A recipe for a memorable opera gala:
- Gather together the city’s finest up-and-coming singers.
- Devise a varied program of well-known opera favorites and throw in dashes of unexpected musical surprises.
- Combine the talents of a passionate musical and stage directors.
- Mix well.
- Fold the ingredients into an appropriate venue.
- Bake until done.
- Serve with appetizers and drinks and you have a hit with the audience.
Independent Opera Company (IOC), led by musical director Galina Barskaya and stage director Scott Blois, served up a delectable amuse-bouche of past and future productions as they launch their second season. The singers were comprised of cast members who have either sung with company before, or who are slated for future productions. Barskaya has set a high bar in featuring a remarkable caliber of singers and repertoire.
The first half the program highlighted many of the crowdpleasers from Verdi’s La Traviata, Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, as well as Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and Lakmé by Delibes. The lesser known The Maiden and the Nightingale by Granados, Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, with the more dramatic Un ballo in maschera of Verdi, helped to balance the program.
Of particular note was Tamora Pellikka’s rather disciplinary use of a riding crop as Prince Orlofsky. Glasses were shattered, not just due to her luscious sound, but to her commitment to her role. Don’t worry though — it was consensual, and the audience ate it up. Patrick Blackwell sang a very inviting and rich-voiced “La Calunnia.” Natalie Mann’s heartfelt performance as Amelia was a moment of beauty. And the real surprise of the evening was the Lakmé duet, sung by countertenor Gabriel Paredes and soprano Christa Stevens. While it may seem a mere novelty to use a countertenor in the mezzo role, it was a magical blend of voices, and a joy to hear Paredes and Stevens together.
Along with dessert, the second half offered highlights from upcoming productions of the 2013-14 season. James Salazar’s lively “Klein-Zack” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann captured the wit of the music as well as the lush romantic line, while the chorus provided excellent support.
Katherine LaPorta Jessensky easily maneuvered the stratosphere in “Olympia’s Aria” with many surprising optional high notes that delighted the audience.
Erica Lazerow Davis’s charming “Be Kind and Courteous” from Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream to a clown doll (in lieu of the usual head of an ass) was a humorous decision on the part of the stage director. The program wound down with selections from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, and there were moist eyes in the audience as Ms. Mann sang “Vilja.” A sentimental “I Love You So” sung by Cynthia Leigh and Jay Stephenson provided just the right atmosphere, as the whole company concluded with the chorus of “You may study her ways as you can.” A surprise guest performer, Agnes Schwartz, added violin accompaniment with finesse and taste.
At the very heart of the gala was Barskaya’s infectious passion for IOC and her marvelous artistic accompaniment. St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church’s Nolte Hall was the perfect venue for this event, providing live acoustics for the singers and the community support that is crucial to new companies.
The gala was a fundraiser for this ambitious company. For more information on how to contribute, and future performance information, go to the Independent Opera Company’s website.