In typically creative and thematic fashion, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra founder and conductor James R. Cassidy led his orchestra, two chorales and two soloists in a wonderfully arranged concert entirely dedicated to ”Joe Green” (a/k/a Giuseppe Verdi) who was born 200 years ago this week.1
The evening of October 5 became another in the 2013 series of Nature vs. Music battle of Titans. Heavy rains attempted to drown out the performance with its own percussion on the roof of Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion in Florence, KY where the event was held. Visiting soloists, soprano Amy Johnson2 and tenor Raul Melo3 joined forces with the KSO Chorale and the West Chester Chorale to neutralize the cacophony emanating from the skies. Although Nature extracted some revenge on the audience who had to literally navigate their way home, those privileged to hear the performances will agree that Music triumphed!
Maestro Cassidy deftly wove the fifteen pieces from Verdi’s works on the program into a collage of complimentary moods. The atmosphere ranged from the spirited “I Vespri Siciliani” overture to the ominous “Dies irae” (Day of Judgment/Wrath) from
Soprano Amy Johnson provided dignity and elegance as Elvira in the trying moments of “Ernani, involami.” It is the story of a woman betrothed to an elderly uncle, against her wishes, while in love with a young man, Ernani. In later pieces, she makes the transition to receiving sentimental tributes of love with endearing looks of genuine affection.
Beginning with his initial entrance, tenor Raul Melo emanated pure enjoyment of his music and had an immediate rapport with the audience. His enthusiasm was evident in everything (“Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller, “Celeste Aida” from Aida and “Di quella pira” from Il Travatore). For those pieces involving both artists, the teamwork was very smooth and all were as one with the orchestra.
The two chorales added depth and feeling to “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco, the opera about the capture of the Israelites by Nebuchadnezzar’s army and the exile following the destruction of the Temple. Their rendering of verses such as “speak to us of times gone by” and “bringing virtue to our suffering” brought the audience to a vicarious experience of the era of Exodus/Lamentations. The chorales evoked a very real sense of doom innate to the previously mentioned “Dies irae.” They reversed this feeling later with a joyful Triumphal March from Aida.
The evening was another success for the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra despite yet another attempt by stormy weather to disrupt it. Mr. Cassidy summed it well with, “Next time you want to make sure your grass it watered, just check out the KSO schedule.”
With that in mind, the next time you want to make sure of an enjoyable evening, just check out the rest of the KSO’s 2013-14 season!4
1 – or as the program called it “Joe Green’s 200th Birthday Bash” (subtitled ”Tanti auguri Giuseppe Verdi”, which means “best wishes”)
2 – Ms. Johnson was making her fourth appearance with the KSO. She has had over two dozen roles ranging from Donna Anna in Don Giovanni to the title role in Salome. A few days after this performance, she was scheduled to join the Philharmonia Orchestra for an October 12 tribute to Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday. She joined the faculty at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music this fall.
3 – Mr. Melo has performed throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. He has had the principal tenor roles with six opera companies in Germany along with eight in the U.S. including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Washington Opera, Seattle Opera, Dallas Opera and Cleveland Opera. He has appeared seven times with Garrison Keillor at St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater and was named Best Lyric Tenor in the 1992 Alfredo Kraus Competition.
4 – www.kyso.org