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Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
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 authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Recital
PIANISTIC COMMAND IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, October 08, 2017
Nikolay Khozyainov’s Oct. 8 debut at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall was one of those rare moments in a young artist’s career when a performance approaches perfection. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s A-Flat Major Sonata (Op. 110) through a delightful recital ending transcription, the ...
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.