Redlands Opera Theater hosted its second annual benefit gala at the majestic Congregation Emanu El in Redlands last Saturday evening, August 24. The brainchild of two young, local sopranos (music director Tiana Dye and music director Christa Stevens), the company was founded in 2012 to serve the artistic and cultural needs of Redlands, the County of San Bernardino and surrounding areas. Their mission is “to educate and entertain by providing quality professional level classical vocal music and to establish the widest possible audience for classical vocal music through cultural, educational and community activities.” Nice… we need creative artists like this to keep our music and passion alive and share it with all who will listen!
It was a “Grand Night for Singing” high atop a hill at this gorgeous venue that has few rivals across SoCal. A warm summer breeze and spectrum of lovely evening lights served as the backdrop to what was to become a memorable night, spent enjoying some of Southern California’s most promising and popular classical vocal artists in a performance of “Top 40” operatic arias and ensembles.
Dr. Ed Yarnelle performed masterfully at the piano, the sun setting colorfully in the background as the show began with the ensemble joining Jay Stephenson in a rousing rendition of the “Toreador Song” from Carmen. Stephenson’s commanding presence and rich baritone were a perfect match for one of the most tuneful and popular arias of all time. The talented mezzo-soprano, Megan Gillespie, impressed us with the rich color and depth of her lower range and still effortlessly managed the pyrotechnics of Rossini’s “Non piu mesta” from La Cenerentola. Elizabeth Ackerman’s heartfelt and soulful rendition of “Va, laisse couler mes larmes” from Massenet’s Werther nearly brought me to tears, her warm, clear mezzo caressing each listener as she filled the hall with radiance and grace. Ms. Stevens sang with beauty and abandon, infusing Gounod’s “Jewel Song” from Roméo et Juliette with great joy, and Ms. Dye pulled out all the stops with Mozart’s “Come scoglio” from Così fan tutte, her brilliant soprano managing the demands of the aria with ease.
Two tenors rounded out the group, Shawn Taylor and Andrew Bennett. Taylor was the Duke as he lavished upon us his charm, skill and beautiful singing with both “La donne è mobile and “Questa o quella” from Rigoletto. Young lyric tenor Bennett showed great promise, singing a Puccini favorite, “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca, securely musical and with ringing high notes.
The program offered an array of favorite opera duets and trios, including “Belle nuit” from Les contes d‘Hoffmann, the Flower Duet from Lakme, the Pearl Fishers duet, “Soave sia il vento” from Così fan tutti… all artfully sung and convincingly acted, with voices blending well.
Stephenson’s antics as Don Giovanni in “La ci darem la mano” played well against Christa Stevens’ coy Zerlina. Another popular Mozart duet was sung by Christa and Tiana, “Sull’aria”, their soprano voices well-matched in the beautiful harmony. It brought the memory of how the duet itself was featured in the 1994 movie, The Shawshank Redemption, where the two “Italian ladies” sang and all the prisoners stopped to listen as if the sound were coming to them from the heavens. Yes — that is what classical music can do.
The finale was “Sing to Love” (pictured left) from Die Fledermaus. The whole company joined in, champagne glasses in hand, as they sang and toasted to music, life and love. The audience stood up and applauded, in mass agreement that it had been a beautiful program and a magical night.