Impressive Debut: HT Review of “Happily Ever After?”


Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s new conductor makes impressive debut

  • By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |

Only on the job for a few weeks, Alejandro Gomez-Guillen had the orchestra in full command and playing with tremendous energy. And as he moved the program forward with bridges of information, he revealed a gift for gab, for wit and for choosing interesting facts and anecdotes with which to enlighten the crowd. The package proved delightful.

The theme of the program was opera; its title, “Happily Ever After?” The question mark was meant to suggest that music, more specifically operatic music, can relate contrasting moods and messages. To represent the exotic, vividly colorful and ultimately unhappy, Maestro Gomez-Guillen chose Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” For fable, adventure and the ultimately happy, he selected Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

Music from “Carmen” dominated the program, with seven selections, four orchestral and three vocal, the latter bringing to the stage mezzo-soprano Annie Chester (for the “Habanera” and “Seguedille”) and baritone Andrew Richardson (for the “Toreador Song”). What with well-selected music and informed spoken background from the podium, even listeners who have never seen “Carmen” could gain an understanding of what this particular work and also opera as a genre are all about.

From Mozart’s “Flute,” the concert featured the overture, the Papageno-Papagena duet, (done up amusingly by soprano Laura Sterling and baritone Julian Morris), and the famously daunting, angry “Queen of the Night” aria, nicely negotiated by soprano Annika Mauss.

In support of the contention that music is an all-purpose expresser of feelings, Gomez-Guillen programmed additional samples to leave the listener with a broad range of emotional experiences: the sorrowful Dido’s Lament from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” sung movingly by soprano Alejandra Martinez; the radiant orchestral Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s famous verismo opera, “Cavalleria Rusticana”; “Vesti la giubba,” the emotional eruption of the cuckolded-by-his-wife clown Canio in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci,” sung powerfully by tenor Trey Smagur, and the colorful Polovtsian Dances from Alexander Borodin’s “Prince Igor,” a concluding sample from the orchestra.

In addition to all of the above, Kimberly Caballo brought her missionary Reimagining Opera for Kids vocal ensemble to perform an absolutely new opera, a 10-minute charmer about a girl and her stomach-hurting dog and how the hurt was soothed away. The participating singers were the previously mentioned soprano Martinez, mezzo Amanda Sesler and tenor Benjamin Hardin.

The concert was tremendously entertaining, for content and performance. The orchestra was terrific. Their leader, gifted and refreshingly enthusiastic, hinted with his artistic contribution that we have much more to learn from and expect in future BSO concerts. An added benefit of Saturday’s event, this reviewer believes, was a gain in the acceptance for opera from anyone who came to the concert not already sold on that wonderful art form. The program was most persuasive.