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A CurtainUp Berkshires Music Feature
By Elyse Sommer
In this his 250th year after the birth of the quintessential child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it's hardly surprising that the Berkshires are alive with Mozart tributes. The Berkshire Theatre Festival reprised the wildly successful Amadeus, in which Peter Shaffer wove bits and pieces of facts about Mozart and the composer Antonio Salieri into a fascinating drama. Since in Amadeus, the play's the thing, it was left to our stellar musical organizations, Tanglewood and The Berkshire Opera to satisfy our appetite for Mozart's unfailingly thrilling and emotionally rich music.
The Berkshire Opera Company used the Mozart anniversary to launch its 22nd season (where DOES time fly?) with a one-night-only concert entitled The Soul of Genius: A Mozart Celebration. And what a treat the July 5th event was: aria after gorgeous area from such opera favorites as Le nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflöte, La cleâömenza di Tito, and more. Just listening to the well chosen cast of singers would have been reason enough to partake of this celebration at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington with its superb acoustics. But BOC, experienced in providing full-scale entertainment within a small opera company's budget constraints, had the performers enliven their selections by acting out as well as singing their parts. And to put each aria into the context of the opera from which it was taken, retired British opera singer Benjamin Luxon, introduced each aria with enlightening and witty comments. The staging also included English super titles.
The evening featured several special guests: the Berkshire's own home-grown diva, Maureen O'Flynn who performs regularly at major opera houses in the United States and abroad; another renowned soprano Christine Goerke making her BOC debut; tenor Mark Schowalter and baritone Troy Cook (he'll return later in the season in Madame Butterfly). O'Flynn was elegant in a glittery black pants suit and her wonderful soprano voice did full justice to "Dove sono i bei mementi" from Le nozze de Figaro. They were joined by some very talented members of BOC's Resident Artist Program sopranos -- Alisa Thomason, Meredith Flaster, Cristina McFadden, and Laura Strickling, mezzo-sopranos Carolyn A. Kahl and Jennifer Berkebile, and baritone John Fulton -- a number of whom will appear in the company's full production of Englebert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel In July (July 24, 27, 29 and 31st, also at the Mahaiwe Arts Center).
If I have one complaint about the program it's that Ms. O'Flynn only sang one aria instead of the previously announced two. I also wish that the very able conductor Kathleen Kelly would have allowed herself to relax and either leave the podium during Mr. Luxon's narrative moments or sit down instead of standing at her post like a soldier on guard duty.
Of course, The Tanglewood Music Festival will also pay tribute to Mozart's 250th birthday with a weekend of which a concert performance of Don Giovanni will be a centerpiece and, in a unique collaboration with the Kripalu Yoga and Health center, people spending July 21st to 23rd at Kripalu will be immersed in yoga meditation and Mozart as part of a program called Mozart Inner Harmony and Transformation: Attuning Your Mind, Body and Heart. The program is the brainchild of the Center's director Stephen Cope, himself a classical pianist.
I think Mozart would have enjoyed all these celebrations. If only he could come back long enough to add a celebratory piece to his own remarkable oeuvre.