Monday, August 24, 2015

ABS: Sémélé

Rebecca Myers Hoke (Sémélé) and Sara LeMesh (Juno). Photo: Gas Lamp Productions.
Last week the American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy presented Sémélé, a 1709 opera by Marin Marais, in a concert version that was its North American premiere. ABS fielded a large orchestra of at least 45 musicians, plus a dozen soloists, plus a chorus of 17. The music is pretty & elegant throughout, with lots of dances & choruses. Characters behave politely, using flattering language no matter what the situation.

The performance was impeccably well-prepared. The orchestra played cleanly, with detailed articulation, & never tired over the 3-hour evening. Concertmaster Robert Mealy made a sweet sound, & the violins were perfectly synchronized even in very rapid passages. The extended trumpet solo in the Prologue was impressively secure & in tune, & the Fourth Air was exceptionally graceful. I liked the soft timbres of the woodwinds, & the flute solos were clear & smooth. The percussion had a cheerful bounciness. The low, heavy sound the strings made to depict an earthquake was striking. It was nice having the continuo harpsichord in front of the orchestra, where it was easier to hear.

The youthful cast were even & well-matched. Soprano Grace Srinivasan displayed a light, pretty voice as a Priestess & a shepherdess, & baritone Ben Kazez got a laugh for his wide-eyed exit as the drunken High Priest. This opera's Sémélé constantly worries about her predicament, & soprano Rebecca Myers Hoke was a tormented & even grieving Sémélé from the start, her voice sounding dark & mature. I liked soprano Chelsea Morris's beautifully sustained sound & gliding high notes as the confidante Dorine. Tenor Steven Brennfleck portrayed a stylish Adraste, & his phrasing was expressive & conversational. Bass Christopher Besch had a compressed sound & conveyed in authoritarian Jupiter. Mezzo Sara LeMesh was an appropriately stern Juno, her singing strong & vivid.

The chorus was satisfyingly proficient, & I enjoyed listening to their wonderfully balanced, polished sound. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas kept to regular, squared-up tempos & did a good job keeping everything consistent & together. The computer running the supertitles misbehaved several times during the show, resulting in the audience seeing the OS X desktop instead of the words. The audience was generally attentive, though there was some attrition after intermission. Each half of the concert received enthusiastic applause & cheers, & there was a partial standing ovation.

During the intermission I was introduced to journalist Chloe Veltman. I do not bake much, so I was unreasonable excited that the lemon yogurt cake I brought to share got good reviews. I found the recipe here, but to make it Sémélé Intermission Lemon Cake, use 2 lemons supplied by Patrick from his garden.

§ Sémélé (1709)
Composed by Marin Marais (1656-1728)

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

The Grand Priestess of Bacchus: Julianna Emanski Grace Srinivasan, soprano
The Grand Priest of Bacchus: Ben Kazez, baritone
Apollon: Matthew Hill, tenor
Cadmus: Corbin Phillips, baritone
Sémélé: Rebecca Myers Hoke, soprano
Dorine: Chelsea Morris, soprano
Adraste: Steven Brennfleck, tenor
Mercure (Arbate): David Rugger, baritone
Jupiter (ldas): Christopher Besch, bass
Junon: Sara LeMesh, mezzo-soprano
Shepherd: Ryan Strand, tenor
First shepherdess: Hannah De Priest, soprano
Second shepherdess: Grace Srinivasan, soprano

2015 American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy
Thursday August 13, 8p
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

No comments: