by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum resumed its series of Sunday afternoon classical musical recitals April 7 with the help of Opera Philadelphia. In conjunction with the company’s forthcoming production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” in the Academy of Music April 19, 21, 24, 26 and 28, Michael Bolton (not the pop singer) presented selections from five Mozart operas. With the collaboration of pianist Elise Auerbach, sopranos Kelly Ann Bixby and Rebecca Siler, baritone John David Miles and Bolton, himself, in one selection, the afternoon’s large and enthusiastic audience heard arias and duets from “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” “Idomeneo,” “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Don Giovanni” and “The Magic Flute.”
With Auerbach at the piano, Siler got the music-making underway with a nicely phrased and brightly projected aria from “Abduction,” a work Mozart composed early in his operatic career that took full advantage of the craze for all things Turkish in late 18th century Vienna. The westward onslaught of the Ottoman Empire, which had seemed inevitable and unstoppable only a few decades earlier, had been halted. Almost overnight, the Turks were transformed from a specter of terror to an object of jest. Mozart made the most of this change with an opera that both highlighted the ingenuity of a European woman in a fight to save her beloved as well as the incompetence of the sultan’s empire.
Bixby followed with a solid performance of an aria from “Idomeneo,” Mozart’s first operatic masterpiece written in the style of the Italian baroque “opera seria.” It was the favorite form of Handel before he began composing English oratorios such as “Messiah.” Mozart’s opus is probably the last great example of the style before Gluck “reformed” opera of its extravagant absurdities and Mozart, himself, established a more realistic style.
“The Magic Flute” was Mozart’s final opera, coming after “Cosi fan tutte” (Thus do they all) and “La clemenza di Tito” (The Clemency of Titus). “The Magic Flute” is a fable of good versus evil. Its Masonic-inspired libretto turns the tables on the audience more than once, and some of its music borders on the style of the popular music-theater of the day, but much of it is beautifully set for the voice, and Siler, Bixby, Miles and Bolton sang it well. Pianist Auerbach effectively conjured up the sounds of a full orchestra throughout the entire program.
The Choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, under the direction of Zachary Hemenway, will be joined by the choirs of Christ Church, Alexandria, VA, and Church of the Redeemer Bethesda, MD, 5 p.m. Sunday, April 21, for Choral Evensong.
After missing the previous weekend’s set of concerts due to illness, Dutch-born conductor Jaap van Zweden took the podium of the Philadelphia Orchestra to lead the ensemble in an all-Russian program Friday and Saturday, April 12 and 13, in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. I caught the second of the performances and heard sterling renditions of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” and Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony.
“Souvenir de Florence” was originally cast for string sextet. Its arrangement for full string orchestra was by Drew Lucas, with these concerts marking the fuller version’s first performance by the Philadelphians. van Zweden elicited exemplary playing Saturday night, and the audience responded with a resounding ovation.
There were no fond memories for Prokofiev when he composed his Fifth Symphony during the final year of World War II. They were brutal times for the Russians – the result of both the Nazi invaders and Stalin’s earlier purges – and Prokofiev used them as musical fodder for his finest symphonic effort. It’s a score that employs the fullest complement of an orchestra, and van Zweden and the Philadelphians offered a rendition that was both overwhelming and moving.