25 Jul Downtowner Concert Series review
Unrequited Love featured sopranos Theresa Jewett and Nathalie Avila, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Newman, tenor Gerardo Ortega and baritone Armando Naranjo singing arias and excerpts from a wide range of the operatic repertoire.
Act one was a greatest hits collection of every opera lovers favorite arias. In a half covering everything from Delibes’ Lakmè to Puccini’s La Bohème, Unrequited Love had numerous standouts, but the superstar of the evening was the lyrico spinto soprano voice of Nathalie Avila. She was close to perfection in every one of her performances of the evening.
Armando Naranjo’s performance of Massenet’s Vision Fugitive from Hérodiade was classic and traditional. As the most experienced performer of the evening, Naranjo rich warm voice was the epitome of a baritone. Although not overly expressive as a soloist, his rendition of Massenet’s Herod is spot on and enjoyable.
Soprano Nathalie Avila was recently seen as Sister Angelica in the Miami Opera Institute’s production of Puccini’s Sour Angleica. Avila’s first aria of the evening is from Puccini’s Turandot. Singing Signore Ascolta Avila’s glittering soprano voice is spectacular. Crisp and shimmering her performance of Puccini’s Chinese slave girl was the first knockout of the evening.
In a rousing and brisk performance of Questa o Quella from Verdi’s Rigoletto, tenor Gerardo Ortega embodied the spirit of Verdi’s Duke. Although typically cast with a heavier voice, Ortega’s light tenor was both charming and endearing.
Rounding out the first act was series of arias from everyone’s favorite Puccini opera La Bohème. Singing the famous Quando Men Vo (Musetta’s Waltz) was soprano Theresa Jewett. Jewett began the aria in the back of the sanctuary and sung the piece while dancing up the aisle. While enjoyable to watch, her performance was little underwhelming and very slow tempo wise. Jewett has a nice voice but at times seemed a bit disconnected.
Following Jewett was Avila singing Mimi’s Si, Mi Chimano Mimi and the duet O Soave Fanciulla with Oretga. Avila’s rather large spinto soprano is a perfect fit for Mimi even if, at times it overwhelmed Ortega’s lighter tenor voice. O Soave Fanciulla is one of Puccini’s many versions of “Anything You Can Sing, I Can Sing Louder.” She wins hands down in this round.
Act two began with a powerhouse duet, Turridu Mi Tolse L’ Onore from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Sung by Avila and Naranjo the piece was a real showcase for both singers. As a soloist Naranjo was the classic opera baritone, in the duet his acting chops came to the fore. As expected Avila’s powerful soprano was front and center, but Naranjo matched her note for note in magnificent performance.
Jewett returned in act two with Senza Mamma, from Puccini’s Sour Angelica. In contrast to her previous turn as Musetta, Jewett captured the heart of the sister/mother contemplating suicide to join her deceased child.
The high point of the evening was Avila’s performance of Vissi d’arte from Tosca. Floria Tosca is a role that is almost a perfect fit vocally and dramatically for Avila’s voice, and her rendition of this famous Act Two aria showed the audience just what she is capable of vocally and dramatically. It was an absolutely perfect performance of this classic piece.
Baritone Naranjo next gave us a beautiful rendition of Di provenza il mar, il suol from Verdi’s La Traviata. Verdi’s sweeping melody in this aria is a good fit for Naranjo’s voice which sounded completely even and comfortable throughout the piece. It is one of the showpieces in the baritone repertoire and Naranjo made the most of it.
Unrequited Love closed with a selection of scenes and arias from Massenet’s Werther. Ortega and Newman were outstanding in these final moments, including the arias Pourquoi me réveiller (Oretga) and Va! Laisse Coulers mes Larmes (Newman). Taken as a whole these five pieces were a curious choice with which to end the performance. While Massenet writes beautiful operas, much like Richard Wagner his arias lose impact outside of the dramatic context. That’s not to say they aren’t beautiful pieces of music, they are. They just lack the sparkle of say Verdi’s Sempre libera.
In addition to these five singers, Unrequited Love featured another fine performer. As the unsinging hero of the evening Caren Levine was an entertaining and expressive accompanist. I believe a solo piano concert would be a fine addition to the season.
Unrequited Love was,overall, a fine evening of classical music. The Downtowner Concert Series is an ongoing music series whose mission is “to inspire,support and drive young local talent by pairing them with live audiences, furthering their education and experience” (taken from the program mission statement). If Saturday’s performance was any indication this mission is being fulfilled. Young artists need support and concert series’ like the Downtowner Concert Series are a much needed link in the artistic chain. Classical music lovers and novices alike would do well to keep an eye out for the next Downtowner concert. Who knows you may find your new favorite opera.