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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, November 19, 2016
Norman Gamboa, conductor. John Kelley, baritone; Bonnie Brooks, mezzo-soprano; Mark Kratz, tenor; Ivalah Allen, soprano

Sopano Ivalah Allen

SENSUAL OPERATIC BON BONS AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT

by Alan Bloom
Saturday, November 19, 2016

Music Director Norman Gamboa never fails to come up with interesting programs for his Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts. It was all opera music for the second concert set of the 2016-2017 season Nov. 19 in the Santa Rosa High School Auditorium. From the romantic opening swells of the Berlioz’ Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, the well-rehearsed volunteer musicians gave a thrilling evening of theatrical entertainment. The tempo in the Berlioz was slower than usual, but had the benefit of increased instrumental transparency.

The powerful voice of soprano Ivalah Allen gave me goose bumps from the opening bars of Puccini's timeless aria "O mio babbino caro" from the opera Gianni Schicchi, and in just 32 bars of music the piece packs an emotional wallop from the first note. Ms. Allen captured the stage.

Probably the most famous aria from the 1877 opera Samson and Dalila by Saint-Saëns is Dalila's aria "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" (My heart opens itself to your voice) in which she tries to seduce Samson into revealing the secret of his strength. This achingly beautiful melody was well served by the rich voice of mezzo-soprano Bonnie Brooks.

The two women then took the stage together to perform "Sous le dôme épais", the flower duet from Delibes’ opera Lakmé. I'm not sure why this aria is not performed more often; it has been used frequently in ads and films over the years and is a lovely piece. Their interpretation demonstrated once again how music can sound so much more compelling in a live concert than on a recording.

After the intermission, the concert continued with another overture, this one for Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. A rare error, a mis-timed entrance by one of the musicians did not detract from Wagner's stirring recapitulation of the story of the sea captain cursed to sail the seas for eternity to be saved only by the faithful woman Senta. Mr. Gamboa supplied deft control to this surging music from 1843.

Due to illness tenor Mark Kratz was not able to perform one of the concert’s works,"La Fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Bizet’s Carmen, which made an already rather short concert even shorter. However he was able to sing well collaborating with baritone John Kelley in the famous "Au fond du temple saint" from same composer’s opera Pearl Fishers. They combined acting with the singing as they embraced while singing the final lines, "Yes, let us share the same fate, let us be united until death!"

That was even more true with Mr. Kelley's performance of "Largo al factotum," the "Figaro" song from Rossini's wonderful The Barber of Seville. It's a difficult piece to sing because of the rapid-fire triplets and tongue-twisting Italian words, but he pulled it off with aplomb and an extroverted stage presence perfect for this comic aria.

The concert finale featured all four singers performing arguably opera’s most famous vocal quartet, "Bella figlia dell'amore," from Verdi’s Rigoletto (1851). The quartet sang perfectly together, each with facial and body gestures expressing their own emotions, yet with melting harmony. As is becoming traditional at Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts, they took their ensemble bows to a standing ovation.