Portland Summerfest

MusicWatch Weekly: comings and goings

Summer festivals open and close, and Oregon's musical week also features other concerts indoors and out

Portland’s summer music scene would feel incomplete without Portland SummerFest Opera in the Park, the annual free, family friendly opera performance in Washington Park Amphitheater, with the audience arrayed on their blankets gazing down at singers and orchestra on the amphitheater stage. In Saturday’s Tosca, veteran conductor Keith Clark leads an abridged concert performance (that is, no props, just singing and playing) that features singers who’ve starred on stages at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and beyond. Soprano Angela Brown (who’s also sung with many major orchestras and opera companies) sings the title role in Puccini’s popular perennial, with Portland’s own Met vet Richard Keller as the villainous Scarpia, bass baritone Deac Guidi, tenor Allan Glassman, chorus and orchestra.

Angela Brown stars in ‘Tosca’ at Portland SummerFest.

Portland Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice, which opens Friday at Newmark Theatre, closes its summer festival season. The tragedy of the irresistible singer Orpheus and his lover and their journeys to hell and back has tugged human heartstrings since long before the ancient Greeks transformed it into one of the world’s most enduring myths. One of the most popular musical settings is Christoph Gluck’s 1762 opera, with its hit single Dance of the Blessed Spirit. Sandra Piques Eddy and Lindsay Ohse star in the title roles, with resident artist Helen Huang singing the role of Amore, the god of love. This new production also features full chorus, ballet, and lots of rose petals, sung in Italian with projected English translations.

Portland SummerFest brings ‘Tosca’ to Washington Park. Photo: Tasha Miller.

One of Oregon’s summer music treasures, Portland Piano Summer Festival, begins Monday and runs through August 3 at Lewis & Clark College. This year’s festival adds a new series of Kaleidoscope Lectures that “explore the world of music as it relates to science, language, and art, guided by experts in relevant fields,” including subjects like music and the brain, the birth of Romanticism, and, on Monday evening, Constance Jackson’s talk on Music and Meaning. The annual summer immersion in pianistic performance this time includes acclaimed pianist Tanya Gabrielian playing Handel, Beethoven, Schumann, Gershwin, and Chopin on Monday. The next evening, she talks about composers and mental illness before Alexander Shtarkman tackles a great Beethoven sonata, Brahms’s quartet of Ballades, and Chopin’s two dozen Op. 28 Preludes. We’ll tell you about the rest of the fest next week.

The view from Mt. Angel Abbey.

Another Oregon summer music glory, the Mt. Angel Abbey Bach Festival, returns for its 47th season at the beautiful abbey near Silverton. Wednesday and Friday’s concerts have been sold out for awhile, but tickets remain Thursday’s performances by excellent Portland organist Douglas Schneider (featuring that most famous organ work by JS Bach) at 6 pm and for the evening concert by the Canadian duo of cellist Yegor Dyachkov and pianist Jean Saulnier, featuring more Bach, plus music by Schumann and one of Beethoven’s great cello sonatas.

Hunter Noack performs at Timothy Lake.

Tosca isn’t the only outdoor classical music event this week. On Thursday, Portland State University prof Ken Selden leads the Vancouver Symphony in a family-friendly, free outdoor concert in downtown Vancouver’s Esther Short Park band shell featuring Shostakovich’s aptly titled Festive Overture, some of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, Copland’s Hoe Down (from his ballet score Rodeo) and music from Sleeping Beauty and Star Wars. And on Saturday, with Mt. Hood looming in the background, Portland pianist Hunter Noack brings his Steinway, wireless headphones, and engaging In a Landscape project to Cove Amphitheater on Timothy Lake.

Still another summer musical treat commences with Jacksonville’s annual Britt Orchestra Season, part of the Britt Music & Arts Festival. There will be one difference this year: due to wildfire smoke, these Britt Orchestra concerts have been moved to the North Medford High School auditorium. Wednesday’s opening night concert features classics used in film, from Mozart, Wagner, John Williams, and more.

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By Jeff Winslow

A storm at sea, drunken swordplay, a hero insecure to the point of tragic flaw, and a sadistic villain playing him like a cheap honky-tonk piano, leading to murder and suicide – Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Otello,” adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare, is certainly no picnic in the park.

But wait – that’s exactly what it is! Portland’s own international maestro Keith Clark narrates – spellbindingly, if history is any guide – and directs four star soloists, a live orchestra and chorus in Portland SummerFest’s 11th Annual Opera production at Washington Park Amphitheater, next to the Rose Gardens, at 6 pm on Friday, August 2, and at Concordia University Campus Green at 6 pm August 4. That’s two parks, not just one. And you are more than welcome to bring your picnic.

SummerFest at Concordia

SummerFest at Concordia

“Otello” is one of those rare works in which a composer who is a past master at capturing an audience’s attention and holding it, an utterly practical man of the theater, goes and does exactly what he pleases, bringing to bear a whole lifetime of experience and imagination. Far from being played out, Verdi in his 70’s – not unlike the five 75-year-old American composers featured at a recent Chamber Music Northwest concert – was at the absolute peak of his powers.

And what was his pleasure? All his creative life, Verdi was positioned against Richard Wagner, that noisy high-flown German, as the champion of Italian opera: direct, visceral and earthy. It was time to pick and choose what Verdi considered the best of Wagner’s harmonic and structural innovations, pare them down to their essence, and make them his own. The result is a double rarity, in that it is also a synthesis of the two great 19th century operatic traditions. Without losing any directness, Verdi infused “Otello” with a dazzling richness that to this day entrances the novice and connoisseur alike.

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