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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 donít measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonicís 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 Rosaís Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San Josť, Costa Ricaís 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 Countyís 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 Hallís residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLERíS FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the universityís stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the universityís 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. SaŽnsí majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec lí...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago ďGolden EraĒ of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didnít play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuberís work to the publicís attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
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 Supermanís 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.