A musical tradition of the holiday season, Annapolis Opera's "Mozart by Candlelight" was offered Sunday at a new site: the historical First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis. Able to accommodate 390 people, the structure was built as a theater in 1828 and became a church in 1846, a year after the establishment of the Naval Academy.
After a snowy weekend, First Presbyterian Church, with candles aglow Sunday evening, proved an ideal location for the Mozart concert.
Annapolis Opera's artistic and music director, Ronald J. Gretz, arranged a delightful program that showcased four gifted young singers in a wide selection of arias from the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Usually able to find highly talented young singers to perform at opera-sponsored concerts, Gretz might have set the bar higher than ever.
An elegant and sensitive accompanist, Gretz also is a witty narrator who knows how to introduce each aria with amusing explanations to entertain the opera aficionado while enlightening the neophyte opera-goer.
Tenor Jason Ferrante, a Baltimore native, Juilliard graduate and current voice teacher at Towson University, sang arias from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus). Ferrante sings easily, is surprisingly strong in the lower register and produces high notes of ringing clarity. He invested each aria with sensitivity, his "Dalla sua pace" from Don Giovanni beautifully conveying Don Ottavio's desire only to bring happiness to his lover, Donna Anna.
Having learned on Thanksgiving that she would substitute for the ailing soprano who had been scheduled, Jenny Ritter gave a performance that was doubly impressive under the circumstances. Leading off the evening's program with a joyous "Exultate jubilate" (Rejoice) that perfectly expressed the season, Ritter displayed great vocal agility and clarity of tone. Later, her "Ach, ich fuhls" from Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) was brilliantly sung with impressive power and wondrous breath control.
Awarded the Peabody Conservatory's master of music degree last spring, mezzo-soprano Chi-chun Chan displayed a voice of warm coloration and impressive agility. Her "Non so piu cosa son" from La nozze di Figaro conveyed all of Cherubino's tremulous pleasure and pain that quickened his heartbeat at his first sight of a woman. From the same opera, Chan brought shimmering beauty to Cherubino's aria "Voi che sapete."
Eugene Summers, who has sung baritone roles as diverse as Count Almaviva in La nozze di Figaro and Harold Hill in The Music Man, seems poised on the brink of operatic stardom. At Sunday's concert, Summers' rich warm baritone shone equally in a masterfully negotiated, fast-paced German "Ein Madchen oder Weibchen" from The Magic Flute and in the Italian "Donne mie fa fate a tanti" from Cosi fan tutte.
An artistic highlight occurred when Summers' Don Giovanni sang an irresistible "La ci darem la mano" to Ritter's Zerlina who followed with "Vorrei e non vorrei" that ended with a marvelously seductive "Andiam" duet.
The evening ended with the four singers together offering a sublime "Benedictus" from Mozart's Requiem that despite the overall solemnity of the work seemed singularly appropriate in its reverent praise and devotion to God.
The warmth of the Mozart program was extended to a festive post-concert reception where the audience could enjoy an array of sumptuous desserts along with stimulating conversation and a chance to meet the four young singers. If socializing didn't fortify us to brave the cold weather and icy sidewalks of downtown Annapolis, there was encouraging news to cheer us Annapolis Opera fans.
In the printed program, Annapolis Opera President Dennis Monk announced that the financial situation is beginning to improve.