Correction to This Article
This version of the story has been corrected. A May 7 Style review incorrectly said that Ilana Davidson sang the part of Rosina in the National Philharmonic Opera's "The Barber of Seville" the previous Saturday. The part was sung by Elise Quagliata.


Jennifer Koh was the soloist on Friday with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's performance of Sibelius's Violin Concerto. The American Chamber Players, below, played Friday at the Library of Congress.
Jennifer Koh was the soloist on Friday with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's performance of Sibelius's Violin Concerto. The American Chamber Players, below, played Friday at the Library of Congress. (By Janette Beckman)

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Monday, May 7, 2007

The sheer joyousness of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" comes through even when many elements of an opera performance are missing. The National Philharmonic Opera did "Barber" at Strathmore Music Center on Saturday night without sets, costumes, recitatives or supertitles -- even without lead tenor Vale Rideout (who was indisposed). Rossini's bounce and brightness bubbled through it all.

Music Director Piotr Gajewski conducted with verve and a sure hand. Jim Petosa narrated the abridged story with enthusiasm and interjections of humorous commentary. Matthew Chellis was a creditable fill-in as Count Almaviva, his voice strongest in the middle and upper range. He was a little tight and breathy at first, but improved as the action heated up.

As Figaro, Andrew Garland was all swagger and slyness, if sometimes a bit lacking in projection (the orchestra overwhelmed parts of "Largo al Factotum"). It was a nice touch to put Figaro in sneakers.

Elise Quagliata pouted prettily as an elegantly gowned Rosina, her voice bright (almost piercing at times) and her acting coquettish. Mark Freiman kept Doctor Bartolo silly and pompous throughout and was especially good in fast, patter-song passages. David Langan was suitably oily as Basilio, using his rolled "r" to amusingly sinister effect in "La Calunnia."

The frantic ensembles were especially enjoyable. So was the light show accompanying Act Two's storm music -- with the 27-member chorus pulling out umbrellas.

The non-staging did not always work: The singing lesson and shaving scene really need props. But the vivacity of Rossini's music overcame all the visual shortcomings.

-- Mark J. Estren

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra

Violinist Jennifer Koh has a penetrating intelligence that drives her to find new approaches to familiar works. So when she played Jean Sibelius's Violin Concerto with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Jose-Luis Novo in the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts on Friday night, she made every phrase of her solo part sound new and urgent: shifting accents, lingering in unexpected places, creating mini-climaxes within phrases, and varying her tempo freely to suit her expressive needs. At any given moment you didn't know what she would do next, but you could bet it would be fascinating.

Koh played with so much freedom, in fact, that she and the orchestra went out of sync a few times, and the rhythmic pulse of the faster music occasionally disappeared, especially at her slow tempos.

Ultimately, though, Koh's white-hot imagination and her focused, sweet-toned playing made this a performance to remember.

The ASO showed its technical chops in the other works on Friday's program, the orchestra's last of the season. Silvestre Revueltas's "Sensemaya" sounded appropriately pungent, but Novo's deliberate pace damped its excitement a bit. Principal horn Steven Barzal acquitted himself well in the ridiculously difficult solo that opens Richard Strauss's "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks," and Novo led a reading full of merriment and vivid incidents.

The high spirits carried over to a sparkling performance of Paul Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." Novo and the ASO brought out the droll wit of the second movement, especially in the jazzy central fugue, and infused the long lyrical paragraphs of the third movement with tender poetry.

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