Opera buffs enjoyed a dinner of fettuccine followed by spumoni topped with even more delicious fare in arias by Puccini and Verdi at the Annapolis Opera's opera suppers Friday and Sunday.
Last year, in an effort to make opera accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience, Annapolis Opera President Anna Marie Darlington-Gilmour held one sold-out opera supper, which has grown to two sold-out events at the Naval Academy Officers' Club.
Not only did the president succeed in making opera fun, this year she also raised $8,000, enough to pay off the remaining "Tosca" debts after ticket sales covered only 40 percent of production costs.
Ronald J. Gretz, the Annapolis Opera's artistic and music director, chose 15 arias from the two composers who define Italian opera -- Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.
A witty master of ceremonies, Gretz sketched the plot of each opera, and also served as accompanist to the singers: tenor Antonio S. Giuliano, soprano Debra Lawrence, soprano Lori Hultgren and baritone Steven Rainbolt, each of whom created several unforgettable operatic characters with their arias.
The program began on an appropriate note with everyone's favorite drinking song, "Libiamo" from Verdi's "La Traviata," sung by Lawrence and Giuliano. Obviously enjoying themselves, the singers set the tone for the delightful evening that followed.
Lawrence, who a few years ago was Violetta in Annapolis Opera's "La Traviata," revealed a voice of compelling beauty and power. Her "Pace, pace" from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" was impressive in its strong attack and high drama.
Although Lawrence's voice is a bit large for Mimi, she nonetheless gave a moving interpretation of "Donde lieta," Mimi's poignant farewell from Act 2 of "La Boheme." And she was stunning in Puccini's great diva aria "Vissi d'arte" from "Tosca."
Giuliano made an exciting debut, pulling out all the stops in the famous tenor aria "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's "La Boheme."
This army sergeant is clearly a guy who lives on the edge, unafraid of risky vocal territory in a manner reminiscent of movie icon Mario Lanza. Giuliano had the audience on the edge of their seats when he delivered a dramatic, even thrilling "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot."
Remembered by the Annapolis Opera audience for his Morales and Dancairo in "Carmen," Rainbolt proved again to be the consummate professional.
In his first aria as Dr. Lund in Verdi's "Il Trovatore," Rainbolt was convincing in his "Il balen" as he conveyed the tempest in his heart that only Leonora could calm. As his voice warmed, Rainbolt went from fine to terrific. He was an excellent Marcello to Giuliano's Rudolfo in the "La Boheme" duet "In un coupe?" where he sings of seeing Rudolfo's former love, Mimi.
Hultgren won raves in December for her Mozart by Candlelight performance at Carroll House. She won a few more fans here for her charming acting and singing. She possesses a large lyric soprano voice that fills the room.
Perhaps her voice was not perfectly suited to "Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi," which for those of my vintage belongs forever to Licia Albanese, who begins the aria softly with a light innocence and builds to the climax describing the end of winter.
Hultgren's opposite approach, beginning in full voice and moving almost to sotto voce with the famous "Ma quando" passage, was also riveting.
Another Puccini aria, "In quelle trine morbide," in which Manon Lescaux sings of her longing for Des Grieux amid the splendors of her existence, was a stunner by Hultgren.
All four singers ended the concert with an excellent quartet, "Bella figlia dell'amore," from Verdi's "Rigoletto," the opera scheduled for next season.
For this season two events remain -- the Opera Gala on March 10 and the Concert of Opera's Greatest Moments on March 25. Call the Annapolis Opera office at 410-267-8135 for information.