Monday, October 24, 2005

Bel Cantanti Opera

Bel Cantanti Opera gave a capital performance of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel" Saturday at Christ Lutheran Church in Bethesda. The opera is anything but Grimm -- it's a sweetened-up version of the creepy fairy tale unearthed and rewritten by the Grimm brothers Wilhelm and Jacob. After Humperdinck's sister Adelheid asked him to tone down the plot when he created a children's opera on the tale of two tots lost in a gloomy forest, the result was a work larded with Wagnerian leitmotifs and folkish tunes but with the witch's scariness downgraded and the addition of a warmhearted Father, Sandman, Dew Fairy, other fairies and Angels.

The singing (in English) was excellent and -- despite limited space -- reinforced by inventive and tasteful sets, staging and costumes. As a backdrop, the libretto and colorful images were projected on a screen behind the church chancel. Soprano Meghan McCall (Gretel) and mezzo Andrea Hill (Hansel) combined radiant, full-bodied voices with some tricky but smoothly and effectively executed stage antics. Witch Kathleen Sasnett sang with consistent resonance, her singing interspersed with expert cackling. Baritone Bryan Jackson and mezzo Michelle Rice made believably concerned parents, while Stacey Mastrian as the Dew Fairy and Adrienne Neal as the Sandman provided ample support. General and artistic director Katerina Souvorova lent power and character to the piano accompaniment.

The opera will be repeated Friday and Nov. 5 and 6 at various venues; for information see .

-- Cecelia Porter

Steve Wilson

The only way for jazz saxophonist Steve Wilson to stand out at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club on Saturday night would have been the wrong way -- by failing to fit in.

Fortunately, Wilson didn't make that mistake while collaborating with his esteemed band mates in the ensemble Generations: pianist Billy Childs, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley. Though Wilson is the frontman for the group, the arrangements projected a fully integrated sound. The quartet's performances, including Mulgrew Miller's "Small Portion," Walter Bishop Jr.'s "Waltz for Sweetie" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado," found the musicians moving as one through swing, triple-meter and bossa nova grooves. Wilson took turns on alto and soprano saxes, his phrasing lean and soulful, free of attention-getting flourishes. When paired with Childs on a duet performance of Jimmy Rowles's "The Peacocks," Wilson was in particularly good form, imbuing the melody with a wistful lyricism reminiscent of the late Stan Getz.

Doubtless some members of the audience turned out simply to hear one of Wilson's colleagues. If so, they got their money's worth. Childs's harmonic finesse was evident throughout, his cascading lines invariably resolved with an elegant touch. Riley, best known for his work with Thelonious Monk, was in typically relaxed form, whether effortlessly (and often wittily) sustaining swing drive with sticks and kick drum, or quietly brush-shading the ballads. Drummond's robust tone and thematic solos also enhanced the performances, though, to the ensemble's credit, the music always seemed more appealing than the sum of its parts.

-- Mike Joyce

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