Singing in the spring

BSR Classical Interludes, May 1-15, 2024

4 minute read
Portrait photo of Berney smiling in front of an organ piano
Budding star organist Monica Berney comes to the Kimmel to recite classic Bach pieces. (Photo courtesy of Monica Berney)

It’s a grand month for singing! With one exception, this week’s column is all about vocal music. There are three operas—two fully staged and one concert version—an operetta, and a new vocal work, along with online talks, a seminar, and a free organ recital that promises bold sounds.

OperaDelaware: Turandot & Online Talks
Online Talks, Thursdays, May 2 and 9, 7pm
Performances, Friday, May 17, 7:30pm and Sunday May 19, 2pm
Grand Opera House, 818 North Market Street, Wilmington

Giacomo Puccini’s final opera tells of the icy princess Turandot, who challenges suitors with three riddles and kills those who fail to solve them. Its beloved arias include “Nessun dorma, with its make-or-break high C for the tenor. The conductor is OperaDelaware music director Anthony Barrese, staged by Xinxin Tang, a director from Singapore in her company debut. There are multiple endings for this unfinished opera, and here Derrick Wang, composer/librettist of the popular Scalia / Ginsberg, wrote his version. The company also offers two pre-performance online talks by opera expert Dr. Aaron Ziegel archived and on their website.

Curtis Opera Theater: The Cunning Little Vixen
Thursday and Friday, May 2 and 3, 7:30pm
Saturday and Sunday May 4 and 5, 3pm
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, 300 South Broad Street

This colorful comic opera is Leoš Janáček’s masterpiece (he wrote music and libretto), a work that centers around Vixen Sharp Ears, a mischievous and plucky fox cub. Based on a Czech novella and sung in Czech (with English supertitles), its lushly orchestrated score is infused with folk music. The performance features rising Curtis vocal stars conducted by Curtis alum Vinay Parameswaran. Director John Matsumoto Giampietro stages the opera in a world of magical realism that goes from the forest to a rehearsal studio, in a collaboration that includes the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Choirs.

Organ Recital: Monica Berney
Saturday May 4, 5pm
Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center, 300 South Broad Street

The young star organist and Curtis grad Monica Berney is offering a recital on the Kimmel’s Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ. She’ll play Percy William Whitlock’s 1936 Fantasie Choral No. 2 and the fourth movement from Nikolai Kapustin’s Sinfonietta. Fan favorites include Marcel Dupré’s “The World Awaiting the Savior” from Symphonie-Passion; selections from Brahms’ Six Pieces for Piano (obviously in an organ transcription); J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor (BWV 544); and selections from Messiaen’s masterwork L’Ascension. The 75-minute concert is free, though reservations are required, and general admission seating is first-come, first-served.

The Savoy Company: The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel
Friday, May 10, 7:30pm
Saturday, May 11, 1:30pm and 7:30pm
Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia

This operetta was Gilbert & Sullivan’s 14th and final work, a classic take on a play within a play and a witty musical tale of love, politics, dueling, and mistaken identity. It premiered in London in 1896 and ran for 123 performances. The Savoy Company will bring this show to Longwood Gardens later in the spring, but you can see it now in Center City. The Grand Duke is rarely produced, and it’s been thirty years since this Philadelphia ensemble last staged the show. Set in post-war Britain, the production is directed by Bill Kiesling, with a professional orchestra conducted by Peter Hilliard.

Choral Arts Philadelphia: Dido and Aeneas (in concert)
Saturday, May 11, 4pm
Holy Trinity/Rittenhouse, 1904 Walnut Street, Philadelphia

To close their season, this popular ensemble will present a concert version of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Written in English, this is Purcell’s only true opera and one of his foremost theatrical works. Based on Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, it’s the tragic story of the newly wedded Queen Dido of Carthage and Prince Aeneas of Troy. Conducted by artistic director Donald Meineke, the chorus will be accompanied by the Philadelphia Bach Collegium. The soloists will be singers well-known to Philadelphians who often concertize together: Jessica Beebe (Dido), Steven Berlanga (Aeneas), and Rebecca Myers (Belinda).

Philadelphia Chamber Music Society: Music on the Mind and A Song by Mahler
Music on the Mind panel discussion, Monday, May 13, 6:30pm
Hamilton Garden at the Kimmel Center, 300 South Broad Street

A Song by Mahler, Wednesday, May 15, 7:30pm
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center

Both this expert-packed panel and the performance of a new Mahler-inspired work are part of the PCMS’ Arts on the Mind Festival, an exploration of the meeting of art and science. For the panel, Penn researchers take the stage with the creative minds who brought A Song by Mahler to Philadelphia, in a conversation about how both art and science can change the way we portray, care for, and love those living with cognitive impairment. The multi-faceted dramatic evening by pianist and composer Mark Neikrug was inspired by Liebst du um Schönheit (“If You Love for the Sake of Beauty”), from Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. The evening features Jennifer Johnson Cano (mezzo-soprano), Ryan Bradford (baritone), David Shifrin (clarinet), and FLUX Quartet in a production designed and directed by Doug Fitch.

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