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Summerfest hits a high note with classical concerts

| Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 7:57 p.m.
Pittsburgh Symphony cellist Mikhail Istomin.
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Symphony.
Pittsburgh Symphony.
Pittsburgh Symphony cellist Mikhail Istomin. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Symphony.

Summerfest, the new festival being presented by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, expands its offerings this week to classical concerts.

The festival's repertoire features three diverse main shows — this week “Carmen” on Friday, “Candide” on Saturday and “The Magic Flute” on Sunday — but many of its other activities are centered on composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who wrote “The Magic Flute.”

Opera Theater Summerfest classical concerts start with countertenor Andrey Nemzer on Tuesday and the Pittsburgh Chamber Players on Wednesday at the Fox Chapel Golf Club.

Nemzer will be giving his first solo concert in Pittsburgh since he was named one of five winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on March 18.

Before winning at the Met, Nemzer won the 2011 Mildred Miller International Vocal Competition, which was run the Opera Theater and named for its founder. He soloed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in “Messiah” in December and at a Music for the Spirit Concert in May. He's also pursuing an Artists Diploma at Duquesne University.

Nemzer's Summerfest program is devoted to music written for castrato by Mozart in operas he composed before coming to Vienna in 1781. Castrati were men who had surgery as children to prevent their voices from changing lower. Now, countertenors handle those roles.

Nemzer will sing mostly arias from “Mitradante, Re di Ponto,” “Ascanio in Alba,” “La finta giardiniera,” and “Idomeneo,”

“ ‘Va pure ad altri in braccio' from ‘La finta giardineira' is a nasty aria,” Nemzer says. His character Ramiro has been rejected in love and he's bitter about it.

“This aria was written for castrato soprano,” he says. Nemzer usually sings alto, which he does in the Mendelssohn Choir, for example. He says other arias he'll sing Tuesday have isolated notes even higher than in “Va pure.”

This rare repertoire should not only be fascinating in its own right, but also fit well into Summerfest's Mozart Camp, which aims to deepen appreciation of the composer's music.

Since his win at the Met, Nemzer took second place in the Gerda Lissner Foundation Competition, also in New York City, and signed a two-year contract with Fletcher Artist Management. Among his projects next season is to be understudy for David Daniels in a run of performances of George Frideric Handel's “Giulio Cesare” in April and May 2013 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The Pittsburgh Chamber Players concert Wednesday features far less obscure repertoire, including two of Mozart's supreme masterpieces — the Divertimento for String Trio in E flat major and the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor.

The ensemble varies from three to nine players, mainly Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians, and has performed on the East Coast as well as Western Pennsylvania.

“The Divertimento is a big, beautiful and important piece,” says symphony cellist Mikhail Istomin. He'll perform it with symphony violinist Jennifer Orchard and violist Danielle Farina, who played in the Lark String Quartet with Orchard more than a decade ago.

Despite his love for the piece, Istomin says he's not played it as often as some others by Mozart because it takes a lot of time to prepare. Rehearsals for Wednesday's performance began in the spring in New York City.

“The Piano Quartet is probably one of my favorites in the piano quartet medium and also in Mozart because it is in minor,” Istomin says. “I think the emotional potential of music in minor keys can't be beat.”

Mark Kanny is the classical music critic of Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.

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