Musical Musings

The UMass Boston Chamber Orchestra

Will Grey

The UMass Boston Chamber Orchestra

MiMi Yeh

Friday, November 22, the UMass Boston Chamber Orchestra put on a performance combining the flowing melodies of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 31” and Sibelius’ incidental music to “Belshazzar’s Feast, Op. 51” with a humorous adaptation of Pergolesi’s opera La Serva Padrona.

Trying to find events on-campus can be a near-impossible task. Sometimes finding them off-campus is even more difficult. Although listed in the University online calendar as taking place in a South Boston Church, the opening fell through at the last minute and they landed the O’Connell Auditorium in Eastern Nazarene College, the latter location perfectly suited to music unlike the former, which was better suited to speaking.

With conductor Jon Mitchell leading the way, the performance opened with Symphony No. 31, considered to be the first of his “mature works” in the words of Mitchell, and calling for the largest orchestra out of all of his symphonies. The piece is subtle, building slowly to an explosive climax, each movement adding to the overall ambience.

Sibelius’ “Belshazzar’s Feast” was an exotic rendition of the east designed to accompany the play of the same name by Procope Hjalmar. In the “Oriental Procession,” we can almost imagine the pomp and majesty of elephants and robed rajahs carried in on silk covered palanquins barely deigning to look down at the cheering crowds. “Khadra’s Dance” features a rousing beat culminating in the death of Khadra, from the bite of a cobra, represented by a clarinet in a lower register.

However, one of the main highlights of the evening was the performance of “La Serva Padrona” by the head of the UMass Boston voice faculty, soprano Marilyn Bulli (“Serpina”), and baritone David Giessow (“Uberto”), also a member of UMB voice faculty.

Serpina, servant to Uberto, connives to win his heart when she finds out he is searching for a wife. As she vacillates between pleading with him and pushing him around, she finally tells him she is going to get married to the vicious Captain Tempest, the disguised fellow servant and mute Vespone (Thomas Healey), and demands a dowry. Uberto softens and fears for Serpina to marry such a harsh man, and he decides she is better off with him. Although he uncovers their ruse after discovering Vespone’s identity, he still agrees to wed Serpina since he realizes just how much he cares about her.

The entire opera was performed in the corner of the stage with the most basic of props, but simplicity did not detract from the quality of the show, rather it served to augment the natural skills of the actors/vocalists in the areas of drama and comedy, two qualities important to the mastering of the comic opera.

Look forward to more upcoming performances from the musicians at UMass Boston. Saturday, December 8, the Jazz Band will be performing at 7:30pm in Snowden Auditorium of Wheatley Hall. Wednesday, December 11, there will be a Voice Division recital at 7pm in Snowden Auditorium of Wheatley Hall. Both are free, though donations are welcome.