Art of Time Ensemble’s CANTABILE by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, February 10, 2012. Enwave Theatre, Toronto.

The first million-selling record ever was an  Italian song: Enrico Caruso’s 1904 rendition of Leoncavallo’s “Vesti La guibba..” Opera or popular, we naturally think of Italian music as song—melodic outpouring of emotion ripened to the bursting point. Opera or popular—make no distinction—it’s all song. Pavarotti and Paulo Conte frequently appear on the same setlist, and that’s how it is for Art of Time Ensemble’s brilliant new show, Cantabile: An Evening of of Italian Music from Opera to Paulo Conte.

Cantabile’s  crossover setlist worked like a charm.  Michael Ciufo, the ideal young romantic tenor  broke hearts with arias by Donizetti,Verdi, and Tosti. Ciufo’s numbers alternated with Domenic Mancuso performing guitar and vocals of pop and folksongs by Pino Daniel, Paolo Conte and Lucio Dalla. When Mancuso performs, you get the “Italian” of the music: the ripple and flow of words are highlighted by his hands, punctuated by his eyebrows, inflected by signals from his very mobile face and body. You are not just an audience: you are the silent partner in a conversation.

Dan Parr wrote brilliant arrangements scaled down from the original orchestral size to this Ensemble’s nine-piece string quartet with piano and jazz band, that were a constant delight for arias and other songs. Ciufo’s opening number, “Core ‘ngrato”,written by Cardillo in 1911 for Enrico Caruso, that remains to this day a staple of the Italian tenor concert repertoire, has probably never before been introduced by the mingled voices of clarinet, piano, and violin. Delightful surprise.

Paolo Conte’s “Via Con Me (It’s Wonderful),1995” was wonderful energy as Mancuso put it out (though he was under-miked), and Parr’s arrangement allowed this tune to transcend both pop and classical by showcasing the jazz improv talents of John Johnson’s sax, and guitar wizard Tony Zorzi who, when called for, can make his Stratocaster sound like a five-string banjo. Then the mood melted back to 1832 and Donizetti’s tearful “Una Furtiva Lagrima” which Cuifo sang touchingly, though not quite bringing us with him to the top notes.

Cantabile steadily built a tower of song that kept the audience high and happy. The inspiration for this program, so classy and fun, comes from Andrew Burashko who for years has been attracting sponsors and a who’s-who artistic team to his vision of music sans frontiers. Big respect and thanks, Andrew.

Ben Bowman and Véronique Mathieu fiddled; Davide Di Renzo tapped the brass, hit the skins and smiled a lot; Andrew Downing (Bass), Rachel Mercer (Cello), and Douglas Perry (Viola) put the floor on things.

CANTABILE: catch it if you can, tonight at 8 PM

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