Your ticket to the arts

Bella Voce Sunday, May 18, at 3 p.m., I traveled to the South Hero Congregational Church to hear the second of two concerts by the Vermont women's chorus, Bella Voce. Not only was it a beautiful day, but the music performed by this group under the direction of Dawn Willis was exceptionally performed. The music moved from 'A Jubilant Song' by Norman Dello Joio to the spiritual 'Let Me Fly', arranged by Robert DeCormier (who did wonders in his arrangement). Along the way, they performed two Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda by Gustav Holtz accompanied by harpist Regina Christianson; a group of three arrangements that come from the World War II prison camp on the island of Sumatra, where 600 women and children were held by the Japanese, and which are wordless arrangements of the floor shocked, the Londonderry Air and the Gives him, written and with words by Margaret Dryburgh, and very moving; Gwyneth Walker's setting of 'Crossing the Bar'; two arrangements of folk songs by Eleanor Daley, a Canadian composer of some talent; 'Salmo 150' by Ernani Aguiar; two arrangements by David Mooney, and Willis's own setting of an Irish blessing. This group, which I was privileged to hear in a rehearsal before their first ever concert, has grown immensely over time, even though they hit the ground running for that first concert. Willis or members of the group have also found more interesting arrangements or commission them, because they panel of sound is not so dreadfully three-part women's voices that can become monotonous, even when the composers are talented. The other wonderful thing to watch in this group is how they sing with such good placement of sound. Their mouths are open, their diction is near-perfect, and even though their soloists have clear and well-placed voices, they are more effective inside the chorus. This group will be touring Ireland, giving at least three concerts, between June 21 and June 28. And their concert series for the 2008 2009 season is already planned in some detail. You really should come here this amazing group at your earliest convenience. Theatre Jean Duceppe I attended a performance of Equus in the Place des Arts home of this French language theater company on Saturday afternoon, May 17. This Peter Shaffer play deals with a young man who blinds a group of horses, and the attempts of the magistrate and a psychiatrist/psychologist to discern exactly what caused him to do this, since he loves horses. The play script is very definite in describing the setting, the costumesin fact everything that he wants to have happen. The production was a thoughtful one, and even though it was more French than British, it's stuck reasonably close to the intent of the author. One way to give the illusion of an audiences sitting all the way around the playing area was to mirror the entire upstage wall, giving the illusion of an audience totally surrounding players. Another innovationhaving projections of horses instead of actors with stylized horse-headsdid not fit so well into the context of the play. The costuming for the mother seemed inappropriate, as did her giving her second-act speech directly to the audience. The actor Erik Bruneau did an extraordinary job with the part of Alan Strang, the young man who commits this terrible act. Guy Nadon was the psychologist (and one of the two translators of the script into French), and although he was more than adequate in the role, his physical motions made the doctor a little more active than the script seems to call for. The rest of the nine-person cast did an excellent job with their parts. I was very taken by the production. The production is already closed, so I cannot urge you to head to Montr_ to see it. LOp_ de Montr_ Saturday night, May 23, I attended the opening performance of the final production of the 2007-2008 season by LOdeM in Salle Wilfrid Pelletier at Montr_'s Place des Arts. It was a stunning performance of this too often badly performed opera. The production had two amazing assets: the Japanese soprano, Hiromi Omura, and the conductor Yannick N_t-S_in, who all but micromanaged the members of the orchestra into giving an extraordinary performanceperhaps even the outstanding performance of their lives. Omura, even when offstage singing Butterfly's entrance aria, was an immediate presence in the theater. She dominated every scene that she was inwhich is most of the operaby her artistry and her incredible vocal technique, which allowed her huge latitude in the intonations and emotions of the character of Butterfly. She deservedly was given a prolonged solo bow at the end of the opera and after Un bel di, even the conductor applauded her enthusiastically. Omura used her voice in a manner that I have not heard in a long time from a soprano, because it bespeaks not just a voice and employees under complete control, but a voice capable of the smallest nuances of difference, as well as the ferocious outbursts to Goro and to Prince Yamadori which occur. It is also a voice that can be colored almost from word to word, as you might expect from a singer of art songs. She is beginning apparently to hit the fast track, and when word gets around opera circles about the nature and glory of this performance, she will be much in demand (in fact, Omura analogously equaled a stunning performance that I heard of 'Lucia di Lammermoor with Joan Sutherland, who was making her San Francisco Opera debut, challenging the rest of the gifted cast to match her by giving of their very best singing). N_t-S_in has always been a remarkable conductor, throwing himself into his work with a passion that seldom used to be found in other conductors. His conducting of Verdi is intensely vigorous. As, from time to time, I watched him Saturday evening, he did everything that an instrumentalist would need to see in order to turn in a perfect performance (although at the climactic measure of the love duet from the first act, there was a one-note disagreement as to timing between/among the tenor, the soprano and the conductor). N_t-S_in turned in a performance of Puccini that had no excesses, and in so doing, he has become a true conducting powerhouse. The roar of approval that arose from the throats of the audience during the curtain calls at the end of the opera paid deserved tribute to him and the musicians in the pit. The rest of the cast was superb, from the Pinkerton of Richard Troxell, who was handsome as well as a superb singer; the Suzuki of Annamaria Popescu, who sang the flower duet with Omura gorgeously and pitched perfectly in tune; the Sharpless of James Westman who brought all the sympathy towards Butterfly and anger against Pinkerton to bear by means of his fine voice and great stage presence. Of the physical production itself: the costumingespecially the women in the opening scene and the costumes for Yamadori and for the Bonzewas a cause for head scratching in trying to decide what was meant. Other than that, the production, from Opera Australia, as well as the direction from the same source was marvelous, and once especially past the equivocal costuming of the opening scene, smoothly sailed through the rest of the production. In short, this was a Butterfly to treasure. Up next year in Montr_'s home-grown opera company: productions of 'The Girl of the Golden West', The Pearl-fishers, Macbeth and Lucia. Plus Starmania, I'll rock opera, and Cos_an tutte. Burlington Chamber Orchestra Saturday, May 10, I attended the fourth concert at UVM's Redstone Recital Hall by the newly formed BCO in the direction of its music director and conductor, Michael Hopkins. My impressions at the first concert by this group were highly positive, and this second hearing of the group he enhances that original opinion. The concert featured two Concerti Grossi (Handel and Hopkins) and two Serenades (Mozart and Dvorak). The opening Handel concerto was brilliantly sounded -- the acoustics of the Recital Hall seem especially favorable to string sound. It was the no. 3 from Opus 6, in e-minor. The three soloists, Ira Morris, Carolyn Lukancic and John Dunlop, were outstanding both in this and in the Hopkins work. It was a straightforward, uncluttered version of the concerto, and sent the evening off into a grand start. Mozart was next in line with his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. This perhaps overly well-known piece sounded fresh and full of the delights which it contains. The opening octaves were well tuned, and the whole serenade was a delight to listen to even if -- or because -- you knew the work well. The Hopkins Concerto Grosso no. 1 patterned itself on the Bloch Concerto Grosso, which the group played out its first concert, by using piano instead of a harpsichord as one of the continuo instruments. It was a full-bodied work, in two sections that were comprised of a fast and a slow section each. It was an effective piece of writing, which the audience recognized, giving the composer/conductor a separate standing ovation for the composition itself, with which the orchestra members joined wholeheartedly. Their work should be in every chamber orchestra's repertoire. The concert ended with a rousing and enlightening performance of the Serenade for Strings, op. 22 by Dvorak. Hopkins expressed his being captivated by the writing in this serenade, and that captivation translated easily into a wonderful performance of the work, full of the vibrancy and dance rhythms that the composer utilized. In a note in the program booklet, Hopkins expressed their intention to do all 12 of the Concerti Grossi from Handel's op. 6 during the first and succeeding seasons, leading up to the 250th anniversary of the composer's passing. May they make that goal. They also announced that on their final concert of the season to be held on Saturday, June 21, the two Young Artists Award winners will appear on the program in a work by Vivaldi.. The Red Chair Series on Religion and the Arts at CCP Sunday afternoon, May 11 (Mother's Day) held a special treat for concertgoers, a solo recital by Shyla Nelson held at Christ Church Presbyterian on the UVM campus. Her concert was part of the inaugural year of presentations at that church. The concert, titled: Nature Never Spent: A Celebration of Motherhood, the Earth, and the Divine Feminine, celebrated those entities in music and text. Nelson began with three Handel arias, which she sang beautifully and with an appropriate feeling for ornamentation on the repeat of the A-section of the arias. She was in excellent voice, and she made of these arias discrete showcases of technical ability. The second set of songs was by Schubert, including the famous Die Forelle, the story of the trout that got caught (her performance was on point exactly). The last of the three songs, "Das Rosenband, was unknown to me, and I was delighted to hear it. The third grouping included two famous settings of the text of the "Ave Maria" (Bach-Gounod and Schubert), and sandwiched between the two familiar settings was part of the last act of Verdi' Otello, Desdemona's prayer for protection. She particularly seemed at home in this aria, and she floated the final high note exquisitely. She performed two songs by Xiudan Lin, who also accompanied her throughout the program. The songs, but especially the setting of the Gerard Manley Hopkins text, "Heaven-Haven", had merit, and the performances of the two songs or one of the highlights of the afternoon for the audience. The program closes with four lullabies from four different countries. It was a wonderful concert for a Sunday afternoon in May

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