounding rich and supportive while not overpowering the singers or the rest of the orchestra. The ubiquitous Donizetti codas for every set piece were dominated by the brass and percussion, nearly drowning out the singers, even as they sang at their loudest and faced the audience in a tongue-in-cheek park-and-bark manner. However, with the exception of some hiccups, due I assume to lack of rehearsal time and an acoustical disconnect between conductor and singers, the orchestra played well and enhanced the proceedings as best as possible.

For whatever reason the chorus was cut. Considering the lack of playing space, this was no great loss, and stage director Ann Woodhead (who was absent in the printed program - odd!) even staged a mute mock-ballet: walk-on servants swooped and waltzed with mops and brooms and dusters and such, receiving well-deserved hoots of laughter from the audience. In fact, Ms. Woodhead was able to work miracles with her proscribed resources, coaxing lusty comic performances from all.

The four principals served their parts well in varying degrees. Sara LaMesh's kittenish Norina was possessed of a crisp coloratura, approaching her cadenzas, trills and soaring high notes with ease and precision. Her entrance as the phony bride Sofronia, dressed like a frothy pink mushroom, was a hoot. Ben Brady brought a rich and lush baritone to his rendition of the scheming Dr. Malatesta. Bojan Knezevic's Pasquale was an audience favorite, evoking peels of laughter with every mugged expression. His basso buffo suited the role well, delivering those deep lower notes with comic as well as musical aplomb. The two men were superbly adept in their Act III patter duet, spitting out their words faster than Superman’s speeding bullet while just about outpacing the supertitles. Other marvelous Donizettian musical jokes between singers and orchestra were unfortunately lost, due, I imagine, to the acoustical issues mentioned above.

But it was Sergio Gonzalez, inhabiting the most thankless role in the opera (the hapless Ernesto) that stole the stage and won the day. From his very first entrance, in the goofiest bright turquoise suit imaginable, it was clear that Mr. Gonzalez possesses the total package. His voice, though small, sparkled with graceful beauty and intelligent musicianship. His Act III serenata was a case in point. Highlighting a gorgeous falsetto and delicately shaped phrasing, his winning rendition was enhanced by a total connection between voice and body, leaving the audience in no doubt as to what he was singing about. The love duet with LaMesh that followed reached romantic heights. The audience swooned!

Those who relish their opera in intimate settings should watch for Mr. Gonzalez. His liquid voice, subtle mastery of expression and phrasing and his innate integration of singing and physicality are superbly suited to the smaller European houses, as well as those intimate opera producers who still survive here in the U.S. I hope the young man goes far.

If the Mendocino Music Festival can attend to those pesky acoustical issues and borrow a few dollars from the orchestral Peter to pay their starving production Paul, their already pleasant and entertaining opera proceedings could be elevated several notches. And please give credit to the stage director and the supers!

As they say, a good time was had by all.