Wednesday, February 18, 2009

With a song in their broken hearts

The Boston Secession in full force.

The annual "(Un)Lucky in Love" concert from Boston Secession is always a sell-out, and no wonder; it's like a funny little valentine from the chorus to its audience. This year's model seemed stripped-down from past versions, and perhaps more weighted toward pop; but it was still lively fun. Artistic Director Jane Ring Frank had once again assembled a clever potpourri of works that either celebrated or skewered the promise of romance (or, preferably, both at once) - and the chorus once again sang the hell out of them.

Of course the hidden pitfall in this kind of thing is that the jokes can get a little smug. Generally, the Secessioners dodged this trap by occasionally cutting all the archness with genuine winsomeness, even in such middlebrow swoons as "Try to Remember." Alas, the higher level of romantic intensity promised by the inclusion of "Chi il bel sogno" from La Rondine didn't materialize, as Secession mainstay Kristi Vrooman had fallen ill. Instead the lovely Jennifer Ashe substituted a charming rendering of the lighter "Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio” from Le Nozze di Figaro, but the mood, of course, wasn't quite the same, and the evening could have used a little more emotional ballast - particularly after the other famous aria on the program, the seductive "Là ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni, proved solidly sung (byKyle Siddons and Mary Gerbi) but definitely tongue-in-cheek.

There were other touching moments in the program - Adriana Repetto brought a melting vulnerability to "I Have to Tell You" from Fanny, Alex Powell and Mary Gerbi made sweet music in the final duet from The Fantasticks, "They Were You," and the chorus lavished their patented transparent sound on the lyrical simplicity of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." And Secession member and folk singer Carrie Cheron contributed her own original solo, the lovely, if somewhat meandering, "There Will Be Love."

But most of the remaining high points were comic. "Second Grade," a rollicking paean to the best time of a man's life, got a hilariously hearty rendition from the men of the chorus (with a little help from Anita Kupriss's trumpet). And a stretch of the operetta Rose-Marie proved deliriously, hilarious bad (although where was the iconic "Indian Love Call"?) The closing number was the popular P.D.Q. Bach madrigal "Two Hearts, Four Lips, Three Little Words," which began (and remained) exquisitely beautiful even as its text grew more and more bizarre. The company gave it both their comic and musical best, of course - and it seemed to somehow sum up the sweet, ridiculous spirit of this particular Secession tradition.

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