by Michael Caruso
In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, the parish choir, under the direction of Erik Meyer, will make a pilgrimage to England, where it will be the choir-in-residence at Exeter Cathedral and its London namesake, the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
As part of its preparation for this celebratory journey, St. Martin’s choir will sing Choral Evensong at the church 5 p.m. Sunday, May 4. The service will feature music composed for the 125th anniversary by Erik Meyer. Following Evensong, a silent auction will be held to benefit the tour. Items include weeklong stays in vacation homes, local works of art, private parties, a commissioned composition, gift certificates to Chestnut Hill’s finest establishments and many other items. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served. Both the Evensong and the silent auction are free and open to the public.
Although Woodmere Art Museum suspended its Sunday afternoon series of classical music recitals at the start of 2014, that didn’t stop two members of Tempesta di Mare from presenting a Sunday afternoon recital there April 13. Lutenist Richard Stone, director and co-founder of the baroque instruments ensemble, joined violinist Rebecca Harris in an informative and delightful survey of a sliver of the music composed by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Biber.
Biber is one of those composers whose music has been eclipsed by such better-known masters as Bach and Handel, both of whom learned much from his work. Like Paganini in the 19th century, Biber in the 17th broadened and deepened the capabilities of the violin as it and its companions (viola, cello and double bass) took over from the viol family of string instruments.
Harris played beautifully. Her immaculate tone, pitch, dynamics and phrasing were employed to maximum effect. Stone offered superb accompaniment.
OPERA X 2
The final weekend of April gave me the opportunity to attend two operas. The Academy of Vocal Arts Opera Theater opened its production of Massenet’s “Manon” Saturday evening, April 26, in its Warden Theater; the following Sunday afternoon, April 27, I attended Opera Philadelphia’s mounting of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in the Academy of Music.
The story of Manon, as originally told in the 1731 novel by the Abbe Prevost, was apparently so fascinating that both Massenet and Puccini (his is entitled “Manon Lescaut”) composed operas based on it. Whereas Puccini’s version is considered one of his second-tier opuses, Massenet’s is his most famous. Both settings deal with a young woman whose spirit is willing to sacrifice for love but whose flesh is too weak to deny her earth’s pleasures. Her choices guaranteed her doom.
AVA’s production – stage directed by Tito Capobianco, conducted by Christofer Macatsoris – is a knockout both theatrically and musically. Capobianco and his designers, particularly set designer Peter Harrison and costume and wig designer Val Starr, have transformed the Warden Theater’s tiny stage into a myriad of settings to accommodate the libretto’s many changes of time and place. Capobianco’s direction of his young singers/actors is no less worthy of praise. He elicited acting from them that would pass the test of an unsung theatrical production. Macatsoris conducted vibrantly and sensitively.
Soprano Sydney Mancasola sang with intense brilliance in the title role, essaying every high note and coloratura phrase with dazzling bravura. Tenor Diego Silva gave the most telling portrayal as the hapless Chevalier des Grieux I’ve ever encountered.
AVA’s “Manon” continues through May 10. Call 215-735-1685 or visit www.avaopera.org.
Opera Philadelphia’s production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” my choice for the greatest opera of them all, works well with a few reservations. George Manahan’s conducting occasionally overwhelmed some of the smaller-voiced members of the cast but for the most part offered a strong rendition of Mozart’s peerless score.
The weakest member of the cast was baritone Elliot Madore in the title role. His voice was poorly projected Sunday afternoon, and he failed to offer even a touch of the aristocratic charm with which Giovanni seduced his thousands of women. Soprano Michelle Johnson was a glorious Donna Anna, the victim who fights back and triumphs. Baritone Joseph Barron was vocally weak but theatrically convincing as Leporello, Giovanni’s amoral servant; tenor David Portillo sang beautifully as the weak-willed Don Ottavio, and bass Nicholas Masters lacked vocal depth as the Commendatore.
“Don Giovanni” continues through May 4. Call 215-893-1018 or visit www.operaphila.org.