Review: RPO performs with unified panache

07:20 PM, Mar 01, 2013

Written By Daniel J. Kushner

If you goWhat: Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, “Exquisite Puccini,” with pieces from Puccini, Rossini, Verdi and Resphigi.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday (March 2).
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Cost: $15 (obstructed view) to $82.
For tickets: (585) 454-2100 or

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday presented a program that touted the operatic virtues of Giacomo Puccini, along with vital works by fellow Italian composers Rossini, Verdi and Respighi.

Stepping onto the podium, guest conductor Neil Varon wasted no time in launching into the Overture to Giachinno Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra.

Articulation is everything in the music of Rossini, and the orchestra did not disappoint — executing the composer’s pinpoint phrases and bel canto melodies with unified panache.

The energetic Varon, professor of conducting at Eastman School of Music, was a master of detail — every flick of the baton, every flourish of the hand drawing more of Rossini’s effortless charm from the orchestra.

Next on the program, which will repeat Saturday at Eastman Theatre, was the Intermezzo from Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and the contrast in mood could not have been more stark. A gorgeous viola solo ushered in a tragic yet wistful environment.

Varon dug into the sensuous symphonic texture, conducting the violins in unison as if concocting an insatiable storm.

As a college student, it was Puccini’s music that first won me over to opera — in particular Musetta’s showstopping aria “Quando me’n vo” in La Boheme.

Puccini’s operas have a captivating immediacy and accessibility that have rarely been matched.

Soprano Karin Wolverton was a welcome and engaging Mimi, with a bright timbre and tightly wound vibrato more commonly heard in the opera’s coloratura role of Musetta.

Tenor Dinyar Varnia is an excellent Puccinian tenor. His voice contained just the right blend of light and dark tones, and this chiaroscuro shading is what made his performance of Rodolfo’s aria “Che gelida manina” come alive.

During the aria “Mi chiamano Mimi,” Wolverton’s voice sparkled with a tenacity that made the rather two-dimensional character of Mimi all the more compelling — and Rodolfo’s love for her all the more endearing and worthy of our support.

The duo’s ringing final phrase together, which ended the concert’s first half, registered with supreme beauty and authenticity.

The audience responded with an eager ovation usually reserved for the end of an exceptional concert, and not its halfway point.

The evening’s second half began with the only non-operatic work on the program, Ottorino Respighi’s The Fountains of Rome.

Shrouded in the misty allure of daybreak (as voiced by the violins), the veil was suddenly lifted with the bold entrance of the French horns, as daylight revealed a dangerously intoxicating Rome.

I’ve long thought the storyline of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly to be uninspired and tedious, no matter how beautiful the music.

Thursday’s performance of excerpts of the work made me reconsider the viability of the drama.

Wolverton’s ardent and youthful voice was well-suited for Butterfly, the young Japanese bride to the reprehensible U.S. Navy lieutenant Pinkerton, voiced by Vania.

The concert closed with the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s infrequently performed work La forza del destino in a performance that reinforced the ensemble’s extraordinary cohesion and vitality.