Doc Severinsen is back for one sequined weekend, leading the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in an evening of mostly Neapolitan music called "A Night in Old Italy."
At 78, Severinsen is as hale and handsome as ever, and as energetic, too. The BPO's former principal pops conductor played that trumpet generously throughout Friday's concert, sometimes in duet with tenor Joseph Wolverton, who took on the challenging task of sharing the spotlight with him.
When he's not soloing or leading the band, Severinsen is like a bad kid, always entertaining.
There was a moment when Wolverton, beginning "Vesti la giubba," from "I Pagliacci," allowed himself a moment of nostalgia. "I always think of Caruso when I sing this song," the tenor ventured, sentimentally. "I think of Caruso in his clown outfit."
"Kind of like me," Severinsen cut in, indicating his hot pink get-up.
The audience cracked up. Doc went with it. "When you consider my tailor was drunk when he made this, it didn't turn out too bad," he said.
As a whole, the evening had a lighthearted tone. Severinsen took us through a few light classics, such as the finale from Mendelssohn's "Italian" symphony and the overture to Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," as well as a host of familiar Italian songs like "Mama," "Ciao, Ciao, Bambina" and "Oue Marie."
His trumpet version of "Un bel di" from "Madame Butterfly" took on big-band tones. And he sneaked a dandy jazz solo into "Oue Marie." Lucky Wolverton, having to follow that.
Wolverton, though, is a fine tenor. He sings with ease and resonance, and the effect is charming, as the best Italian singing is. He and Severinsen kept things moving, throwing in some surprises. One was the debut of Robert Franz, the BPO's new resident conductor. He conducted a couple of numbers, letting Doc play his trumpet more freely.
Reappearing after intermission, Severinsen spontaneously interrupted the program for a tribute to New Orleans in its time of trouble. He played a wistful "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," followed by a raucous "When the Saints Go Marching In." And to think that tonight he's going to do it all over again! The show starts at 8.