Community college orchestra and singers do Puccini well

Performances in an evening of works by the composer should be celebrated


October 26, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

Anne Arundel Community College's "An Evening of Puccini" concerts Friday and Sunday offered cause for celebration.

When I attended the Friday evening concert, the Pascal Center for Performing Arts on the Arnold campus was almost filled to capacity, and more than a third of the seats were occupied by young people.

Having attended a Baltimore Opera performance earlier last week, I suspect that the Lyric Opera House would covet such a strong youth demographic.

The AACC Orchestra has doubled in size under music director/conductor Anna Binneweg, who has completed her first year at the helm.

The orchestra, which listed 35 players in the January 2006 Bartered Bride program, now has 62 musicians who proved adept at operatic playing and supporting the singers.

At home in the opera realm, Binneweg continues to serve as director and conductor of Chicago-based OperaModa. She connects with musicians and singers, even enthusiastically mouthing Italian phrases.

Under Binneweg, the AACC Orchestra offered all the sensitivity, passion and high drama that Puccini deserves.

The orchestra, in its rendition of the agitated, contrapuntal prelude to Madama Butterfly, opened the program portending more than was initially offered by the lead singers in their Act I duet.

Mary Anne Barcellona's subtle rendition of the geisha's devotion to Pinkerton failed to express Butterfly's poignant vulnerability.

Tenor John Weber's Pinkerton had power but lacked passion. The most expressive singing in this first segment came from baritone Jason Stearns' Sharpless.

In contrast, La Boheme was a triumph, starting with Joy Greene's Mimi, who was captivating in her heartfelt "Mi Chiamano Mimi" as she introduced herself to Weber's Rodolfo. Their Act I love duet rose to rapture as their voices soared in a final "amore, amore" offstage.

High drama followed in a quintet as Julie Hiscox delivered Musetta's showstopper "Quando me'n vo" to set her the pulse of former lover Marcello (Stearns) racing.

Several high points followed after intermission, when soprano Barcellona offered a compelling "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca in which the heroine tells of living for art and laments her destiny. Baritone Stearns, in this segment, reprised his stellar Summer Opera performance as Scarpia.

Stearns was also heard in "Nulla Silenzio" from Puccini's lesser known Il Tabarro, perhaps the most modern of the verismo composer's operas.

Although tenor Weber displayed a high degree of drama, excitement and power for most of the evening, he triumphed with his "Nessun Dorma," which was beautifully executed in a gorgeous arrangement by Douglas Byerly, the AACC coordinator of music.

The arrangement included fine choral work and went all out to prove the climactic peak of the evening and an audience pleaser.

A prolonged standing ovation signaled the audience's pleasure and perfectly capped the performance Friday evening. The program was repeated Sunday, when I'm told that it also drew a sizable and appreciative audience of various ages.

Byerly deserves kudos for his support of rising young artists through Opera AACC and for his commitment to attracting and educating novices to the art by making their productions relevant. Efforts are made to keep ticket prices low for students and seniors and reasonable for the general public.

Coming to the Pascal Center on Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and 2 will be Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors and groups.

Information: 410-777-2457.

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