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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 commedi...
Opera
ONE-NIGHT STAND AT MMF'S ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 15, 2016
Mozartís Opera ďAbduction from the SeraglioĒ has a long reputation as being tough for singers, and it was with some trepidation that I entered the Mendocino Music Festivalís massive white tent July 15 to hear and see the new production from the 30th season. Not to Worry. Conducted by Festival Arti...
Opera
FROTHY FROLICKING AT CINNABAR'S MAGICAL FLUTE
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Though having just two acts, Mozartís Opera ďThe Magic FluteĒ encompasses a jumbled fairy tale plot with complicated staging and myriad performers in demanding vocal roles. Petalumaís Cinnabar Theater took up the arduous challenge of this 1791 work, among Mozartís last, in a series of performances ...
Opera
OPERA BUFFA HI JINX IN ROSSINI'S BARBER AT MENDO FESTIVAL
by Ken Bullock
Friday, July 17, 2015
During his July 17 lecture before the sole Mendocino Music Festival performance of Rossiniís The Barber of Seville, stage director Eugene Brancoveanu spoke of Commedia DellíArte. Mr. Brancoveanu, who sang the baritone title role of Figaro, alluded to the stylized clowning that is sometimes p...
Opera
SIR JOHN'S VISUAL FEAST IN CINNABAR THEATER FALSTAFF PRODUCTION
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, June 13, 2015
Verdiís operas tend to have a visceral impact on listeners, the connection forged by emphasizing starkly realistic human emotions and glorious tunes for singers and richly hued orchestra writing. But not in his last opera written in 1893: Falstaff. In only the Italian master's second comedy, Fals...
Opera
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 Rossiniís frothy ďIl Signor BruschinoĒ was an audience hit but hardly comprehensive operatic fare. Times change. Mozartís weighty opera Don Giovanni was given a propulsive but often confus...
Opera
HILARIOUS "MARRIAGE OF FIGARO" AT CINNABAR
by Nicki Bell
Friday, May 30, 2014
The Cinnabar Theater mounted a delightful, madcap, rambunctious, completely charming, extremely funny, very classy production of Mozartʼs opera "The Marriage of Figaro" from May 30 to June 15. With the feel of a 1920s Upstairs/Downstairs farce, it was sung in English and easily understood. Tho...
Opera
POWERFUL OPENING NIGHT FOR CINNABAR'S CARMEN
by Vaida Falconbridge
Saturday, June 01, 2013
When "Carmen" debuted at the Opera Comique in 1875, it was poorly received. Its composer, Georges Bizet, died a few months later, thinking he had written another failure. Now widely considered the most popular opera in the world, "Carmen" was excellently performed and given an enthusiastic reception...
Opera
OPERATIC TWIN BILL OPENS AT SONOMA STATE
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 07, 2013
Two one-act operas--Haydn's "The Deserted Island" and Vaughan Williams' "Riders to the Sea"--currently being mounted by Sonoma State University's music, theater and dance departments, reflect the University's usual innovative staging and production. On the Feb. 7 opening night Person Theater's 400 ...
Opera
TERRIFIC SINGING AND COLORFUL STAGING HIGHLIGHT CINNABAR'S DON GIOVANNI
by Richard Riccardi
Friday, March 23, 2012
Question: where do dedicated North Bay opera lovers go to experience great performances when San Francisco Operaís season ends? The quick answer is the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. Cinnabar Theaterís latest production, Mozartís Don Giovanni, K. 527, is a splendid experience that opened a nine-sho...
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.