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SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 08, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
Choral and Vocal
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 09, 2020
The Feb. 9 performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st century music firmly bound to the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire”—based on a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the 1820s—emp...
FRENCH ORCHESTRAL MUSIC A FIRST FOR THE SO CO PHILHARMONIC
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 02, 2020
Over many years the Sonoma County Philharmonic has played little French music, but perhaps this oversight was corrected Feb. 2 in a splendid all-Gallic program Feb. 1 and 2 in the Jackson Theater. Classical Sonoma reviewed the Sunday afternoon concert. In his eighth conducting season with the So C...
POLISH MUSICAL WORLDS GLOW BRIGHT IN NFM WROCLAW WEILL PERFORMANCE
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, February 01, 2020
The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, gave a concert of enormous energy and emotional impact on Feb.1 to a small audience in Weill Hall. This orchestra has been a major cultural force in Poland since 1949, playing under many renowned conductors and has been committed to pr...
EXTRAVAGANT ARIAS IN NEXT GENERATION TENORS GALA VALLEJO CONCERT
by Mark Kratz
Saturday, February 01, 2020
“Beautiful, strange, and unnatural…” said orchestra conductor Thomas Conlin when speaking of the tenor voice. One of the coveted voice types of the opera world, the tenor voice is known for it’s piercing tones and soaring, unnatural high notes. The iconic image of the Pagliacci clown (in the famed...
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.