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Cincinnati Opera opens 89th season with ‘Figaro’

The Marriage of Figaro is Mozart’s brilliant comedy.  Figaro, the wily servant of the Count, has married his beautiful Susanna at least a million times on opera stages around the world. He’s had 223 years to do it since the debut of “Marriage.”

Even a Mozart opera performance can become stale – but never under the leadership of Evans Mirageas and his Cincinnati Opera staff.  So what was the special spice?

For the opening of their 89th season, they selected one of the world’s finest conductors, Sir Roger Norrington, to make his debut.  Stage management was assigned to James Alexander in debut.  The set constricted the rooms of the Count’s palace into a series of focused jewel boxes.

From the overture’s opening notes, those of us who could be called “overly familiar with “Marriage,” knew that this was extra special.  The orchestra presaged the magnificent ensembles which were to follow by clear separation of instruments and creating nuances which were fresh and exciting.

It was the cast which carried out the desires of conductor, stage manager and, most important, Mozart.  “Marriage” is an opera with a convoluted plot, everyone is doing something to or for someone.  The central theme was a scandal in Mozart’s time – a nobleman being outwitted by a commoner.

The Count, first met in the prequel, The Barber of Seville, was written 30 years later by Rossini just to confuse opera neophytes.  The Count is an ardent lover winning his beautiful Rosina with the help of Figaro.  Now, the Count, married to his love, is the essence of the roving eye and other body parts.

His lustful eye has lit on beauteous Susanna, the soon-to-be bride of faithful Figaro.  But, poor noble, but rather dull Count, was well over-matched in the wits department.

The complex plot machinations are all fun.  The joy of the music makes everyone, audience included, know that all will turn out right.  The strength of the cast, vocal, acting and physical demeanor, puts this “Marriage” into the stratosphere.

As the Count, Cincinnati Opera favorite, New Zealand native baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, has the face and body of a god, a very tall god.  His first bare-chested appearance made every woman’s heart flutter and every man green with jealousy.  He has the vocal power to make his sustained recitatives clear and meaningful.

It was a trio of beautiful ladies who stole my heart.  The Countess was sung, in debut, by Nicole Cabell.  Her amazing beauty, dignity and stage presence were intensified when she sang.  “Porgi Amor” and “Dove sono” are two of opera’s greatest arias.  Her crystalline delivery was mesmerizing.

As Susanna, English soprano Sarah Tynan combined absolute adorable with a sly coquetry to make her a perfect lust object for the Count, a perfect love object for Figaro and the entire audience.  Her voice began a bit small but grew by the final acts.

In the pants role of Cherubino, French mezzo Marie Lenormand invented darling.  She had the vocal power and musicality to sing such a famous aria as “Voi che Sapete” and handle her one-liners with ease and joy.

As Figaro, the debut of Jonathan Lemalu, also a Kiwi, began rather slowly with some minor vocal problems.  All was recovered by his 4th act aria.  I must laud the great character acting/singing which made the opera so charming.  Judith Christin, Bruno Praticó, Steven Cole and Thomas Hammons gave their delightful characters rollicking personae.

After this fabulous “Marriage,” Cincinnati Opera goes to the darker side.  Verdi’s Don Carlo is a complex political tragedy.  It is a challenge for any impresario.  I’m waiting to hear my first great performance.  I know it will be at Music Hall on June 25th and 27th.

WSU Choral Ensemble

Wright State has so many musical activities that literally dominate the calendar.  Whenever we attend one of these events, we are amazed at the panoply of talent.  Last week, a concert had so many extra special features making it a bona fide “do not miss” event.

The Collegiate Chorale, Men’s Chorale and Women’s Chorale cooperated in sparkling performances of John Rutter’s Gloria and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

The WSU concert hall is about to be transformed into an updated venue to improve its acoustical and visual persona.  The transformation began that very evening when the concert hall became The Benjamin and Marian Schuster Hall.

A music lover could spend a great deal of their arts life going forth and back between the Benjamin and Marian Schuster performance halls.  For clarity, let us delineate “Schuster Downtown” from “Schuster WSU.”  Schuster Downtown has proven to be one of the greatest concert/opera venues conceivable.  An acoustic wonder, it is beautiful and accessible.  I am certain that Schuster WSU will match it, as well.

The initial concert was most notable and unusual.  The choruses customarily sing a cappella or with piano.  This concert featured the ever-present but rarely heard pipe organ, played by Amy Gray; it dominates the rear wall of the hall. Percussionists Andy Miller and Matthew Seskevics and Leslie Norris’ harp were added to the organ, making a remarkable ensemble to accompany this great choral music.

The choruses, replete with handsome, smiling faces and wonderful voices, made the music vibrate with brilliance.  The directors of the choruses, Hank Dahlman, James Tipps and Drew Collins should beam with pride.

Among those beaming was Dr. Ben Schuster.  This wonderful man loves to give to others.  His pride and joy is matched by the gratitude of all of us who revel in the largess of Ben and his lovely late wife Marian.

Giving Strings concert Aug. 8
St. Vincent DePaul this year’s recipient

The Giving Strings Orchestra’s annual charity concert is coming up soon again, and this year will be the tenth year of this Oakwood tradition. Over the years, Giving Strings has given to many charities. In the past, they have donated money to the Food Bank, Daybreak, the Martha Fram fund at Dayton Children’s Hospital for cystic fibrosis, Project Read, and various other charities.

This year the money raised will be given to the St. Vincent de Paul District Council, which is an organization that helps homeless and impoverished families in many different ways. Specifically, the money will be given to the Transitional Housing program, which is a facet of St. Vincent’s that provides an educational and residential support program for homeless women and families. Those in this program are drug and alcohol-free and committed to becoming self-sufficient and achieving permanent housing on their own. St. Vincent’s coaches the participants towards reaching these goals. It is a fantastic organization that has helped many people out. Also, there’s been a heavy influx in applicants due to the economy.

The concert will be held on Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at Shafor Park, so please come to enjoy an evening of light classical music and help others by making your contribution.

OHS alumna wins walk-on part

Gretchen Snyder graduated from Oakwood High School class of 1998. Over a year ago she was walking around her condo in Denver, Colorado and was asked to be a walk-on in the newly-released movie “Imagine That” starring Eddie Murphy. The movie opened on June 12.  Gretchen appears in the trailer which is running on TV and appears in two other scenes. The picture above is of Gretchen (the blonde on the left).

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June 16, 2009
Volume 18, No. 24

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