Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 21, 2011

Magna Opera

Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Hartford, CT
November 10-13, 2011
by Michael J. Moran

For the second “Masterworks” series of her debut year, Music Director Carolyn Kuan led the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in an exciting program of opera excerpts by five composers, featuring three overtures and two complete semi-staged acts.

A rousing performance of Wagner’s dramatic "Flying Dutchman Overture" captured the eerie mood of that composer’s first successful opera and set the stage for Act III of Verdi’s "La Traviata," in which Violetta is reunited with her estranged lover, Alfredo, later joined by his father, Germont, only to die of consumption at the opera’s close. The 35-minute scene was movingly rendered by students in the Yale Opera program at Yale University, with only Violetta’s bed, a table, and two chairs as unobtrusive props.

After intermission, Kuan began the second half of the program with a lively account of the playful Overture to Mozart’s "The Marriage of Figaro."  Next came the 20-minute Act III of Puccini’s "La Boheme," which finds the lovers Rodolfo and Mimi reuniting after an argument and their friends Marcello and Musetta separating after an argument.  A mostly different cast of Yale students again turned in beautifully engaging performances. The concert ended on a high note with Offenbach’s exuberant "Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld," whose diverse elements of humor, pomp, and dance Kuan unified into a brilliant whole.

All the artists were excellent, with special praise to soprano Jamilyn Manning-White (Violetta) and baritone Cameron McPhail (Germont, Marcello), whose gorgeous voices and nuanced acting skills make them talents to watch. The orchestra, too, sounded wonderful throughout, from Wagner’s blazing brass, to the lush strings of Verdi’s prelude, to Offenbach’s many solo turns.

A number of empty seats suggested that some HSO patrons may have feared the prospect of a night at the opera. They needn’t have worried, as the Maestra’s concise and earthy introductions to both acts summarized the main characters and the action preceding the staged scenes. Her explanation of Offenbach’s uniquely comic take on the story of Orpheus and Eurydice was hilarious. The appreciative audience applauded all three of these pieces with standing ovations.