The Fredonia Opera House is a pleasantly restored gem of a hall. It has a small stage with auditorium seating that evokes a lifestyle drawn from the early 20th century in a fairly comfortable city. The balconies are painted green with gold trim painstakingly lined, and a modest chandelier hanging from a vaulted ceiling illuminates a hall on the cusp of the electric age. The house probably seats about 420 or so, and perhaps half of those seats were occupied by people coming to see the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on a (sort of) community outreach tour.
The program (which will be repeated at Wednesday night's Canisius College concert) was a nice blend of Mozart, Ravel and Barber; Mozart is always a valuable draw, Ravel brings the listener into the 20th century, and Barber basically gives the audience an introduction to an important American composer. The music meshed instrumental works of genius (the overture from "The Magic Flute," Mozart's Symphony no. 38 and Ravel's orchestral arrangement of his own "Ma Mere l'Oye") along with Barber's magnificent showpiece for soprano and orchestra "Knoxville, Summer 1915" and Ravel's less familiar work, "Five Popular Greek Melodies."
BPO musicians were being conducted by Andrew Bisantz and all concerned crowded onto the stage with hardly any room to move. This was made manifest when soprano Sonia Kentrianakis had a hard time carving out any room next to the podium, causing the concertmaster and anyone seated behind him to try to move back a few inches.
All three composers heard that afternoon were superb orchestrators, and if the musicians weren't bringing their 'A' game, critical rhythms would be muddied. Most of the concert was a sheer joy.
The Mozart overture is a nice show opener, tossing out a musical synopsis of the opera that many consider his greatest. Despite a slight lack of cohesion in some sections, the orchestra managed to work its way through the process.
Ravel's "Ma Mere l'Oye," five short pieces with a Mother Goose backdrop, was superb, however, with the string section sounding particularly clean-limbed and agile and the percussionists playing gamelan-like rhythms with precision. Kentrianakis is quite clearly talented. She was very good at characterizing the lyrics, due perhaps to her operatic experiences, and has an appealing mid-range, but she seemed to struggle a bit in the upper ranges during Ravel's Greek cycle before settling down during the Barber work. Here too, the BPO was fairly impressive.