Reviews ...

MSO and soprano soloist charm Pops audience

... another full house, of course

by Jackie Wattenberg

A full house, of course, for Yoichi Udagawa's final concert of the season on Saturday evening, the traditional "May Pops." Rossini, German, West Side Story, Star Wars -- and a marvelous soprano, Mara Bonde, who enthralled the audience with a voice of lustrous beauty from its topnote tessitura to low.

Appearing after intermission, she offered a group of pops standards -- good ones -- and songs from musicals. Her vocal flexibility, interpretive color, and audience-stirring high notes drew a standing ovation. She sang these pop songs in operatic style with tones the clarity of lovely soap bubbles, ever easeful, swirling to "Madame Butterfly" high notes startling in a song like "Can't Help Lovin' that Man of Mine" from "Show Boat," or Rogers and Hart's great "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

Bonde is engaged in singing opera, and a few opera lovers there in Memorial Hall wished that she had sung an aria or two along with lighter fare. Her final song, "I Could Have Danced All Night" from "My Fair Lady" came closest, a melody that requires really fine soprano tones. Since her voice seemed to have strength, it was puzzling that she held a microphone; thus it was difficult to assess her ultimate power.

Before Bonde appeared, Udagawa, in his easy Mr. Congeniality manner, said that he usually hired just one person, but his singer was bringing two others with her -- because she and her husband were expecting twins!

The crowds at Udagawa's concerts show just how much he has improved this orchestra, and each performance is a step forward. Nor does he appear to compromise his musical instincts; the overture to Rossini's "Barber of Seville" got us off to a lively, energetic start. We then learned that the noted British composer Edward German -- whose "Three English Dances" from "Henry the Eighth" came next -- was born Edward Jones, but when he met another Ed Jones in college he dropped the common last name. Udagawa's easy rapport with the audience, his sense of fun, endear him to us all. (Sorry, Melrose, but Cape Ann audiences feel the same way about him!)

The final section brought American composers. John Williams' score for "Star Wars" was presented brightly with its dramatic contrast, and fine spun flute passage by John Ranck. In his regular place on this pops program was Leroy Anderson, with "Chicken Reel," which gave the strings a chance to shine and Maestro Udagawa a chance to tell a crowd-tickling chicken joke.

Leonard Bernstein, one of our greatest American musician-composers, was represented by a suite from his magnificent "West Side Story." Its tragic drama is singular Americana; its highlights were well played here, though I wished for a bit more passion in the impassioned love song "Maria." The ominous drum beats, frenzied and exciting, were by Holly Gerken.

From the printed program, I thought for the first time we would have a Sousa-less pops night, but after the final listed piece, on came Udagawa to zip into the "Stars and Stripes Forever" -- wearing a silly red and white hat, the large American flag streaming down from the flies. A dependable tradition! And audience applause for the tricky piccolo solos by John Ranck and Barbara Clement.

The MSO music season is about over, alas, but we're sure of another inspired year of fine music and fun with this music master and our long enduring Melrose Symphony Orchestra.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Melrose Free Press - May 11, 2006.

June 2, 2006

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