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Opera Review Print

A Blitzstein-Weill Cabaret Evening in Two Acts Great Music and Superb Singing

June 14, 2008 - Chapel Hill, NC:

Some of the most unforgettable music of two outstanding twentieth-century composers provided an appreciative audience many musical delights in A Blitzstein-Weill Cabaret Evening in Two Acts, a revue showcasing Long Leaf Opera's fine group of local singers and presented in the intimate confines of UNC's beautiful, remodeled Gerrard Hall. The capacity crowd seated at tables in the cabaret setting on the floor of the hall and in the balcony above responded with great enthusiasm to the excellent singing of Janie Imperial and Sharon Szymanski, lyric sopranos, Shannon French and Evelyn McCauley, mezzo-sopranos, Richard L. Banks and Charles Stanton, baritones, and John Cashwell and Stafford Wing, tenors. This evening of music was conceived and arranged by Richard C. Wall, who was also the fine piano accompanist for the revue.

Although all the numbers in this two-hour extravaganza were superbly performed and deserve a full discussion of the vocal skills which made them a pleasure to hear, there are quite a few songs which deserve special comment because they reveal a level of excellence which concert-goers do not frequently encounter. Janie Imperial, one of the finest sopranos in the Triangle area, revealed the excellence of her voice in Marc Blitzstein's lovely "I Wish It So" (from Juno) and Kurt Weill's "Green-up Time" (Love Life). Both pieces showed to perfection her instrument's lyric beauty, its range, its strength, and its great expressiveness. Sharon Szymanski, too, pleased her listeners with a light lyric soprano voice that can express wit as well as tenderness, as she revealed in Weill's "Modest Maid" (Lady in the Dark). Her only problem is a tendency to lose vocal strength in the lower register of her voice.

Mezzo-soprano Evelyn McCauley showed her great dramatic strength in the powerful, highly expressive "Surabaya Johnny," one of Weill's best-known songs (from Happy End). This number, fully delineating her inebriated character's love-hate feelings for Johnny, is surely a test of any singer's dramatic skills. Shannon French's mezzo-soprano voice was a perfect fit for Blitzstein's "War Song," with words by Dorothy Parker. French's great vocal power and dramatic sense projected Parker's words clearly to the attentive audience, which may have found them as meaningful Saturday evening as they were when the song was composed.
The baritones and tenors in the cast also offered music that obviously greatly pleased their listeners. Baritone Richard Banks' first number, Blitzstein's "Monday Mornin' Blues" (from Reuben, Reuben), was a great way to move the first act forward. His warm, flexible voice was a pleasure to hear and well-suited to the easy rhythms, melodies and blues inflections of this song. Charles Stanton, another fine baritone with an extended range, revealed the brightness and color of his voice as well as his considerable vocal skills in the lovely Weill song, "It Never Was You." John Cashwell, whose tenor voice is remarkable for its great range, power, flexibility and expressiveness, was in top form in "Lonely House" (from Weill's Street Scene). He was able to evoke with passion and dramatic skill the feelings of loss and alienation symbolized by a house devoid of life and underscore another idea: that each of us may well represent the great loneliness of life without love, with no connection to any other human soul. Another excellent tenor, Stafford Wing, who has been well-known in concert and operatic circles in the Triangle music community for a number of years, scored one of the big hits of the evening with his treatment of "Mack the Knife," perhaps the most famous of Weill's songs (Threepenny Opera). Although only good words can be said about this number, I personally preferred his moving, often-dramatic and often deeply nostalgic rendition of "September Song" (Knickerbocker Holiday).

A Blitzstein-Weill Cabaret Evening in Two Acts is part of Long Leaf Opera's celebration of its tenth year of presenting great music by fine singers to Triangle audiences. The high level of musical performance shown in this production suggests that Long Leaf Opera has established itself firmly in this community and that we may expect even more superb performances from this organization in the years ahead.

Note: This program will be repeated on 6/21, but as of this writing the event was nearly sold out, so it would be prudent to call ahead for tickets. For more information, see our calendar.