‘Over-the-top musical pleasure’

Daryl Freedman receives visual admiration from guest conductor Stuart Chafetz as she sings “The Boston Beguine.” Throughout the performance, Chafetz and the Young Artists simultaneously gave equal gestures of recognition and appreciation. Photo by Megan Tan.

Opera bids goodbye to 2011 Season with ‘fabulous fun’ performance with CSO

Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears…

…And with that, and with a standing applause at 10:45 p.m. in the Amphitheater, the season for the Chautauqua Opera Young Artists came to its end, hugs and tears offstage, cheery good feelings from the community that received Chautauqua Opera’s annual pops concert with the full Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

The program comprised the Broadway classics from the late 1950s to the early 1970s by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that many say highlighted the tumultuous ’60s decade in musical theater.

Thus, the huge Amphitheater Saturday evening became a cabaret, for these were great tunes, among the best, particular the icons from “Fiddler on the Roof,” a musical paradigm worthy of the full symphonic orchestra and the star quality voices: over-the-top musical pleasure. And fabulous fun.

The evening ended with “Fiddler” — with “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Miracle of Miracles,” “Matchmaker” and “If I Were a Rich Man.”

William Roberts owned Tevye, the star of the musical, father of five daughters who finds the world outrunning him. His conversation with God about the possibility of receiving a small fortune is one of the jewels of Zero Mostel’s unforgettable performance — and Roberts takes it on, with respect and invention. His strut and dance and “Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum” summoned huzzahs, screams, clapping and eventually a standing insistence that he take another bow.

It may not have been in Roberts’ program to portray Tevye sometime, but it would be a mistake if he didn’t find a belly and give it a shot.

The evening began with a generous orientation to Bock and Harnick’s career by Jay Lesenger, artistic/general director of Chautauqua Opera, and for each play, he added several minutes of commentary. The sampling included “Fiorello!” (1959), “Tenderloin” (1960), “She Loves Me” (1963), “The Apple Tree” (1966) and “The Rothschilds” (1970).

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, conducted by timpanist Stuart Chafetz, led off with the overture to “Fiorello!,” and that overture begins with a siren and proceeds into a jazzy dance sequence, so the audience knew it was in for a good time. The orchestra was wonderful, a balancing act between singer and support, and very nicely handled through the variety of tunes.

But the program sidestepped a bit from Broadway to include “Vilia” from Franz Lehar’s 1905 operetta The Merry Widow. They got away with it, since Harnick did a translation of the lyrics. And it was an opportunity to showcase Courtney Mills, with her rich, luxurious — sumptuous — interpretation that brought down the house and brought out Mills for another bow.

The gift of the evening was the opportunity to hear these rising stars in a variety of roles — Mills, for instance, later playing for grins and heartfelts with a far smaller voice in “What Makes Me Love Him?” from “The Apple Tree.”

Brittany Robinson, who had just starred as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute and dazzled the audience in Norton Hall with her range, here was included in a role in the “Matchmaker” song and was summoned for more silliness in “Vanilla Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me,” which she ended with a stratospheric flourish, to the awe of the audience.

The mark of greatness Bock and Harnick shared was their ability to move listeners to joy, as to seriousness, and wittiness, as to tears.

“In My Own Lifetime” from “The Rothschilds” is one of their most moving songs, sending up the hope that

In my own lifetime
I want to see
The fighting cease
In my own lifetime
I want to see
My sons enjoy
The fruits of peace…

Gideon Dabi prepared the way for “Fiddler” and its moving ending with a powerfully felt, beautifully performed and articulated “Lifetime.” He came out again in “Sunrise” along with Mills, Robinson and Marvin Kehler — four wonderful singers we will hear from again. It was a moving night, and an apt goodbye to strong season of opera.

Anthony Bannon is the Ron and Donna Fielding Director at George Eastman House, the International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY. Previously, he was an arts critic for The Buffalo News.