Southern Pine's Classical Concert Series ended its season on a high note in the charming and intimate Sunrise Theater. The series is one of many under the managment of the Moore County Arts Council. The program featured rising stars from the Metropolitan Opera – four singers on the cusp of major careers, many having won the company's national auditions or having already taken on supporting roles on the Met stage. Their fine accompanist was Brent Funderburk who scaled his Steinway piano's dynamics ideally with its lid fully raised. The two sopranos, mezzo-soprano, and baritone took it in turn for fifteen solos and six duets covering the Golden Age of Romantic Opera. Funderburk gave brief backgrounds for the aria's dramatic context.
Mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko was a 2009 national finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She will sing her role debut as Carmen at the Washington National Opera this season and recently debuted at the Glimmerglass Festival in Vivaldi's Catone in Utica. She possesses a solid lower register, a marvelous rich tone, and an evenly supported voice across her entire range. More than one critic has called this the Golden Age of the mezzo-soprano voice, and Mesko promises to join that roster. She displayed plenty of vocal fireworks in two arias from operas by Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868). She brought out all the determination of Rosina to avoid an arranged marriage with Dr. Bartolo from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Her Isabella's cabaletta from L'Italiana in Algeri sparkled. Spare gestures helped focus on her voice's seductiveness in the sensual "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix," Dalila's aria from Act II of Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saёns (1835-1921). Her closing solo was a rousing "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel by Richard Rogers.
Soprano Simone Osborne is one of the youngest winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has been active with the Canadian Opera Company among others. Her voice is bright, even across its range, and can readily scale for light roles while still possessing heft for more dramatic ones. One of the most magical moments in Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff is the faux-fairy world of the last scene of Act III, under Herne's Oak, where Falstaff gets his final lesson. Osborne's stage experience in the role was evident throughout her pellucid delivery of Nanetta's aria "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" calling the fairies to come to their queen. She brought an undercurrent of tragedy to her dramatic and passionate "Ah, fors'è lui...Sempre libera," Violetta's showpiece from Verdi's La Traviata. Her purity of tone was welcome in the famous Lauretta's "O mia babbino caro" in which she begs her father to fake a will in Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.
Lori Guilbeau's soprano voice was weightier, very suited for dramatic roles which were aptly demonstrated by her selections. She was a grand prize winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and has already debuted on the Met stage as the High Priestess in Aida. Her voice combined power with a fine soaring line. Her delivery of "Un bel dì vedremo" from Act II of Madama Butterfly by Puccini was heartbreaking. Power and restrained passion was displayed in "Dich, teure Halle," Eva's welcoming of the hero of Wagner's Tannhäuser. One of my favorite operas is the Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák and I give bonus points to any soprano who programs it. Guilbeau phrased it beautifully besides clear delivery of the Czech words. Her final selection, "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lowe's My Fair Lady was a crowd pleaser.
Stage presence to die for was just one of the virtues of baritone Trevor Scheunemann. He has already racked up a number of Met performances including the role of Silvano in the MET HD broadcast of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. His voice has a gorgeous, rich tone underpinned with a really solid lower range. His refined palette of color and dynamics is a constant pleasure. From Act I of Il Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini, the anguished loss of Sir Richard Forth's love for his chief enemy was fully delineated. Exploiting his darker tone to convey gravitas, Scheunemann sang "Di Provenza" in which the Elder Germont comforts his son Alfredo at the end of the letter scene in Verdi's La Traviata. The interpolated drinking song, "O vi, dissipe la tristesse" from Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas (1811-96) ,was a rousing rarity (not by the Bard of Avon). "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rogers' South Pacific was part of the selection of show tunes that ended the evening.
All four singers displayed fine style and excellent ensemble singing in six duets. From Le Nozze di Figaro Act III, Scheunemann's Count arranged to meet Osborne's Susanna in the garden. In "Sull'aria," the Countess of Guilbeau dictated a letter to her maid Susanna sung by Osborne. From Act I, Scene 2 of Mozart's Così Fan Tutte, the two sisters, Fiordiligi sung by Guilbeau and Dorabella sung by Mesko, praised the virtues of their lovers. While in "Il core vi dono" Scheunemann's Guglielmo is surprised how gullible Mesko's Dorabella is to his advances. One of my favorite duets, "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" from Les Contes d'Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach, was woven gorgeously by the Nicklausse (Mesko) and the Giulietta (Osborne). Another rarity was the sisters' duet from Arabella by Richard Strauss, sung with elegance by sopranos Guilbeau and Osborne.
In addition to this being a golden age for the mezzo-soprano voice it is also one for the quality and quantity of expert piano accompanists such as this group's Funderburk.
A slightly different cast and program will be performed February 27 in the Carolina Theatre of Durham. Tour management informs that sopranos Guilbeau and Osborne will be replaced by soprano Janai Brugger and tenor Sean Panikkar. Opera lovers can be assured a fine evening of favorite arias sung by fresh young singers at the start of their careers.