Is it perverse to celebrate the Verdi bicentennial year without singers? Excerpts of Wagner’s operas are performed in symphonic format all the time, so perhaps a precedent has been set. Cameristi della Scala, a chamber orchestra made up of musicians from the orchestra of Milan’s most famous theater, went one better on Wednesday night by performing other composers’ instrumental fantasies on themes from Giuseppe Verdi’s operas.
The musicians had the bad fortune to arrive in Washington during the government shutdown, which has canceled the free concert series at the concert’s intended venue, the Library of Congress. Happily, the Italian Embassy saved the day, offering its small auditorium for this performance, part of the ongoing festivities of the Italian Year of Culture.
The selections, all by Italian performer-composers whose bread and butter included this sort of solo fantasy arrangement of popular arias, were quite charming. All selected freely from the many possible tunes in each opera, meaning that your favorite pieces might not be included but also that a listener familiar with the opera can relive, quite vividly, his or her memories of the score. Violinist Francesco Manara and cellist Massimo Polidori handled the virtuosic solos with operatic panache, supported ably by five string players, four winds and one horn.
High points included Antonio Bazzini’s fantasia for violin on “La Traviata” and Luigi Mancinelli’s fantasia for cello on intense themes from “Don Carlo,” with the double bass player covering a triangle part at one point. Originally accompanied by piano, all the pieces were orchestrated byone of the group’s members, violinist Gianluca Scandola, who outdid himself on the opening work, a slapstick and iridescent fantasia on themes from “Falstaff,” in which the French horn imitated the knight’s cries of pain in the fairy scene.
Downey is a freelance writer.