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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Green Music Center / Friday, November 10, 2017
Les Artes Florissants

Partial Les Artes Florissants touring troupe in 2015

RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017

Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented.

With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticity are needed, and with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Charpentier’s Actéon the Les Artes Florissants ensemble from Caen, France, were an ideal match. Before an audience of 400 the seven singers and seven instrumentalists, guided at the harpsichord by founder and director William Christie, gave spirited and authoritative readings of the two lyric operas, composed within six years of each other in the 1680s.

Colorful women’s dresses helped brighten the bare Weill stage and each of the singers moved about the stage and emphasized parts of the dramas. Actéon is a pastorale en musique with an ideal balance between dramatic singing, instrumental ensemble (two violins, viola, gamba, baroque oboe, 12-string lute and harpsichord) and stage action. The movement of the singers and their theatrical facial expressions and shouts lent excitement and sometimes histrionic charm inside the bounds of the restricted performance area.

Charpentier’s libretto is brief: Actéon and his hunting pals separate, and the later finds himself viewing the goddess Diane and her sisters bathing in a bucolic pool with flowers. He hides but is discovered, and the avenging Diane casts a spell that turns Actéon into a stag. He flees but us torn apart by the hunter’s hounds.

Singing Diane was the regal Élodie Fonnard with Reinoud Van Mechelen as Actéon. Both were able to direct their powerful voices to mesh with, at least for Diane, the women giving advice that surrounded her in the forest. Mr. Van Mechelen was particularly persuasive in the complex scene where he turns from man to animal. The unnamed choreographer (Mr. Christie?) designed simple but quite effective gestures and movements that supported the luscious baroque harmonies and repetitive French opera rhythms. There was palpable sadness from Diane’s court over a vengeful and perhaps an unnecessary hero’s death, using rich vocal colors, but it was of minimal duration. A standing ovation followed the final words.

A concert oversight was that no musicians were identified in the printed program, nor were they on the French websites. Mention needs to be made of the gamba player who toiled tirelessly all evening with Mr. Christie in continuo, and the 12-string lutenist that sat in the harpsichord’s case curve and provided non-stop sonic underpinning.

After intermission the more popular and slightly longer Purcell work was heard with the same forces. The sprightly overture was exciting, highlighted by cello and lute duos, and the oboe part could mimic the sounds of subdued brass and a modern clarinet. Odd indeed to my ears. The longer recitatives were supported by the lute and harpsichord lines. In Dido the singing continued to adroitly bring character and shape to the minimal but telling words. Carlo Vistoli (countertenor) had the requisite calculating menace as the sorceress, and the two witches (Maud Gnidzaz and Virginie Thomas) had penetrating snarls, as did the multi-character Renato Dolcini (Aeneas, peripheral participant). Familiar arias such as “Come Away Ye Sailors” and “Ho Ho Ho When Ships Sail Away” were sung with attractive abandon.

A lovely gamba solo introduced the famous Dido’s Lament (When I am Laid In Earth) that was sung with carefully shaped descending whole notes by soprano Lea Desandre, who then slowly strode stage left through the door to her opera doom. Sadness was convincingly conveyed by the upper strings and finally by the chorus, asking that roses as soft ad Dido’s heart be spread on her tomb.

A first in Weill Hall was supertitles, displayed on a forty-foot wide black screen and hung over the choral section behind the stage. The letters, unlike in many local theaters, were large and easily readable, and were faultlessly coordinated with the two mesmerizing productions, the first in impeccable French and the second in mostly recognizable English.