The overture to "The Marriage of Figaro" began the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Mozart birthday celebration Sunday. It was the perfect opener. Light and breathless, the music gives the impression that something grown-up, interesting and unusual is in store. Sunday, that was certainly the case.
The great Wolfgang Amadeus, whose 251st birthday was Saturday, would have been pleased at the vision the concert reflected. Resident Conductor Robert Franz led the musicians and a host of singers in a cornucopia of arias from "Figaro" and "The Magic Flute," as well as a lengthy, serious chunk of the strangely unsettling "Cosi fan Tutte." In between, we heard the exquisite Sinfonia Concertante in E flat. The soloists were Assistant Concertmaster Ansgarius Aylward and Principal Violist Valerie Heywood.
The Sinfonia Concertante is famous, but you seldom get to see it as well as hear it. It was fascinating to watch Aylward and Heywood performing the piece. You realize the stamina it requires -- both musicians were playing constantly, each as much as if the concerto had been written for that instrument alone. They interact not only with the orchestra but with each other. The effect was most enchanting in the passionate Andante. Heywood and Aylward had to share long, beautiful lines, passing them back and forth in what could almost be described as a classical call-and-response pattern. The intertwining phrases are like a love duet. They achieved an admirable continuity and unity of purpose, and the orchestra joined in seamlessly. When the movement ended, it was like coming out of a trance.
The opera excerpts were also alluring.
The singers involved, though it wasn't always clear who was who, were soprano Rebekkah Hilgraves and Gwen Detwiler, mezzo soprano Quinn Patrick, tenor Louima Lilite, baritone Daniel Ihasz and bass Marc Webster.
Ihasz ventured, perhaps unwittingly, into the avant-garde by wearing a business suit to sing the part of Papageno, the madcap bird catcher in "The Magic Flute." He sang, "Hm, hm, hm" -- he has to hum because the Queen of the Night's ladies have padlocked his mouth -- and the scene ends like a Grimm fairy tale, with everyone singing "Auf Wiedersehen." The cast gave it warmth and sweetness.
Lilite, who sang Tamino and also wore a sober suit, added a special note of ardor. His clear voice soared and carried. The overture to "The Magic Flute," robust and assertive, was a delight.
"Ah! Che Tutta," the long scene that ends Act I of "Cosi," successfully fused humor with something deeper. Without texts or translations, the music could have been a hefty handful for the audience to grasp, but Franz explained what was happening, and the good-sized crowd seemed to follow it happily.
Here's to Mozart's next 250 years. I would say that he's holding up well.
Buffalo Philharmonic OrchestraMozart's Birthday Celebration with conductor Robert Franz on Sunday in Kleinhans Music Hall.