Stearns in 'Rigoletto' at the Met


April 12, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

News of Annapolis baritone Jason Stearns' Metropolitan Opera debut gave some Annapolis Opera folks incentive last October to plan a trip to New York City to offer support recently in his role as Monterone in Verdi's Rigoletto.

Former Annapolis Opera president Leah Solat coordinated plans and board member David Stern arranged bus transportation and lodging for the group for Stearns' April 1 debut. Stern also arranged for the group to take a 2 1/2 -hour backstage tour of the Met on the same day.

Stearns lives in Annapolis with his wife, Suzanne, who also had a singing career and continues to give voice lessons, as does Jason when time allows. Together, the couple has strong ties to Annapolis Opera. In the March 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, Jason Stearns sang a compelling, compassionate Consul Sharpless, and he opened the 2007-2008 Annapolis Opera season with a memorable concert. Suzanne Stearns served on the Annapolis Opera board until recently.

Though Monterone was Stearns' first scheduled role at the Met, he actually had been on the stage previously. He had sung in the Met chorus from 2001 to 2004. And this past September, while serving as cover, he was called with only 50 minutes' notice to replace ill baritone Carlo Guelfi in the role of Barnaba, the villain in La Gioconda. As Barnaba, Stearns was praised for "his firm, wide-ranging baritone and steadfast bravado," singing in a cast headed by famed soprano Deborah Voigt. Although his debut role of Monterone is smaller, it is a pivotal role. His performance was the first of five scheduled for April.

Visitors to the Metropolitan Opera House, the nation's most prestigious and largest - with a seating capacity of 3,800 - are greeted with towering Marc Chagall paintings in the lobby and magnificent Austrian crystal chandeliers, some of which, in the lobby, stairs and hall, rise to signal when an opera is about to begin.

Most of the audience members agreed that this Rigoletto, conducted by Riccardo Frizza and featuring Roberto Frontali as Rigoletto, Joseph Calleja as the Duke, and Diana Damrau as Gilda, was a success. Stearns, as Monterone, was vocally and dramatically at home on the Met stage.

In his role as Count Monterone, Stearns bursts onto the stage soon after the Duke's Queste e quella aria upset that the Duke has seduced his daughter. Court jester Rigoletto makes light of it, and the Duke orders Monterone's arrest, causing Monterone to curse both the Duke and Rigoletto.

In Act 2, Monterone appears again as he is being led to his execution while Rigoletto is coping with his daughter Gilda's being ravished by the Duke and again remembers Monterone's curse.

After the performance, Stearns met the Annapolis group members in the lobby, where he expressed his appreciation for their traveling to be there for him. Later, while at a hotel across from Lincoln Center Plaza, the group toasted his performance.

Reflecting on his many years of practice that have now brought him major roles in opera houses around the world, Stearns said, "It's quite a story: Older Annapolis dude does opera in the biggest way!"

After being away in Chicago and New York for more than four months, he'll be home in Annapolis for two weeks in May before flying off to Brazil, where he'll sing five performances of Macbeth at the Palacio des Artes.

These will be followed by two Scarpia performances in Tosca in Fairbanks, Alaska, then by a return to Chicago in August before returning home for the rest of the summer and into late October, when he'll be off to Norway to sing the role of Jack Rance in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West in the new opera house in Oslo.

On the return trip to Annapolis the next day, organizer Stern expressed hope that "we might soon return to the Met to catch the debut of a young singer who may have got her start at Annapolis Opera."

Then Stern and Solat turned their attention to attracting young opera fans and discussing the Children's Opera, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, at Maryland Hall Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Annapolis Opera will end its 2008-2009 season on May 9 with a concert "Romantic Divas and Amorous Dons," led by Ron Gretz conducting the Annapolis Opera Chamber Orchestra. Seats are $48 and $40. For information, call 410-267-8135; for tickets, call 410-280-5640.

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