A traditional opening to an unusual Monadnock season
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — Monadnock Music opened its 48th season with a high-class sortie into small-town New Hampshire. The season, visiting the usual variety of venues across the area, is salted with some unusual fare: a concert celebrating maverick composer Lou Harrison (July 27), and Ned Rorem’s operatic version of “Our Town,” staged in Peterborough, the original Grover’s Corners (Aug 11). But Sunday’s concert, at the Peterborough Town House, was an all-Mozart program, as if to secure a traditionally classical staging ground for the summer.
Artistic director Gil Rose — leader of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and also conductor of Opera Boston, before that company up and died — is now in his second season at Monadnock Music, and the festival bears more than a few echoes of his Boston projects. If the new-music programming has a BMOP-North flavor, Sunday felt a little like Opera-Boston-in-exile. The Monadnock Festival Orchestra was filled with Boston freelancers familiar from local productions; the program featured the classical-era opera that was a staple for Opera Boston.
Male soprano Michael Maniaci sang arias drawn from two of Mozart’s most prominent castrato roles, Cecilio in “Lucio Silla” and Sesto in “La clemenza di Tito.” Maniaci inhabits this repertoire with relaxed confidence and sings it with flair. Even if his voice wasn’t at its best — coloratura sometimes turned heavy, and a couple of high notes in Sesto’s “Parto, ma tu ben mio” were skipped over — longer-note phrases had a glorious sound, burbling with bright power.
The orchestra was also quite fine in the arias, the phrases breathing and the solo lines elegant. (Jan Halloran’s clarinet in “Parto” — Mozart showcasing what was then a technological novelty — was particularly poised.) On their own, the ensemble was more hard and fast, sometimes literally. The ballet music from “Idomeneo,” which opened the concert, had a poster-like quality, with firm outlines and primary colors. The opening Chaconne galloped with loud-and-louder charge; the closing Passacaille had more a generic idea of courtliness than any actual flirtation or lilt.
The closer, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (the “Jupiter”) was similar, a skilled reading — crisp playing abounded — but not necessarily an incisive interpretation. Repeated sections had little discernible variation or added shading. Slow movements filled up time with polished sound but not much intensity; the finale was dispatched as a technically impressive but mechanically metronomic dash.
Still, Monadnock Music’s mission came through, the foreign masterworks made entirely at home in a rural hamlet. The festival embodies one of music’s most appealing qualities: its ability to incongruously belong.