Bass Brent Michael Smith (left) and mezzo Pascale Spinney star as Figaro and Cherubino, respectively, in the Academy of Vocal Arts’ performance of Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” (“The Marriage of Figaro”).

by Michael Caruso

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, will mark the closing of the current liturgical year with a Choral Evensong celebrating the “Feast of Christ the King” Sunday, Nov. 24, 4 p.m. Herbert Murrill’s setting of the traditional texts of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” will be the central choral works of the service sung by the parish’s adult choir.

Then on Saturday, Dec. 14, 5 to 7 p.m., St. Paul’s Church will host the Mendelssohn Club’s annual holiday “Feast of Carols.” Interim music director John Edwards will conduct the 100-member chorus in a classic balance between traditional hymns and carols (during which the audience can sing along), favorite works for choir and some newly minted scores of great beauty.

The program includes motets and anthems by William Byrd, Heinrich Schutz, Morten Lauridsen, Hector Berlioz, Gustav Holst, Alfred Burt and Donald St. Pierre. Carols include “O come, o come, Emmanuel,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Lo, How a Rose,” “Sleep, Little Jesus, Sleep,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night,” arranged by Peggy Lee.

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Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia Baroque orchestra, will present lutenists Richard Stone & Cameron Welkes in recital Saturday, Nov. 23, 5 p.m., in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, and Sunday, Nov. 24, 3 p.m., in the Museum of the American Revolution at 3rd and Chestnut Sts. in Old City.

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The Academy of Vocal Arts opened its 2019-20 season of staged operas Nov. 9-24 with a magnificent mounting of Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro” (“The Marriage of Figaro”). I caught the Saturday evening, Nov. 16, performance in AVA’s Warden Theater, 1920 Spruce St., and came away more convinced than ever that AVA’s president & artistic director, East Falls’ K. James McDowell, continues to discover and nurture opera’s future artists.

“Figaro” is considered the greatest comic opera ever composed. Its nearest rival for the title is Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville). Both operas are based on libretti based on plays by Baeumarchais. In Mozart’s case, his librettist was Lorenzo da Ponte, and he turned Baeumarchais’ politically subversive script into a cleverly disguised assault on the privileges of the aristocracy of 17th-century Spain.

“Figaro” is considered to be the greatest comic opera ever composed.

The dashing yet entitled Count Almaviva of “Barber” has become an overweening lecher in “Figaro.” Although there are more than a few hints of his true personality in “Barber,” they don’t come into full fruition until “Figaro.” Here they cause havoc for his manservant Figaro and for Susanna, Figaro’s intended and the lady’s maid of Almaviva’s Countess, the Rosina he wooed with Figaro’s help in “Barber.” If this sounds convoluted, trust me that it’s merely the tip of the iceberg.

But what a funny iceberg it is, and Mozart responded to da Ponte’s libretto with his most accomplished score. His lyrical genius for arias, duets and ensembles was never surpassed, his use of orchestral colors to support and enhance the singing was never approached, and his command over the structure of the opera’s narrative never flags or falters. It is, in my opinion, the greatest opera ever composed because its characters are convincing, its storyline is humanly humorous, and its point of view regarding society and its ills remains relevant today.

AVA’s production catches all of Mozart’s triumph. Christofer Macatsoris’ conducting Saturday evening was energetic yet sensitive. David Gately’s stage direction was focused yet hysterical. Peter Harrison’s set design made amazing use of the Warden’s tiny stage and Val J. Starr’s costume & wig design channeled Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer’s Adrian at the height of his glory.

The cast was equally impressive. Bass Brent Michael Smith sang with resonant virility and acted with deceptive charm as Figaro. Soprano Aubry Ballaro was a saucy yet eloquent Susanna. Baritone Timothy Murray as Almaviva and Philadelphia soprano Kara Mulder as Rosina offered the production’s most glorious voices.

Murray sang so beautifully that you almost overlooked his awful behavior while Mulder filled the house with tonal warmth and expressive phrasing. Mezzo Pascale Spinney was a delightful Cherubino, the page who causes so much trouble. Philadelphia bass Cody Muller was a slimy Bartolo, mezzo Chelsea Laggan was an imperious yet sentimental Marcelina, and tenor Zachary Rioux was a wonderfully preposterous Basilio.

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The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presented the Orion String Quartet and two noted friends in recital Sunday, Nov. 17, in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. The Orion – violinists Daniel & Todd Phillips, violist Steven Tenebom and cellist Timothy Eddy – played Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat major and Mozart’s String Quartet in C major before intermission. After the interval, they were joined by violist Kim Kashkashian and cellist Marcy Rosen in Dvorak’s String Sextet in A major.

In both the Haydn and the Mozart, the Orion Quartet produced a beautifully blended, flawlessly balanced, exquisitely articulated and eloquently phrased sound that caught the classical purity of the former and the operatic expressivity of the latter. In the Dvorak, the ensemble projected an expansive fullness of tone that approached that of a string symphony, spanning the gamut of loud and soft playing to delineate a universe of emotions.

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