Boy, does conductor/artistic director Gill Rose ever know how to book the best players. The quality of the Monadnock Festival Orchestra was the news of the day Sunday for the all-Mozart opening concert in Monadnock Music’s 48th season. The sound Rose got from the 30 mostly young Boston freelancers in the resonant and supportive Peterborough Town House was quick, sumptuous and squeaky-clean. The blend of the six first and five second violins in their sections was nearly superhuman: they agreed on pitches and articulations absolutely. In large orchestras one typically needs to depend more on the amelioration of the space to blend the sound, whereas for Rose the players were as alert to one another as to their leader. The result was a lovely sheen, but without the overthrobbing vibrato that older players sometimes employ to cover defects.
This was by a substantial margin the finest orchestra I have heard at the Monadnock concerts in over 40 years of attending. I really look forward to hearing them again for the Ned Rorem Our Town on August 11th, as well as some of the constituent players in chamber groups in the weeks to come. The complete schedule is here.
A suite of ballet music from Idomeneo set the stage. This was lively modern orchestra playing without any mincing, early-music mannerisms; it was large, generous and immaculate. Tempi were convincing, sections differentiated. If the set overall failed to rise to the level of some of Mozart’s famous serenades and divertimenti, we nevertheless received real pleasure for a while and we did not miss the dancers.
Lucio Silla (K.367), an opera seria written in Milan in 1771, has come up somewhat in critical regard since the 1935 Groves dismissed it as important only as a marker for a stage in Mozart’s development. The two arias of Cecilio “Il tenero momento” (I would fain give this proof of steadfastness), and “Ah se a mori” (Alas if my cruel fate/ summons me to death) were clearly on the program because of sopranist Michael Maniaci’s associations with them. In fact, he debuted with the Royal Danish Opera in another role from Lucio Silla. Well-known to local audiences for his appearances and recordings with Boston Baroque and for his creation of the role of Xiao Ching in the world premiere of Zhou Long’s opera Madame White Snake with Opera Boston, Maniaci offers vocal production that is powerful and dramatic well up into the soprano range, and there’s no falsetto or trickery. His tone on top is huskily boyish and without contrivance. It quickly occurred to me that Maniaci would make an excellent Cherubino—and in fact he debuted in that role with the Pittsburgh Opera in 2004, the first time Cherubino was represented by a male in the US. Would it still have been considered a trouser role?
Maniaci returned after the break with two of Sesto’s arias from La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart’s last opera seria, strangely, somewhat reluctantly composed while he was also working on Die Zauberflöte. Sesto’s arias are remonstrances concerning beauty, love, loss and death, “Parto, ma tu ben mio” (I am leaving; but you my dearest / must make peace with me again) and “Deh, per questo instante solo” (Ah, for just this moment / remember our former love) came across as rousing vehicles for the singer. Mozart did pathos more keenly in his more dramatic operas. Instead, we got fine trills, spotless coloratura, power, pleasure and no strain in the room-filling sound. Rose did not seem ever to have to restrain his orchestra to avoid covering the singer. This fearless display is probably what to hope for in opera seria, and we weren’t disappointed. I could be convinced that “Parto, ma tu ben mio” actually transcended seria conventions, and was thus a bit surprised to get so many grins and winks from Maniaci instead of characterization.
Rose and the band closed with a convincing and satisfying Jupiter Symphony. The opening was bravura indeed, the sections and soloists never less than superb of execution. The drive of the first movement yielded to an admirable restraint with tension in the second. The powdered wigs were all dropped for the Menuetto, which had destination as well as spin. The Molto Allegro finale really ripped, with the fugal sections splendidly voiced. What a proud afternoon for players, conductor and singer.
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