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An ode to romance from the BPO

Love is in the air at Kleinhans Music Hall. John Morris Russell, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's irrepressible principal pops conductor, is presenting a vivacious Valentine's Day concert. With him is soprano Lisa Vroman, who has played Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera" 2,700 times.

Vroman emerged each time she sang in a different glamorous gown. The first was a sparkly, strapless robin's egg blue, followed by violet blue, royal blue, deep blue, mauve -- and, finally, a shimmery slate gray.

And this was all before noon on a Friday! What is it going to be like on a Saturday night?

Russell has put together a program full of gems, some of them things I've never heard before.

Just as one highlight, the BPO's brass section played "Lida Rose," the song sung in "The Music Man" by the Buffalo Bills. How nice of Russell to tell the audience about the Buffalo Bills -- not the football team, but the barbership quartet from our town that was featured in the musical in the original Broadway production and in the movie. The brass played sweetly and resonantly, and then Vroman appeared and sang "Dream of Now," the song that soars ingeniously over the top of the barbershop tune.

In another twist, Vroman sang a fascinating two-in-one number melding the Jewel Song aria from Gounod's "Faust" with "I Feel Pretty," from "West Side Story." She is gorgeously, operatically trained and perfectly professional. And as the folks in the seats behind us whispered, she has props. Singing this number, she gazed into one mirror, then another. Her movements were graceful, witty, and impeccably timed.

Whether or not she had to use a mic, she did, and it worked well. You could catch every word that she sang. It was fun to hear "The Trolley Song." With the exception of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," those old "Meet Me in St. Louis" songs have faded from fashion. Bring them back, I say. Vroman also sang "If I Loved You," from "Carousel," giving the song an operatic intensity.

When she was backstage changing, Russell conducted a bouquet of interesting instrumentals.

It was fascinating to listen, really listen, to "The Carousel Waltz." You hear the carousel wheeze into motion, then gradually accelerate until it reaches full swing. "Moon River" was lovely. "Tara's Theme," from Max Steiner's legendary score to "Gone With the Wind," brought back the sweetness of 1930s Hollywood. The music was unhurried and finely detailed.

Soft crimson and golden lights bathed the stage throughout Debussy's "Clair de Lune" arranged by Carmen Dragon, the great 1950s master of Capitol Records and Hollywood Bowl. The BPO plays Dragon's Christmas carol arrangements frequently at Holiday Pops. His work has an Atomic Age elegance that's never dated or kitsch. Bravo to Russell for praising him from the stage. I have been waiting for this moment.

The concert lost momentum here and there. While Vroman is a great storyteller, and I have to say she kept me laughing, I wished we could have heard "All I Ask Of You" straight without all the interruptions.

I also wish that instead of the predictable Gershwin (the overture to "Girl Crazy," "Someone To Watch Over Me") we could hear some romantic Gershwin songs we don't hear so often. Better still, how about some sultry Duke Ellington love songs? Vroman had that bluesy touch that would have been perfect for them. Just a thought for next year, which I'm already looking forward to.

The concert ended on a heady note, with the crazed "Bacchanale" from "Samson and Delilah." Percussion and timpani went to town. As an encore, Vroman sang the simple "Love Changes Everything," from Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Aspects of Love."

The romantic concert repeats at 8 p.m. Feb. 11 at Kleinhans Music Hall.










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