After three years, the Annapolis Opera has perfected its recipe for a delightful Italian fund-raising evening in combining fettuccini, vino and spumoni with operatic arias by Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.
Annapolis Opera President Anna Marie Darlington-Gilmour played host at the event, while Artistic Director Ronald J. Gretz served favorite Puccini and Verdi arias mixed with charm, spontaneity and wit.
Presented in the intimate and elegant Naval Academy Officers' Club, this annual dinner-concert proves much more fun than most other fund-raisers on the circuit.
Both Friday and Sunday's dinner-concerts were sold out again this year. The event offers the opera buff Gretz's banter and superb musicianship, and the novice a painless education as Gretz explains each aria with gentle wit. This maestro of ceremonies is an elegant narrator and accompanist who conveys all the emotional intensity of the music without boring his audience.
For the dinner-concert, which benefits the Annapolis Opera, Gretz selected a quartet of fine young singers - two sopranos and two tenors - and arias that displayed their voices well. The program began informally with the quartet singing everybody's favorite drinking song, "Libiamo" from Guiseppe Verdi's "La Traviata."
The acoustics of the small room seemed to benefit the lighter voices. I'd heard two of the singers previously at Maryland Hall - soprano Joanne Robinson less than a month ago at the Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition and tenor Paul McIlvaine in 1998 as soloist with the Annapolis Chorale in Verdi's "Requiem." At the time, I was struck by the beauty of McIlvaine's ringing, heroic tenor voice.
On Friday in the smaller room, McIlvaine seemed at times to over-sing.
This is not to say he didn't have stellar moments. His delivery of Pinkerton's "Addio fiorito asil" from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" was heartfelt.
Joanne Robinson had won over most of the Vocal Competition audience when she sang "Chi il bel sogno" from Puccini's "La Rodine," and at the Officers' Club her performance of this aria seemed even more sublime.
Soprano Laura Lewis skillfully conveyed the abandoned Manon's fear and despair in "Sola perduta abandonata" from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut." Lewis' duet with McIlvaine of "Gia nella notte" from the same opera was magnificently sung as both summoned all the full dramatic intensity the aria requires.
Completing the quartet of singers was 25-year-old tenor Israel Lozano from Madrid, who has studied with such opera luminaries as Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotto and Ileana Cotrubas.
He made his professional debut at age 22 as Count Almaviva in Rossini's "Barber of Seville."
On Friday, Lozano delivered a thrilling "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's "La Boheme" and joined Joanne Robinson in a ravishing "O soave fanciulla" from the same opera. Later Lozano was just as compelling in another tenor favorite, "La donna e mobile" from Verdi's "Rigoletto."
Gretz chose an exciting mixture of arias that expressed love and passion on a grand scale. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the ecstatic "Vogliatemi bene" from "Madama Butterfly," as sung by Lewis and McIlvaine.
Pasta, Puccini and Verdi made a tasty mix. Although our physical appetites were satisfied, I suspect many of us will never get our fill of these supreme masters of Italian opera.
Upcoming events at Annapolis Opera include performances of Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" on March 30 and April 1 at Maryland Hall.
Tickets are $45 and may be ordered by calling the opera office at 410-267-8135. On April 20, the opera will stage another gala fund-raiser at the Naval Academy Officers' Club. Tickets are $75 and can be reserved by calling the office.