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As Opera NEO approaches its season opening next week, on Friday (July 28), the company presented its customary Cabaret evening of scenes and ensemble songs from a wide variety of opera, operetta, and musical theater at the Encinitas Library Concert Hall. With this year’s bumper crop of 32 singers, those scenes that called for chorus participation proved particularly rousing and rewarding, especially the concert opening “Libiamo” from Verdi’s La Traviata.

2017 Opera NEO Singers in Residence [photo courtesy of Opera NEO]

Although the young voices of soprano Samina Aslam and tenor William Ottow are not quite ready to perform these roles (Violetta Valery and Alfredo Germont) in 3,000-seat opera houses, they confidently and stylishly conveyed the ardor and exuberance of these leading characters. Other presentations that worked splendidly included a stunning trio from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, with bass-baritone Joshua Arky as the daemonic Dr. Miracle, soprano Madeline O’Meara as the ill-fated Antonia, and mezzo-soprano Kelly Birch as the voice of Antonia’s mother. The powerful intensity of these three commanding singers instantly evoked the dramatic terror of the scene, and they were well supported by pianist Korey Barrett’s adroit keyboard recreation of the orchestral accompaniment.

Barrett’s fluent touch also brought out the score’s shimmering colors in “The Presentation of the Rose” scene from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. Mezzo-soprano Joyner Horn made Octavian’s noble presentation vocally alluring, and soprano Véronique Filloux as Sophie received the silver rose with radiant vocal ease. For high drama in Baroque style, a scene from Handel’s early, highly successful London opera Radamisto gave a quartet of vocally well-matched singers ample opportunity to flaunt their prowess. With countertenor Cameron Shabazi as the title character, a young Thracian prince married to Zenobia, sung by mezzo-soprano Kelly Birch, the evil Armenian king Tiridate sung by baritone Evan Cooper, and his wife Polinessa, soprano Catherine Sandstedt, the conflicts among these characters vibrantly exploded on the modest Encinitas Library stage.

In the realm of opera buffa, baritone Aaron Keeney as Doctor Maletesta and bass-baritone Dale DeWood as Don Pasquale sprinted through Donizetti’s delectable patter duet “Cheti, cheti immantinente” from Don Pasquale with such finesse and vocal delight, the audience only reluctantly let this winning duo leave the stage. Soprano Michelle Perrier’s bright, yet suave coloratura dominated the duet “Per piacere alla signora” from Rossini’s Il turco in Italia, although the formidable bass-baritone Patrick Murray aptly complemented her flash. Director Stephanie Havey’s clever staging using only a movable rack of men’s suits enabled the humorous hide and seek antics of “Zitto, zitto, piano, piano” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

“Ach Belmonte,” the finale from the second act of Mozart’s amusing Abduction from the Seraglio, featured another winning quartet: the polished soprano Mary Kettlewell as Konstanze; the nimble tenor Cody Arthur as Belmonte; the shimmering soprano Ashley Biehl as Blonde, and the fleet tenor Harrison Heard as Pedrillo. Enrique Toral’s insightful direction enhanced the characters’ changing emotional states in the scene.

American musical theater was pleasantly represented by the familiar trio “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from Jerry Bock’s Fiddler on the Roof as well as by the less performed quartet “When You’re Driving Through the Night/Lovely Night” from Richard Rogers’ Cinderella. Puerto Rican soprano Alba Franco-Cancél gave a rakish, passionate account of Kurt Weill’s “Youkali,” the only actual cabaret song on this Cabaret concert. Accordion virtuoso Glenn Osga’s melodic riffs added the authentic sonic color to Korey Barrett’s supple piano accompaniment.

This Cabaret program and buffet was presented by Opera NEO in partnership with the Synergy Art Foundation on July 28, 2017, at the Encinitas Library Concert Hall (540 Cornish St., Enicinitas, CA). It will be repeated on July 29 in the same venue. Opera NEO’s opera season opens August 3, 2017, with Mozart’s Così fan tutte; August 4 with Francesco Cavalli’s Giasone, and Gluck’s Armide on August 11 at the Palisades Amphitheater at Palisades Presbyterian Church, 6301 Birchwood St., San Diego, CA.

Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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