courtesy photoCurrent and past Adler Fellows Efrain Solis

New Century Chamber Orchestra ventures into opera

In a novel and promising enterprise, a chamber-music ensemble is presenting an all-opera program.

In performances across the Bay Area this week, the New Century Chamber Orchestra, headed by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Adler Fellows from the San Francisco Opera Center appear in Donizetti's 1841 one-act comic opera “Rita.”

Fully titled “Rita, ou le mari battu” (Rita, or The Beaten Husband) and based on a farce about abused husbands, the opera is rarely performed. Donizetti, who died in an insane asylum in 1848, never saw the work, which premiered in 1860 in Paris. (Librettist Gustave Vaez also wrote Donizetti's best-known opera, “Lucia de Lammermoor.)

“It's the story of a wild and wacky love triangle of sorts, and Donizetti’s music sparkles,” says Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald. “Nadja loves opera, and 'Rita' is a wonderful comedic romp that will hopefully tickle her, and everyone’s, fancy.”

Tyrannical shrew Rita (Maria Valdes) terrorizes not one but two husbands. The first, Gasparo (Efraín Solís), who ran away (to Canada!), returns to obtain the death certificate of the very much alive Rita so he may remarry. But current husband Beppe (Thomas Glenn) hopes Gaspar will reclaim Rita.

The men engage in a fight each hopes to lose, so the other will take Rita off his hands.

The show represents a high point for Salerno-Sonnenberg, who says, “I remember so well listening to those Saturday radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera with my grandfather. Being able to stage an opera with New Century is a dream come true for me.”

The New Century program also includes instrumental excerpts from operas by Johann Strauss, Mascagni and Massenet, along with a portion of Verdi's only string quartet.

In addition to conducting the ensemble from the first chair in chamber-music arrangements of the Overture to Strauss' “Die Fledermaus,” the Intermezzo to Mascagni's “Cavalleria Rusticana” and a movement from Verdi's String Quartet in E minor, Salerno-Sonnenberg also will play the solo in the Meditation from Massenet's “Thaïs.”

Transcriptions for string orchestra of the Mascagni and Massenet excerpts are by New Century resident composer Clarice Assad.

IF YOU GO

New Century Chamber Orchestra

Where: Jewish Community Center, 3200 California, S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday Feb. 15

Tickets: $29 to $59

Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com

Additional performances:

8 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 12 at First Congregational Church in Berkeley

8 p.m. Friday Feb. 14 at First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto

5 p.m. Sunday Feb. 16 at Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

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