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Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Soprano Christina Major

HER CUP RUNNETH OVER

by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 3, 2012

For its Dec. 3 “Titans of Opera” concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, the Santa Rosa Symphony assembled a titanic cast of players, including a full orchestra, an additional contingent of brass, woodwind and student players, an 80-voice chorus, and two soloists. The concert was long and the pieces many, but in the end, a solitary musician stole the show: the rising American soprano Christina Major.

If your name is your destiny, this powerful singer will have a major career. She brings a remarkable collection of skills to the task at hand: a powerful voice, excellent diction, a well-controlled vibrato, a stratospheric range, an expressive delivery and an imposing stage presence. All she needs is time and perhaps a lucky break before she ascends to Bayreuth or La Scala.

Those two opera houses are closely identified with the evening’s featured composers: Wagner and Verdi, in that order. The first half was entirely devoted to orchestral interludes from Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, and the second half to overtures, choruses and arias from selected Verdi operas. The combination was revelatory. Wagner, with his recurring leitmotifs and painterly orchestration, is a delight for the mind, whereas Verdi’s indelible melodies and ineluctable narratives go straight to the heart.

In the Wagner half of the concert, Maestro Bruno Ferrandis conveyed with his baton that the audience was not to applaud between pieces, thereby transforming the selections into a seven-movement “Ring Cycle suite,” with one interlude from Das Rheingold, two from Die Walküre, one from Siegfried, and three from Götterdämmerung. Listeners without the stamina or inclination to endure all four operas could get a good idea of their essence just by listening to these well-chosen excerpts.

The virtual suite began with the “Descent to Nibelheim” from Das Rheingold, which features murmuring strings and an extended crescendo that climaxes with imaginary dwarf blacksmiths pounding at anvils. From my wall-hugging side seat on the second floor of the music center, I couldn’t actually see the percussionists enacting the role of blacksmiths, but the effect was nonetheless riveting.

Next up was the famous “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre, known to millions of filmgoers as the helicopter music for “Apocalypse Now.” Despite the brisk tempi and the thunderous hordes of brass instruments, Ferrandis kept all his forces in check with remarkably spare movements, giving only the slightest indications for repeated crescendos and dramatic entrances. His basic modus operandi continued into “Wotan’s Farewell,” where he coaxed a tremendous sound from the trombones with a few slight motions of his left arm. Less is more.

For all its drama, Wagner’s music is oddly static. He is at his best when evoking a particular scene and then simply lingering, as in the ensuing “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried. Here the lower strings offered a transcendent beginning, repeating a simple eight-note phrase to magical effect. The subsequent cello line was outstanding, as were the extended solos from a trio of veteran woodwind players: clarinetist Mark Wardlaw, flutist Kathleen Reynolds and oboist Laura Reynolds.

With all those imaginary trees, “Forest Murmurs” is inevitably dominated by woodwinds and strings. Likewise, the three concluding interludes from Götterdämmerung are dominated by Siegfried’s emblematic instrument, the French horn. In “Siegfried’s Rheinfahrt,” one of the many horn players (they stretched so far to stage right that I couldn’t see all of them) spirited his instrument offstage and offered a heroic solo. In “Siegfried’s Tod,” the horns, including four so-called Wagner tubas, supplied a brooding and dark rendition of several by now familiar leitmotifs. And in “Brünhilda’s Immolation,” the horns and everyone else within shouting distance joined together to bring the well-played suite to a fiery conclusion.

The Verdi half of the show began with a spirited rendition of the overture to Nabucco, with a handful of student players from the Symphony’s youth orchestra joining their elder colleagues. Nary a wrong note was to be heard, and many hitherto unobservant patrons seemed surprised when the young contingent stood up for a separate bow before leaving the stage.

Young musicians were even more prominent in the Symphony’s Honor Choir, which sat patiently in the Choral Circle behind the stage during the first half. Seemingly composed mostly of Sonoma State students, the choir numbered about 30 sopranos, 30 altos, 20 basses, and a mere six tenors. The university may need to recruit more higher-voiced young men to fill that gap.

Despite the tenor imbalance, the choir performed admirably in both the “Slave Chorus” from Nabucco and the beloved “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore. They sang exuberantly, in excellent time with the orchestra. The a cappella section of the “Anvil Chorus” was especially well done.

Subsequent to those choruses, the star of the show, soprano Christina Major, drifted onto the stage in a floor-length purple dress with many drapes and folds. From the very first note of “Tacea la notte” (also from Il Trovatore), she asserted her irresistible presence. Although poorly lit (she would have benefited from a spotlight), she drew all eyes and ears with her confident high notes, impeccable coloratura and expressive gestures.

Tenor soloist Christopher Bengochea was weak by comparison. Singing “Di quella pira” from the same opera, he was by turns strident and overly dramatic. His middle and lower ranges were acceptable, but his higher notes verged on shouting. He was nonetheless a crowd-pleaser, gesturing repeatedly to the audience.

The “Triumphal March” from Aida followed, matching and even exceeding Wagner in brassiness, and then the tenor aria “Celeste Aida.” Five selections from La Traviata brought the show to a close, beginning with the delicately played Prelude to Act 1 and the fervently sung “Gypsy Chorus.”

The duet “Un di felice” offered a stark contrast between Bengochea’s stridency and Major’s gorgeous tone. Unlike their respective characters (Alfredo and Violetta), the two soloists never blended into a harmonious unit. Far better were the show-stopping “E strano” and “Sempre libera,” which flowed from Major’s lips in a torrent of emotion and bravura singing. Her phrasing was exquisite, and her high notes were superb.

Hoisting full wineglasses, the soloists ended the proceedings with a vivacious rendition of “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (drink from the happy goblets). In Major’s case, her cup runneth over.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]