The turnout for the latest opera workshop at Meredith College was poor, but on the other hand, the marketing and PR weren’t so good, either. (We got into a bit of trouble recently, mentioning this shortcoming in connection with another event, elsewhere in the state, but if you are a presenter, it really does pay to tell folks what you’re doing, on the chance that S. Hurok’s inimitable maxim — “If the public won’t come, you can’t make them” — won’t automatically come into play!)

Anyway, there should have been a lot more people in Jones Auditorium, a cavernous room even when fully packed, than there were. This workshop, which (due to a family emergency) involved only four artists, plus the program’s director, Wayne Wyman, was everything such events ought to be but rarely are: it was informative, entertaining, and enjoyable, and featured some superior singing and playing, too.

The deck was stacked in favor of success, for Wyman, who in real life is the Artistic and Managing Director of Capital Opera, knows his stuff, as the program selections and his commentary instantly revealed. He began with some remarks for “the laity” about what people do in these workshops and how much goes into getting an apparently simple and straightforward scene onto the stage — and never mind a whole opera! We remembered some of this from long-ago voice lessons and the like, when the singing master would chew us out for not having total command of the text, its meaning, and its emotional context. Wyman and one of his students talked us through that sort of thing, along the way demonstrating scene-making exercises, with and without improvised accompaniment. And all this is quite beyond the work that goes into simply learning how to sing, which is a whole different matter, external to most opera workshops, where interpretation is generally more critical than technique.

In any event, there was some of this but not too much, after which Wyman brought forward his three students plus their outside guest for three relatively brief (but nonetheless far from simple or straightforward) operatic excerpts, all given with Wyman on the podium, as it were, and with skilled and sensitive piano accompaniments by Tricia Strong.

First heard was the wonderful duet, “Tornami a dir che m’ami,” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, featuring soprano Laura Gardea and guest tenor James Farlow. He managed good support without getting in her way, which is always helpful in this sublime number. The diction was good, the projection, even better, and the sense of the selection came through even without line-by-line translations, sets, costumes, or any of the enhancing trappings that add so much to opera’s appeal. Gardea’s singing was excellent, her poise and ease on stage, apparent. There was considerable, well-earned applause from the crowd.

Next was an extreme rarity, the aria “Sein bin ich!,” from Eugen d’Albert’s virtually unknown Tiefland. The singer was soprano Stephanie Thurm, and she, too, did a super job, projecting those German “dental” consonants (the consonants in that word – d, n, t, and l) on a lovely wave of nicely controlled vocal sound. There was emotion aplenty in this extract, and the sense of sponteniety, discussed by Wyman earlier, was palpable throughout.

Bringing the evening to a close was the substantial scena “Leise, leise Fromme Weise,” from Weber’s Der Freischütz. It was really quite astonishing to find this much-loved aria from the granddaddy of the German romantic literature in a college workshop in Raleigh, and if that weren’t enough, soprano Sarah Stanton did a superb job with it, delivering the words and music so convincingly that if one closed one’s eyes one could easily imagine being in Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s playhouse in Berlin, in 1821…. (It’s probably about as close as we Tar Heels are likely to get to seeing and hearing Freischütz, unless we head across that pond, so we must needs be grateful!)

And thus this was an engaging and informative introduction by Wyman & Co., followed by fine examples of what the students have been working on. The work is paying off. Here’s hoping there’ll be better PR in the spring, for the next installment in this series, planned for April 30 and May 1 in Carswell Recital Hall at Meredith.

Meanwhile, Wyman’s professional company, Capital Opera, offers Amahl and the Night Visitors on December 19 and 20, in Jones Auditorium. For details, see our calendar.