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Baritone Jason Stearns is in demand and relishes the time in the spotlight

November 03, 2006|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Baritone Jason Stearns has mastered the demands of being in demand.

During a 2 1/2 -week break from rehearsals of Wagner's Lohengrin at the Leipzig Opera House in Germany, he returned to his Eastport home to fulfill concert commitments at the German Embassy in Washington and at the Chesapeake Arts Center.

The day after he sang in the second concert of the Performing Arts of Linthicum's 25th anniversary, Stearns flew to Leipzig for final rehearsals of the opera, which opens Nov. 18.

Stearns arrived in the United States shortly after the Sept. 24 death of his mentor and friend Thomas Stewart, a renowned bass-baritone, in whose memory Stearns dedicated both concerts.

Stewart's wife of 51 years, the acclaimed soprano Evelyn Lear, was present at both concerts, remarking after Stearns' Oct. 28 performance: "Jason has it all, the superb voice, expressive feeling, versatility and charm beyond any other baritone singing today. No one can touch him."

On first hearing Stearns sing "Di provenza" [from Verdi's La Traviata] in February 2005 at an Anne Arundel Community College concert, I was convinced that he was in the great Verdi baritone tradition of Leonard Warren and Sherrill Milnes.

The next month at Annapolis Opera's Madama Butterfly, Stearns delivered the most complete interpretation of Sharpless I have had heard.

In July 2005, Stearns starred in Summer Opera's Rigoletto to critical praise. Soon afterward his career kicked into high gear. He is in such international demand that it is a challenge for local concert societies to book him.

The Performing Arts Association of Linthicum was smart to have done so in advance.

Stearns was impeccably accompanied by pianist Eileen Cornett of the Peabody faculty, who also helps with the Annapolis Opera Annual Vocal Competition. The singer and pianist have unmistakable rapport that assured a highly polished performance.

Stearns proved to be an actor/showman equally at home in salt water ballads, more familiarly called sea shanties, favorite spirituals and Broadway show tunes, and fully engaged the audience.

His total understanding was explained in a post-concert conversation, when he said, "I like to get inside the songs. There has to be spontaneity, and it's found in the words that tell me what to do."

Stearns offered three arias, opening the concert with "Toreador Song" from Bizet's Carmen, at mid-point singing another spirited operatic favorite, "Non Piu Andrai" from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, and beginning the second half of the program with "Nemico della Patria," from Giordano's Andrea Chenier. Stearns has a remarkabe range and flawless technique, so each aria seemed nuanced yet effortless.

Stearns' artistry was displayed in a series of spirituals. He sang soulful renditions of "Deep River," "Goin' Home" and "Ol' Jim."

Contrast is a critical element in musical programming, and Stearns captured the joys of bachelorhood in Cole Porter's "Where is the Life that Late I Led?" from Kiss Me Kate, with Stearns jumping from the stage into the audience to sing of the charms of several Italian signorinas.

He invested Rogers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific with more lustrous romance similar to the great Ezio Pinza who originated the role of Emile de Beque.

Noting that he and his wife, Suzanne, had spent time in the U.S. Army Chorus, Stearns offered an encore of "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables to salute all currently serving in the armed forces.

Stearns will return home to Eastport for Christmas before honoring commitments to sing leading operatic roles in Los Angeles, Boston and at the recently opened Ziff Opera House in Miami as well as European opera houses in Rostock, Germany and Prague. He'll also audition for Wolfgang Wagner to sing at Bayreuth.

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