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Review: Opera hits plus chef enliven San Antonio Symphony’s Italian tour

March 30, 2019

Any concert aimed at being an “orchestral tour of Italian classical music” is code for “opera.”

And the San Antonio Symphony delivered opera Friday night like Domino’s delivers pizza.

This classical series concert added an extra ingredient — food prepared onstage while an opera overture flowed from the orchestra led by Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing.

It was a delicious night at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts because it combined two of Lang-Lessing’s biggest loves — music and fine dining — a goal of the orchestra’s spring festival.

Lang-Lessing led the orchestra and guest tenor David Portillo in 16 works total, including two encores, all celebrating Italy.

San Antonio native Portillo, an international tenor star, sang 10 arias, songs and Neapolitan favorites. Lang-Lessing introduced Portillo, a Holmes High School ex, as “the Pavarotti of San Antonio,” and the singer proved that quickly with two Gioacchino Rossini pieces, the aria “Se il mio rival” from “Il turco in Italia” and the song “La danza.”

Portillo’s full-bodied voice exuded authority and polished diction, accentuated by hand gestures to indicate drama. Other highlights were Gaetano Donizetti’s “Una furtiva lagrima” from “L’elisir d’amore” and “Ah! mes amis” from “La Fille de regiment,” along with two Neopolitan classics by Francesco Paolo Tosti, “’A vucchella” and “A marechiare,” all sung with poetic grace.

The orchestra alone presented Rossini’s Overture to “La gazza ladra,” Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo from “Cavalleria rusticana,” Giuseppe Verdi’s Overture to “I vespri siciliani” and Giacomo Puccini’s Intermezzo from “Manon Lescaut.” All received vividly colored renditions.

“Manon” was the highlight under Lang-Lessing’s baton, the strings shimmering and singing with deep emotion.

During the Verdi overture, the orchestra was joined onstage by chef Geronimo Lopez of Botika restaurant, who whipped up a dish called scallop crisp ver bruschetta, a tasty-looking mixture of chopped vegetables, lemon juice, scallops and bread, his handiwork displayed on a large video screen.

The only two non-Italian composers were France’s Hector Berlioz and Russia’s Peter Tchaikovsky. But Berlioz’ Overture to “Le carnival romain” and Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio italien” both evoked Italy in spirit and title. The audience of 700 people at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts was especially pleased by the lyrical style of “Capriccio italien.”

Portillo led the two encores, both beloved Neapolitan classics, the bouncy “Funiculì, Funiculà” by Luigi Denza and “’O sole mio” by Eduardo di Capua and Alfredo Mazzucchi.

The “Tuscan Tour of Taste” program repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Tobin Center downtown.

hendrickd53@yahoo.com