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At Paine Hall

By Lawrence R. Casler

A Charivari, according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, is "a crude music made in derision of incongruous marriages." Composer-librettist-conductor Peter Westergaard has expanded this into a masque-like opera buffa that bubbles over with finess and wit.

A Chorus of Prudes sings of happy leisure and innocent pleasure, but an amorous soprano ridicules the prudes and claims she can sing a song that will seduce all listeners. She proves this by means of a drowsy Harvard-type matematician who reluctantly succumbs to her mating-call. Enter two Satyrs on the make. Unable to find suitable females (the chorus is full of "dried up wretches") they sublimate with a bottle of wine, after invoking the services of a good-natured Bacchus. The Soprano decides that the conquest of a god would give immortal proof of her powers. The Satyrs push the unwilling Bacchus into her arms, but he soon grows sated with her singing. "The only cure for excessive vocal production is immediate seduction," he says in an aside, and proceeds to administer treatment. A goddess intrudes and soon beguiles him back to Elysium. The disappointed Soprano is certain she can still have the mathematician, but he and the Satyrs mock her vocal advances. "Love is a sickness full of woe," they all agree, and the chorus, with upturned noses, murmurs, "We told you so."

Jean Lunn brought a clear, wide-ranged voice to the role of the soprano. Her vivid facial expressions and fine sense of timing made her performance thoroughly upstanding, even when she wasn't standing.

As the two Satyrs, James Wood and Loring Bruce displayed a degree of uninhibited rambunctiousness that is probably unparalleled in the history of Paine Hall. And Douglas Saxe, dextrously manipulating his abacus, was quite convincing as the Mathematician. He sang with great verve, and upheld the high standard of comedy. The always lovely voice of Dorothy Barn-house made the minor role of the goddess a powerful and moving experience.

Unfortunately, only one singer, Robert Simon as the god, had sufficiently distinct diction. The rest of the cast was frequently unintelligible.

As for the music itself, it cleverly combines astute humor with unpretentious craftsmanship. Westergaard's sly use of leit-motives and his jazz-like rhythms supply an effective and sardonic commentary on the action. The seven-piece orchestra played the difficult score incisively.

In addition to Charivari, the Harvard-Radcliffe Music Clubs also presented four works by other student composers. Paul Knudson's Piano Sonata seemed to be the most significant of these. Despite passages of atonality, the work as a whole is not forbiddingly abstruse. A Serenade for Wind Quartet by Stuart Feder, Intrada and Dance by John Davison, and a Sonata for Cello and Piano by John Bavicchi were also on the program.

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