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Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 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...
OPERA REVIEW

Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu

A PROVOCATIVE DON GIOVANNI AT MENDOCINO FESTIVAL

by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 18, 2014

At each Mendocino Music Festival a key evening is given over to a staged opera in the big tent, and last year Rossini’s frothy “Il Signor Bruschino” was an audience hit but hardly comprehensive operatic fare.

Times change. Mozart’s weighty opera Don Giovanni was given a propulsive but often confusing single performance July 18 before a sold out audience in the Festival tent.

Confusion began early with masked black-robed faces roaming the semi-bare stage and Dennis Rupp, performing the wonderful Leporello role, arriving in a costume akin to the Ballet Russe impresario Serge Diaghilev: swallow white shirt, red-colored glasses, tails and huge top hat. The Don, played by Eugene Brancoveanu, appeared to be a Jack Nicholson knockoff with sunglasses, open shirt and swagger. But there was not an aristocratic swagger in sight, just jumping about the stage and sporadically running up and down the aisle. It went on from there with the first scene death of the Commandatore caused not by the rapier thrust (as it said in the ill-timed and often wrong supertitles) but by the Don ripping away the oxygen cylinder and mask from the old man that arrived through the curtain in a wheel chair.

Many in the audience presumably loved the director ‘s vision of the cutesy and titillatingly long performance, but perhaps now it’s best to turn to the meat of any operatic experience, the orchestra and the singing.

The singing, though forceful and playing to the director’s concepts, was never convincingly compelling. Tenor Sergio Gonzales, underpowered in the large space, was the most lyrical as Don Ottavio, and Masetto (unidentified in the program, and a baritone as is the Don) had vocal heft. Kelly Britt as Donna Anna, the Commandatore’s daughter, presented a character of palpable sympathy for the lecherous Don, mixed with vengeful hatred.

Success in this great opera stands or falls on the greatness of the Don’s singing and his exciting repartee with his long-suffering servant Leparello. Mr. Brancoveanu’s singing had excellent Italian diction, admirable athleticism and just a bit of the sinister. His voice was smooth in all registers but continually monochromatic and never gave this listener any notion of sly charm beneath the surface of his sexual license. The same role sung recently in the local Cinnabar Theater and Met HD Cast productions was compelling and made the Don almost likeable. Almost.

As in previous tent concerts the amplification was helpful for vocal volume and clarity of language, but it hampered sonic differentiation and made the voices of sopranos Zerlina (Adina Dorband) and a first act Donna Elvira (Youn Ryu) take on a brittle and shouting character.

Behind the minimal set Festival co-director Allan Pollack conducted with authority and generated a lively and balanced sound, though too often the playing lacked polish and tight ensemble. But it is a dramatic opera inside a busy festival and there was just a sole performance.

The evening’s program did not mention the names of the costume, lighting, choreography and set designers, and most crucially the name of the opera’s director. The woman playing continuo for recitatives was also unidentified.