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Marsha Wagner lauds 2009 season at Barbara B. Mann

By Staff | May 22, 2009

Our intrepid, fearless leader, Our Lady of Concerti Communitas, Barbara B. Mann,. has done it again – opened the 2009 Season with her now famous “Hi ya’ll” which, this year was immediately followed by prompting from her two sons for the audience to sing Happy Birthday to their 96-year-young superstar Mom. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if it weren’t for Barbara B. Mann we wouldn’t have these amazing Community Concerts, which have been on-going in Fort Myers for 60 years, and are still the biggest bang for your buck.

The 2009 Season’s opening attraction was the stupendous, the tremendous State Ballet of Russia (whose touring name is The Varonezh State Theatre of Opera and Ballet), established in 1961.

The company’s repertoire includes works by both classical and modern composers and choreographers: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Cinderella, Doctor Aubolit, and Francesca di Rimini are just a few. Among the 54 dancers who make up the Company are any number of Russian artists and winners of International Ballet Competitions. To top it all off, this remarkable Company is under the direction of Vladimir Vasiliev, well known to international ballet audiences as a star of the Bolshoi and famous partner to prima ballerina Galina Ulanova. In 1995, by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin, Vasiliev was named as General and Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Theater. He remained there until 2000 when he took over the role of Director/Choreographer of the Voronezh.

The full-length version of Cinderella, with music by Sergey Prokofiev, was the title ballet of this star-studded evening. What a dazzling dance evening it was! Now, I must admit, I had never even heard of this Company before but, be that as it may, I’ll never forget them.

After the lovely overture ended, the lights came up on a beautiful, flower painted, see-through,- scrim, revealing the marvelous stepmother’s house set, with the step-sisters and Cinderella frozen in time. Before I go much farther, I must comment that all the scenery and all the costumes were most skillfully done and tastefully executed; no expense was spared in the mounting of this ballet.

Cinderella was played by the exquisitely fragile, lithe-but-strong and exceptionally musical Tatiana Frolova. This dancer’s seeming fragility belies her tempered-steel strength: difficult dance technique challenges were executed with effortless aplomb. Her musicality was flawless.

The two Stepsisters (who will remain nameless since they had three alternate casts for every role, and no name announcements for anyone except Cinderella and her Prince, Denis Kaganer)

At any rate, the Sisters danced with sprightly panache and the Stepmother (who was played by a man) was absolutely hilarious.

Denis Kaganer as the Prince was not only a strong partner to the ballerina, but his airborne jumps and turns were spot-on and stylishly executed with ballon and ease.

Mention must be made of one particularly fine, unnamed male dancer who played the Dance Meister. This young man was the best male jumper and turner I’ve seen in a long time.

The chorus of men and women dancers who filled the roles of party guests and characters were perfect, and they danced everything with precision, superb technique, and much feeling.

Before I forget, I want to thank this program’s sponsor, Madeleine R. Taeni, for bringing this astonishing Ballet evening to Fort Myers.

Bravo Ballet Company! Bravo dancers! and never forget, Bravo, Barbara B. Mann! for a terrific evening.

Community Concerts’ second offering of The 5 Browns was right up there on a par with the opening night’s ballet.

According to the program notes “The 5 Browns are classical music’s first family of piano virtuosos.” Considering the bravos and standing ovation after their performance, the audience and I couldn’t have agreed more.

The 5 Browns – Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae – range in age from 22 to 29 and are the sons and daughters of Keith and Lisa Brown from Utah, who wanted their Mormon children to have music in their lives. Their goal was to raise “five good people.” Not only did they achieve their goal, but they also managed to raise and train five fine pianists who give pleasure to audiences all over the globe.

Beethoven’s famous Fifth Symphony opened the program, and we were off to a tremendous start. These five incredible piano artists gave this stirring Symphony a wonderful new texture by making the Fifth sound as though it were being played in surround sound.

The Grande Tarantelle by Gottschalk played by the two brothers, Gregory and Ryan, was sprightly with lots of notes and flying fingers, a sort of race between right hands and left hands. The arrangements for all the pieces during this concert also must be recognized as outstanding. I’m sure these arrangements are technically difficult to organize in such a way that the pianists do not compete with one another or the composer’s intention.

The Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, as played by Melody Brown, was as spiritually uplifting as the composer planned it to be. Desirae and Deondra gave individually different, yet complementary, renditions of Rachmaninoff’s Suite No.2. It was fascinating how differently this Suite can be not only played but understood by both artists and audience.

Next came for me the high point of this evening of musical accomplishments – Gregory Brown’s technically perfect rendition of the very difficult Toccata Op.11 by Prokofieff. It was a real WOW moment, if there can be such a thing in a classical concert. A fabulous reading of Gustav Holst’s “Planets” took us to intermission.

The second half of the evening was as grand as the first half except a little more light-hearted and, dare I say it? a little more commercial. The finale, Saint Saens’ “Danse Macabre,” sent us into the rather cold night with an inner warmth and glow of satisfaction for another breathtaking evening of concert-going brought to us by Community Concerts.

The third offering in the Series was Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” presented by Opera Internationale, an amazing opera company under the artistic direction of Alexander Gaische. Unfortunately, there were no background notes on this terrific little opera company in the program or biographies of the soloists. The only biography in the program was that of Carlos Conde who played the role of Figaro.

As for the rest of the company, they too were pretty marvelous, and it’s too bad that there wasn’t any bio background on this talented cast. The women’s voices were particularly good. Ekaterina Bordain as Countess Almaviva had a sweet voice that matched her characterization as well as her looks. Tania Nikolov had not only a grand voice she had a piquant personality that was perfect for her portrayal of Susanna. Roumiana Petra astounded with the rich qualities in her voice while making much of the relatively small part of Marcellina. And let us not forget the men in this delightful opera company – Daryl Cross as the Count Almaviva, Dimiter Tvetkov as Baratola, and Sasha Kraefsky as Don Basiglio. These male singers were equally outstanding.

The whole performance of “Marriage of Figaro” was thrilling beyond measure, and I am happy to report that Opera Internationale was such a big hit that they have been contracted to perform again for Community Concerts next season.

One slight request from this audience member for next year, however – backgrounds and biographies on this wonderful company. Please!!

The Munich Symphony Orchestra under the musical leadership of Principal Guest Conductor, Phillippe Entremont – also an internationally recognized pianist as well as a renowned conductor – the fourth concert in the Community Concert Series, opened with a rousing rendition of Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll.”

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1, op.15, in C Major brought Entremont onto the stage not only as the brilliant conductor he is, but as the world-class pianist he also happens to be. It was most interesting to see and hear the power this man can achieve so effortlessly at the piano then switch equally effortlessly to conducting the orchestra between piano passages, masterfully focusing on both with equal artistry.

The last Community Concert of the 2009 season was a ticket to the Broadway musical hit “Wicked” which played at Barbara Mann Hall the whole month of March.

And that last ticket should prove to one and all what a fantastic bargain the Community Concert Series is – two fabulous concerts, a world-class ballet, a wonderful opera, plus a ticket to the Broadway hit, “Wicked,” which was review earlier. WOW! Thanks, Barbara, for yet another wonderful season of artists and artistry.