Matt Boehler, left, portrays Leporello, and Brian Mulligan has the title role in
Matt Boehler, left, portrays Leporello, and Brian Mulligan has the title role in "Don Giovanni." (Wolf Trap Opera Company)
Monday, July 25, 2005

Young Soloists' Concert

Whoever dreamed up the free summer concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra did the public a wonderful service. On Friday two promising young musicians -- both studying at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore -- took the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall for this year's Young Soloists' Concert, now celebrating its 25th season. New high school graduate Kimberly Kong played the first movement of Camille Saint-Saens's showy Piano Concerto No. 2. Saxophonist Maureen Walsh, who will pursue a master's degree this fall, soloed in Florent Schmitt's fetching "Legende." Also involved in some of the afternoon's works, two local students -- flutist Luke Fitzpatrick (a junior at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg) and harpist Sara Franke (a senior at West Springfield High School) -- played alongside NSO members. The orchestra's associate conductor, Emil de Cou, also led his musicians in Beethoven's Overture to "The Creatures of Prometheus" and in the last two movements of the composer's Symphony No. 4. An appreciative audience of families filled the hall's entire main floor.

Kong opened the Saint-Saens with Bach-like clarity and delicacy of touch. As the concerto vacillated between effusive lyricism and blustery passagework, she met every challenge, drawing on a wide vocabulary of textures and confident brawn. But why spend young talent on such shallow, rambling fare? Kong deserves better music.

Saxophonist Walsh brought consummate skill and interpretative sensitivity to the Schmitt, capturing every ounce of its dusky innuendos and mystical exoticism while lending the piece's sonorous landscape a full measure of plein-air feeling.

De Cou has a punch to his conducting style, which perfectly suited the overture, music with stretches of gentle arabesques disrupted by startling sforzandos and other hallmark-Beethoven features. De Cou's approach to the symphony movements was a model of pastoral playfulness, with continual scurrying figures tossed between orchestral sections in a pleasantly outdoorsy way.

-- Cecelia Porter

'Don Giovanni' at Wolf Trap

Mozart's "Don Giovanni," now playing at the Barns of Wolf Trap, requires a half-dozen performers of extraordinary singing and acting skill. It has them in this production by the Wolf Trap Opera Company. The cast is excellent throughout, the show is handsomely costumed (though scenery is minimal) and the story of sex and violence, crime and punishment is shaped and paced with consummate skill by conductor Ari Pelto and director Ned Canty.

One feature that might surprise fans is the imbalance between the lecherous nobleman, Giovanni (Brian Mulligan), and his disgruntled valet, Leporello (Matt Boehler). Mulligan does not seem to accept the attitude, common among 19th-century fans, that saw Giovanni as a romantic hero in the Byronic style, standing proudly against society and destiny. In Mozart's view, Giovanni is a criminal, rapist and seducer; the shattering final scene, in which he is dragged screaming into the fires of Hell, is a happy ending.

That's what the music says and that's how Mulligan plays it. He deemphasizes charm and portrays Giovanni as a menace to society. That leaves an opening for Boehler, an extraordinarily charismatic performer, to steal the show, and he does so with gusto.

Three women are Giovanni's intended victims in the one day that fills the opera's plot: Anna (Marjorie Owens), a noblewoman cool and determined; Elvira (Laquita Mitchell), who was seduced and abandoned by Giovanni in the past, now thirsty for revenge but still in love with him; Zerlina (Evelyn Pollock), an earthy peasant, at once vulnerable and suspicious, whom he tries to seduce on her wedding day. All three are brilliantly characterized, vocally and theatrically. Norman Reinhardt fits well into the difficult role of Don Ottavio. Jason Hardy and Daniel Gross are equally good in supporting roles.

There will be repeat performances Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

-- Joseph McLellan

Evening of Percussion at U-Md.

There are seven words that can make a parent cringe: "Mom, I want to play the drums." At the University of Maryland Summer Percussion Workshop, 41 teens from around the country got to do just that in a week of intensive instruction, honing their already well-developed skills with rehearsals and master classes. The workshop culminated with a concert Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center featuring student groups and Tempus Fugit Percussion Ensemble, a professional quintet.

The students turned out an admirably focused and precise performance of "Six Marimbas" by Steve Reich. The entire class filled the stage with a massive display of multiple marimbas, xylophones and drums for Carlos Santana's "Primavera"; the musicians were full of enthusiasm and gusto, but the sound was as cluttered as the stage.

Much of Tempus Fugit's portion of the program was a crashing disappointment. After the first five minutes of Gavin Bryars's New Age "One Last Bar Then Joe Can Sing," the next 20 minutes were interminable. "Rechargeable Light" by Tempus Fugit member Brett William Dietz was reminiscent of 1970s underground rock, with an electronic drum kit adding a cheesy sound to the mix.

Only the well-crafted "Three Wives of Shango" by ensemble members Shawn Galvin and Dennis Hoffmann held together with a cohesive form and compelling gestures.

It takes a lot of effort to successfully carry off these all-percussion works, but Tempus Fugit, though very skilled, could not overcome the poor selection of material. Perhaps an entire evening of percussion music is something only a drummer could love.

-- Gail Wein

© 2005 The Washington Post Company