Local opera company makes history with ‘Figaro’ firsts

Local Life June 21, 2013 0 Comments

“Marriage of Figaro” will be performed once more on Wednesday, June 19, 8 p.m. For ticket and season information: 215-725-4171 or www.dvopera.org.

by Michael Caruso

The Delaware Valley Opera Company (DVOC) opened its 2013 summer season Saturday night with a stellar production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro). The performance marked two “firsts” for the local company: its first at Stage One in Wallingford, Delaware County, and its first with orchestral accompaniment.

During the more than two decades I’ve reviewed DVOC’s productions, the troupe has performed in several venues. First was the Hermitage Mansion in Roxborough; then came the auditorium of Roxborough High School; that was followed by the auditorium of the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center in the farthest reach of East Falls.

All three of these venues were problematic. The Hermitage facility was outdoors and was, therefore, vulnerable to the vagaries of summertime weather. Roxborough High’s auditorium isn’t air conditioned and often felt like an oven. Also, parking was a challenge. The Kroc Center’s auditorium is spacious and air conditioned, and it boasts plentiful, secure parking, but it’s located in an unappealing industrial park.

Stage One is part of the Suburban Music School located just off the intersection of Baltimore Pike and the Blue Route. The auditorium does, indeed, have that dreary look of ‘60s architecture, but it was comfortably cool Saturday evening despite an audience that packed the space. Best of all, it offers room enough for a small chamber orchestra which, in turn, was the strongest element of the performance.

Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” remains one of the funniest yet most telling comedies in the entire operatic repertoire. Based on the Pierre Beaumarchais play of the same name, Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto is a masterpiece of cunning humor, profound characterization and political dynamite. Saturday night’s performance was superbly conducted by Tim Ribchester. His small chamber orchestra offered a solid sonic foundation for a well-chosen cast effectively directed by Germantown’s Connie Koppe.

The evening’s finest performance was given by soprano Meghan Dewald as the Countess. A woman of surpassing beauty and elegant carriage, Dewald offered a creamy tone, seamless legato, eloquent phrasing and unaffected yet potent acting. Baritone Brian Ming Chu gave an exemplary performance as her wayward husband, Count Almaviva. Baritone Martin Hargrove had a few ensemble problems as Figaro, but soprano Tracy Sturgis was a delightful Susanna. Mezzo Alyssa Lehman was a boyish Cherubino, and Milo Morris was a wily yet engaging Bartolo.

“Marriage of Figaro” will be performed once more on Wednesday, June 19, 8 p.m. For ticket and season information: 215-725-4171 or www.dvopera.org.

CHAMBER MUSIC

The Mary Louise Curtis Branch of Settlement Music School, 416 Queen St. in South Philadelphia, will host “Chamber Music Conversations” Friday, June 21, 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event, free and open to the public, is an invitation to adult amateur musicians, music lovers and concertgoers and is a part of “Make Music Philly” celebrating chamber music of all kinds on the first day of summer. Adults are encouraged to bring their own instruments, and ensembles will be organized for anyone interested in playing. The adult chamber music program is offered at all Settlement branches, including those in Germantown (6128 Germantown Ave.) and Willow Grove (318 Davisville Rd.).

Among the many adult amateur musicians already involved in Settlement’s chamber music program is Anne Hawkins, who recently moved from Hershey to Wyndmoor, in part to eliminate a two-hour commute to Settlement’s Willow Grove Branch.

“Although I played the piano as a child,” Hawkins explained, “I only started the cello when I was 25 years old … This is my life right now. This is why I moved to this area, and everything I had hoped would happen is happening. In addition to Settlement, I play in several groups with people I’ve met at Settlement.”

Another local musician in the adult chamber music program is Chestnut Hill’s Linda Baldwin. “I majored in piano at Temple University,” she said. “One of the requirements for a degree in music education was to take a string class. This was my first exposure to playing the violin, and I really liked it. While a senior in college, I purchased the violin I’m still playing. I studied for a couple of years, first with Florence Rosenzweig, and then with Edgar Ortenburg at Settlement, put down the violin for 10 years until my daughter was 10, and then picked it up and began playing in the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia.”

For more information, call 215-320-2683 or visit www.smsmusic.org.

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