Several of Rochester's leading cultural institutions -- New York State Ballet, Rochester Oratorio Society, and The Lyric Theatre co-Opera-tive -- converged Friday night at the Lyric Theatre to present a concert tribute to composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The performance utilized the dancers to depict the onstage action, while the orchestra, vocal soloists, and chorus provided the music offstage.
For the first half of the program, conductor Jared Chase led the orchestra in a fluid, lithe rendition of excerpts from "The Marriage of Figaro." The dancers of the New York State Ballet were appropriately expressive and comedic, playing up the lighthearted quality of the opera. Robert Royce's choreography cleverly illuminated the relationship dynamics between Mozart's characters -- whether it be the Count's reluctance in wooing his neglected wife, or Cherubino's easy infatuation with the women of the Count's court.
As the Countess, dancer Kayleigh Danowski showcased elegant traditional technique, tinged with the tongue-in-cheek choreography of Royce. Ian Boyan was a charmingly silly scene stealer as Cherubino.
Vocally, mezzo Allyn Van Dusen and soprano Keely Futterer shone brightest as Cherubino and the Countess, respectively. Both singers exhibited an impressive tone buoyed by strength and tenacity. Contrastingly, the male vocal soloists were unable to strike the same balance, and were at times drowned out by the orchestra.
The overall presentation of "The Marriage of Figaro" was highly accessible, condensing an otherwise convoluted story into a concise microcosm of the opera. The New York State Ballet dancers, Jared Chase's orchestra, and the singers of The Lyric Theatre co-Opera-tive successfully distilled the essence of "Figaro" while keeping all of its charm intact.
Perhaps it was the gravity of the subject matter in Mozart's "Requiem Mass in D Minor," but here the performance took on a more polished, albeit somber air. Because the dancers were not asked to extend themselves beyond the choreography in order to portray operatic characters, they seemed to be able to focus more on the dance itself.
While "Figaro" was appealing and quaint, the "Requiem" took on a more revelatory tone as the dancers performed with mesmerizing synchronicity. Sarah Rothrock-Rickel's choreography-as-architecture was daring, combining athleticism and refinement in a compelling way. Thematically, Mozart was depicted as dancing with "The Music," in a decidedly more abstract approach than that of Royce for the previous work.
Rothrock-Rickel's take on the "Requiem" was effective, bringing out nuances of the musical phrasing. "Lacrymosa," featuring dancers Margaret Rickel and David Morton, was particularly beautiful. At times, however, the tone of the choreography was sanctimonious. Mozart was treated with god-like reverence, but the hallowed genius -- danced by Ian Boyan -- was lacking in the eccentricity and creative whimsy that made his portrayal so compelling in the film "Amadeus."
Musically, the performance of Rochester Oratorio Society's chamber chorus Resonanz was the highlight here, bringing emotional poignancy to "Dies Irae," "Rex Tremendae," and "Confutatis." Chase and the orchestra struck the proper balance; their presence was always felt but was not always perceived.
"Mozart at The Lyric Theatre" was a rare integration of opera and choral music with dance. It worked best as a sort of primer, an introduction to the legendary composer. In the case of the "Requiem" especially, the New York State Ballet gave an inspired performance that helped to elevate the already lofty music of Mozart.