Published Saturday, February 18, 2012 2:00 am

by Tom Calarco

ANNA MARIA ISLAND — The Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra provided a delightful afternoon of musical entertainment Sunday with a concert version of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, The Mikado, at CrossPointe Fellowship. The sellout crowd was alternately treated to good music and good humor, thanks especially to a skillful balance of the orchestra and chorus by conductor Alfred Gershfeld and a commanding performance by chorus director, Robert Parrish, as Poo-bah.

The Mikado is set in 19th century Japan but little of it is based on fact. It’s a comic tale that satirizes unrequited love. Nanki-Poo is trying to escape marriage with an older woman, Katisha, and wants to marry Yum-Yum, who is the object of affection of an older man, Ko-Ko, her guardian. For a time, threats of execution hang over three of them, but in the end the young lovers conquer and their suitors find each other, though to the dismay of Ko-Ko, who at one point has described Katisha as “appalling.”

The operetta is full of tuneful selections and witty lyrics that continually evoked laughter from the audience. Though there is considerable banter about decapitation and being buried alive, it is done in very light and airy manner, and with music and a cadence that is reminiscent of the songs sung by Groucho Marx.

One selection, “The Little List,” sung by Ko-Ko, who is the executioner, discusses the various individuals who ought to be executed because they wouldn’t be missed. A tradition begun a century ago that was started by Gilbert himself permitted the revision of some of the lyrics in this song, which over time had become inappropriate. Several lines were changed for Anna Maria’s performance, I was told, by Parrish, with very humorous results. Among those listed included customer service reps that put people on hold, drivers who are distracted by their cellphones, and last but hardly least, Democrats and Republicans. Alex Friedlander, as Ko-Ko, offered a compelling recitation.

Friedlander also scored with humorous effect in “Tit-Willow” and in the duet that followed with Martha DiPalma as Katisha in which she tries to convince the reluctant Ko-Ko of her attractiveness despite her “bloodthirsty” nature. Joy Leitner’s performance as Yum-Yum also was noteworthy for the emotionally expressive quality of her voice. But Parrish stole the show, immediately drawing one’s attention to him every time he appeared, with gestures, facial expressions, and a clear, powerful, and confident bass voice.

An experienced music professional, now retired, Parrish had complete command of his role and unlike the other principal players seldom relied on his text, which gave him more freedom in conveying his character. However, considering the ensemble was able to pull off such an accomplished performance with only six rehearsals is a testament to the skills of this semi-professional organization.

It is also a testament to its long-time music director, Maestro Alfred Gershfeld, whose precise conducting kept the orchestra on the mark and its dynamics at just the right level so that the singers did not have to strain.

Coming from a family of noted musicians in Moldavia, Gershfeld had his own orchestra in his homeland, had composed a lauded opera for children, and was a guest conductor with major Russian orchestras when the collapse of the Soviet Union made emigration advisable in 1990. He began as artistic director and conductor of the Anna Maria Orchestra in 1993, and in 1997 was appointed to his present position as Professor of Conducting and Director of the Orchestras at the New World School of the Arts in Miami. In the last ten years he once again has been performing as a guest conductor in Russia.

It is always a joy for a reviewer to discover such an artistic gem in a tucked away corner of the universe. Anna Maria Island is fortunate to have such an accomplished collection of musicians to perform in its backyard. And CrossPointe Fellowship is an excellent venue, its high-ceilinged sanctuary providing excellent acoustics and its pews, a comfortable and close-to-the-stage view.

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