By Lawrence Budmen

Like the bubbly sparkle of champagne, the frothy vivaciousness of the music of the masters of the Viennesse waltz and operetta is an irresistible New Year’s confection. On January 1 the Kravis Center (in West Palm Beach) hosted the 10th annual Salute to Vienna concert, produced by Canada’s Attila Glatz Concert Productions. The lightness and charm of the music combined with the grandeur of the hall’s ambiance to ring in 2007 with fizzy, life affirming brio par excellence. 

Canadian conductor Peter McCoppin was at the helm of the Strauss Symphony of America, a stellar collection of some of South Florida’s finest musicians. McCoppin’s supple, exquisitely shaped performances captured the élan of waltzes and polkas from Vienna’s golden age. His engaging commentary was perceptive. McCoppin reminded the audience that music brings people together and that 2007 should be dedicated to that spirit – peace, brotherhood, the nobility of great music and art. 

Whether in the insouciant verve of the Overture to Johann Strauss’s Overture to Die Fledermaus, the perkiness of the Tik-Tak Polka, or the aristocratic elegance of the Wine, Women and Song Waltzes, McCoppin set the perfect mood, leading with unerring artistry and sparkle. The orchestra sounded terrific. 

The bright, vibratoless soprano of Barbara Fonyo was perfect for the operetta selections of Franz Lehar and Emerich Kalman. Her Vilia from Lehar’s Merry Widow positively glowed with radiance and vocal luxuriance. In duets from Kalman’s The Czardas Princess and Lehar’s The Land of Smiles, Fonyo was joined by tenor Thomas Piffka. His velvety voice was dipped in Vienesse honey – a vocal confection indeed. Piffka charmed the enthusiastic audience with arias from Lehar’s Giuditta and The Land of Smiles (the eternal Dein ist mein ganzes Herz – Yours is My Heart Alone), selections associated with the great Vienesse tenor Richard Tauber. Piffka’s warmth, easy delivery, and stylish command reminded more than a few listeners of Tauber. 

The production was graced by the presence of international ballroom dancers Erik and Viktoria Pali. As they swirled to intoxicating music in three quarter time, their brilliant ballroom pyrotechnics glistened with heart stopping excitement. Four members of the Hungarian National Ballet – Gyor (Istvan Horvath, Kriztian Horvath, Judit Szalai, and Zsuzsarma Kara) brought lively, exuberant choreography to several of the waltzes and polkas.

As always at these Vienesse New Year’s concerts, encores were the order of the day. Strauss’s inimitable On the Beautiful Blue Danube was rendered with grace and suavity (with terrific dancing by the ballroom champions). Fonyo and Piffka ignited sparks with Kalman’s I Want to Waltz Again. McCoppin led the clapping audience in the traditional version of Strauss’s Radetsky March, played with lilting verve by the excellent orchestra. Finally McCoppin asked the audience to stand and hold hands and join the entire company in the traditional Auld Lang Syne. A more uplifting, wonderfully vibrant way to commence a New Year could hardly be imagined. The Salute to Vienna program reached new heights. Bravo!

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