SYMPHONY OF THE AMERICAS

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- A large audience was on hand for the first of the Symphony of the Americas' Rosemary Duffy Larson Matinee Series on Saturday at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater. Joined by four excellent vocalists, Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra offered a songfest of highlights from the world of opera and the Broadway stage (and, in one instance, the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical). The orchestra's Executive Director Renee LaBonte was a gracious narrator, providing insightful tidbits about the operatic plots and composers' artistic legacy.

A rousing performance of the Overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger opened the program, Brooks-Bruzzese setting a brisk pace and skillfully highlighting the instrumental inner voicing. The lyrical Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut, Puccini's first great operatic success, provided a passionate interlude between the vociferous vocalism.

Baritone Marcin Bronikowski was a standout among the strong vocal foursome. His rich, manly baritone voice filled the hall in a strongly delineated Toreador Song from Bizet's Carmen. Don Giovanni's Champagne Aria from Mozart's opera was personality plus, Bronikowski registering charisma as well as vocal strength. In the concert' second half featuring classics from Broadway, Bronikowski's version of Some Enchanted Evening from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific was gorgeous, his beautiful legato and dark hued timbre recalling the great Ezio Pinza, the musical's original star. The supple blending of Bronikowski's imposing sound with the dark hued timbre of Donna Balson in All I Ask of You from Andrew Lloyd Webber's record breaking Phantom of the Opera really soared, the orchestra's vibrant string tone enhancing the lush, romantic aura.

Soprano Courtenay Budd's flawless coloratura is always a pleasure to hear. Her light, agile Caro Nome from Verdi's Rigoletto was replete with bel canto gleam. In the Adina-Nemorino duet from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, Budd's delightful interplay with tenor Eduardo Aladren registered comedic lightness, the singing exquisite. Nacio Herb Brown was one of Hollywood's great songwriters, contributing to such musical classics as Singin' in the Rain. Love Comes Where You Find It from the 1940's Frank Sinatra- Kathryn Grayson film The Kissing Bandit has long been a coloratura showpiece and Budd unleashed the glittering fireworks and fizz, the song and performance an utter delight.

After a capable Flower Song from Carmen, Aladren sang an impassioned E Lucevan le Stella from Puccini's Tosca, exhibiting burnished tone and real Italianate squillo. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel may be that illustrious team's greatest work. Aladren's I ringing  version of I Loved You really took wing in soaring tones. Balson's deep, powerful chest voice propelled a gutsy Seguiidilla from Carmen. Her glamorous, burnished vocalism was tailored made for Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music.

Brooks-Bruzzese is a consummate accompanist and provided pliant, expressive support for the singers at every turn. A Gershwin Medley was played with idiomatic flair, the immortal melodies (including two from Gershwin's Pulitzer Prize winning Of Thee I Sing and his final song Love Walked In from the movie musical Goldwyn Follies) alternately jazzy and lyrical under Brooks-Bruzzese's lively baton. The Carousel Waltz was assayed with vigor and incisive orchestral playing. What better way to end the concert than with orchestral selections from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, an American classic. Surging with rhythmic zest and color, songful and introspective, Brooks-Bruzzese ignited the score's fire and warmth.

For opera connoisseurs and newcomers alike, the Opera to Broadway program is a real treat and will be repeated as part of the Symphony of the Americas' Tuesday evening series.

The Symphony of the Americas repeats Opera to Broadway on Tuesday, February 26 at 8:15 p.m. at the Amaturo Theater. For tickets and information, call 954-335-7002 or see www.SymphonyoftheAmericas.org.

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