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Those of a certain age will remember the debut of a vinyl album called “Opera for People Who Hate Opera,” a notion with many subsequent imitators. The originators of that concept were present in spirit, and smiling, at Koka Booth Amphitheatre on an agreeable Saturday evening. There, conductor Timothy Myers led the North Carolina Opera orchestra and four highly-credentialed soloists in the program “Opera in the Pines,” employing sixteen of the genre’s most delectable bonbons.
After several days of fulminating and threatening, the weather gods could not have been more benevolent, visiting altogether salutary climatic conditions upon the grateful crowd.
The orchestra led off the festivities with the Overture from Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila. They later contributed the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, to be followed still later with the stirring Prelude to Act 1 of Bizet’s Carmen, about which more shortly.
D’Ana Lombard brought a sparkling soprano to three selections. In addition to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly “Love Duet” with tenor Garrett Sorenson, she offered Leoncavallo’s “Stridono lassu” from Pagliacci, and she excelled in Puccini’s taxing standard aria from Tosca, “Vissi d’arte.”
Mezzo Sarah Mesko was featured in “Una voce poko fa” from The Barber of Seville by Rossini, and in “Seguidilla" from Carmen. The dark richness of her contralto-quality voice was on superb display in yet another standard showpiece, “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from the Saint-Saëns Sampson and Delilah.
As a last moment substitute for the ailing Jonathan Burton, the aforementioned Sorenson was able to hit the ground running, with no apparent hitch in the program flow. “Ch’ella mi creda” from Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West and the great “Flower Song” from Carmen proved to be ideal vehicles for his mellow tenor with no hint of stridency. It was a pleasure to hear him and the wonderful baritone Tim Mix in the robust duet, “Dio che nell’alma,” from Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Speaking of Tim Mix, his powerful baritone teamed with saxophone (by a fine non-credited player) for a rendition of Massenet’s “Vision Fugitive” from Hérodiade. He set a high bar for all aspiring baritones soon after intermission with everybody’s favorite, the “Toreador Song” from Carmen.
In that “Toreador Song” and in the Bizet Prelude mentioned above, the audience was presented with an uplifting treat: The orchestra was approximately doubled in size by a group of young musicians from Kidznotes. (Kidznotes changes the life trajectory of underserved K-12 students through orchestral training.) These performers were chosen from among some 300 youths in 5 Durham and 3 Raleigh elementary schools. Many lent their vocal talents as a chorus in support of Mix in the toreador solo.
So, kudos to Kidznotes for serving the underserved, to Myers and the North Carolina Opera for this second annual “Opera in the Pines,” and finally to that cast of splendid performers who breathed fresh life into those celebrated operatic standards. What better way could you think of to usher in a joyous Mothers’ Day weekend?