Monday, February 17, 2014

NCCO: Donizetti's Rita

Saturday night I attended the 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.

New Century Chamber Orchestra photo IMG_20140215_204541_zpsa548d3e3.jpgThe 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.

New Century Chamber Orchestra photo IMG_20140215_204114_zps021afcb4.jpgRita 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

Donizetti: Rita
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


Civic Center said...

Did you really use the phrase "pussy-whipped"?

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and performers in "Rita," the spousal abuse was presented in too cutesy a manner and I found myself more disturbed than amused by the plot. Nice to share the experience with you, though.

Axel Feldheim said...

They definitely made a decision to stage it as a romp & not question the story too much, but at least it was done consistently, &, as you noted that night, we did not have to look at any up-turned furniture. Fun to see you as well.