New Millennium Orchestra mixes it up with Mozart at Mayne Stage

Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Maybe it’s time to ratchet down the worries about classical music’s survival and the aging of its audience.

Large, long-established orchestras and opera companies may still struggle to attract younger listeners, but young musicians coming into the field are trying out new ways to present and perform the music they love. Bach in bars, Mozart at a cabaret theater—these concerts truly could be at the start of something big.

The New Millennium Orchestra, co-founded six years ago by conductor/pianist Francesco Milioto, brought its brand of innovative programming to the Mayne Stage on the Far North Side Saturday night. The third of the orchestra’s Mixtape series, the idea was to let the artists and audience mix it up with Mozart and house music.

The evening opened with a fast-paced, well-sung survey of 13 of Mozart’s greatest vocal hits. The five young singers—sopranos Juliet Petrus and Saira Frank, mezzo Laurie Seely Vassalli, tenor Cornelius Johnson and baritone Corey Crider—had the musical and dramatic goods for selections that ranged from the delicate Act I trio from Cosi fan tutte to one of The Queen of the Night’s arias from The Magic Flute. (Petrus triumphantly nailed the aria’s fiendish coloratura and top notes.)

Wearing a tan blazer and open-necked shirt, Corey Crider casually strolled the stage during Leporello’s Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni. His big, clear baritone brimming with malicious mischief, he scrolled through his cell phone to check the Don’s list of conquests. In her little black dress, Vassalli poured out Dorabella’s distress in an aria from Cosi fan tutte, her smoky mezzo tinged with sorrow.

Milioto provided brief, breezy introductions to each number, and he and a string quartet of New Millennium players—violinists Blagomira Lipari, and Chihsuan Yang, violist Dominic Johnson and cellist Dan Klingler—served as the singers’ deft backup band.

After the Mozart, Dominic Johnson, Milioto’s colleague as the orchestra’s co-founder, morphed into a house musician. Pulling dark, droning lines from his amplified instrument, he was one half of the duo Dojo vs. Twitch. Against the backdrop of a giant screen filled with neon-hued, constantly moving visuals, they opened with a brand new work and moved onto the selections from their debut CD, Press Start to Begin.  Their electronic sound was mordant and lyrical, the beat irresistible.

The program was a successful blend of quality music, performers who felt at ease onstage and a first-class venue.  The ensuing dance party, produced by well-known Chicago DJ Adonis Childs, was scheduled to continue until 2 a.m.

Milioto’s credits include assistant-conducting work with the Ravinia Festival and Chicago Opera Theater. Crider is an alumnus of Lyric Opera’s program for young artists; the other singers have worked with Lyric and young artist programs at places like Glimmerglass Opera. All have studied at top-tier schools. These are well-trained, talented young singers who feel as comfortable in a dance club as they do on the opera house stage.

Wearing a tan blazer and open-necked shirt, Crider casually strolled the stage during Leporello’s Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni. His big, clear baritone brimming with malicious mischief, he scrolled through his cell phone to check the Don’s list of conquests. In her little black dress, Vassalli poured out Dorabella’s distress in an aria from Cosi fan tutte, her smoky mezzo tinged with sorrow.

Mayne Stage proved an ideal venue. Its acoustics are excellent, clear without turning the sound harsh or dry.  The room is an intimate, multi-level space whose sleek, Art Deco style brings to mind the classy supper clubs of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies.

Mixtape III was a lovely way to spend an evening. Why not sit at a comfortable table and nurse a glass of wine while young singers work their way through the Mozart song book? And if the talented young violist and some of his friends follow up with some house-music tunes, so much the better.

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