True to its mission of introducing rising young opera singers to its audience, Annapolis Opera opened its 36th season with its first concert at Maryland Hall on Sunday.
Noting before the concert that "more expensive fundraisers began and ended our past seasons," president Gregory A. Stiverson said, "This season will open and close with these new, less-expensive opera concerts to bring more great music in more operatic arias sung by rising young singers."
The audience heard many favorite arias performed well by six young singers accompanied by the Annapolis Opera Chamber Orchestra, which was conducted by musical director and conductor Ronald J. Gretz. Not only did Gretz put together an exciting, comprehensive program of arias by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Gounod and American composer Carlisle Floyd, but he brought lively continuity as he introduced each aria with his trademark wit. Gretz described the many ways divas can meet their untimely ends in opera in the opening "Dying Divas and Dastardly Dons" concert and promised romance in the spring, when he will host the second "Romantic Divas and Amorous Dons" concert.
An Eastman School of Music graduate who has sung many operatic roles in Philadelphia and elsewhere, Alexis Cregger made her Annapolis Opera debut opening the program with Liu's aria, Tu che di gel sei cinta, from Puccini's Turandot. The composer's last completed aria describes Liu's determination to keep Calaf's name a secret even under torture. Her interpretation was adequate, but Cregger's soprano seemed a bit heavy for this role, as it did later as Rigoletto's daughter Gilda in V'ho ingannato. Cregger opened and closed the concert, ending it brilliantly as Marguerite in the final prison scene from Gounod's Faust - her rich, dramatic soprano perfectly suited to this role.
Also making his Annapolis Opera debut was bass Ben Wager, a fourth-year resident artist at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts. He displayed a rich resonant voice and fitting swagger as he sang Don Giovanni's famous aria, bragging of the 2,065 women he had seduced. Wager became a persuasive preacher as he sang in seductive, mellow tones, "I'm a lonely man, Susannah" from Carlisle Floyd's 1955 opera. Wager was also heard as Mephistofeles in two arias from Gounod's Faust - Vous qui faites l'endormie (enticing Marguerite from her house) and later in the prison scene trio.
Familiar to Annapolis Opera audiences who heard her spectacular Queen of the Night in Mozart's Der Zauberflote two seasons ago, Colleen Daly sang a moving Parigi, o cara from Verdi's La Traviata. She then impressively delivered Lucia's "Mad scene," summoning Lucia's every conflicting emotion in this most famous aria while skillfully negotiating every high note. The soprano was the only artist to receive a standing ovation at the end of an aria with her Lucia di Lammermoor scene.
Gretz, the conductor, offered the audience another treat as he introduced baritone Daniel Lickteig, who offered a bravura performance as Rigoletto singing Cortigiani, vil razza dannata. He summoned a profound array of emotions as his jester Rigoletto lamented the kidnapping of his beloved daughter Gilda. In a second Rigoletto aria - V'ho ingannato - Lickteig conveyed the profound grief of a father at the death of his daughter. Lickteig proved just as compelling as Amonasro in an aria from Verdi's Aida.
Known to some audience members for her earlier appearances at "Pasta and Puccini," Lisa Lockhart sang a heartfelt D'amor sull' ali rosee from Verdi's Il Trovatore, in which prisoner Leonora pleads for the release of her love, Manrico. Lockhart possesses a rich powerful voice that proved well-suited to the role of Aida in the aria Ciel! Mio padre ! (conveying Aida's distress at being forced to choose between loyalty to her father and her lover). Soprano Lockhart sang two Puccini arias - a soulful Sola, perduta abbandonata from Manon Lescaut and a sublime Vissi d'arte from Tosca.
Tenor Michael Gallant, also familiar to Annapolis Opera audiences, sang two famous tenor arias - Questo o quella and La donna e mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto - with assured ease. Gallant was especially moving as Faust.
Next on the schedule for Annapolis Opera is the annual holiday offering "Bel Canto by Candlelight" on Dec. 7 at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis. Information: Call Annapolis Opera at 410-267-8135.