by Jenna Friedman, guest reviewer
Independent Opera Company, an exciting local company that started in the spring of 2012, put on a wonderful production of Enrique Granados’s Goyescas and accompanying opera scenes on Saturday, February 28th.
Galina Barskaya, the company’s talented music director, chose a program that focused on the theme of love and served as accompanist for the entire evening, playing each song with grace and feeling. Her dedication and love for her company was apparent as she talked, laughed, and played throughout the night. And by the way they interacted with her on stage, it was clear that the performers returned that love. The piano was not just a background element, but instead was like another character sharing the stage. Barskaya and her singers worked together, making the night an enjoyable one.
The first half of the show featured scenes from a wide range of operas, from “Ah! Je ris de me voir” from Charles Gounod’s Faust to the Willow Song from The Ballad of Baby Doe by Douglas Moore. Each scene depicted a different facet of love.
The first scene set the tone for the evening: “Ange Adorable” from Roméo et Juliette, which was sung well by Christa Stevens and Andrew Bennett, who together conveyed the tenderness and childlike naïveté that both Roméo and Juliette possess. By the second half of the scene both Stevens’s and Bennett’s voices opened up and resonated throughout the church, joining in perfect harmony. Together they ended the first song of the evening strongly, making the audience eager to hear more.
Following two Gounod selections, Joshua Johnson sang “E la solita storia”, a tenor aria from L’Arlesiana by Francesco Cilea, with confidence and gusto. Soprano Jennifer Weiss followed with an expressive and contemplative interpretation of Douglas Moore’s Willow Song. Following quickly behind was the seductively fun “Seguidilla” from Georges Bizet’s Carmen, sung beautifully by Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez, and then Tosca’s “E lucevan le stelle”, sung by James Salazar and definitely a highlight of the night. Salazar’s voice was quiet, lyrical and full of pain from the beginning of the aria, unfolding with the song until the church was shaken by his powerfully striking sound. His raw emotion and vocal ease enraptured the audience and the applause at the final note lasted long after he left the stage. Cynthia Leigh (who was also the director for Goyescas) and Ken Simms sang Nedda and Silvio’s duet from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci to end the opera scenes.
Soon, chorus members brilliantly dressed in traditional 18th-century garb poured out onto the stage, singing the first notes of Goyescas. The chorus sang with clear diction and executed their choreography with precision and professionalism. We soon met Rosario, by director/soprano Cynthia Leigh, Fernando played by Nadav Hart, Paquiro played by Jay Stephenson and Pepa played by Aumna Iqbal. The four leads were fun to watch as they wholeheartedly took on their individual character’s charms and faults.
Between scenes, Liza Barskaya, a former Ballet Austin Professional Division Trainee and current staff member at Ballet Academy East, danced across the stage with grace and beauty. She not only danced traditional Latin dances, her movements foreshadowed the drama for the upcoming scenes. It was lovely to see the two different disciplines of music and dance meld together throughout Goyescas.
The quick opera in one act and three tableaux finished with a touching scene between Rosario and Fernando: after the jealous Paquiro has mortally wounded Fernando, the two lovers share one final duet, and Rosario ends the opera with cries of despair. Ms. Leigh dramatically flung herself to the floor, her cries of lost love resonating across the church and leaving the audience in a solemn state.
Galina Barskaya and IOC should be very proud of this beautiful evening of music. The patrons were engaged through the entire concert, and it was easy to see that the company has built a strong, supportive audience base.
Independent Opera Company’s next opera, The Tsar’s Bride by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, opens July 10th.