Fa la la… Orchestra mixes it up for Xmas

The Glorious Sound of Christmas, Philadelphia Orchestra, Rossen Milanov, cond., Mendelssohn Choir,  Alan Harler, director, soloists from the Curtis Institute and Academy of Vocal Arts;  Pat Carriocchi, narrator. Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, Dec. 15-17, 2011, Review of Dec. 17 for WRTI, 90. 1 fm.

To celebrate its 10th year at the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra wanted to include the musical community in its annual Christmas concert at Verizon Hall, maestro Rossen Milanov told the cheerful crowd at Verizon Hall Saturday night. The Mendelsohn Club offered a selection of carols, J.S. Bach (from The Mass in B Minor) and Handel;  pretty women from the Curtis Institute bowed away at Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor.

The Glorious Sound of Christmas was a potpourri of musical entertainment. Excerpts from The Nutcracker included two arrangements by Ellington and Strayhorn that showed bassist Mike Shaham and clarinetist Sam Caveziel’s gifts of improv and guest saxophone player Larry McKenna. On the other end of sentiment, newscaster Pat Carriocchi  narrated (very well) “The Night Before Christmas.” Whomever put together the orchestra’s holiday program took the kitchen sink approach.

The famous opening  scene from La Boheme was enacted on stage.  Curtis soprano Elizabeth Zharoff and AVA tenor Zach Borischevsky have superb voices. They did a terrific job staying in character through the long scene in front of maestro Milanov. They had some trouble powering  over the orchestra – which is to be expected -most Mimis and Rodolfos do not sing at these posts! Borischevsky was singing at the 11th hour for the tenor who took ill.

Nice to hear the Mendelsohnians whose esprit is unrivaled. The after- intermission number, Bass’s Gloria was richly legato.

Milanov is a smooth leader and genial host. Peter Conti at the organ did a fine job and  how swell his essential instrument looked with the colored pipes mimicking holiday ornaments.

Next up- gifted women worth knowing: English leader Jane Glover’s “Messiah,” and young Sarah Hicks’ Viennese New Years’ program.

Private Lives at the Lantern

Private Lives by Noel Coward, The Lantern Theater Company, St. Stephen’s Alley, 10th & Ludlow, Dec.  8 – 31, 2011,  Ben Dibble, Genevieve Perrier, Leonard C. Haas, K.O. DelMarcelle, Jessica Bedford. Directed by Kathyrn MacMillan. Review of opening Dec. 14 for WRTI, 90.1 fm.

Comedies date – even with celebrity drawing power. Noel Coward’s Private Lives is closing early on Broadway even with  Kim Cattrall’s good reviews. We’re pretty far removed from 1930s society…maybe that’s not the wit and glitter we crave now. In Philadelphia, at the Lantern Theater,  a seriously debonaire Ben Dibble, with pencil moustache makes a  flippant Elyot in the Coward play, and Genieve Perrier, black hair clipped with rhinestones, flaunts her way through the role of the equally narcissistic Amanda whom Elyot still loves and love to hate. The hell with love, says Elyot, to his new wife, Sybil (K.O. DelMarcelle), hoping for a tidy, cosy love.

Passion is the ruination of love. It brings jealousy, bickering, pettyiness both Elyot and Amanda believe. The former spouses meet up on their dual honeymoons and chaos ensues.  Leonard Haas plays the tweedy, stuffed shirt Victor Prynne, Amanda’s new groom.  Like the wronged Sybil, he’s utterly earnest, unlike Sybil, he always thinks he’s right.

The farcical situation leads where it might be expected and then detours. Private Lives  addresses the nature of intimacy, desire and expectations about boundaries, which have definitely changed for partners in the last eight decades!

The Lantern production substitutes some humor for slapstick but delivery of all this English inflected wit is a lovely change of pace from the serious drama it usually offers. There is so much fun and glamor. The  fisticuffs – choreographed by Alex Cordero – are terrific. Meghan Jones’s stylish modular set swings from a hotel balcony in Deauville to the interior of Amanda’s Parisian flat.

Amanda and Elyot take little seriously except their desire which  ignites.  Amanda admits she’s irresponsible to the core.  The couple’s wit provides an evening’s laughter at The Lantern.  Private Lives has lines to brood on too.

Yannick, Yaja, Jen Higdon

  • Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, cond., Yaja Wang, piano
  • Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center
  • Dec. 8-11, 2011, Review of Dec. 8 on WRTI, 90.1 fm

The program that music-director -in-waiting Yannick Nezet-Seguin chose this week was energy from the get-go. Jen Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra opened, its five movements challenging the Philadelphians and its audience to attention. Higdon’s exciting work was more rambunctious than I remember in  Nezet-Seguin’s reading; more extrovert than even the extrovert composer herself but the orchestra’s centennial commission  remains  a score of glow and substance.  Higdon tailored the concerto to the Philadelphians’ many gifts, the second movement highlights strings; the third, woodwinds; during Thursday night’s performance, I was partial to the  jam session for keyed percussion created by the final movements.   Piano, celesta, wood blocks, xlyophone, vibraphone – and more – are mysteriously evoked in this slowly escalating chiming music.

When Yaja Wang came out, her red dress warmed us. The 24- year- old pianist has warmed considerably on stage. She smiles now, looks friendlier than she did onstage a season ago. The virtuosity is unquestioned! Thursday night Wang lit into the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.  The ivories glittered.  Rachmaninoff’s chords thundered. There were elastic pauses.  The Curtis graduate, from Beijing plays like she’s hungry – for the keys.  When she’d gobbled the variations – except the popular slow theme –  the house roared its approval.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2 in C Minor, Opus 17 was the second half. The “Little Russian.” It opens with the brass proving wonderfully stalwart. The strings take things down a notch or two for a gentle march. There’s a graciousness to the young work. And optimism. As they had during the Higdon,  the families of the orchestra showed their prowess. When it was over, the house was electric. After the bows, Yannick led a bit of The Nutcracker. Perfect.

Charlotte’s Web at The Arden

Charlotte’s Web, The Arden Theater, (previews: Nov 30-Jan 29, 2011. Review of Opening: Dec. 2, 2011, on WRTI, 90.1 Fm

Aubie Merrylees makes some pig. Terrific, radiant, definitely humble, on stage at the Arden Theatre for his debut in Charlotte’s Web. Innocent and round-eyed, Merrylees has a way of looking at Fern who saves the runt from her father’s axe that’s just like the book. Fern Arable is played by the endearing Emilie Krause. John Arable by Charlie Delmarcelle, whose roles include some of the E.B. White  narration, a mean harmonica and sweet guitar.

Mr. and Mrs. Arable (Leah Walton) also play goose and gander in the Zuckerman’s barn which is more than a hoot.

White’s classic – adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette – is must-see for families –even for singles – this holiday.

As for Charlotte, the talented spider couldn’t be bettered: Sarah Gliko, perfectly costumed by Rosemary McKelvey, plays the empathic arachnid, sliding down a rope in the barn. Everything from her black bob to her manner is Charlotte, through and through.

The Arden production relies far more on thespian imagination than costume for animals and people in the Arable and Zuckerman barns.  Wilbur on his knees or standing is the soul of a pig or boy in need of a friend.

Christopher Colucci’s sound design brings the story together under David Gordon’s mockup of a barn with real hay and dirt. Nine actors switch from animals to humans and it’s a wonder how little we need (in the way of costumes, props) to know when we are hearing sheep, geese, pigs or humans speaking.  Imagination is all.  Excellent Brian Anthony Wilson slides from Homer Zuckerman, who hopes to fatten Wilbur to  a convincing sheep or blue- ribbon pig.

One surprise is Anthony Lawton. Lawton’s played the Arden but never  the Arden’s children’s theater. He’s a natural as Templeton the Rat, as churlish as felon as you’d want, tail swinging from beneath long coat… Whit McLaughlin directs Charlotte’s Web. Do go!