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PERFORMING ARTS

With a minimal story line written by Allyson Currin, this is a vehicle for an evening of arias and ensemble pieces Mozart wrote for some of the wonderful women in his operas. Sopranos Mary Gresock, Alice Dillon, Abigail Shue and Jennifer Jellings and mezzo-soprano Grace Gori are the five divas who seem to be stranded together in some dusty doorless theater. Chris Davenport is the hapless (and mostly feckless) Mozart stranded with them. In between arias, the five ladies spend most of their time proclaiming their independence from Mozart while Wolfgang whines, in return, that this can't be.

Although none of the singing could be mistaken for vintage Mozart, a lot of it was quite good Mozart. Gresock was a warmly sympathetic Zerlina in "Vedrai carino" from "Don Giovanni." Dillon's "S'altro che lagrime" from "La Clemenza di Tito" was passionate and lovely. Shue was splendidly nasty and vocally powerful in the competition trio from "The Impresario." Gori was at her best in the recitative leading to "Smanie implacabili" from "Cosi fan Tutte," and Jellings, with the big coloratura assignments, did a particularly nice job getting around "Martern aller Arten" from "Abduction From the Seraglio."

It seemed evident, at the performance on Saturday, that it's asking a lot of singers not only to sing but to act convincingly, given a pointless and poorly written story line and a repetitious text, and Rick Davis's rather aimless direction did not help. The five did their best but, on the whole, scrubbing the "plot" and simply offering an evening of arias in with the occasional commentary might have celebrated Mozart's 250 years more joyfully.

Performances will be repeated on Friday and Saturday.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Cello Octet Conjunto Iberico

There's not much music written for eight cellos and voice. But that just spurred Cello Octet Conjunto Iberico to write new compositions and rearrange existing ones. Saturday at Dumbarton Concerts, the octet was joined by soprano Pilar Jurado, who enchanted the audience with her earthy voice and emotional range.

The best-known work for this combination is "Bachianas Brasileiras" No. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, and there is little other music in the world more exquisite. In its "Aria," Jurado's wordless voice took command, at times blending so perfectly with Robert Putowski's solo cello that the distinction between the two was nearly imperceptible. The second half of the piece, "Danca," was a fulfilling contrast, at once dramatic and lively, with Jurado emoting a story rather than simply singing the words.

Manuel de Falla's "Seven Popular Spanish Songs" were originally scored for voice and piano, but are most often heard in instrumental arrangements, so director Elias Arizcuren's captivating arrangement was refreshing. Jurado fit her voice stylistically to these folk songs, producing the notes effortlessly while the cellos provided the accompaniment.

The repetitive ostinato and subtly shifting harmonies of Philip Glass's "Symphony for Eight" (arranged by Arizcuren) did not appear to be virtuosic material on the surface, but the octet met the real challenge by keeping its performance interesting all the way through. On the other hand, "Fandango" by Cristobal Halffter showed off the ensemble's versatility with brilliant themes and an array of textures, though even this variety became unexciting by the end of the piece.


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