Review

Program properly honors Annapolis Opera's 35th year

November 09, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the Sun

Annapolis Opera celebrated its 35th anniversary last week with a program of arias from many of the productions it has presented over the years.

In 1972, Martha Wright, the company's first president, decided with a small group that Annapolis should have its own opera company. She returned for "Bravo 35" on Oct. 27 to accept the good wishes and proclamations of the city of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

Congratulations, wine-sipping and hors d'oeuvres-sampling preceded the main event at the Unitarian Universalist Church, a concert featuring four fine singers who are audience favorites and rising young stars, all under the direction of Annapolis Opera artistic director Ronald J. Gretz.

This year marks his 25th season as Annapolis Opera's artistic director. His thoughtfully chosen program consisted of works by operatic composers Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Bizet and by operetta composers Johann Strauss, Franz Lehar and Sigmund Romberg.

Baritone Jason Stearns, an audience favorite, showed why he has gained that status in his stunning renditions of a number of arias. Starting with the "Toreador Song" from Bizet's Carmen, he not only conjured up Escamillo's macho bravura, but also his graceful swagger.

His compelling "Di Provenza il mar" from Verdi's La Traviata sonorously expressed Giorgio Germont's love for his homeland and for his son Alfredo. And in an aria from Rigoletto, Stearns evoked his acclaimed performance as the tragic court jester a few seasons ago at Summer Opera.

Displaying his versatility, Stearns ended the concert with "Golden Days" from Romberg's Student Prince to make us wonder why operetta isn't performed more often. In this song, he moved into the audience to invite Annapolis Opera President Leah Solat to join him in a graceful waltz as he continued singing.

After her first aria from La Traviata, Gretz announced that soprano Colleen Daly was a bit under the weather, something the audience would have hardly suspected from her performance. This soprano, who so impressed Annapolis Opera audiences in the 2006 production of The Magic Flute as Queen of the Night, delivered a lovely version of flirtatious Musetta's "Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Boheme.

Adding another historic element to this 35th anniversary concert, Gretz had engaged the winner of Annapolis Opera's 2003 Vocal Competition, tenor Dongwon Shin, who has sung leading roles in international opera companies. Shin delivered a stunning "Celeste Aida," which was followed later in the program by a favorite, "Nessun dorma," thrilling the audience with its ringing tones.

In introducing a rising star, Gretz could have hardly made a better choice than soprano Sheri Jackson, who displayed an affinity for Mozart and knowledge of German with her aria "Ach, ich fuhls," filled with delicacy and feeling, from The Magic Flute, followed by all the faith, poignancy and passion required to deliver a compelling "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

Proving equally adept at operetta, Jackson offered a delightful "Mein Herr Marquis" ("Adele's Laughing Song") from Strauss' Die Fledermaus to win a few hearts and inspire the hope that she will be heard in future Annapolis Opera productions.

Elsewhere on this page, another 35th anniversary season is celebrated, that of the Annapolis Chorale, the Maryland Hall of the Creative Arts' resident company. May both continue to thrive in these precarious times for the arts.

Annapolis Opera will next offer its annual Mozart by Candlelight concert Dec. 2 at the First Presbyterian Church. Information: 410-267-8135 or www.annapolisopera.org.

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