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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
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...
OPERA REVIEW

Principals B. Knezevic A. Veruni and K. Gino's Curtain Call (Conductor Mary Chun Watches)

'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA

by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019

In most of the Mendocino Music Festival’s 33 seasons a single evening is given over to a staged opera, with bare bones sets, lighting, costumes, minimal cast and short length. No Wagner or Verdi here, no multiple acts and complicated production demands. Light and frothy are the usual, and so it was July 19 when the Festival mounted Donizetti’s charming “Elixir of Love” in the massive tent on the bluffs overlooking Mendocino Bay.

The two-act work runs a little over two hours and stage director Ann Woodhead moved the action from rural Italy of the 1830s to rural Italy a hundred years later. On the wide stage were a rustic table, a few chairs, milk cans and the Festival Chamber Chorale of 15 quite elderly singers, in simple costumes by Janice Culliford. Mary Chun conducted the Festival Orchestra, hidden as always in MMF operas behind a black back stage scrim, but never missed due to the overloud amplification that favored brass and sporadically covered the ensemble’s singing on stage.

Elixir’s plot revolves around familiar operatic themes of boy wants girl/mix ups/boy finally gets girl, with the interest coming in the complications. Here it is the insertion of a quack snake oil salesman (Dr. Dulcamara) that through his extravagance and the town’s gullibility his home-brewed “elixir” (cheap Tuscan Chianti) solves romantic and social issues and ultimately brings good financial fortune and merriment to all.

How was the singing? Very good, with a balanced production spotlighting soprano Aurelie Veruni (as Adina) and her awkward swain (tenor Kevin Gino as Nemorino) and the massive bass Bojan Knezevic’s sprightly Sgt. Belcore, the village’ resident soldier. Tending to steal the show were the repartee and antics of baritone Nick Volkert’s Dulcamara, capturing the buffo pranks and inciting the action. Ms. Veruni in the first act combined coquettish acting with clear Italian and when needed considerable top-note power, important in the large-volume tent space with zero reverberation. Mr. Gino’s was equally impressive if with a less powerful voice and perhaps over-the-top hand gestures and continual fumbling with his straw hat and shaking the love potion bottle.

Elixir’s most famous area, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” began with Mr. Gino’s tranquil mezzo piano introduction framed by lovely bassoon playing by Carolyn Lockhart, but never quite soared over the audience of 700. Tenors love to sing it, with recent stellar versions from Pavarotti and Juan Diego Flores. The “Quanto Amore” duet between Adina and Dulcamara was a highlight as in the second act the plot strands were coming together.

Musically the score was one that Verdi must have valued (Traviata, Ballo) and Ms. Chun, a veteran of bay Area conducting and Music Director of Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater, drew a lively performance that never lagged. Even with stage right and stage center prompters, Ms. Chun must have had a video screen in front of her conductor’s score to manage the unfolding musical flow with the unseen stage action. Excellent playing during Ms. Veruni’s sensitively sung cabaletta “Prendi, per me sei Libero" came from clarinetist Eric Kritz and what was I think Meave Cox’ English horn. Did I also hear an electric piano or celeste?

The Festival’s much appreciated supertitles (the English libretto projected on the scrim) failed for much of the first act, but otherwise the production was pretty much flawless – no stage missteps, dropped lines, late orchestral entries or halting Italian words.

Elixir was another in a string of opera successes for the Festival, all the more impressive in that casting and rehearsal schedules are complex, and “it has to be right” for just one performance.