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Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Monday, December 03, 2012
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Christina Major, soprano; Christopher Bengochea, tenor; Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir

Soprano Christina Major

HER CUP RUNNETH OVER

by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 03, 2012

For its Dec. 3 “Titans of Opera” concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, the Santa Rosa Symphony assembled a titanic cast of players, including a full orchestra, an additional contingent of brass, woodwind and student players, an 80-voice chorus, and two soloists. The concert was long and the pieces many, but in the end, a solitary musician stole the show: the rising American soprano Christina Major.

If your name is your destiny, this powerful singer will have a major career. She brings a remarkable collection of skills to the task at hand: a powerful voice, excellent diction, a well-controlled vibrato, a stratospheric range, an expressive delivery and an imposing stage presence. All she needs is time and perhaps a lucky break before she ascends to Bayreuth or La Scala.

Those two opera houses are closely identified with the evening’s featured composers: Wagner and Verdi, in that order. The first half was entirely devoted to orchestral interludes from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, and the second half to overtures, choruses and arias from selected Verdi operas. The combination was revelatory. Wagner, with his recurring leitmotifs and painterly orchestration, is a delight for the mind, whereas Verdi’s indelible melodies and ineluctable narratives go straight to the heart.

In the Wagner half of the concert, Maestro Bruno Ferrandis conveyed with his baton that the audience was not to applaud between pieces, thereby transforming the selections into a seven-movement “Ring Cycle suite,” with one interlude from Das Rheingold, two from Die Walküre, one from Siegfried, and three from Götterdämmerung. Listeners without the stamina or inclination to endure all four operas could get a good idea of their essence just by listening to these well-chosen excerpts.

The virtual suite began with the “Descent to Nibelheim” from Das Rheingold, which features murmuring strings and an extended crescendo that climaxes with imaginary dwarf blacksmiths pounding at anvils. From my wall-hugging side seat on the second floor of the music center, I couldn’t actually see the percussionists enacting the role of blacksmiths, but the effect was nonetheless riveting.

Next up was the famous “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre, known to millions of filmgoers as the helicopter music for “Apocalypse Now.” Despite the brisk tempi and the thunderous hordes of brass instruments, Ferrandis kept all his forces in check with remarkably spare movements, giving only the slightest indications for repeated crescendos and dramatic entrances. His basic modus operandi continued into “Wotan’s Farewell,” where he coaxed a tremendous sound from the trombones with a few slight motions of his left arm. Less is more.

For all its drama, Wagner’s music is oddly static. He is at his best when evoking a particular scene and then simply lingering, as in the ensuing “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried. Here the lower strings offered a transcendent beginning, repeating a simple eight-note phrase to magical effect. The subsequent cello line was outstanding, as were the extended solos from a trio of veteran woodwind players: clarinetist Mark Wardlaw, flutist Kathleen Reynolds and oboist Laura Reynolds.

With all those imaginary trees, “Forest Murmurs” is inevitably dominated by woodwinds and strings. Likewise, the three concluding interludes from Götterdämmerung are dominated by Siegfried’s emblematic instrument, the French horn. In “Siegfried’s Rheinfahrt,” one of the many horn players (they stretched so far to stage right that I couldn’t see all of them) spirited his instrument offstage and offered a heroic solo. In “Siegfried’s Tod,” the horns, including four so-called Wagner tubas, supplied a brooding and dark rendition of several by now familiar leitmotifs. And in “Brünhilda’s Immolation,” the horns and everyone else within shouting distance joined together to bring the well-played suite to a fiery conclusion.

The Verdi half of the show began with a spirited rendition of the overture to Nabucco, with a handful of student players from the Symphony’s youth orchestra joining their elder colleagues. Nary a wrong note was to be heard, and many hitherto unobservant patrons seemed surprised when the young contingent stood up for a separate bow before leaving the stage.

Young musicians were even more prominent in the Symphony’s Honor Choir, which sat patiently in the Choral Circle behind the stage during the first half. Seemingly composed mostly of Sonoma State students, the choir numbered about 30 sopranos, 30 altos, 20 basses, and a mere six tenors. The university may need to recruit more higher-voiced young men to fill that gap.

Despite the tenor imbalance, the choir performed admirably in both the “Slave Chorus” from Nabucco and the beloved “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore. They sang exuberantly, in excellent time with the orchestra. The a cappella section of the “Anvil Chorus” was especially well done.

Subsequent to those choruses, the star of the show, soprano Christina Major, drifted onto the stage in a floor-length purple dress with many drapes and folds. From the very first note of “Tacea la notte” (also from Il Trovatore), she asserted her irresistible presence. Although poorly lit (she would have benefited from a spotlight), she drew all eyes and ears with her confident high notes, impeccable coloratura and expressive gestures.

Tenor soloist Christopher Bengochea was weak by comparison. Singing “Di quella pira” from the same opera, he was by turns strident and overly dramatic. His middle and lower ranges were acceptable, but his higher notes verged on shouting. He was nonetheless a crowd-pleaser, gesturing repeatedly to the audience.

The “Triumphal March” from Aida followed, matching and even exceeding Wagner in brassiness, and then the tenor aria “Celeste Aida.” Five selections from La Traviata brought the show to a close, beginning with the delicately played Prelude to Act 1 and the fervently sung “Gypsy Chorus.”

The duet “Un di felice” offered a stark contrast between Bengochea’s stridency and Major’s gorgeous tone. Unlike their respective characters (Alfredo and Violetta), the two soloists never blended into a harmonious unit. Far better were the show-stopping “E strano” and “Sempre libera,” which flowed from Major’s lips in a torrent of emotion and bravura singing. Her phrasing was exquisite, and her high notes were superb.

Hoisting full wineglasses, the soloists ended the proceedings with a vivacious rendition of “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (drink from the happy goblets). In Major’s case, her cup runneth over.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]