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MUSIC REVIEW

Intermezzo pairing an intriguing contrast

Intermezzo, the adventurous company founded by baritone John Whittlesey, now in its fifth year of exploring and expanding the chamber opera repertoire, presented a double bill Saturday night: Leo Janácek's "The Diary of One Who Vanished" and Thomas Pasatieri's "Signor Deluso."

Staging a song cycle is unusual, but Janácek's 1919 masterpiece is an unusual song cycle. A farmer's son is infatuated and then seduced by a gypsy girl, leaving home after she becomes pregnant. The 22 numbers are divided among the two protagonists, a female trio, and the piano.

The English translation -- risky with Janácek, whose music is inextricably tied to the rhythm and cadence of the Czech language -- was sometimes awkward, but tenor Brent Wilson's diction, superbly articulate and sensitive, made even the clumsiest moments convincing. Some of his high notes were tight, an impression exacerbated by the bone-dry acoustics at Berklee's David Friend Recital Hall, but lyric lines had a propulsive warmth, and his dramatic intensity never flagged. Mezzo-soprano Emily Marvosh made the most of her few numbers as the gypsy girl, her steely timbre especially affecting in describing the canopy of stars as she lay down to sleep.

David Paul Gibson's staging was spare and unobtrusive, the sylvan night depicted by a shift in William Fregosi's eloquent lighting. But the drama was already encapsulated in the brilliant piano part, superbly played by Matthew Larson. This is Romanticism concentrated into gnomic, questioning phrases of precise color; Larson found each shade without compromising the music's hard-won simplicity of utterance.

Pasatieri's 1974 Moliére adaptation "Signor Deluso" was a post-intermission contrast: A series of coincidences foment accusations of romantic infidelity with an alacrity in inverse proportion to their plausibility. Pasatieri's music does little more than reference appropriate 19th-century operatic conventions; the notes evaporate on contact with the ear. But his pacing is sure, attuned to the plot's farcical clockwork.

As the young lovers Célie and Léon, soprano Joyce Ting and tenor Daniel Benavent were vocally sumptuous and suitably impetuous; Ting, in particular, found charm behind her character's reflexive histrionics. Whittlesey and soprano Cheryl Medeiros Nancarrow were ideally paired as a mutually suspicious married couple, combining screwball sensibility with convincingly easy chemistry. Bass-baritone Graham Wright had fun as a judge in mirthful love with the law. And Mezzo Vanessa Schukis was a delight as Rosine, the maid (here transposed into a waitress), comically rationing her stentorian tones and tempering the character's streetwise edge with a fondness for human foibles.

Andrew Ryker's admirably direct staging updated the action to a post-World War II café in some imaginary offspring of France and Italy, and left ample opportunity for comic business; Schukis practically made a dish of pastries into another character. Even pianist Larson was in on the joke, complete with beret, tip jar, and world-weary demeanor. It was an appealing dessert, airy and sweet as a cream puff.

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Intermezzo

At: David Friend Recital Hall, Berklee College of Music, Saturday

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