Amazing, Incredible, Excellent Review!!

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PHANTOM MEETS PUCCINI
The California Philharmonic soars to new heights with their second concert of the season
By Christina Linhardt, Staff Writer

"Who is ready for absolutely beautiful music? Who is ready for absolutely exciting music?" Maestro Victor Vener asked the audience at his pre-show lecture in the soaring (and delightfully cool!) Pre-Concert Foyer, also known as BP Hall. When the crowd responded affirmatively he replied, "Good, you came to the right place." The words "beautiful" and "exciting" are really inadequate to describe the Cal Phil's "Phantom Meets Puccini" concert held on July, 8th, 2018 in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Puccini’s bright and colorful melodies were performed by the orchestra, joined by the glorious 160-voice Cal Phil chorale as well as a group of remarkable soloists, bringing images to mind of Montmartre in 19th century Paris.

Setting the tone for the afternoon, the concert opened with the Prelude to Act III of “Madama Butterfly,” the lush violin section and oboes filling the hall with some of the greatest music of the Romantic Era. As Dr. Vener explained in his talk, Puccini borrowed from authentic Japanese music, with the piccolo and pizzicato strings and adding a bird whistle, played by Terry Schonig, echoing out from the percussion section. (The original production in 1904 had performers with bird-whistles placed throughout the theatre!) After the prelude, the Maestro asked his new principal violist, Erik Rynearson, to step forth and true to the entertainingly educational style of a Cal Phil concert, Dr. Vener asked the audience if they knew what instrument he was holding (the viola being much like a violin, yet larger, with a sound closer to the cello). An enchanting musical moment followed as Mr. Rynearson played the viola solo of the “Humming Chorus” from “Madama Butterfly” accompanied by the orchestra, while the entire Cal Phil Choir hummed offstage conjuring a mystical, other-worldly sound wafting in through the open stage doors. 

There’s never a dull moment in a Cal Phil concert; after the sublime “Humming Chorus,” Broadway sensation James Barbour took to the stage and was welcomed with enthusiastic applause by his fans. His velvety baritone and “bronzed tenor” sound transported the audience back to the Golden Age of Broadway musicals as he sang Rodgers & Hammerstein classics like “If I Loved You” and “Some Enchanted Evening.” Definitely one of the finest contemporary Broadway singers today, Mr. Barbour’s voice is capable of a full and lush operatic sound as well as all the contemporary dramatic character needed to put across the best kind of musical theatre.

To close out the first half of the concert, Maestro Vener took us back to the artists’ quarter of Paris for an intimate peek into the lives of 19th century Bohemians. Dr. Vener asked the audience if they knew what "bohemian" actually meant, not as an ethnic term but a sociological one. A lady in the front answered, "A person who follows an alternative lifestyle," which the Maestro confirmed, having explained in his pre-show talk that “Bohemians” were usually from an upper-middle class merchant background but chose to live "on the cheap" to pursue artistic lives. One hundred years later, beatniks and hippies would continue that tradition. "Che Gelida Manina" began with Tenor Nathan Granner on stage, performing the role of Rudolfo. Then, soprano Jamie Chamberlin entered, appearing as a classic Mimi and sang the role with depth and pathos. Granner's resplendent tenor voice spiraled throughout the hall, becoming one with the lavish sound of the orchestra. Chamberlin deftly transitioned into "Mi Chiamano Mimi," caressing the melody with a clear, sweeping soprano. Tastefully and romantically staged, the duo proceeded into "O Soave Fanciulla," ending in a very sincere and heartfelt - it just so happens that Chamberlin and Granner are engaged in real life!

The second half of the concert opened with Act II of "La Boheme," set in the Latin Quarter at Christmas time, with festive Paris crowds heralded by the trumpet section. The monumental 160 voice Cal Phil choir was on stage, trained by Maestra Marya Basaraba, the Cal Phil's masterful Chorus Master. As an extra treat, The Washington Middle School Glee Club appeared on stage and performed the role of Boheme’s "street urchins" with delightful expression and considerable skill.

Ms. Chamberlin switched roles from Mimi to the saucy Musetta to sing "Quando Men Vo" to Eric Castro, while Tara Alexander adeptly stepped in as Mimi. A perfect "Marcello," Mr. Castro’s robust voice floated throughout the concert hall, as the Glee Club marched into the Finale of Act II waving French Flags. 

Puccini made way for the Phantom and once again, the audience enjoyed the brilliance of the Cal Phil Chorale as they performed "Masquerade" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's world-famous musical. Mr. Barbour returned with Ms. Chamberlin to perform "All I Ask of You" and then segued into "Music of the Night." Having performed the role on Broadway for three years, James Barbour's interpretation of the song might well be considered the definitive version.

The only way to end such an astounding program was with "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot." Tenor Nathan Granner once again took the stage, delivering the famous aria with such power, it was easy to see why he is well on his way to becoming one of the world’s great tenors. The glorious Cal Phil choir and the magnificent Cal Phil orchestra closed out the concert with the "Nessun Dorma" reprise, bringing the audience out of their seats in a roaring standing ovation. What could possibly top this concert? 

Come to the next California Philharmonic concert to find out!