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August 6, 2009

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Fine Pastorius concert series comes to disappointing end

The 2009 summer season of concerts in Pastorius Park came to a disappointing end on Wednesday, July 29. Instead of hearing the Hot Club of Philadelphia perform “potent gypsy jazz” out in the park, I met another gentleman who, like me, had called the given phone number for weather cancellations and hadn’t been informed that the concert, indeed, had been cancelled.

(Ed. Note: A spokesperson for CHCA told me that a message had been placed on their concert hotline earlier in the day stating that the concert had been postponed because of inclement weather. However, for some inexplicable reason, the message was erased, and the 33 people who called that day did not hear the message.)

For many years, the auditorium of the Springside School was used as an indoor replacement whenever the weather was inclement. Then, last year, the auditorium of the Jenks Elementary School was used — a site I much preferred because both the acoustics and the sight lines there are superior to those at the Springside School for the kinds of concerts presented in Pastorius Park. This season marked the first when concerts were completely cancelled in the event of bad weather, and this was the only program cancelled as a result.

Looking back over the concerts I had the pleasure to hear, my favorites were Katie Eagleson singing “The Great American Songbook” on July 1 and singer/songwriter John Conahan’s beautiful blend of blues, jazz and pop July 22. Both sang with impressive vocalism. Their music was both steeped in tradition yet individually innovative.

The entire roster of performers boasted local connections, often bringing with them a band of local devotees. It’s a great idea for building next year’s season — with the possible addition to the list of one old-time concert band and an evening of selections from the Broadway and operatic stages.

And here’s one final suggestion for a possible concert program. The Germantown Branch of Settlement Music School hosts an intensive, two-week workshop called “Summer Jam” in late June/early July. Perhaps CHCA could work with Patricia Manley, the director of Settlement’s Germantown Branch, to put together a concert program featuring the best of these young bands to perform in Pastorius Park as part of its summer season of outdoor concerts?

‘LA BOHEME’

The Delaware Valley Opera Company is bringing its 2009 summer season of operas to a close with one of the most popular works in the standard repertoire. DVOC’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” opened Saturday night in the auditorium of Roxborough High School. It will be reprised August 5 and 8 at 8 p.m.

Along with “Madame Butterfly” and “Tosca,” “La Boheme” has held the stage as part of a threesome of popular Puccini operas, which means that all three are among the most well-loved and frequently-staged operas ever composed. Giuseppe Verdi’s mid-career trio of “Il Trovatore,” “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata” are probably their only rivals for the combined affection of opera lovers.

Puccini’s opera focuses on the life-and-death loves and struggles of a group of artists living in late 19th century Paris. A poet, a painter, a musician, a philosopher, a seamstress and a coquette come together to fall in and out of love, to dream and to die, all accompanied by some of the most lusciously lyrical scores ever produced for the operatic stage.

Unlike the mountings of “Romeo & Juliet” and “Cinderella” earlier in the season, which were sung in English translations, “La Boheme” was sung in its original Italian. Saturday night’s program proclaimed that English supertitles by Leland P. Kimball III from OperaDelaware would be projected above the stage. Indeed, there was a black panel in place for said supertitles. Unfortunately, none appeared Saturday evening. I learned later on Sunday afternoon that there had been technical difficulties with the projection of the supertitles and that they would not be seen during subsequent performances of “La Boheme.”

For an opera-going veteran like myself, the absence of English supertitles offers no major hindrance to enjoying the performance. But for anyone less familiar with the libretto’s plot, the absence of an ongoing English translation could be a major disincentive to becoming a regular opera-goer.

All the same, Joyce Brommer’s stage direction was a model of simplicity and a marvel of efficacy. If only she could have stage-managed the sweltering heat in that uncomfortable auditorium!

Elise Auerbach’s musical direction was slightly less successful, particularly from the standpoint of her own piano playing. It lacked color, voicing and phrasing — all so vitally important when reducing Puccini’s magnificent orchestration to the piano. Although there were some problems of ensemble in the second act, she mostly held her cast together.

Soprano Elisabeth Stevens was vocally touching and thrilling as Mimi, the seamstress doomed to die of consumption by the opera’s finale. She sang with seamless legato and consistency of tone from top to bottom of her range. Unfortunately for her, opera nowadays is theater almost as much as it is music. Stevens cut an awkward figure onstage and barely acted at all, preferring to focus on singing. She sang beautifully, but if opera is her dream, she needs to work on her stage presence.

Local veteran Richard Shapp was particularly effective as the painter Marcello. His baritone voice remains potent in dramatic projection, and his portrayal of a man who can’t help but love a volatile woman hit the mark. Soprano Melissa Angelo was a delightfully saucy Musetta, the tawdry tart with a heart of gold, and bass Martin Hargrove and baritone Jeffrey Carr efficaciously rounded out the cast as Colline and Schaunard.

For ticket information, call 215-725-4171 or visit www.dvopera.com.




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