News & Reviews

GBS Gala 60th Anniversary Concert

GBS ends 60th season on a high note

Joseph Pronechen, The Connecticut Post - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Putting together the Greater Bridgeport Symphony and The Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut at The Klein Saturday evening proved to be a powerhouse pairing.  They turned the end of the GBS 60th anniversary season into one of the top concerts the GBS has presented over the years.

For this "Italian Opera Gala," Maestro Gustav Meier leaned heavily on the Verdi with a soupcon of Puccini and a generous measure of Mascagni flavoring the mixture.  Choosing all-chorus selections without  resorting to the usual soloists for arias and duets proved to be a brilliant move for the program.

What's more, the impeccable balance achieved by the GBS under Meier and The Mendelssohn Choir under its artistic director Carole Ann Maxwell took each selection to flawless levels of meaning and dramatic emotion.

Rarely can a concert version of a single opera, let alone various selections from several operas that usually turn into a disjoined jumble, achieve the kind of imaginative color and drama that makes the scenes come alive in the mind.

But as Meier set the scene before some selections with a few broad strokes of detail, and through the exquisite blend of orchestra and chorus, the mind's eye could easily picture the crowds, their excitement or calm, the setting and the action.

For those who had any memory of the way thrilling radio shows could stir listeners' imaginations into picturing epic productions, this GBS concert was the classic equivalent.

That started from the moment Meier raised the baton for the opener from "Otello."  The crashing thunder, the fury of the sea, the tension of the crowds gathered to welcome a victorious Otello to Cyprus only to see his ship sink in the storm, and their final moment of victory when he's saved were like a musical and imaginative C.B. DeMille production.

Every time the orchestra flexed its dramatic musical muscles, such as in the selections from "macbeth" and especially from "Aida," the chorus matched the GBS with its own emotional intensity.  With each selection the partnership became firmer and the concert ever finer.

Even before "Aida's" "Triumphal March" and "Gloria" came around, GBS and Mendelssohn were singing and playing from atop Everest. The heavy brasses, by the way, were never clearer and more triumphant.

Because opera is full of embellished emotions, the GBS and The Mendelssohn Choir gave us full courses of each, including gentler, calmer selections whose standouts included the heavenly and serene "Regina Coeli" (Queen of Heaven) from "Cavalleria Rusticana" and the heartfelt "Va Pensiero" (chorus of Exiled Jews) from "Nabucco."

Under Meier's leadership, the GBS was nothing short of inspired with the composers' lush melodies.  I can't recall ever hearing a more emotion-packed, heartfelt Intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana."

Even those not familiar with opera could recognize these, and other selections too.  Someone might not have heard Verdi's "Il Trovatore," but they sure recognized the "Anvil Chorus" from it.  The choices added another touch of genius.

If there's any quibble with such a standout concert it's this: it ended too quickly.  Would that it had been an hour longer.