Friday, June 08, 2007

Of Unicorns, Gorgons and Manticores

The phrase "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" gets bandied about far too casually, but this weekend's programming of Giancarlo Menotti's "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore" is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The reason doesn't lie in any weakness in the piece itself — what sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would it be if it were lousy? No, it's the piece's quirky ensemble that keeps it on the fringe of the repertoire: choir, chamber orchestra, and dancers. Not to mention that the music, though tuneful and approachable in that quirky Menotti way, is extremely difficult to play and sing.

Joining forces to make it possible — for what must be the first time ever in Colorado Springs — are Colorado's Classical Youth Ballet, the Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble, and Chamber Orchestra of the Springs.

It's a strange piece. The choral madrigals and instrumental interludes are charming and beautiful, the text flows naturally and is often laugh-out-loud funny — and the allegory is heavy-handed and arrogant. (That's us Menotti is slamming.) But there are many wonderful moments, and the performance at Friday's dress rehearsal did full justice to the work. Among the dancers, Scott Marble's Man in the Castle deserves special praise.

The rest of the program is equally interesting, and fits very well with the Menotti — contemporary but unpretentiously approachable.

The program opened with Alexander von Kreisler's Three Pastels and Sir Malcolm Arnold's Divertimento, Op. 37 stylishly performed by the Sirocco Winds — Phyllis White on flute, Gail Coughran on oboe, and Jay Norman on clarinet.

The 23-member Colorado Vocal Arts Ensemble then took the stage for Morten Lauridsen's "Fire Songs." These Italian Renaissance love poems may count as some of the most vacuous lyrics ever set to music, but that just meant there was nothing to distract the listener from Lauridsen's rich and opulent settings, or from the CVAE's magnificent performance. These pieces showed off the lightness and gracefulness of Deborah Jenkins Teske's choir.

Not only will you enjoy the concert, but you'll feel a warm, virtuous glow: It's is a benefit for the participating organizations.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Louisa Performing Arts Center, The Colorado Springs School, 21 Broadmoor Ave.
Tickets: $25; 633-9373 or


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