New Century Chamber Orchestra's friendly, opera-themed program at the Jewish Community Center. The 1st half was 4 short instrumental pieces, arranged for the group's 19 string players. The violins used a lot of vibrato in the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, & the performance was viscous. In the Prestissimo from Verdi's string quartet, the cellos played their solo passage nicely, & the piece ended with a flourish of bows in the air. Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was soloist for the Meditation from Thaïs. Her phrasing was emphatically idiosyncratic, & she made a thick, woody sound. The addition of a marimba made the piece sound like space music. The Overture to Die Fledermaus was raw & a bit hysterical. The ensemble was on a stage behind a procenium, so its sound may have been dampened somewhat.
The 2nd half was Rita, a comic one act opera by Donizetti, featuring 3 Adler Fellows. The music is bouncy & ebullient, & it got a very vigorous performance. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg perched on a stool & half faced the orchestra as she played & led. Woodwinds, horns & a timpani were added to the ensemble. The cast sang in Italian, with supertitles appearing on a screen over the orchestra, but the dialogue was in English. The staging by Eugene Brancoveanu had a sense of fun throughout & kept the singers in constant motion. There were a handful of props, & the singers wore contemporary clothes for costumes. It was clearly a challenge for singers & orchestra to stay together without a conductor, & there were times when the orchestra finished playing ahead of the singers.
Soprano Maria Valdes in the title role displayed a full, luscious voice, which powerfully filled the hall. Tenor Thomas Glenn made Beppe, her pussy-whipped husband, a funny yet sympathetic character. His voice is clear & bright, & he moves easily. I laughed when he sang with a cigarette in his mouth. I think more people at the open rehearsal got the joke when he sang along with the flute, mimicking Lucia. Baritone Efraín Solís was a swaggering Gasparo & made a pleasing sound that had a strong core. When he asked Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg to play "something calming" for Rita, she responded with the Meditation & then the theme from The Godfather. The singers did a great job enacting a goofy slow-motion brawl during a boisterous trio.
Rita was introduced by a video of Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg & Mr. Brancoveanu talking about the opera. Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg seemed concerned that we understand it is a farce, even though it concerns spousal abuse. The audience was delighted by the entire show, & some stood at the end. Afterward, there was a reception in the lobby where subscribers & donors mingled with the performers.
§ New Century Chamber Orchestra
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Music Director
Mascagni (arr. Assad): Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
Verdi: Prestissimo from String Quartet in E minor
Massenet (arr. Assad): Meditation from Thais
Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
J. Strauss (arr. Lindstrom): Overture to Die Fledermaus
Rescored & edited by Peter Grunberg
Maria Valdes, Rita
Thomas Glenn, Beppe
Efraín Solís, Gasparo
Eugene Brancoveanu, Director, Script, Production Design
Saturday, February 15, 2014, 8pm
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco