The 2016 Cincinnati May Festival opened May 20 at Music Hall with a feast of Mozart. Led by music director James Conlon, the concert included Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C Minor, K. 427a and five shorter works, the Overtures to “Lucio Silla,” “Idomeneo” and “Le Nozze di Figaro,” plus “Ave verum corpus” and “Exsultate jubilate.”
Conlon, who retires this season after 37 years in the post -- the longest tenure of any May Festival artistic director – was greeted with acclaim, and rightly so, for his leadership spans some of the most important achievements in its 143-year history. (Conlon led the centerpiece May Festival Chorus and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall in May 2014 and leaves an extensive discography and videography with the company.)
Performing with a reduced (31-member) May Festival Orchestra
(comprising members of the CSO) were, on May 20, soprano Lisette Oropesa,
mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, tenor Ben Bliss and bass-baritone John Cheek,
and on May 21, tenor Gregory Kunde, soprano Tamara Wilson, mezzo-soprano Sara
Murphy, tenor Ben Bliss and Cheek.
The Friday concert (May 20) opened with a spry performance of the Overture to “Lucio Silla,” which made a fine curtain raiser. The Overture to “Idomeneo” added a touch of grandeur, while the popular Overture to “Le Nozze di Figaro” was full of spirit.
The chorus was gentle, even sublime in “Ave verum corpus” and soprano Oropesa shone in “Exsultate jubilate.” Her warm, beautifully modulated voice, agile coloratura and consummate “Alleluia” summed up the first half of the concert beautifully.
Mozart’s “Great” Mass opened with soft, caressing strings, the chorus springing forth full force in the “Gloria,” which featured fine dynamic contrasts and perfect shading. The soprano solo in “Laudate” was full and rich, with fine coloratura. The chorus showed that it could go to whisper soft in a split second here, again with fine dynamic control.
The “Credo” began with a bouncy CSO and bright, joyful chorus. There was wonderful interaction between the agile soprano solo and woodwinds in “et incarnatus est,” which ended with a bright, sonorous trill by soprano and flute near the end. The “Hosanna” was a lively fugue begun by the basses. All four soloists were heard in the equally joyous “Benedictus.“
The May Festival continues at 8 p.m. Saturday (May 21) at Music Hall with a concert performance of Verdi’s “Otello.”