by Michael Caruso
The Quakertown Concert Band played in concert at Chestnut Hill’s beautiful Pastorius Park last Wednesday evening, July 6. Then, on Saturday, July 9, I took my first excursion to the Salvation Army’s new Kroc Center in East Falls to catch the Delaware Valley Opera Company’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Both events combined delightful venues with exemplary music making.
It was a trip down memory lane on July 6, when Richard Karschner conducted the Quakertown Band in a program that recalled the glory days of concert band programs in local parks and combined those traditions with forays into a broader repertoire. Marches by John Phillip Sousa were certainly present and accounted for, but Karschner and his band of hearty musicians gave stirring readings to scores either composed originally for concert band or arranged to suit their particular talents.
One of the most interesting choices was “76 Trombones” from “The Music Man” by Meredith Wilson, who just so happened to play piccolo in Sousa’s own band. The master, himself, was represented by an odd but memorable choice in the program’s first half – the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” “The Blue and Gray Patrol” commemorated this year’s 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War – and paired “Dixie” with “The Star Spangled Banner.” Sorrentino’s “Willow Grove March” recalled one of America’s leading parks that featured concert band performances, in Willow Grove, while an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “March Slav” testified to the tradition of band arrangements of scores originally played by full symphony orchestras.
A lovely suite of songs from Victor Herbert operettas ventured into yet another part of the repertoire once regularly performed by concert bands but often forgotten nowadays. My favorite, however, was a suite entitled “Nighttime with Cole Porter” that surveyed all the lyrics and songs written by Porter. There are quite a few, and Karschner and the Quakertown Band turned themselves into a big band of the swing era to do more than justice to Porter’s sophisticated lyrics, melodies, harmonies and rhythms.
When I first started covering the Pastorius Park concerts for the Chestnut Hill Local 25 years ago at the behest of both Ruth Russell and Marie Jones, concert bands were the mainstay of the summer season. Times and tastes have changed, in many ways happily so, but it was nice hearing the old sounds in the park once again, especially when they were so well performed as they were last Wednesday evening, July 6, by the Quakertown Band.
The Delaware Valley Opera Company opened its presentation of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” Saturday night, July 9, in the Salvation Army’s new Kroc Center at 4200 Wissahickon Ave. in East Falls. Both the facility and the production are worth taking in, with DVOC reprising “Don Giovanni” Wednesday, July 13, and Saturday, July 16, with an 8 p.m. curtain time for both dates.
The libretto that Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote for Mozart to use in “Don Giovanni” is so fine a work of dramatic fiction that it’s really unfair not to refer to the opera as being Da Ponte’s and Mozart’s. Based on the legends of the 17th century Spanish count, Don Juan, and his ruthless exploits imposed upon women of all sorts, Da Ponte’s libretto offers its audience not merely a morality play but a profound study in tortured characters and conflicted motivations.
Mozart responded to this narrative masterpiece with a score that enhances and highlights every one of its brilliant insights and dramatic flourishes. Even though the three women are ranged for the soprano voice, each one’s music is given a different color to project her different character. The music for each of the opera’s seminal roles is different in melodic shape, harmonic accompaniment and rhythmic propulsion, and all come together with the help of Mozart’s sweeping orchestration to give the audience a boldly yet finely wrought tapestry of human beings pushed to the extremes of their emotions.
The principal strength of DVOC’s production is Steven Weber’s musical direction. Conducting his cast while accompanying at the Cunningham (of Germantown) grand piano, Weber elicited brightly hued yet subtly shaded portraits from his singers. Best among these were the three women: Laurice Kennell as Donna Anna, Teresa D’Amico as Donna Elvira and Emily Eisen as Zerlina.
Coming in a close second on the list of strengths is the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, itself. The worship center/auditorium makes for a splendid theater for operas and any other staged musical productions. Acoustics and sight lines couldn’t be better. One can only hope that it’s used as much as it deserves.
For ticket information visit www.dvopera.org.