Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Opera Verdi Europa

Shakespeare's plays have inspired a large number of operas. Not surprisingly, the tragedy "Macbeth," with its ghosts, murderous monarchs and witches, enticed Giuseppe Verdi to take his first stab at turning the Bard's words into music.

Sunday afternoon, Opera Verdi Europa presented an earnest production of the composer's "Macbeth" at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. The Bulgarian company's presentation unfolded upon a rotating circular platform adorned with sparse but effective sets. Choreography and costumes enhanced the production, with one exception: The chorus of women portraying the witches, garbed in red and black robes reminiscent of "Star Trek" Klingon costumes, had to awkwardly move about while singing. The result was lagging tempos and distraction from the music. The rest of the cast fared better.

In the title role, Bisser Georgiev sang consistently with a muscular baritone. His Macbeth came across as a rather reserved, introspective king, but when the character began to see apparitions, Georgiev grew livelier onstage.

As Lady Macbeth, soprano Noboru Aomori displayed a powerful, limber voice that slid through tricky coloratura passages like water. She could hit high notes just as smoothly. But her most artistic interpretation arrived during the haunting "Una macchia qui tuttora."

With a lilting lyrical tenor, Orlin Goranov (Macduff) sang an emotional "Ah, la paterno mano." As Banquo, Alexandar Marulev projected his bass with musical ease.

Conductor Nayden Todorov led the performance with much energy. The chorus and orchestra kept pace, though the winds had curious sputters and intonation problems throughout.

-- Grace Jean

'Masters of Caribbean Music'

Following the "Masters of Caribbean Music" performance at the Music Center at Strathmore on Sunday afternoon, a concertgoer was overheard saying, "Long live the king." He was referring to Mighty Sparrow, "King of the Calypso World," who at 70 is still a dominating presence onstage, even when he's surrounded by an extraordinary array of multicultural talent.

Introduced as a man capable of making "ladies daydream and young girls scream," the barrel-chested Caribbean legend, born Slinger Francisco, lived up to the billing and then some. Political broadsides ("The Slave"), satirical romps ("Man in de Bedroom"), sexual boasts ("Salt Fish") -- all were charged by a bellowing baritone. The singer's signature wordplay, suggestive as ever, was accompanied by comic pelvic thrusts and a wickedly lascivious chuckle. Suffice it to say that nothing on the program provoked as much laughter or applause.

Nevertheless, Mighty Sparrow was preceded onstage by two first-rate ensembles that colorfully celebrated their native sounds. Ti-Coca et Wanga-Ngs, on its first American tour, delivered an invigorating set of Haitian twoubadou music, an accordion-flavored genre marked by Creole and Cuban folk influences. Veteran singer Ti-Coca (aka David Mettelus) made a particularly strong impression, delighting the audience with his powerful voice, charismatic personality and gliding footwork.

Opening the concert was Ecos de Borinquen, the distinguished Puerto Rican jibaro ensemble led by Miguel Santiago Diaz. The group infused its melodic, rural-rooted music with stirring vocals and sparkling, guitar-related cuatro weaves.

Presented by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the performance concluded with all the artists contributing to a spirited encore in which Mighty Sparrow and Ti-Coca competed to see who was the more limber.

-- Mike Joyce

Contemporary Music Forum

It's a luxury in classical music to be able to communicate directly with the composer. In a concert Sunday at the Corcoran Gallery, the Contemporary Music Forum provided that link, presenting six works by living composers, two of whom (Ellen Fishman-Johnson and Randy Nordschow) were in attendance.

The most successful piece was Fishman-Johnson's trio "Mall Walking With Brahms." Taking the concept of electronic sampling to an acoustic platform, "Mall" incorporated bits of a Brahms intermezzo into Jenny Lin's piano part. The slow movement exploited the rich textures of Lina Bahn's violin and Tobias Werner's cello with longbowing in an artful, though not always tuneful, way. The three clearly had fun with the feisty and fiery finale.

Lin's confident fingers scampered over the keyboard in Nordschow's "Detail of Beethoven's Hair," making the frenetic free-jazz phrases look effortless. Her spectacular technique contrasted with the languid marimba part played by Bill Richards. Pozzi Escot merely suggested the melody, harmony and rhythm for her "Mirabilis II." The first movement was impressive in the instinctive way that Lin, Richards and clarinetist Cheryl Hill improvised together. But percussion dominated the remainder of the piece, losing both clarinet and piano in the shuffle.

Robert Cogan's "Utterances" required solo soprano Joan Heller to parade through a cast of personalities, changing moods every few bars. Heller met this challenge with incredible versatility, singing operatically, buzzing, trilling, clucking and clicking, exploring every inch of her dynamic, pitch and emotional range.

The CMF ensemble, conducted by Mariano Vales, did a fine job of exploring musical colors in works by Pierre Boulez and Jason Eckardt, though neither was especially riveting.

-- Gail Wein

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