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Young people aspiring to a career in musical theatre need to be a "triple threat." They need to sing, to act and to dance. Not all three talents need be at a virtuoso level, but all three must be available before they dare to audition for Broadway or the London East End. Opera singers don't generally need to dance, although they should move on stage in a manner consistent with their role. Because they don't often dance, I used to think that opera singers needed to be only a "dual threat." But Thursday at the Porter Center, I realized that each of the thirty singers comprising the Janiec Opera Company of the Brevard Music Center represent a different kind of "triple threat." Every one of these students can sing, can act, and in addition has a personality that distinguishes them.
From the moment that the young singers entered the rear of the hall and moved down the aisles singing "What a joy to be here!" from Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Die Fledermaus, audience members were entranced. Each singer displayed distinct character, and we wanted to get to know each individual better.
And we did. In addition to three massed choruses, the program included duets, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets that showcased their individual talents. The title of the concert was "Opera's Greatest Hits," and the concert made one realize just why these pieces are so familiar to opera lovers. They are classics. Five selections from Mozart, two each from Handel, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini, rounded out by one each from Donizetti, Strauss and Monteverdi (L'incoronazione di Poppea). Every one of the thirty students made at least one appearance.
The twenty-person pit orchestra (a mix of faculty and students) played orchestral overtures (Mozart's The Magic Flute and Handel's Gulio Cesare) at the beginning of each half, and the fourteen vocal selections were split evenly before and after intermission. There were too many selections to review each one in detail, but the overall effect was to make us marvel at the extravagant talent. I will have a lasting impression of hearing Mozart's famous "Pa...pa...pa..." duet delivered by baritone August Bair and soprano Sara Law as Papageno and Papagena. Also outstanding were Laurie Ann Taylor, Kevin Gino, Matthew Queen and a wonderful Evelyn Saavedra as Musetta in Puccini's Act III quartet from La Bohème. I enjoyed soprano Caroline Dunigan in her two appearances but especially as Mozart's Donna Elvira. We heard not one but two student countertenors (Rudy Giron and Guillaume Poudrier) in selections from Handel and Monteverdi. Tenor Alexander Sheerin and soprano Asleif Willmer also impressed this listener. It would be unfair to the other nineteen singers if I didn’t mention them by name also.*
All these works were presented with conviction by students who could have been mistaken for seasoned professionals. Were there defects? Sure. For example, the balance between voices was not always perfect, but it should be noted that this concert was staged after just one rehearsal with orchestra. One of the distinctions between a student and a professional is that the professional needs less preparation time because he or she can draw on prior experience. The student has more limited experience to call on. One of the valuable aspects of the Brevard Music Festival is that it gives all musicians, singers and instrumentalists alike, a taste of performing one program after another with little time for preparation, the way that professionals must.
The concert ended with the massed chorus back on stage, having just sung Verdi's "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves." Then Dean Anthony, director of the Janiec Opera Company, spoke to the audience. He remarked to the recent death of Henry Janiec, music director of the Brevard Music Center from 1964 to 1996, who had initiated and grown this powerful teaching program and continued to share conducting duties well into the twenty-first century. As a tribute to Maestro Janiec, the chorus sang an encore, "Coro a bocca chiusa" ("Humming Chorus") from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. This was a fitting final expression of the young singers' personality: their gratitude for the valuable teaching festival that Janiec has bequeathed to them.
For more information on this summer's offerings through the Brevard Music Institute and Festival, visit our calendar.
* Alphabetically, the others are Rachel Anthony, Brandon Bell, Brianna Bragg, Melanie Burbules, Steele Fitzwater, Matthew Fleisher, Myles Garver, Allyson Goff, Jennifer Judd, Jennie Moser, Andrew O'Shanick, Mackenzie Phillips, Christina Scanlan, Frederick Schlick, Camille Sherman, Orin Strunk, Elisa Sunshine, Adam Wells and Tyler Wolowicz.