A charming combination of musical finesse and light theater, the Bach Aria Soloists’ remarkably imaginative program “The Adventures of Don Quixote” enchanted an audience of more than 250 people Saturday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The 65-minute presentation inspired by Cervantes’ 17th-century novel married the formidable artistry of the Kansas City-based Bach Aria Soloists ensemble with a simple but effective dramatic staging.
In his roles as the narrator and as the hapless Don Quixote, actor Mark Robbins established the setting of several decisive portions of Cervantes’ timeless story from his perch in the church pulpit. Robert Bickers played the role of Don Quixote’s patient squire Sancho Panza with hammy aplomb. Sarah Tannehill Anderson, the ensemble’s vocalist, also elicited laughter as she portrayed Dulcinea, the woman whom Don Quixote absurdly idealized.
The hilarious tale of the woefully misguided Spanish knight errant was balanced by performances of more than a dozen concise compositions that transported the audience to the Iberian peninsula of the Renaissance era.
The program opened with an appropriately dramatic 16th-century composition for organ written by Antonio de Cabezón. Keyboardist Elisa Williams Bickers switched to harpsichord for the remainder of the evening.
Joined by guest cellist Sascha Groschang, the core ensemble of violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, stringed instrument wizard Beau Bledsoe, Anderson and Bickers displayed impeccable group interplay. The stately works didn’t allow for individual flourishes, but Lane’s contribution was accentuated by the church’s marvelous acoustics. She played with controlled fire on jaunty selections and with expressive melancholy during reserved pieces.
Anderson’s singing was delectable on an interpretation of Gaspar Sanz’s “Marizápalos,” a sensual song about an amorous tryst. The soprano’s reading of the somber Catalan piece “La Mare de Déu” was equally effective.
Without a fixed performance venue, Bach Aria Soloists concerts transpire at sites that suit the tone of each program. The Old World atmosphere of St. Paul's Episcopal Church provided ideal ambiance for “The Adventures of Don Quixote.” Yet only people seated near the center aisle in the front of the church enjoyed unimpeded views of the musicians. Furthermore, ill-timed pops and groans of what sounded like the building’s radiators marred a delicate reading of Henry du Bailly's tender 17th-century meditation. “Yo Soy la Locura.”
These minor hindrances were no match for the ensemble’s talent and creativity. Unlike the delusional Don Quixote, the members of Bach Aria Soloists know exactly what they’re doing.