Is Mother Nature Italian? You could well think so in view of the lovely weather she provided for Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s “Italian Night” Wednesday on the Esplanade. Then again, you didn’t have to be Italian to find the program attractive: opera excerpts from Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo, plus a “Ballet Suite” of music from Nino Rota’s score for the 1954 Federico Fellini classic “La strada.”
The star of the evening was baritone Stephen Powell, who opened the concert with the Prologue to Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.” Here and in Iago’s “Credo in un Dio crudel,” from Verdi’s “Otello,” he commanded a full range of emotions, with a gloriously rich voice and exemplary diction. At the end of Iago’s aria, the line “E poi? La Morte è il Nulla” sent chills down my spine. The last selection before intermission was the finale from Act 1 of Puccini’s “Tosca,” in which Powell sang Scarpia to soprano Barbara Shirvis’s Tosca, with baritone David Kravitz as the Sacristan. Powell and Shirvis are husband and wife, and they matched each other in beauty of voice and passion. It made me wish I could hear them in the complete opera.
Shirvis, accompanied by the Boston Landmarks One City Choir (which included members of the Back Bay Chorale) and the North End Music and Performing Arts Center Youth Choir, was radiant, if less intelligible, in “Regina coeli,” from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana,” and “Dove guardi” from “Otello.”
The orchestra, under music director Christopher Wilkins, offered a compact, somewhat neutral reading of the famous Intermezzo from “Cavalleria rusticana” — I was reminded, wistfully, of Arthur Fiedler’s searing performances with the Pops — and a dramatic, boldly colored overture to Verdi’s “Nabucco.” The suite from “La strada,” with a lamenting solo from concertmaster Gregory Vitale, was itself a kind of mini-opera.
The chorus contributed a sweet, swaying “Va pensiero, sull’ali dorate” from “Nabucco,” and then the formal program ended with a full-bore performance of the Triumphal March from Verdi’s “Aida” that enjoyed brass support from the HONK! DisOrchestra Magnifico, whose members were deployed in two groups amid the audience, creating an antiphonal effect.
It made for a stirring conclusion, but the HONK! players weren’t finished. After taking their bows in front of the stage, they riffed on “O sole mio” and a Neapolitan tarantella. As darkness set in, they abandoned Italy for “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Mother Nature didn’t seem to mind.
BOSTON LANDMARKS ORCHESTRA
Conducted by Christopher Wilkins
At: DCR Hatch Shell, Wednesday