“An Afternoon of Opera” was the title of the program presented by Triangle Opera Studios featuring internationally acclaimed soprano Christine Weidinger and friends. Four Triangle Opera Studios singers stepped in at the last minute after tenor John Fowler, who had been scheduled to appear, fell ill. TOS plans to feature Fowler and Weidinger together in a recital in the near future.

It was indeed an afternoon of opera at its high dramatic and popular best, with the bulk of the program in the capable hands – or rather, make that vocal chords – of the effervescent Weidinger. The program began with Floria Tosca’s blazing affirmation of life, “Vissi d’arte,” and ended with the final duet from Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, for which Weidinger was joined by tenor Bert Bridger, who sang Don Ottavio in the recent TOS production of Don Giovanni.

The penultimate aria was the dramatic and moving “La mamma morta,” also from Andrea Chénier. Here, as in “Visi d’arte,” the heroine is pleading for the life of her lover, in both cases condemned to death for political reasons. Tosca ends up killing the villainous Scarpia, but even in death he deceives her and Cavaradossi dies. Maddalena is more of a realist, and even though her moving aria touches Gérard and he seeks to help her get Chénier freed, she realizes his fate is sealed. She bribes the jailer to allow her to take the place of another condemned one so she may go to the guillotine with her beloved. This is the stuff of opera verismo! So we have this rapturous duet as Maddalena and Chénier head off to the guillotine together. Weidinger’s crystalline voice, a balance of delicate expressiveness and powerful projection, blended with Bridger’s robust tenor in operatic rapture.

Leonora’s passionate prayer “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio!,” from Act IV of La Forza del Destino, and Elvira’s plea for Ernani to take her away from unhappy circumstances, “Ernani, involami,” from Ernani, Act I, s.2, are examples of other ways of dealing with the woes of life and the misfortunes of unhappy relationships. To round out these operatic life confrontations, Weidinger chose the aria of hope born of naive youthful love: “Un bel di,” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Cio-Cio San sings of the fulfillment of her longing which. alas, shall never come and will end in tragedy, the sweet tragedy that opera provides for the catharsis of all real and imagined woes. Nothing else is like it. Weidinger provided us with an afternoon of unforgettable art.

Interspersed among those she sang were more arias. Kurt Melges, who appeared as Masetto in TOS production of Don Giovanni and as Alfio and Tonio respectively in Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, gave a stirring performance of “Il balen” from Verdi’s Il trovatore. Alana Sealy is presently studying with Christine Weidinger in preparation for a career specializing in dramatic repertoire. She is scheduled to star as Concepcion in a TOS production of Ravel’s L’heure espagnole this spring. In this program, she sang a persuasive rendition of “Ecco l’orrido campo” from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. Her well-controlled dynamic expressiveness communicates the soul of the character beyond the written notes and cues on the page of the score.

Marie Miller brings vast and diverse experience to TOS and is in training with Weidinger for an operatic career.  She sang two arias from the magical works of Giacomo Puccini, book ends, as it were; the first from his first successful opera, Manon Lescaut, and the second from the last pages written by the master before his death; Liu’s heart-rending “Tu, che di gel” from Turandot. Just before she takes a dagger from a soldier’s belt and kills herself to avoid revealing the name of Caláf, she tells the icy Turandot that she too will learn love. Both arias leave us in eager anticipation of Miller singing the title role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica this spring.

The excellent accompaniment throughout the program was provided by pianist Janice Bradner, in demand as both a soloist and collaborative artist from New York to San Francisco and points in between, including Charlotte and the Triangle in North Carolina. Bob Chapman, host of WCPE’s Thursday evening Opera House, as well as an accomplished operatic bass-baritone, provided introductory settings for each of the arias on the program.

For an avid opera lover, like yours truly, this was an afternoon of richly fulfilling delight and pleasure.