Friday, November 16 , 2018, 4:25 am | Fair 47º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara Symphony Concert is ‘Bellissima’

A near full house at the Granada greets the performance with enthusiasm — and a standing ovation

Probably no traveler has ever voyaged to Italy and come away unscathed — certainly not Berlioz or Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky.

Thus the Santa Barbara Symphony, opening its inaugural season at The Granada this past weekend, recalled their journeys in a “Festa Iraliana.” The orchestra’s Israeli-Italian conductor, Nir Kabaretti, also drew on some opera sugarplums from Italian composers Rossini, Verdi and Puccini, to round out the program.

The Granada has proved to be a perfect acoustic and aesthetic fit for the orchestra; it sounded splendid. Sunday’s audience, just about a full house, greeted each selection with enthusiasm.

Hector Berlioz’s “The Roman Carnival, Op. 9” was the rousing first piece. Berlioz built it around themes from his “Benvenuto Cellini,” a resounding flop in its first incarnation. He molded the new overture from the salvageable bits and it remains one of his most popular works to this day. The orchestra played it with becoming brio.

The Berlioz was followed by the Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, “Italian,” by Felix Mendelssohn. It has been said that Mendelssohn had everything: genius, wealth, good looks and public adoration for his music. Everything but a long life. Fortunately, in his brief 38 years he traveled widely and fell in love with Italy. One result was this symphony in four movements. The orchestra gave it a spirited reading.

After intermission, Maestro Kabaretti spoke briefly, reminding the audience of all the pleasures Italy has given the world, opera and food being two of the greatest. He uttered the words “pasta” and “gelato” and the audience laughed heartily.

Then he led the symphony through three opera selections, the Overture to “La Italiana in Algeri” by Gioacchino Rossini, the Overture to “La Forza del Destino” by Guiseppi Verdi, and the Intermezzo to Act III of “Manon Lescaut” by Giacomo Puccini.

The Verdi is dramatic and laden with doom. It is meant as a somber preview of the tragedy to come, and nobody has ever done thatn kind of thing better than Verdi.

Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” is, to my thinking, one of the loveliest and most touching of his operas. The Intermezzo is particularly moving, especially when the cellos recall the imprisonment of poor doomed Manon and the ardor of her lover, Des Grieux. Here, principal cellist Geoffrey Rutkowski played a brief but haunting solo line.

The first of these opera numbers was Rossini’s “Italian Girl” overture. It is almost too familiar, although given a jolly reading by the Symphony.

As for the final work, Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien,” it has definitely crossed over to warhorse territory.

Tchaikovsky left the bitter cold of Russia to sample the sunny delights of Italy, and of course came home as smitten as everybody else. So warhorse it may be, but the audience loved it, and gave it a typical Santa Barbara standing ovation at the end of the concert.

Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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