Redlands Opera Theatre‘s first annual gala benefit, Opera Classics & Ensembles, took place on November 11 at the old Fox Theater, celebrating the start of a new cultural organization as well as the reopening of a grand old venue. The theater was closed and empty for many years, much to the disappointment of the city’s residents. In the past few years, a renovation effort has taken place, and the end result is stunning — the lobby is lovely and the theater elegant. For this event, the room was set up with round tables for a festive feel, and wine, hot and cold drinks and hors d’oeuvres were available all evening.
With performers gowned and tuxedoed, the event was carried off in true gala style. The program began with music director Christa Stevens introducing the evening’s master of ceremonies, a delightful young gentleman named Jonathan Briggs, a local businessman with a degree in music. The program started and ended with the company ensemble, singing with full bodied and rich sound. After the opening, Aneta Augustyn set us on our journey of song with a clear, beautiful voice, followed by tenor Julia Carrillo Batta, who was very enjoyable. Luvi Avendano‘s rich baritone was blended with Stevens’ for a duet, followed by the powerful tones of baritone Eric Carampatan. On the lighter “Toreador Song”, he down into the audience, dramatically grabbed a red napkin from one of the tables, then returned to the stage to “taunt the bull” with the napkin — he was fun, and very much at ease. Carmen continued with Debbie Dey singing the “Habañera”, letting loose with stamping feet and arms flung high, bringing down the house with her dramatic performance. We enjoyed artistic director Tiana Dye‘s very enjoyable and beautiful soprano voice, and co-founder Christa Stevens returned, with trills and strong, sustained high notes that were thrilling. Dr. Ed Yarnelle was in full command of the keyboard as the event’s accompanist, creating strong tempos and intimate moods. A very accomplished pianist, it was clear that he was keenly aware of the soloists’ needs.
As a special treat, a men’s quintet from Redlands East Valley High School sang a patriotic medley during the intermission, and they were a very nice addition to the evening. The program ended with another patriotic number, sung by the opera ensemble, in honor of Veterans Day. The night was wrapped up with the announcement of excited raffle winners, and a wonderful time was had by all.