Sunday, July 22, 2012

ABS: Pigmalion & Dido

American Bach Soloists, 07.20.2012 Audience & staff at American Bach Soloists concert at SF Conservatory of Music.The American Bach Soloists Festival had a full house Friday night for their operatic double bill of concert versions of Rameau's Pigmalion & Purcell's Dido & Aeneas.  For Rameau's courtly & candied opera, we had around 30 instrumentalists, plus a chorus of 24, standing in a row behind the orchestra. A flute player sat in the 1st chair, in front of the 1st violins. Tenor Brian Thorsett in the title role has a clear, bright voice that is very attractive, & he sounded especially ardent & ringing in a climactic song with the chorus. Mezzo Margaret Fox looked & sounded understandably incensed as Pigmailion's human girlfriend. Soprano Julianna Emanski as the statue sang with a clear, pretty voice. Soprano Nola Richardson sounded youthful & lively as the god of love. The ABS musicians play so cleanly that a slightly mistuned flute chord & a stray note on the harpsichord jumped out.

Though the soloists held music in their hands for the Rameau, they sang from memory for the Purcell. Tempos were straightforward & not overly brisk. Mezzo Johanna Bronk has a solid, weighty voice which is suited to the character of Dido. Ms. Richardson was a girlish Belinda, & I like that she freely decorated her lines. She amusingly hiccupped like an over-excited teenager when she exclaimed "How godlike is the form he bears!" Baritone Ryan Bradford has a deep, somewhat orotund voice, & his Aeneas came across as obtuse.

Mezzo Judith Malafronte, in her portrayal of the Sorceress, scowled disdainfully at the audience. The Spirit was sung by Brennan Hall, whose counter-tenor voice was surprisingly forceful. Tenor Gene Stenger sounded bright & crisp in the sailor's solo. Ms. Emanski & Ms. Fox were a peppy pair of witches. The chorus sang with decisiveness. The violins & violas played with a deliberately rough sound for the act 3 Witches' Dance & gave nicely sympathetic support to Dido in her famous lament.

American Bach Soloists, 07.20.2012 Audience & musician at American Bach Soloists concert at SF Conservatory of Music.Conductor Jeffrey Thomas led the Purcell standing at a harpsichord, but I don't think he ever played it. A notable feature of the performance was guitarist Adam Cockerham, who sat in the front of the orchestra & played both the towering theorbo & a ukelele-sized Baroque guitar, carefully swapping instruments perhaps a dozen times. He drew the audience in with his interpolated solos by Francisco Guerau & Santiago de Murcia. The ABS audience was characteristically quiet & attentive & applauded appreciatively. There was an easy mingling of audience members & performers after the concert, & I was introduced to Mr. Cockerham through mutual friends.

§ American Bach Soloists Festival
Masterworks Series
Rameau's Pigmalion and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Pigmalion, Acte de Ballet
PIGMALION - Brian Thorsett, tenor (haute-contre)
CÉPHISE - Margaret Fox, mezzo-soprano
LA STATUE - Julianna Emanski, soprano
L'AMOUR - Nola Richardson, soprano

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas, An opera in Three Acts
DIDO - Johanna Bronk, mezzo-soprano
BELINDA - Nola Richardson, soprano
SECOND WOMAN - Julianna Emanski, soprano
AENEAS - Ryan Bradford, baritone
SORCERESS - Judith Malafronte, mezzo-soprano
FIRST WITCH - Julianna Emanski, soprano
SECOND WITCH - Margaret Fox, mezzo-soprano
SPIRIT - Brennan Hall, countertenor
FIRST SAILOR - Gene Stenger, tenor

American Bach Soloists Academy Orchestra
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, Conductor

Friday July 20 2012
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

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