Boulder Phil opens 22–23 season with ‘Hymn to the Earth’

World premiere and first appearance of the Boulder Phil Chorus Oct. 8

By Peter Alexander Oct. 6 at 7:10 p.m.

Conductor Michael Butterman and the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra will open their 2022–23 season Saturday evening (7 p.m. Oct. 8, Macky Auditorium) with a program aimed straight at Boulder’s social and environmental heart.

The Boulder Philharmonic with conductor Michael Butterman

Titled “Hymn to the Earth,” the program includes the world premier of Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet by Drew Hemenger, an environmental oratorio for orchestra, chorus and tenor co-commissioned by the Phil and the Rogue Valley Symphony of Oregon. Its five movements create an arc leading from a vision of unspoiled nature, through the industrial revolution to the current global climate crisis and culminating with Shelley’s dire warning about human arrogance in his great poem “Ozymandias.”

Composer Michael Abels. Photo by Eric Schwabel

The program opens with Global Warming by Michael Abels, a composer best known for his scores for the films of Jordan Peele. Not referring to climate, the title refers to the warming global relations at the end of the Cold War, and in in this context suggests the planetary unity required to face an environmental crisis. 

Works on the second half of the program have the theme of hubris and the consequences of humans’ heedlessness: the Overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Siegfried’s funeral music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung; and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan.

Gregory Gentry

The concert will be the first appearance of the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, the newly-formed choral partner of the Phil, under the direction of Gregory Gentry. Tenor Matthew Plenk, a faculty member at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, will be soloist for Ozymandias.

Ozymandias is a score of remarkable diversity, of both textual sources and musical style. The text draws on poetry by Shelley and William Wordsworth, as well as texts from Native Americans, speeches by climate activist Greta Thunberg, and a definitively unpromising text for music, the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (Trust me; Hemenger makes it work.)

The commissioning of Ozymandias started with Butterman, who remembers reading Shelley’s poem many years ago. “I’ve loved that poem since I was a kid,” he says. “It’s short, but the irony of it smacks you in the face. He wrote this not thinking of climate change, but it’s the same hubris.”

Composer Drew Hemenger

The first movement of Hemenger’s score is titled “The Spring is Come,” and is taken from the words of Chief Sitting Bull in 1877, describing a time when the Lakota people lived in harmony with the earth. The second movement is a setting of Wordsworth’s poem from around 1802, “The World Is Too Much with Us.” At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Wordsworth is pointing out that man’s greed is leading to the loss of a connection to nature: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/Little we see in Nature that is ours.”

The rhythmically driven third movement is entirely orchestral. The title is a Shawnee word, “Migeloti” (pronounced mah-jee-lo-ta), “which means a person who goes around disrespecting and destroying,” Hemenger says. Representing a society of decadence, “it’s like (Ravel’s) La Valse, filled with ecstasy and then collapse at the end.”

The fourth movement contains the chorus speaking text from the IPCC report and Thunberg’s speeches (“all you can talk about is money . . . how dare you!”), and sung texts from Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in 1810, “To Sell a Country.” “That is a preachy movement,” Hemenger admits, but “when you’re going to put that clear language (of the report), there didn’t seem to be any way around it.”

The finale is the setting of “Ozymandias,” ending with the forlorn words “the lone and level sands stretch far away.” The music, Hemenger writes in his program notes, “like the poem, fades away like the blowing dust in the desert.”

Michael Butterman. Photo by Shannon Palmer.

In spite of this message, Butterman hopes the program is not a downer. “I worry that the pieces are saying when you act as if things have no consequences, it doesn’t end well,” he says. “But since climate change is a huge issue that the world needs to pay attention to, and it’s something that many people in Boulder are sensitive to, it strikes me as a natural fit for this orchestra.”

He admires the music that resulted from his initial suggestions to the composer. “The fact that he went into Native American texts, the middle movement which is a latter-day La Valse, all of that was his idea, and I think it’s brilliant. There’s a lot of stuff in a relatively short piece, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.”

The second half of the concert comprises pieces by Mozart, Wagner and Strauss that are known to classical audiences. While their composition had nothing to do with environmental issues, Butterman hopes the context can add meaning to those works. Particularly the Strauss will add brilliance to the overall program. “It’s so cinematic,” he says. “You get a very good image of this character (Don Juan), his personality, his swagger. Whether you like him or not, there might be something about him that you almost envy.”

For the concert, the Boulder Phil has partnered with the City of Boulder Climate Initiative Department. Members of the city’s climate team will be present at the performance to share climate action ideas and resources, and to collect submission to heir climate audio collage report.

Please note that the Boulder Phil has changed the starting time of their concerts to 7 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m.

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“Hymn to the Earth”
Boulder Philharmonic, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Matthew Plenk, tenor, and the Boulder Philharmonic Chorus, Gregory Gentry, chorus master

  • Michael Abels: Global Warming
  • Drew Hemenger: Ozymandias: To Sell a Planet (world premiere)
  • Mozart: Overture to Don Giovanni
  • Wagner: Trauermusik from Götterdämmerung
  • Richard Strauss: Don Juan

7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Macky Auditorium

TICKETS

CORRECTION: The original version of this post gave the start time of Boulder Phil concerts as 8 p.m.. The correct time this season will be 7 p.m.

Grace Notes: Longmont Symphony opens 2022–23 season

World premiere anchors program

By Peter Alexander Oct. 4 at 9:45 p.m.

The Longmont Symphony will open its 2022–23 season at with a concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 8) in the Vance Brand Civic Auditorium in Longmont.

Music director Elliot Moore will conduct the concert, which features a world premiere and guest artist Clancy Newman, cello. The world premiere, written specifically for the time after the COVID pandemic, will be Symphony for the Great Return by John Hennecken. Newman will play Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, the most popular cello concerto. Other works on the program will be Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and George Walker’s Lyric for Strings.

Hennecken’s Symphony is in three movements. The first, “Dark Spring Horizon,” represents the feeling in early 2020, when there was a sense of foreboding but the pandemic had not yet broken out widely. The second, “Windows,” uses the disparate sounds of solo violin and timpani to represent social distancing and sense of isolation during the pandemic. And the finale, “The Great Return,” was written during the upheaval following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and uses a variation on African-American composer George Walker’s Lyric for Strings, also heard on the program.

Longmont Symphony and conductor Elliot Moore

Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Clancy Newman, cello

  • Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
  • George Walker: Lyric For Strings
  • John Hennecken: Symphony for the Great Return (world premiere)
  • Dvořák: Cello Concerto

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont
TICKETS

Grace Notes: Three classical organizations announce 2022–23 seasons

Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Pro Musica Colorado and Boulder Opera

By Peter Alexander Oct. 3 at 5:15 p.m.

With the 2022–23 concert season getting underway, Boulder’s many classical music organizations are getting their season schedules up on the Web. Here are three of the planned seasons for the coming year, from the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, starting Oct. 29; Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra, starting Nov. 19; and Boulder Opera., starting Dec. 9.

While the seasons include some pretty standard repertoire, including Beethoven and Mendelssohn symphonies and two different renderings of Mozart’s early Symphony in A major, K201, it will also offer pieces that are not standard. These include Beethoven’s Mass in C by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Boulder Chamber Chorale, and music by Florence Price and Caroline Shaw by the Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra.

Here are the respective seasons:

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The Boulder Chamber Orchestra opens its season Oct. 29 without conductor Bahman Saless. Guest conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo and violinist Loreto Gismondi, both from Italy, will perform a mostly Mozart concert featuring that composer’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218, and Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201. Opening the concert will be Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the oratorio Solomon. 

This concert is part of an exchange between De Lorenzo and Saless, who previously conducted the Italian orchestra with which De Lorenzo and Pellegrino are affiliated.

Other orchestral concerts during the year will be “A Gift of Music” on Saturday, December 17, with soprano Szilvia Shrantz, BCO bassist Kevin Sylves and holiday selections; and a performance of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Mendlessohn with violinist Edward Dusinberre on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. The season concludes with a performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C with the Boulder Chamber Chorale on Saturday, April 1. Saless will lead these performances.

Concerts by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra will take pace in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. Here is the full season schedule:

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29
Boulder Chamber Orchestra with guest conductor Giancarlo De Lorenzo and Loreto Gismondi, violin

  • Handel: “Arrival of Queen of Sheba” from Solomon
  • Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with Szilvia Shrantz, soprano, and Kevin Sylves, double bass

  • Handel: Selected arias
  • Henry Eccles: Sonata in G minor for double bass and strings
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra 

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb.11
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with Edward Dusinberre, violin

  • Beethoven: Overture to Egmont
  • Brahms: Violin Concerto
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A major (“Italian”)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 1
Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Bahman Saless, conductor, with the Boulder Chamber Choir

Beethoven: Mass in C

TICKETS  

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The Pro Musica Colorado Chamber Orchestra will celebrate its “Sweet 16th” concert season with three programs, presented Nov. 19, Jan. 28, and April 29.

The programs feature several works by women composers, including a woman of color and two living composers, in addition to classic works by Mozart and Beethoven, and a major work of the early 20th century by Arnold Schoenberg. All three performances will be at 7:30 p.m. in Pro Musica’s musical home, Mountain View United Methodist Church at 355 Ponca Place Boulder.

Performances by Pro Musica Colorado will be under the direction of their music director, Cynthia Katsarelis. 

The opening concert will feature pianist Jennifer Hayghe, the chair of the Roser Piano and Keyboard Program at CU-Boulder, playing the Piano Concerto in One Movement by Florence Price. The first female African American composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, Price was well known in the 1930s and 1940s/ After fading from prominence, her name has recently been returning to concert programs.

Other soloists during the season will be cellist Meta Weiss, chamber music coordinator at CU-Boulder, and Takács Quartet members Harumi Rhodes, violin, and Richard O’Neiill, viola. Each concert will be preceded by a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. Here is the full season’s schedule:

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
“Apotheosis of the Dance”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Jennifer Hayghe, piano

  • Ben Morris: The Hill of Three Wishes
  • Florence Price: Piano Concerto in One Movement
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, op. 92

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023
“Through the Looking Glass”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Meta Weiss, cello

  • Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte
  • Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A major, K201

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 29
“Transfigured Night”
Pro Musical Colorado Chamber Orchestra, Cynthia Katsarelis, conductor, with Harumi Rhodes, violin, and Richard O’Neill, viola

  • Jessie Lausé: World premiere
  • Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in E-flat major, K364
  • Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht

TICKETS  

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Boulder Opera has announced their 11th season, featuring a family-themed production for the holiday season and a French Grand Opera early in 2023.

The first production of the season will be Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, which is a perennial holiday event for families with children in Germany and Austria. The Boulder opera production, scheduled for Dec. 9 through 18 at the Dairy Arts Center, will be presented in an abridged English version with narrator. 

Designed as an ideal introduction to opera, the performances will last only one hour, and include a Q&A session after each performance. The performance is suitable for children age three and up.

After the new year, Boulder Opera will present two performances of Manon by Jules Massenet, one of the classics of the French Grand Opera tradition. Performances will be Feb. 18 and 19 in the Dairy Arts Center. Here is the full schedule:

Engelbert Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel
Boulder Opera, stage directed by Michael Travis Risner
Aric Vihmeisterr, piano, and Mathieu D’Ordine, cello

7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9
2 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11 and Saturday, Dec. 17
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Grace Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

TICKETS  

Jules Massenet: Manon
Boulder Opera, Steven Aguiló-Arbues, conductor, and Gene Roberts, stage director

7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19
Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

TICKETS   

David Korevaar featured in Mini-Chamber Series

Three performances planned with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra 

By Peter Alexander Sept. 22 at 2:25 p.m.

David Korevaar. Photo by Matthew Dine.

Pianist David Korevaar, distinguished professor of piano at the CU College of Music, will team up with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra (BCO) for a series of three concerts of chamber music with piano.

The first of the three concerts, featuring piano quintets with strings, will be Saturday, Sept. 24. Other concerts in the series will feature music for piano and winds, and will be Jan. 14 and April 8. All three concerts will be at 7:30 p.m. in the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Ave. in Boulder. (See full program llistings and ticket information below.)

Each of the concerts pairs a work that is fairly well known with one that notably more obscure. For Saturday’s concert, that pairing brings Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat major with Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor. For Jan. 14 the program features Poulenc’s popular Sextet for pianos and winds with a Sextet for piano and wind quintet by Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille. And the concert April 8 combines Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds with Rimsky Korsakov’s rarely heard Quintet for piano and winds.

For the first concert (Sept. 24), Korevaar with appear with leaders of the BCO’s string sections—violinist Annamária Karacson, violist Aniel Cabán and cellist Joseph Howe—along with Karoly Schranz, the former second violinist of the Takács Quartet. Although the Elgar Quintet was recorded recently by the Takács Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson, Korevaar has never played it before.

“It’s a piece that isn’t well known at all,” he says. “The fact that Takács has recorded it recently has given a little more visibility in our community. It was written at the same time as the Cello Concerto and the Violin Sonata, by the post-World War I, very mature Elgar. And it’s a beautiful piece.”

In contrast, Korevaar knows the Schumann Quintet very well, having learned it as a teenager and played it just recently with the Takács Quartet. “It’s the quintet that I first learned. I actually learned the first and last movement of the Schumann when I was 15 years old, in a summer camp.

“I don’t want to think what that sounded like—I think I play it a lot better now—but it’s been part of my life for a long, long time.”

Apparently the quintet caused a rift between the composer’s widow, Clara, and Franz Liszt, who thought it was rather pedantic. Liszt’s opinion aside, it has remained a popular piece in the chamber repertoire for pianists, and Korevaar says “it’s always a pleasure to play.

“For me, the piece feels like a (Baroque-era) concerto grosso, in the way (Schumann) treats the instruments. There’s opposition between the full forces and those areas where there might be two or three players. He works with the ensemble as if it were an orchestra, and then when he breaks out for solos it feels very much like the lightening of texture you get in a concerto grosso.”

Ludwig Thuille

Ludwig Thuille, who is featured on the January 14 concert, “is even more obscure than (his teacher) Rheinberger, which is saying something,” Korevaar says. Apart from the Sextet, his music is very rarely performed.

“The piece is wonderful, but it sounds very much of its time and place. (It represents) a nice late-Romantic idiom, with some occasional adventurous harmonies, (but) it doesn’t push boundaries in any way.

Poulenc’s Sextet is very popular with players and audiences alike. “It’s a classic,” Korevaar says. “If you think of one piece for piano and wind quintet, this is the piece you’ll think of. it’s very popular for good reason, filled with good infectious Poulenc-ey tunes, and the writing is brilliant for all the instruments. It’s just a marvelous, successful piece.”

The Rimsky-Korsakov Quintet for piano and winds that opens the April 8 concert is another piece that is rarely played. Korevaar has played it, but many years ago. “I don’t know what to say about the Rimsky-Korsakov, because I haven’t looked at it in so many years,” he says. “It’s Russian with good tunes, but in a rather old-fashioned style.”

Ending the concert series will be Mozart’s much-loved Quintet in E-flat for piano and winds, K452. Possibly the first piece for this combination of instruments—piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon—it is certainly the first that is familiar, and it inspired Beethoven to write a quintet for the same instruments and in the same key.

Mozart’s Quintet, Korevaar says, “reflects a chamber music aesthetic, because Mozart in Vienna had the professional (wind) players to work with. He writes this at the same time that he’s expanding his orchestration, particular in the piano concertos, to include much more important wind parts.

“There is a famous letter to his father in which he says he’s written this piece and it’s the best thing he’s ever composed. It’s one of his great works.”

Tickets for the BCO Mini-Chamber Concerts with David Korevaar can be purchased as season tickets, together with four concerts by the full orchestra under the direction of Bahman Saless Oct. 29, Dec, 17, Feb. 1 and April 1; or they can be purchased individually for each concert. More information and tickets are available on the BCO Web page.

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Boulder Chamber Orchestra Mini-Chamber Series
In collaboration with pianist David Korevaar

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24

David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Elgar: Piano Quintet in A minor, op. 84
  • Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44

7:30 pm. Saturday, Jan. 14

David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Ludwig Thuille: Sextet in B-flat major for piano and wind quintet, op 6 
  • Francis Poulenc: Sextet for piano and wind quintet

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8

David Korevaar, piano, with members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra

  • Rimsky-Korsakov: Quintet in B-flat for piano and winds
  • Mozart: Quintet in E-flat major for piano and winds, K452

All concerts at the Boulder Adventist Church, 345 Mapleton Avenue

Tickets available from the BCO Web page.

GRACE NOTES

Sept. 22 at 10:30 a.m.

CU Music grad featured in Opera News

Patrick Bessenbacher (r) as Tony with Christine Honein as Maria in CU production of West Side Story. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa)

Tenor Patrick Bessenbacher, a 2020 graduate of the CU-Boulder College of Music who went on to graduate studies at Juilliard, is featured in the “Sound Bites” column in the October 2022 issue of Opera News.

Bessenbacher, who studied voice with assoc. prof. Matthew Chellis at CU, appeared in several productions of the CU Eklund Opera. He was Lurcanio in Handel’s Ariodante in the spring of 2018, Tony in West Side Story in Macky Auditorium in the fall of 2018,  George Bailey in Jake Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life in Macky in 2019, and Benedict in a COVID-influenced online production of Berlioz’s Beatrice and Benedict in 2020. 

Opera News reports that Bessenbacher performed this past summer with Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and will join Florentine Opera in Milwaukee, Wisc., as a Baumgartner Studio Artist for the current season.

The October 2022 issue of Opera News has only just arrived in mailboxes this week, and is available online to subscribers only.

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Cliburn Competition gold medalist will play solo recital Monday at Macky

Yunchan Lim

Pianist Yunchan Lim, who at 18 became the youngest gold medalist in the history of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June of this year, will play a solo recital featuring the music of Brahms, Mendelssohn and Liszt at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in Macky Auditorium.

Lim’s recital is part of the CU Presents Artist Series at Macky. 

In addition to the Gold Medal, Lim won the Audience Award and the Best Performance of a New Work at the 2022 Cliburn Competition. A native of Korea, he was accepted at age 13 into the Korea National Instituted for the Gifted in Arts, where he began studies with Minsoo Sohn. He is currently in his second year at the Korea National University of Arts, where he continues to study with Sohn.

Lim’s complete program will be:

  • Brahms: Four Ballades, op. 10
  • Mendelssohn: Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, op. 28 (“Scottish Sonata”)
  • Liszt: Deux légendes
    —Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata

TICKETS

Doing an intricate dance, Seicento switches directors, then back again

The 2022–23 season features “Christmas in the Late Renaissance” and J.S. Bach

By Peter Alexander Sept. 20 at 11:32 a.m.

Changes in leadership for performing organizations happen all the time, but Seicento—Boulder’s semi-professional chamber choir and Baroque performance group—has pulled a double switch that is at least unusual.

Founding, and current, director Evanne Browne leads a concert by Seicento. Photo by John Lamb.

They just recently announced a change in the artistic director position, but to fully understand, you have to go back to the founding of the group in 2011.

Seicento was founded by Evanne Browne, an experienced early-music singer who served as artistic director until 2018, when she moved to Arlington, Virginia—“for love,” she says, moving to “explore a relationship that ended up wonderfully.” Amanda Balestrieri, a long-time friend who had performed alongside Browne in early music groups in the D.C. area and later moved to Boulder, took over and directed the group through COVID.

Now Browne and her husband, John Butterfield, have returned to Boulder, and by a total coincidence it’s Balestrieri who is moving to Virginia at the same time. It’s love again, but in this case a daughter and a grandchild.

Newly returned to Colorado, Browne told Seicento’s board, “I’m available!” And so she is returning to the organization she founded.

Musical pals and alternating Seicento directors Evanne Browne (l) and Amanda Balestrieri (r)

Have you got that? Today the artistic director is whichever of the two is not living in Virginia. Mostly.

That has worked out quite well, since Browne and Balestrieri have worked together enough that they know each other and trust each other explicitly. “That’s the beautiful thing about the two of us having both led Seicento,” Balestrieri says. “Even though Evanne or I leave Seicento, it’s going to be led the way that we both think it should be.”

The two musical partners arrived at this mutual respect from different backgrounds: Balestrieri from England, where she studied German and French at Oxford, and also studied voice in London and in Milan, Italy; and Browne from a musical education in the U.S., including voice studies at Rice University and post-graduate work in choral conducting.

“We come from different emphases and knowledge bases,” is the way Balestrieri puts it. But “the groundwork is always the note.”

In early music performance, not everyone always agrees even about the note, because the mists of time have left a lot to the interpretation of the performer. That’s where the shared background puts Browne and Balestrieri in agreement about the note, and much more. Their common professional experiences have led them to a mutual understanding of early music styles, and a shared interest in exploring the repertoire.

Balestrieri and Browne ended up in the Washington, D.C., area largely by chance, performing with early music ensembles including the Folger Consort and the Smithsonian Chamber Players. As they sang together in the same groups, they soon found great compatibility as singers. In fact, Browne says, “There were times where we could adjust our voices to be so similar that even I would sometimes go, who’s on which line?”

For a while their careers went in different directions. Balestrieri’s singing career took off, while Browne worked at the Smithsonian in Washington, picking up business skills that she has used with Seicento. Then it was again mostly by chance that they both ended up in Colorado.

Former director Amanda Balestrieri with Seicento

“That’s the beautiful thing, because we were not singing and performing together for quite a while,” Balestrieri says. “I wasn’t even assuming we’d see each other again musically, but it was lovely to reconnect, because we did have that background—even though it was not a continuous one.”

The best part of the saga is Balestrieri’s move to Virginia. She was well settled in Boulder, and had an ongoing relationship with Charley Samson of Colorado Public Radio. They both kept their homes, hers in Boulder and his in Denver, but were often together.

“I have two daughters, one was living in Virginia and one in San Francisco,” Balestrieri says. “The one in San Francisco said ‘Mom, are you going to move here?’ What was I supposed to do, choose? And so she moved to Virginia to call my bluff! She had a baby last December and bought a house. I was visiting her and the house next door came up for sale.”

Thinking that she would like to have a place to stay in both Colorado and Virginia, Balestrieri bought the house next door to her daughter. “I was struggling with leaving (the house in Boulder),” she says. “So I called (Samson) from Virginia and said, ‘Guess what I did! But I have this great idea.’

“So what we’ve done is, Charley sold his house, I bought the house next door to my daughter and I’m selling my house to Charley!”

Just like that, Balestrieri will have a base of operations in both places. She hopes to return to singing in D.C., where she still has many friends and professional contacts, and she has plans to perform in the Boulder area as well, both as a visitor with Seicento in the coming season and with other people she knows in this area.

In the meantime, Browne is going full steam ahead for the coming season of Seicento. The repertoire for two concerts—one in December and the other in May—has been set. The holiday concert, scheduled for December 2–4 with a venue tbd, is titled “Seicento’s Roots: Christmas in the late Renaissance.” The program will illustrate the transition from the choral style of the late Renaissance to the more ornate style of the Baroque period. The program will feature carols that are still familiar today, including “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” by Michael Praetorius.

The spring concert, scheduled for May 5–7, will be a 300th anniversary performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion, with Balestrieri as featured soloist. As far as Browne knows, this will be the first performance in Colorado of this passion setting with original instruments. This is by far the greater challenge, since it requires hiring specialist performers on the instruments of Bach’s time, but Browne is unafraid.

“Seicento needs to do this because when we do something that everybody wants to come see, and sing, then you get the response that you want,” she says. “I could have picked something very obscure that didn’t have Baroque oboes or Baroque flute players, but the joy of Seicento and the passion for the music is to find these pieces.”

In the meantime, Balestrieri and Browne both believe that Seicento has put the travails of COVID behind them and can return to the level they had achieved before. “I’m excited to see Seicento get the energy back after COVID,” Balestrieri says.

The group’s most recent concert this past April, which she directed, “had a very good feel,” she says. “The cohesion and spirit was back. The audience reviews were great. I’m just excited to see it and to be there when I’m in town.”

NOTE: The announcement of concert venues and tickets for Seicento’s 2022-23 concerts will be available on the group’s Web page.

Between tours, Takács Quartet opens fall campus series with Beethoven

CU Quartet in residence will play Grusin Hall Sept. 18–19 and October 30–31

By Peter Alexander Sept. 14 at 11:18 p.m.

It’s hard to keep up with the Takács Quartet.

Takács Quartet. Image by Amanda Tipton Photography

The CU quartet-in-residence is celebrated worldwide, giving them access to the top classical festivals. Over the past summer, they played the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, the Tanglewood Festival in Lennox, Mass., the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, at the Snape Maltings in Aldeburgh, England—a venue made prominent by composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears—and the Luberon Festival in France.

But now they are back in Boulder, and their local fans can look forward to their annual series of campus concerts, starting this weekend with an all-Beethoven program (4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19 in Grusin Concert Hall). Other events during the fall semester will be concerts Oct. 30 and 31, featuring music by Britten, Bartók and Mozart; and concerts Nov. 6 and 7 by the Ivalas Quartet, who concluded a two-year residency with the Takács in May (program tba; other details and ticket information below).

Between the September and October concerts, the Takács will be touring in Japan and Korea. “We’re looking forward to that,” Takács cellist András Fejér says. “They always bring a special joy because they regard culture and classical music very highly, and they are treating us as such wonderful friends.”

Sound engineer Michael Quam at the Colorado Music Festival

Just this month the quartet released its latest recording, featuring works of Joseph Haydn. The CD, of quartets opp. 42, 77 nos. 1 and 2, and 103, was recorded in the Lone Tree, (Colo.) Arts Center. “We had probably the top American producer, Judy Sherman, and a wonderful, wonderful sound engineer, Mike Quam, whom we got to know at the Colorado Music Festival,” Fejér says.

In addition to working for the Colorado Music Festival, Quam lives and has a recording studio in Boulder. “He’s the most wonderful all-around sound man anywhere,” Fejér says. “We never met anyone like him, so we were very happy.”

In case you are wondering, in addition to the touring and recording and campus concerts, Fejér says “we always make time for (our students)! We have a wonderful new ensemble-in-residence and they are eager and hungry. That’s always a great encouragement for us, because teaching is wonderful!”

The Takács has of course played all of the Beethoven quartets, many times. In the case of the upcoming concert, the choice of an all-Beethoven program is partly from the exploration of familiar repertoire with the ensemble’s newest member, violist Richard O’Neill. “We need to re-learn the Beethoven with our new member,” Fejér says. 

“He’s full of great ideas and he’s got an encyclopedic memory. He’s a great, great all-around artist, so we are very happy to be listening to new ideas, new solutions. It’s all a new dynamic, which I am enjoying tremendously.”

The three quartets chosen for the September concerts span the major periods of Beethoven’s life: Op. 18 no. 5 from Beethoven’s very first set of six quartets published in 1801, in the sparkling key of A major; Op. 95 in the gloomier key of F minor, known as the “Serioso” Quartet, from 1810; and Op. 127 in E-flat major, from 1825.

“We love these pieces,” Fejér says. “They are wonderful pieces. Maybe the audience is not jumping on its feet because of the final effect, but it doesn’t take away from the overall greatness.”

The Quartet op. 127 provides unique challenges, Fejér explains. “Some ensembles might not program it because it’s not so spectacular. It’s so deep, and herein lies the difficulty. Its first and last movement are extremely soft, piano, pianissimo, very ethereal, up in the clouds. It takes work and rehearsing and it’s not easy to make it flow and make it light, ethereal and transparent.”

Fejér explains that the Takács usually has three main areas of work when they rehearse. First is “what we play on tour, which might be pieces we already played many times. And then there’s practicing and getting familiar with new or newish pieces, (and finally) the ones we are planning to record.”

What that means is that rehearsing the program for the October concert will mostly come a little later. About that program—Britten’s String Quartet No. 1, Bartók’s String Quartet No. 6 and Mozart’s String Quartet in D major, K499—Fejér declines to comment right now.

“I might refrain trying to be smart about Britten at this point,” he says. “We recorded (his quartets) eight or nine years ago, but we haven’t played them again. So basically now we’re relearning and discussing what’s new and what’s changed, and what we wish to be changed.

“What matters is how we feel about it today or the next week, so we can be even more convincing and find even more joy in bringing it together.”

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Takács Quartet

  • Beethoven: String Quartet in A Major, Op. 18 no. 5
    String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95 
    String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127

4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18
7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building
In person and live-stream tickets HERE

Takács Quartet

  • Benjamin Britten: String Quartet No.1 
  • Bartók: String Quartet No. 6
  • Mozart: String Quartet in D major, K499

4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30
7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building
In person and live-stream tickets HERE

Ivalas Quartet

  • Program TBA

4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6
7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7
Grusin Hall, Imig Music Building
In person and live-stream tickets HERE

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NOTE: Due to spell checker error “encyclopedic” first appeared as “encyclopedia.” Corrected on 9/15.

Three CDs that appeared in the mailbox

Music from the last Romantic generation to the latest electronica

By Peter Alexander Sept. 6 at 3:30 p.m.

One of the perks of my work is that people send me CDs in the hopes I will write about them. Sometimes they are offered, by artists or recording companies, and I accept them when they have a Boulder connection—CU faculty, artists who have appeared here, or recordings from Boulder’s Starkland label—or the recording especially appeals to my interests; and sometimes they just show up in my mailbox.

My Life In Music: Ruth Slenczynska. CD. Ruth Slenczynska, piano. Decca Classics B0035173-02.

One of the latter was “My Life in Music,” recorded by the remarkable 97-year-old pianist Ruth Slenczynska. Born in Sacramento, Calif., in 1925, she studied with a virtual who’s-who of early-20th-century pianists, including Josef Hoffman, Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot, Egon Petri and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Because the recording was conceived as a narrative of the pianist’s life story, the program comprises pieces that have some connection to her teachers or people she knew. Unsurprisingly, the are pieces by Rachmaninoff, who was her teacher; Samuel Baber, whom she met when she was five; Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen,” which she first heard performed by another of her teachers, Josef Hofmann. Chopin is heavily represented as a nod to Slenczynska’s Polish heritage.

Her playing on the recoding is elegant, restrained and always marked by the utmost clarity. Throughout she plays with a restrained Romantic spirit marked by stylistic freedom that never descends into excess, but the air of restraint that marks her playing fits some pieces better than others.

Chopin’s Grande valse brillante, for example, is so controlled and carefully played as to be almost pallid. This approach fits Rachmaninoff’s “Daisies,” Barber’s Nocturne (“Homage to John Field)” and Debussy’s La Fille aux cheveux de lin (The girl with the flaxen hair) better than a piece titled “brillante.”

My favorite tracks were “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen,” Chopin’s Etude in E major, op. 10 no. 3, and the adjacent track, the Fantasie in F minor, op. 49. In all of these Slenczynska brought out the contrasts in the score well, showing great control and surprising strength for a pianist of 97. The clarity of her playing was especially welcome in the fugue of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp major that closes the album.

This remarkable collection is highly recommended, both for the precise quality of playing and for the fascinating collection of pieces that are important to a great artist from a generation that has almost disappeared. Here is the full track listing as it appears on the CD:

Rachmaninoff: “Daisies,” op. 38 no. 3
—Prelude in G, op/ 32 no. 5
Samuel Barber: Nocturne (“Homage to John Field),” op. 33
—“Let’s Sit it Out: I’d Rather Watch” from “Fresh from West Chester
Chopin: Grande valse brillante, Op. 18
—Berceuse in D-flat, op. 57
Grieg: “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”
Debussy: La Fille aux cheveux de lin  (The girl with the flaxen hair)
Chopin: etude in E major, op. 10 no. 3
—Fantasie in F minor, op. 4
—Prelude in F major, op. 29 no. 23
J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp, BWV 848

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Brazilian Landscapes: Music for solo violin from piano. CD. Mariama Alcântara, violin. Da Vinci Classics C00501.

One of the recordings that came to my attention due to a Boulder connection is “Brazilian Landscapes,” a stunning collection of music for solo violin recorded by Mariama Alcântara, a doctoral graduate of CU Boulder where she studied violin with Harumi Rhodes. Born in Brazil, Alcântara has studied in the US and performed here as well as in Austria, France, and her native country.

The recording features two extensive works: the eye-opening 26 Prelúdios Caracteristicos e Concertantes para Violino Só (26 Characteristic and Concertante Preludes for Solo Violin) by Flausino Vale, a Brazilian violinist/composer form the first half of the 20th century; and the world-premiere recording of Partita para Violino Solo, a suite modeled on Bach’s partitas for solo violin that was commissioned by Alcântara from composer André Mehmari.

Ranging in length from one to two-and-a-half minutes, Vale’s preludes are violin showpieces comparable to Paganini’s caprices and other encore favorites. They make use of a wide variety of string techniques, including strumming (marked “alla guitarra”), left-hand pizzicato, harmonics, rapid arpeggiation and wide leaps across the fingerboard. 

The interest of these pieces lies in the rhythmic impulse—most are in faster tempos—and the variety of playing techniques, rather than pure melody. The individual preludes were inspired in part by the landscapes of Minas Gerais, the mountainous Brazilian state where Vale lived. Musically they draw on indigenous Brazilian rhythms and styles, particularly Caipira, a style associated with the rural life of Minas Gerais.

I urge all violinists to consider adding these pieces to their repertoire as encores. They are as enticing and entertaining as anything by Paganini but with an added element of Brazilian exoticism. I particularly liked No. 1 (“Batuque”), opening with an alla guitarra flourish, followed by rapid arpeggios and left-hand pizzicato; No. 5 (“Tico Tico”), with virtuoso arpeggiation over a repeated pedal note and a surprise ending that features extremely high harmonics disappearing into the stratosphere; No. 10 (“Interrogando o Destino”), an intriguing mix of stylistic ideas; and the sentimental No. 23 (“Implorando”). There is enough variety in those alone to capture the imagination or fill out any program; the whole set is wondrously varied.

Mehmari’s Partita comprises seven movements that draw on diverse Brazilian styles, just as Bach’s partitas draw on Baroque dances. This is a more serious work than Vale’s set, going deeper into the expression of each individual movement. It opens with a meandering, improvisatory movement titled Devaneio (Fantasy), a Bachian prelude re-imagined.

That is followed by Choro (Lament), a Brazilian genre marked by improvisation and, despite the title, fast tempos and a cheerful affect. Both the movements marked Furioso and Moto Perpetuo are effective displays of virtuosity, virtuosically played. Árida na Quarta Corda (Arid on the fourth string, a play on the popular title of Bach’s “Air on the G string”) is a beautifully played, haunting movement that pays homage to Brazil’s arid Northeast.

A native Brazilian, Alcântara is completely at home with the Brazilian styles of both works, and she handles the virtuoso flourishes with aplomb. Her graceful, stylish phrasing is always a treat. These are splendid recordings, worth investigating and revisiting over time. 

“Brazilian Landscapes” can be purchased here.

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Kotoka Suzuki: Shimmer, Tree. CD. Starkland ST-236. Available Sept. 22 from Bandcamp. 

Boulder’s Starkland label has released a new recording, a fascinating and creative collection of pieces by Japanese-born composer Kotoka Suzuki with the enticing title “Shimmer Tree.” A graduate of Indiana University and Stanford University, Suzuki currently is on the faculty of the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Her official bio describes Suzuki as a “composer and sound artist,” whose work “frequently investigates the relationship between visual elements and sound, often crossing into theater.” This suggests that a sound recording only captures part of her compositions, which is the same impression I received listening to “Shimmer Tree.”

The seven pieces on the disc (see full list below) are purely electronic (three), electronic with live performance (three), and one for string quartet. They all unfold at a generally slow pace that is both dreamy and alluring. The listener has time to feel their way into Suzuki’s highly individual aural landscapes.

The opening track, “Epiphyllum Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night),” is a purely electronic piece for 14 speakers. It takes its name from a species of cactus that only blooms at night—a fitting reference, since the piece itself is inspired by imaginary places from Suzuki’s dreams.

The music emerges from and returns to silence, just as our dreams emerge from and return to emptiness. The sounds Suzuki has created are highly evocative of the specific scenes she describes in her notes, “a jungle landscape of moving trees” and “a deep, dark sea.” Throughout there seems to be an unknown threat, ominous movements just out of sight. If you awoke to hear this in the night, it would be more terrifying then wonderful, although the effect for a fully awake listener is more alluring.

“Minyo” (Japanese for folk song) uses the instruments of the string quartet to suggest the sounds of Japanese instruments, including Koto and taiko drums. Played convincingly by the recently dissolved Spektral Quartet, the score ranges from isolated wisps of sound to full chords.

“Automata” is a phantasmagorical audio tour through—according to the subtitle—a “Mechanical Garden.” Rapid ticking sounds, fragments of mechanical toy noises, music boxes, the ringing of bells and quacks are all embedded in an electronic soup. It all stimulates the imagination to visualize the garden with all of its entertaining and noisy devices.

If ”Automata” is the most delightful piece on the disc, the following track, “Reservoir,” is the most disturbing. A text taken from a Web page, now long disappeared, that appears to be instructions for suicide is alternately spoken, whispered and sung in both tenor and countertenor registers. Javier Hagen gives a virtuoso performance of all the vocal styles required, but no performance can erase the creepy climate created by the text.

The title track, written in memory of Suzuki’s teacher Jonathan Harvey rounds out the disc . The combination of ruminative piano (evocatively performed by Cristina Valdes) and electronic sounds suggests a space just beyond consciousness. Musical fragments that never quite coalesce create a dreamy sense of floating in that undefined space, which in effect takes us back to the opening piece on the album.

If you enjoy electronic music and pieces that suggest more than they define, this is a disc you will want to hear. It is recommended for that limited but committed audience.

Shimmer, Tree track list

1.    Epiphyllum Oxypetalum (Queen of the Night)
2.    In Praise of Shadows. Performed by Suzuki with paper instrument
3.    Minyo. Performed by Spektral Quartet
4.    Automata (Mechanical Garden)
5.    Reservoir. Performed by Javier Hagen, tenor/countertenor
6.    Sagiso¯
7.    Shimmer, Tree. Performed by Cristina Valdes, piano

GRACE NOTES: David Korevaar launches the fall performance season

By Peter Alexander Aug. 11 at 2:10 p.m.

David Korevaar. Photo by Matthew Dine.

David Korevaar, the CU, Boulder, College of Music distinguished professor of piano and an apparently tireless performer, has several performances coming up in the Boulder and northern Colorado region, from a faculty recital on the CU campus to a guest performance with the Ft. Collins Symphony.

Here is a list of his upcoming appearances:

7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12: Beethoven’ Fourth Piano Concerto with the Ft. Collins Symphony, Wes Kenney, conducting. Other pieces on the all-Beethoven program will be the Coriolan Overture and the Symphony No. 7 I A  major. The performance will be in the Timberline Church in Ft. Collins. Tickets are available HERE.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30: A CU faculty recital, titled “Comedy, tragedy, virtuosity and passion.” The program features sonatas by Florence Price and Beethoven, Chopin’s F-sharp minor Polonaise (“Tragic), and a selections of Chopin études. The performance will be free and open to the public. This performance will also be available by live stream HERE.

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24: A chamber concert, the first of three to be sponsored by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra The program features piano quintets by Edward Elgar and Schumann. The performance will be in the Boulder Adventist Church. Tickets are available HERE.

Comic Operas receive “peerless productions” at Santa Fe

Falstaff and Barber of Seville each worth the trip down I-25

By Peter Alexander Aug. 10 at 11:08 p.m.

Verdi’s Falstaff is the greatest of all comic operas. The combination of Shakespeare and Verdi at the very peak of his musical powers have produced a masterwork of scintillating humor and extraordinary beauty. And in baritone Quinn Kelsey, currently starring in the Santa Fe Opera’s splendid co-production with Scottish Opera, it has found an ideal interpreter. The rest of the terrific ensemble cast nearly reaches his level, with Elena Villalón’s Nanetta especially noteworthy.

McVicar’s Shakespearean set for Falstaff, with part of Santa Fe’s excellent ensemble cast. All photos by Curtis Brown for the Santa Fe Opera.

Sir David McVicar’s set, a simple wooden structure of two stories and multiple staircases, recalls the theater of Shakespeare’s time. Furniture and props are moved on and off to change the scene from The Garter Inn—opening in Falstaff’s bedroom with various hangers-on under and in the bed with the portly knight—to the garden and the interior of Ford’s home, to Windsor Park. Only the last scene with Hearn’s Oak hulking behind the framework of the set posed any difficulties.

“Rollicking chaos” with Nanetta (Elena Villalón) and Fenton (Eric Ferring) behind the screen while the men prepare to pounce.

As stage director, McVicar showed a deft comic touch with individual characters. Moments of rollicking chaos, as in the first scene in Falstaff’s bedroom and the second act climax with Ford searching his home while Falstaff hides in the famous laundry basket, were especially delightful.

Occasionally McVicar supplied extraneous touches that distracted from the principal singers, such as bustling servants and a gardener raking the ground upstage from the merry wives at the outset of the second scene. At such moments, directors should trust the music and dispense with superfluous ideas. Happily, the distractions were few, and otherwise the direction served the comedy well.

The costumes were generic Elizabethan with comic touches, such as Falstaff’s grotesque codpiece when he goes to visit Mistress Ford. Individual touches helped identify the multiple characters who appear in the ensembles, including a witches hat for Mistress Quickly—who not coincidentally is costumed as a witch in the Windsor Park scene—and delicious pink and red for Nanetta, exchanged for bridal white at the end. 

Falstaff (Quinn Kelsey) cowers before the extravagantly costumed ensemble in the Hearn’s Oak scene.

The dazzling variety of costumes for the final scene at Hearn’s Oak included everything from a moon-faced queen, a horse and a demon borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch. This might be overkill, but I for one relished every excess in this scene. It is, after all, the culmination of a lavish comedy. It is a scene about excess, the excess that drives Falstaff and Ford both to realize their overreach and accept being the brunt of the joke. Any comic opera that ends with a comic fugue deserves climactic excess.

Under conductor Paul Daniel the Santa Fe Opera orchestra played brilliantly. Daniel led the players through every twist and turn of the score, bringing out the full force of the winds when appropriate, but also moderating the gentle moments. The brief, distilled glimpses of love music between Nanetta and Fenton were handled with grace and tenderness, the delicacy of the ensemble scenes presented on the point of a needle.

Quinn Kelsey as Falstaff.

Kelsey presented a virtual masterclass on vocal control and interpretation. He was boisterous and full of braggadocio at the outset, but singing with grace, even tenderness if required, full of extravagant self-pity after his bath in the Thames, by turn terrified, indignant and hilariously self-mocking at the end. He has mastered every nuance of the role and will doubtless claim a place as one of the great interpreters of Falstaff.

Villalón brought a lovely, soaring soprano to Nanetta, floating gently to her top notes in her exchanges with Fenton, then exercising restrained control of the music and the stage in her Act III aria. She was a Nanetta that the audience could fall in love with, as they should.

Elena Villalón and Eric Felling as the love interests Nanetta and Fenton.

Eric Felling was a winning Fenton, bringing a ringing sound and eloquent phrasing to his Act III aria. Alexandra LoBianco negotiated the role of Alice Ford nimbly, singing with a bright sound that could either blend with the other wives or soar above the full ensemble. As a comedienne, she was clearly in control of the gathering plot from beginning to end. As her husband, Ford (or “Master Fountain”), Roland Wood was comically on target, fitting well into the ensembles and eliciting sympathy in his soliloquy. His voice was sometimes pinched, with a occasional hint of a wobble. 

The other characters handled their comic assignments well. Brian Frutiger was a satisfying Dr. Caius, filing well a smaller part that in lesser hands can too easily be overlooked. Megan Marino sang Meg Page prettily. Thomas Cifullo and Scott Conner were well matched comic partners as Bardolfo and Pistola, enlivening every scene with their hijinks. As Mistress Quickly, Ann McMahon Quintero made her character real, in spite of lacking the hefty chest voice that would project better over the orchestra. 

Alice Ford and Meg Page receive identical letters from Falstaff: l-r Megan Marino (Meg), Elena Villalón Nanetta), Alexandra LoBianco (Alice) and Ann McMahon Quintero (Mistress Quickly).

But it is first of all Falstaff, and then the ensemble performance that carry the opera. Nothing showed the SFO’s success better than the final ensemble with Falstaff starting the great fugue “All the world’s a joke and only the jolly are wise,” everyone joining in turn with a perfect moral for a perfect comedy. As the performance came to a joyous climax, the musical summation of Verdi’s life in the theater, no one could leave without a feeling of satisfaction.

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Close behind Falstaff as a great comic opera is Rossini’s Barber of Seville (Aug. 6). It doesn’t have Shakespeare as a source, but it does have Beaumarchais, who provided the literary source for two great operas in Barber and Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro. And while Rossini’s opera features the standard comic situations of the time, the composer’s skill and wit raise Barber into the highest realms of musical entertainment—a level that is exuberantly matched by SFO’s hilarious production.

Dr. Bartolo’s house, mustache in place, on the Santa Fe Opera stage.

Santa Fe’s set is a marvel of invention. Upon entering the theater, the audience is greeted by a large topiary mustache at the back of the stage. During the overture, a sculptured head rises from behind and below the stage. The night I attended the audience applauded and laughed with delight when the head proved a perfect fit to the mustache. Together head and mustache moved down to the middle of the stage, representing the façade of Dr. Bartolo’s house, with the head later revolving 180° to reveal the house’s interior.

Almaviva (Jack Swanson) masquerading as a soldier.

That is only a small part of the inventiveness of the production, which uses period settings and costumes spiced with anachronistic details, including a plastic garbage bag, a computer (with an orange instead of apple as logo), cell phones and headphones. When disguised as the student Lindoro, Count Almaviva wears jeans, a down jacket and a “Sevilla” hoodie. Later he sports aviator glasses when disguised as a soldier, and enters Bartolo’s house in the final act as a Mormon missionary, singing “Peace and happiness be with you.”

Hilarity is piled upon hilarity, all in the gleeful spirit of Rossinian comedy. Thanks to the direction and design team of Stephen Barlow (stage direction) and Andrew D. Edwards (scene and costume design) the comedy never flags, sometimes pushing the limits but never undermining the plot and music, nor crossing the line into self-indulgence. I cannot remember a more raucously entertaining evening of operatic comedy.

Emily Fons (Rosina), Joshua Hopkins (Figaro) and Jack Swanson (Almaviva).

The cast had full command of the Rossinian style, with Jack Swanson (Almaviva) and Emily Fons (Rosina) particularly agile and clean in their delivery of the flighty lines that sink many a tenor and mezzo. Swanson had great comic energy and onstage chemistry with Joshua Hopkin’s self-possessed, strutting Figaro. Fons captured attention anytime she was on stage and followed her character’s emotional twists and turns from boredom, to confidence, to (briefly) fury, to joy at opera’s end.

Kevin Burdette (Bartolo) climbs the wall, with Rosina (Emily Fons) above; Almaviva (Jack Swanson), Berta (Murella Parton), Figaro (Joshua Hopkins) and Basilio (Nicholas Newton) below.

Kevin Burdette as Dr. Bartolo proved a master of physical comedy as well as a versatile and polished singer. Far from the stiff diplomat he played in M. Butterfly, he was agile and flexible, singing while attempting yoga poses (more anachronistic merriment), while climbing the walls (literally) or sliding out of a chair. Every moment he was on stage was a potential moment of unexpected laughs.

Nicholas Newton (subbing for Ryan Speedo Green) was vocally imposing and on target as the pompous but venal Don Basilio, always available to the highest bidder. He provided the best updated joke of the entire show, producing his “Orange”-brand computer as he sang about how to harness the rapid spread of slander.

Berta tales a star turn (Murella Parton).

SFO apprentice artist Murella Parton brought energy and liveliness to the role of Berta, Bartolo’s housekeeper. Always a figure of calm and good sense in the midst of the comic madness, she exploded out of her shell and enchanted the audience during her one aria, when she unexpectedly became a figure of glamour, swirling in a sparkly dress accompanied by four top-hatted dancers.

Conductor Iván López-Reynoso elicited a crisp and transparent sound from the orchestra. A worthy partner of the singers, he kept a brisk and sparkling pace that matched their comic energy. Once again the orchestra outdid itself.

In these two comic masterpieces, Falstaff and Barber of Seville, the Santa Fe Opera has delivered two peerless productions. Each is well worth the trip to New Mexico. If there are tickets left by the time you read this, they may be found HERE.