CENTER STAGE at Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis

Janice K. Johnson


Review: CENTER STAGE at Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis

Once again the Saint Louis Opera Theatre concludes it’s glorious festival of opera with a show-casing of brilliant young talent. It’s called Center Stage, and it’s a wonderful night featuring singers in the Gerdine Young Artists program. This program gives emerging artists intensive training and professional experience. There are master-classes, and the singers perform in OTSL productions-as chorus, or supporting roles, or as “covers” for major roles-and they prepare this Center Stage evening.

This year the GYA auditions toured seven cities and heard 1,100 auditioners. Thirty-six singers were chosen to participate in the program. These voices are, indeed, the cream of the crop. They come from nine different countries of origin, as well as nineteen states in the U.S.

GYA alumni are sometimes brought back as “Richard Gaddes Festival Artists” in subsequent years to perform in OTSL productions.

The program is a helping hand into this most demanding and competitive profession.

Center Stage is a great smörgåsbord of opera– No, no, that’s far too Swedish and Lutheran and heavy. If the whole festival is a great feast, then Center Stage is the delicious icing on the top of that final cake. It’s all dessert and no vegetables.

We enter the lovely and comfortable theater and are charmingly greeted by the great soprano Patricia Racette, who is the artistic director of OTSL’s young artist programs. The large orchestra (members of the St. Louis Symphony) occupies the up-stage area; singers enter to play scenes down-stage of the orchestra. A great softly-lit cyclorama provides a background. It’s all very minimal, but, oh my, such voices!

The fifteen selections presented cover a wide spectrum: lyric, baroque, singspiel, romantic, heroic, bel canto, modern, etc. And, though OTSL uses English translations for its major productions, this Center Stage evening is all sung in the original languages. (Some of us cling to the perverse opinion that opera sounds better that way.)

We heard:

Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin: Opening scene and Olga’s aria
Händel’s Orlando: “Consolati o bella”
Beethoven’s Fidelio: “Mir ist so wunderbar”
Mozart’s Idomeneo: “Andrò ramingo e solo”
Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress: various
Puccini’s La bohème: “Mimi! Speravo di trovavi qui”
Puccini’s Turandot: “Non piangere, Liu!”
Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea: “Pur ti miro”
Domenick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco: “Is that a hat box?
Händel’s Giulio Cesare: “Son nata a lagrimar”
R. Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos: various
Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore: “Caro elisir! sei mio”
Puccini’s La bohème: “Dunque è proprio finite”
Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas: “¡Un as de corazones!”
Verdi’s Falstaff: “Tutto nel mondo è burla”

All were splendidly done. I couldn’t begin to give all the detailed praise that these singers deserve, but let me just mention a few moments that struck me as truly outstanding:

The final moments of the first act of Turandot: After Calaf commits to the challenge of the riddle the entire chorus slowly swells up in massive, gorgeous dramatic power to a wonderfully fulfilling climax. I was thrilled to the bones. It’s splendid work by chorus master Kevin J. Miller and all the singers.

“Pur ti miro” from L’incoronazione di Poppea: Counter-tenor Kyle Tingzon and soprano Xiao Xiao sing Nero and Poppea. Their voices are so perfectly matched that when they twine together in this lovely duet it could almost be one singer singing of his love for himself. Most striking. And perhaps, for these characters, not inappropriate.

Soprano Angel Azzarra singing Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos demonstrates simply astonishing power and pure beauty. I saw the rafters lift about an inch.

“Is that a hat box?” (from Argento’s Postcard from Morocco) is a charming little curiosity. Almost Absurdist, perhaps Surrealist, it could have been written by Ionesco. (It was, in fact, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.) Such a choice illustrates the freshness and variety of the works one finds at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

The orchestra, under the baton of Daniela Candillari is full of some of the finest musicians in America. Their playing is rich, subtle and lovely indeed

Everyone seemed to be having a joyous time! Singers, musicians, and certainly Maestra Candillari, who frequently turned downstage at the end of a selection to cast a proud, beaming smile upon those marvelous young singers–her protégés–her colleagues.

Some good friends of mine are STLO devotees. They’ve not missed a show in years, but they had never come to a Center Stage evening until now. This recent performance blew them away! It’s a very important part of the festival. Don’t miss it next year.



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