I drove into Fairbanks just in time to catch the Opera Fairbanks' Orchestra's Free Summer Concert on the Fourth of July. I thought it'd be a program of patriotic Americana, but I was wrong. The first notes were the opening chords of Mendelssohn's Overture to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- a apt selection for Fairbanks at this time of year. As delighted as I was to hear one of my favorite pieces, it turned out to be an unexpectedly long and even tedious rendering. The horns particularly struggled.
Vivica Genaux took the stage with the orchestra for an athletic aria from "I Capuletti ed i Montecchi," Bellini's take on "Romeo and Juliet," followed by excepts from Prokofiev's ballet on the same subject.
Following intermission Genaux returned with a men's chorus for a scene from "L'Italiana in Algeri," the Rossini comedy in which she is appearing with Opera Fairbanks this month. It was a spirited affair that showcased the florid agility and vocal power that has driven the Fairbanks-born mezzo's international career.
Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, another unexpected offering, closed the program. Conductor Gregory Buchalter presented a lively and tight performance. The horns came together after the first movement. The winds and strings were generally on the money; the low strings in the third movement, were especially impressive - all the more so since there were so few of them; two basses and two cellos. That's right, two cellos. How they managed to get their sound to fill the 800 seat Hering Auditorium is a mystery to me.
For an encore the orchestra played "The Stars and Stripes Forever," without which, Buchalter observed, "it wouldn't be the Fourth of July." The large crowd greeted it robustly, clapping hands in time with the march.