November 2, 2006

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CLASSICAL REVIEWS:

'Merry Widow' is a delightful romp
With beautiful sets, lavish costumes and solid voices, Opera New Hampshire's performance last weekend of The Merry Widow was a true delight for the senses.

Set in the mythical Pontevedrian Embassy in turn-of-the-century Paris, this tale of romance, deception and manipulation was full of witty dialogue and lively dancing.

The stage was set with several screen panels, and made excellent use of lighting. The costumes were colorful and elegant, as one would expect in upper-crust Paris. From the shiny sashes worn by the diplomats and the widow's ensembles (complete with hats) to the ruffles on the skirts of the can-can girls, The Merry Widow is a visual feast. The plot is thin and predictable, yet the operetta is still entertaining.

The original English translation of lyrics from the 1907 U.S. premiere was used, combined with playwright Wendy Wasserstein's translation of the dialogue. Since most operas are not sung in English and have the subtitles projected over the stage, I found it somewhat challenging to understand what was being said during the full ensemble numbers. Individual soloists and dialogue were quite clear; it was just an occasional question of balance and diction when everyone was playing and singing at the same time.

Soprano Laura Pedersen shone in the lead as Anna Glawari, the wealthy widow being pursued by every man in town. The chemistry between her and Mike McGowan as her former lover/current suitor Count Danilo Danilovitch was convincing. The pair had several conversations and quiet moments alone, and McGowan was quite suave and charming whenever he gathered her up for a waltz. Light on their feet, they were a pleasure to watch.

Amy Lynn Grable and Arthur Shen were also convincing as the other major pair of lovers, Valencienne and Camille de Rosillon. She was coy and amusing in her insistence that she was a "respectable wife," and his tenor was warm and strong, even in the highest ranges. A last-minute substitution in the cast was Bill Van Horn in the role of Baron Mirko Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador. The role is one of a cuckolded fool, and he played it up well, except for a couple of instances where he seemed to stumble over his lines. Artistic Director Michael Capasso even got into the act, making an appearance as the Maitre d'hotel in the third act (a non-singing role). Whenever he was on stage, however, Dustin Tucker stole the show. His role as Njegus, the ambassador's assistant, is perhaps the most comic in the show, and with great facial expression and physical comedy, he made the most of every line.

Despite the flaws mentioned above, the performance was delightful and audiences can look forward to Opera New Hampshire's performance of Puccini's Manon Lescaut in May. — Irene Labombarde

NH Philharmonic delivers at opening concert
The New Hampshire Philharmonic delivered a well-rounded evening of music on Saturday, Oct., 28, at the Palace Theatre.

This concert marked the beginning of the orchestra's 102nd season and director Anthony Princiotti dedicated the evening to the memory of the late Michael Briggs of Manchester.

The concert opened with Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite 2 ,which includes four dance movements reminiscent of Renaissance rhythms and harmony. While there were some timing issues and some of the countermelodies were lost in its complicated polyphony, the orchestra on the whole played as one and conveyed the festivity of this piece well.

Throughout the evening Princiotti combined very expressive movements and facial expressions with a traditional beat pattern in his conducting.

The second piece was Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat, K. 364, which features a smaller orchestra with violin and viola soloists. Tamara Smirnova, violin, and Michael Zaretsky, viola, played impressively during this piece as a conversation ensued between the two instruments and the orchestra. While a greater range of dynamics might have made the music more interesting, both soloists played with great expressiveness and strength. This strength and flexibility were best exhibited in passages of very fast runs with ornaments or a complex cadenza at the end of a movement.

The second movement presents much slower and dolorous music in minor mode. A haunting and lyrical melody first played by the solo violin became a theme in the music. The audience listened intently and was moved by its sorrowful nature, perhaps a direct reference to Mozart's own personal loss.

A change of mood occurs in the final movement of Mozart's Concertante as a happy and playful presto begins. The orchestra sounded quite robust and conveyed a sense of gaiety. The piece received a standing ovation at its finale and at times the audience showed its appreciation between movements as well. Soloists Smirnova and Zaretsky played virtuosically and were well received.

The second half of Saturday evening's concert featured Zoltan Kodaly's Suite from Hary Janos and was arguabl the orchestra at its best. The orchestral forces are much larger and include a hammer dulcimer, piano, saxophone, chimes, and six trumpets in addition to a full orchestra.

The orchestra played this piece extremely well and with such a range of dynamics and rhythmic accuracy one could argue that the piece marked the orchestra at its best that night. At times the music is full of patriotic Hungarian songs to draw soldiers to battle, and at other times the hammer dulcimer, harp, viola, or clarinet lulls the listener into the interesting harmony and texture of Kodaly's suite.

Interesting to notice is the orchestra's range of ages as the concert featured a Salem High School senior on the hammer dulcimer in Kodaly's Suite from Hary Janos. A fascinating combination of music, the fall performance Mozart Times Two by the NH Philharmonic Orchestra was truly rewarding. — Margo Nothnagel.


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