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Soprano Southworth crowns Dimerjian
Chamber Concert

This is a copy of the minutes.  Not the minutes of one of the many meetings we attend. It is a report of the minutes of Soprano Mary Elizabeth Southworth and the Dayton Philharmonic.

First, let me describe the subject of this report. Mary Elizabeth Southworth is a soprano whose vocal beauty is matched by her physical loveliness.  Young and vibrant, her look of innocence carries into her stage demeanor with effective charm.

Mary has sung several times with Dayton Opera.  As Beth in Little Women and Pamina in The Magic Flute, she won the hearts of the audience as well as critical praise.  Maestro Neal has kept Mary on his radar screen as a soprano of note.  His invitations, however, have been for short but important solos.  

In 2003, Mary sang, by Neal’s measurement, six bars in the “Flight” commission. This would be about one minute.  As a soloist in the 2005 Messiah, she racked up a few more minutes.  

The magnificent 2006 performances of the Fauré Requiem provided Mary another stellar opportunity. The music, exquisitely flowing, has a pinnacle, the inspiring Pie Jesu.  Mary sang it marvelously. It was, you guessed it, gorgeous but very short.  Mary tallied only about four more minutes.    

All of that has changed. Maestro Neal programmed Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 for the final Demirjian Chamber Concert of the season. As a Mahler devotee, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could consider a Mahler symphony as a chamber work.

Maestro Neal has, in addition to a genius level musical gift, an impish style of programming the unusual and the innovative.  Over the seasons, Dayton audiences have been treated to these novel works and have accepted them with great enthusiasm.  

When I questioned him about the Mahler, he advised me to wait and listen. What I heard was simply marvelous. This great orchestral work was reduced to chamber size by Erwin Stein, supervised by his teacher Arnold Schoenberg. Fifteen musicians - Aurelian Oprea and Kirsten Greenlaw, violins, Sheridan Currie, viola, Christina Coletta, cello, Deborah Taylor, bass, Rebecca Andres, flute, Janet Graas, piccolo, Eileen Whalen, oboe, John Kurokawa, clarinet, Michael LaMattina and Jeffrey Luft, percussion, Joshua Nemith, piano, Anthony Costa, bass clarinet, Robyn Costa, English horn and Evan Mack, imported to play the harmonium  - were the orchestra.  

It isn’t often that a reviewer can name an entire orchestra. In this case, each of these fine musicians played like an orchestral section. The complexities of Mahler’s score became crystal clear as a single note would resound with the power of a multitude.  I was able to hear nuances which had escaped me in many hearings of this great symphony.

The finale is a Mahler song. “Das himmlische Leben” from his cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn.. It is a completely charming evocation of what we want to expect in heaven.  As Mary sang it, heaven was right there in the Schuster Center.

The Mahler was preceded by another Schoenberg orchestral reduction.  For this, seven musicians played an equally crystalline version of Strauss’ Roses from the South Waltzes.

The DPO and Maestro Neal proved that “less is more.”  My vote, let’s have “more” ofthis kind of “less.”

Memorial Day DPO Concert

The Annual Memorial Day Philharmonic concert held at Carillon Historic Park fell on one of the most beautiful days of the year. The park was filled with 2,500 enthusiasts who were entertained and inspired by a program which highlighted the memorial aspects of the day and the greatness of America’s promise.

Maestro Neal’s programming combined patriotic and just beautiful music.  Special guest baritone William Henry Caldwell of Central State University sang and narrated numbers which had the audience cheering.

Carillon Park CEO Brady Kress commandeered the podium to conduct Sousa’s Liberty Bell March. He met no resistance as he was dressed in full revolutionary war regalia including a rifle – a very long rifle.

WSU’s Lady Be Good

As we left the Wright State Festival Theatre after three hours of the Gershwins’ Lady, be Good, I heard many say, “How could they do it?” This was the ultimate compliment to an extraordinary cast bringing to life a musical which entertained our grandparents.

Its debut in 1924 reflected the elegant style of the time.  Director Greg Hellems recreated an era with joy and energy on the WSU stage, using students born 80 years later!.  

It was played on a magnificent Art-Deco set by Pam Lavarnay. The costumes by D. Bartlett Blair and Amy Whitaker were a review of Vogue magazine of that stylish era.  

Guest choreographer Joan Walton provided high energy dance numbers non-stop.  I could sub-title the musical, “The whole world wears tap shoes.”  The songs, including immortals such as “Lady, be Good” and “Fascinating Rhythm,” were joined by a dozen lesser known jewels. Each was preceded by a verse full of charming humor connecting the song to the action.  

Of course, as all of the musicals of that era, troubles melt like lemon drops and all ends joyously. The cast, superb to the last member, was led by Jason Brown and Amber Preston in the roles introduced by Fred and Adele Astaire. The ample comedy was handled with élan by Zach Brown and Matt Kopec, with plenty of additional jesting by Shelby Garrett, Jon Ramos, Jackie Snyder and Sarah Elder. The true love department was played by heart-throbs Eric Byrd and Melissa Grochowski.

Anyone asking, “How do they do it” is asking the right question. Youth, beauty, talent, passion and great support are only part of the answer. All I can say for certain is that the WSU Theatre Department has the key.

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June 3, 2008
Volume 17, No. 23

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