On Sunday, September 29 a great crowd of people, old and young, made their way into the Freedman Theatre at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute, a part of the School of Music, presented “Viva Verdi! An Afternoon at the Opera” for the community’s entertainment. The Freedman Theatre was the perfect choice for the performance venue: the acoustics are great, it is of a fairly intimate size (roughly 350 seats), and the seats are on an incline so everyone, no matter their position in the theatre, can see the action on the stage. It was almost a full house; only a few empty seats were scattered around the theatre.

The afternoon’s works were introduced with a bit about Verdi. Before each scene, Steven LaCosse , the stage director, gave a brief synopsis of each scene and occasionally introduced the characters; these remarks were often peppered with witty comments, such as “In opera, people are either murdered, commit suicide, or die of tuberculosis.” It was perfect for those members of the audience who were not well-versed in the many Verdi operas. Each scene was accompanied by pianist Angela Vanstory Ward.

The first scene performed was the Act I Trio, “Ah! Perchè tanto in petto,” from Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio (1839). In this scene, Leonora (played by Jaclyn Surso, soprano) and Oberto (Leonora’s father, played by David Weigel, bass) go to Cuniza (played by Kate Farrar, mezzo-soprano) to inform her of her fiancé’s (Riccardo’s), deception. Riccardo had previously seduced Leonora, and she and Oberto hope to gain Cuniza’s sympathy. Although the performers moved rather unnaturally, their voices blended beautifully and were very powerful. The lead cast members in each scene were in formal dress: the women in formal gowns and the men in suits or tuxedos.

Next up was the Act I Duet, “Duchessa, Duchessa tu m’appelli,” from Luisa Miller (1849). This duet is between Rodolfo and his betrothed, Federica. He tells her that he is in love with another woman, Luisa Miller, but she refuses to break the engagement, as she has loved Rodolfo since childhood. This was perhaps my least favorite scene of those performed; the tenor, Jonathan Johnson, had body tension that distracted from his beautiful voice, and he often overpowered the mezzo-soprano, Jennifer Lazarz.

The last scene before the intermission was the Act I Duet, “Un di felice,” from La traviata (1853). This duet is sung by Violetta, a courtesan dying of tuberculosis, and Alfredo, who has been in love with her for a year. He takes this opportunity to tell her of his love, and she presents him with a red rose as an invitation to visit the next day. This was by far my favorite scene; both singers – Megan Cleaveland, soprano, and Jesse Darden, tenor – had incredible vocal command, and each had a lovely, resonant sound. Cleaveland’s vocal acrobatics were very impressive, and her acting was both natural and effective.

The second half opened with the Act II Aria, “Canzone del velo,” from Don Carlo (1867). In this scene, Princess Eboli is entertaining her ladies in waiting with a song about a Moorish king and a veiled beauty as they await the arrival of the queen. This scene included a women’s chorus, which was lovely, but had a very limited dynamic range. The women’s chorus wore all black. Kate Farrar, who sang the role of Princess Eboli, had a very rich mezzo-soprano voice and sang the aria gracefully.

The following piece was the Act II Duet, “L’instante s’avvicina,” from Aroldo (1857). Here, Aroldo confronts his wife, Mina, about her affair with Godvino. He demands a divorce, which she gives him. After signing the divorce paper, Mina confesses that she was taken advantage of by Godvino; while all this is happening, Egberto, Mina’s father, murders Godvino. Darden gave another wonderful performance, this time as the title character. Jaclyn Surso, who played the role of Mina, had a blasting soprano voice that sounded a bit forced at times.

The penultimate piece was the famous Act IV Quartet, “Un di se ben…Bella figlia dell’amore,” from Rigoletto (1851). Rigoletto, father of Gilda, a young woman in love with the Duke of Mantua, knows that the Duke is not a man of honor and is determined to prove it to his daughter. He forces her to watch the Duke seduce another woman, Maddalena, through a crack in a tavern door. The quartet was well-balanced – each voice had a similar level of vibrancy, with the exception of the bass, David Weigel. He had a beautiful voice, but some of the resonance was dampened somewhere internally. That aside, this famed quartet was a highlight of the performance.

The program ended with the Act III Finale, “Tutto nel mondo è burla,” from Falstaff (1893). In this scene, Falstaff (sung by Weigel) declares that the world is a jest full of jesters, and he who laughs last laughs best; the whole company agrees and turns the original melody into an energetic fugue. Every cast member rushed on stage to sing this energizing finale. It was short, sweet, and a great way to end the concert.

The UNCSA offers a wide range of cultural programs throughout the year. For details, see our calendar.