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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...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
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.