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Middleton Community Orchestra enchants with dance-themed program featuring stellar soprano Emily Birsan

Birsan's attention to detail is intense, and her passion for practice and perfection is obvious. - Credit: Brian Ruppert
Birsan's attention to detail is intense, and her passion for practice and perfection is obvious. - Credit: Brian Ruppert

Last night, the Middleton Community Orchestra presented "An Evening of Song and Dance" at the Middleton-Cross Plains Area Performing Arts Center. Under the tight and steady stewardship of conductor Steve Kurr, this orchestra dazzled.

Most impressive was the group's ability to shift tempos, raise and lower dynamics, and sensitively respond to emotional nuances, while never losing sight of each composition's technical details.

The orchestra's rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns' "Danse ?Bacchanale" was a spirited auditory feast, and two of Johannes Brahms' Hungarian dances added a folksy twist. Kurr's creative tempo variations made these oft-performed works come to life with new, moving energy. Likewise, An der Schönen Blauen Donau by Johann Strauss II, a tried-and-true but often trite stalwart, became refreshing. The players conveyed each variation with classy use of rubato and careful attention to dynamics, adhering to the traditional Viennese waltz form and style.

Visiting from Lyric Opera of Chicago, soprano Emily Birsan was the concert's crown jewel, with each performance crescendoing to a well-deserved standing ovation.

Birsan, a Wisconsin native, left a great first impression singing "Ach, Ich Liebte," from W.A. Mozart's ?Die Entführung aus dem Serail, with her articulation of German lyrics impressively clear and comprehensible.

Slow works can be the most difficult to perform because they require great physical and mental endurance, but Birsan's breath control was steady and relaxed, leaving room for a lyrical and sensitive rendition of "Vilia" from Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow. This, combined with the natural grace of Birsan's smooth, velvety tone, made for an emotionally poignant piece. Not intimidated by difficult lyrics or virtuosic and demanding technical passages, Birsan wowed to the end, hitting every note of Giuseppe Verdi's "Ah! Fors' e lui...Sempre Libera" from La Traviata.

If Birsan continues on her path with intense care for detail, an obvious passion for practice and perfection, and a great talent for acting and singing, she will command the highest operatic roles. To echo her flawless performance of Giacomo Puccini's "Quando me'n vo" from La Bohème, which begins with a statement about onlookers staring at the performer and appreciating her beauty: Yes, Emily, when you take the stage, everyone will be looking at you and admiring your art.

Anyone seeking great classical entertainment -- especially those on a student budget -- should check out the Middleton Community Orchestra.