Soprano Julie Newell

Happy Birthday Wolfgang! by Jan Jezioro

The BPO serves up a Mozart vocal treat

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has a long history of celebrating the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in creative ways. Last year, the orchestra under the baton of its music director Joann Falletta combined forces with Vincent O’Neil, and ICTC producing director, Fortunato Pizzamenti, to offer a concert stage production of Peter Shaffer’s multi-award-winning play “Amadeus” which was a resounding success.

For this season’s Mozart celebration, the BPO has invited five singers from The Juilliard School of Music’s Young Artists program to join the orchestra in musical selections from three of the composer’s greatest operas, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte, for concerts on Saturday January 27 at 8 pm and Sunday January 28 at 2:30pm in Kleinhans Music Hall. The BPO has invited Andrew Bisantz back as conductor for these concerts. Bisantz, a Buffalo native who has formerly served as a BPO apprentice conductor and associate producer of the orchestra’s National Public Radio broadcasts, conducted a sold-out performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the BPO during his time with the orchestra. Currently music director at Eugene Opera in Oregon, he is the former associate conductor of Florida Grand Opera and is an assistant conductor at Glimmerglass Opera and music director of the Florida International University Opera Theatre.

Andrew Bisantz, director at Eugene Opera in Oregon, will be conducting the Mozart concerts

Bisantz, who received his bachelor’s degree in piano performance at the Fredonia State College School of Music, has composed a narration to help tie together the selections from the three operas, and he has invited a Western New York favorite, soprano Julie Newell, a Distinguished Teaching Professor of Voice on the faculty at Fredonia, to be the narrator.

As Julie Newell explains, “I received a call from the BPO, as this concert involves some bits of staging to draw the variety of arias and scenes together smoothly, and they were also looking for someone who would have access to a few stage props and such. After all my years singing with the BPO – when I heard the message I was thrilled to have the opportunity to return to work in Kleinhans. I know Andrew well as he was at Fredonia in the earliest part of my time there when he was a marvelous pianist but was already really interested in and drawn to work with singers and in theatrical settings. He got the conducting ‘bug’ from Grant Cooper, who was then the Fredonia Symphony Orchestra and Hillman Opera Music Director, and the founding Conductor of the Western New York Chamber Orchestra which was then called the Fredonia Chamber Players.”

“I have not worked with Andrew previously”, says Newell, “but have been happy and proud to watch his career develop and take off so successfully in the very difficult world of opera. Andrew has composed the narration and it is great to read. He has a very complete sense of what he wants this program to bring to the audience, and the narration is especially focused on the importance of the collaboration between Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. I could go on and on about vocal music and Mozart – but specifically to this program, it includes many of the most significant arias in all of Mozart’s literature, and what is revealed in this concert program is the humanist qualities of these arias. They are so stunning musically that, when in context of an entire opera, we often miss the power of the personal statements each character makes, be they comedic or tragic”.

“I have always loved singing Mozart operas”, says Newell, “and those arias- even though they challenge the vocalist with both their transparency and difficulty (sometimes their seeming simplicity is the most difficult element to create) – are so rewarding in that a singer actor can always feel they really ‘speak’ to the audience as if the audience is really in the scene with us as we talk to them within the aria. I have always felt that I could be the most honest as a character in Mozart. This style of operatic concert is becoming more and more common and popular, as it allows audiences to hear the amazing power of operatic literature while allowing the producing organizations an opportunity to present it without the significant overhead of scenery, costumes, long rehearsal schedules. Opera is often lost in all the trappings, and concert presentations of scenes, such as this, allow the audience to experience the thrill of the genres in a very personal way”.

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