With all the civic pride it could muster, the city of Norwalk welcomed its new resident orchestra, the Master Symphony, as well as that ensemble's new music director, Peter Nero, Saturday night at Excelsior High School.
The applause from the sizable audience was loud and long. So was the concert.
Billed as "A Gershwin Spectacular," the 2 hours of music seemed more "A Nero Spectacular," as the dapper maestro (proudly noted in the program bio as one of the world's best-dressed men) served as emcee, soloist and conductor, never leaving the podium or keyboard unoccupied--and never leaving the music alone.
In an endless series of vulgar song arrangements (by Nero and Bill Holcombe), in scatter-shot traversals of "An American in Paris" and "Rhapsody in Blue," in a selection of vocal excerpts from "Porgy and Bess" and in a rambling medley performed by Nero's jazz trio (bassist Richard Nanista and drummer/son Jedd Nero), the evening's Jack-of-all-trades proved a master at removing most of the charm and almost all of the fun from Gershwin's music.
Part of the blame must go to the clever person who decided that the orchestra and piano should be amplified-- really amplified--despite the intimacy of the 2,000-seat hall.
Among the forgettable slam-bang music-making were moments to remember. Those came courtesy of the "Porgy" protagonists, soprano Lynda Anders and baritone LeRoy Villanueva, who were forced to make one of the most discomforting entrances in recent memory. With the ubiquitous Nero already comfortably on stage, Anders, who is blind, was guided by her partner from the stage left wings, scattering the cello section as they walked.
Anders, standing rock solid, displayed a well-focused, if occasionally strident voice; Villanueva, more free in his stage movements, sang with clarity and strength. After the wildly received set, Nero never left his podium to offer congratulations but watched as the singers' awkward entrance was repeated in reverse.
Norwalk and its crack resident pops orchestra deserve better.