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Ravashing Mozart in opera and basset horn performances

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO

By Mozart. Sung in English.

Lowell House Opera,

Benjamin Loeb, Music Director,

Allison Charney, Director.

Lowell House, Harvard University.

Reviewed March 15. Remaining

performances at Lowell House

tonight and Sunday at 8 pm.

Sunday's cast will be as per this review; Susanna, the Countess and Barbarina will be sung by different performers tonight.

Tickets in advance from the

Holyoke Center, Harvard Square, or

(subject to availability) at the door.

$5 for students, $7 for others.

MOSTLY MOZART

A concert of rarely-performed

basset horn music, played by

The New World Basset Horn Trio.

Presented by the

Cambridge Society for Early Music.

Reviewed March 14

at the Goethe Institute, Boston.

Concert will be repeated on March 20 at the Swedenborg Chapel,

50 Quincy St., Cambridge.

Call 489-3613 for reservations.

$5 for students, $8 for others.

By JONATHAN RICHMOND

BENJAMIN LOEB AND ALLISON Charney have concocted a wonderful Figaro: teeming with life, full of color, and progressing breathtakingly from one aria to the next with an inspired sense of wit.

Loeb is a senior at Adams House, Harvard, but one would guess he is a mature professional. Loeb's musical conception is a total joy, and brilliantly executed. His orchestra plays the Overture exhilaratingly, and never lets up thereafter. Orchestral balance is managed with deep insight: the strings bathe the stage in sunlight during the lighter moments, yet at the nocturnal onset of the fourth act, take on a seriousness that infects the air with a heady sensuality.

As for the winds -- especially the rapturous clarinets, oboes, and bassoons -- their ability to constantly underline the feelings of Mozart's characters expressed in words is remarkable. Other instrumental voices speak eloquently, too.

And who better to have as his accomplice than the observant Allison Charney, who controls the action on stage with both precision and passion. It is wonderful to have Susanna popping up from behind a wall to grin deliciously, while Figaro raves about her (wrongly) suspected infidelity. How funny the scene where Cherubino is found hiding under a chair; and the discovery by Figaro that Bartolo and Marcellina are his parents is directed to make the audience chuckles extended and hearty.

The audience laughs, and laughs constantly; it is a Figaro where no detail has been overlooked, but which flows with complete naturalness.

Ilana Davidson is the star of the stage: the sweetest-voiced, quickest-witted, sexiest and generally most delectable Susanna one could desire. Her Deh vieni, non tardar displays her most gorgeous -- and wicked -- singing, as she torments Figaro with her pretended love for the Count. her voice, combining with softly seductive strings and sybaritic winds, is intoxicating. Her Venite... inginocchiatevi, in which Susanna helps Cherubino into his disguise, is charmingly delivered, but Davidson's rare gift for well-pointed and telling articulation ensures that it is not without a good-natured mocking irony.

Davidson's stage presence matches her spectacular singing. Her eyes flash saucily; her expressions constantly tantalize: in this Figaro, it is Susanna who wears the pants.

David Kravitz, in the role of the Count, is also outstanding. His voice is firm and expressive, and he is remarkably adept at communicating the Count's increasing sense of frustration as the opera progresses. His Hai gi`a vinta la causa! -- a tirade against a fate which enables his servant to achieve a happiness that forever eludes him -- is masterly. The voice is strong and assertive, but not far below the surface Kravitz reveals the Count's deep sense of paranoia and helplessness. Like Davidson, Kravitz has a keen sense of articulation and the ability to sing with a clarity that ensures that no word is lost on the audience.

Also most impressive is Allison Charney, who sings Cherubino in addition to directing the whole show. Her Non so pi`u is beautifully sung: in it she compellingly displays an unrequited sexual appetite, and does so with a breathless, boyish innocence. The humor of Cherubino is played out to the limit: the look on Charney's face whenever Cherubino is found in the wrong place is hilarious; but Charney's Cherubino is also real flesh and blood, an adolescent worthy of some of Mozart's most glorious music.

Rod Nelman is a good actor and makes for an entertaining Figaro. His singing, however, is on the harsh side, and lacking in subtlety. He sings effectively in group scenes, but his solo arias are unpolished.

Martha Warren, singing the part of the Countess, also does well in ensemble work, and at times her singing is not without distinction; she is cruelly taxed, however, in the Countess' two great arias, and the strain shows.

Tim Alexander, sporting a marvelously crazed costume, creates a sleazy Don Basilio and does justice to the role of Don Curzio, too. Paul Lincoln's boozy Antonio appears to have been weaned on an alcohol-laced bottle.

Karen Thompson puts in some charming singing as Barbarina. Al Cameron makes for a crusty Bartolo, Laura Schall Gouillart for a warm-blooded Marcellina -- the scene in which discovery is made that Bartolo and Marcellina are Figaro's parents is hysterical.

The chorus sings well and energetically, and its members do not hide their evident pleasure at being in this production.

Mozart's most profound moment of truth occurs at the conclusion of Figaro. The Count has been duped, and drops to his knees to beg forgiveness from his wife, who is legally his property. Kravitz expression of contrition is profound, as it must be in any successful production of Figaro, and Warren's reply here is warm and all-forgiving. But it is above all Loeb's inspired orchestral direction which makes this instant sublime, and ensures that this production will be long remembered as one of Lowell House Opera's most distinguished.

THERE ARE NO OTHER instruments I can think of which can play together with as much variety as the basset horn, an eccentrically shaped, deep-voiced cousin of the clarinet with a bell on the end. It was one of Mozart's favorite instruments, and its rich and mysterious sounds were used by him to portray Masonic symbolism, notably in The Magic Flute and in the Masonic Funeral Music.

It is not an instrument one hears of much today, especially not as the sole voice in a chamber recital, but the delightful concert given last Tuesday (and to be repeated next Monday) by the New World Basset Horn Trio proved that it has unusual expressive powers and merits being heard more often.

Eric Hoeprich performs on a genuine Mozart period instrument built by Griesbacher in the 1970s, while the other members of the Trio perform on copies of the instrument, Lisa Klevit on one made by Hoeprich, William McColl on one which he built himself. The original Griesbacher has a particularly beautiful tone, pungent, yet capable of an almost ethereal sweetness too.

While, for example, recorder ensembles (such as the recently-heard Loeki Stardust) play instruments with different ranges, the New World play at different ranges on the same instrument. While one player might exude a bubbly bass, the other two may soar above with the melody. With performances which are nothing short of brilliant, the Trio show that three basset horns can play as three characterful and versatile individuals, displaying as much -- if not more -- variety as a string trio of different instruments.

Not surprisingly, the program is dominated by Mozart, and extraordinary music it is, too. First heard is the Divertimento No. II (KV 439b), a sunny work which the New World inflect with song and dance. The Larghetto goes to the level of the sublime, the contrast between the lower-playing instrument and the two above creating a quite poetic lyricism. The music smiles with a gentle, playful humor in the ensuing Menuetto, while the Rondo brings the piece to a conclusion combining both high spirits and suspense.

Eric Hoeprich commented on the Anton Stadler F"nf Heitere Terzetten which follows that there is "something about the music that is special and unashamed." It is spunky music, nonetheless, and delivered from musicians of the quality of the New World, is most enjoyable. The March of the Camel is particularly humorous, while the steady pulse of the third piece and song-like pungency of the fourth make the music endearing.

Five Mozart duos for basset horns are next played with aplomb, and the program closes with a performance of Mozart's Divertimento No. III, KV 439b which presents many elements of Mozart at his most masterful: The New World find pathos in the work's beautiful textures; tension is not lacking either. But it is a bright and joyous fizziness which carries the work along, the full-bodied sound the Trio produces adding to the serenity of a warm and happy performance.