The Central Piedmont Community College Opera Theatre has presented Bel Canto and Can Belto, a musical revue that juxtaposed opera and rock, featuring music ranging from Puccini to Zeplin. The event, with few inconsistencies, was an exciting showcase of local talent.

Soloists Dawn Anthony and Matt Carlson opened the show stomping, clapping, and singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” The two were supported by a five-member rhythm section and an almost 20-member chorus (led by Maestro Alan Yamamoto). Shortly thereafter, Carlson transitioned into “Barcelona,” a half-opera/half-rock duet originally sung by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and opera singer Montserrat Caballé. Covering Caballé’s part was director Rebecca Cook-Carter, who later stated in an introduction that it was this song that inspired the theme of the whole show. This theme of musical contrast was not only entertaining but also important in its implicit statement about making equal space for and recognizing the value of different genres.

All musical arrangements were by pianist Noel Freidline, who also led the five-member band. Accompaniment for operatic pieces was provided by pianist Carol Edmonds.

The show featured several soloists, including Anthony and Carlson, who excelled in a variety of genres. After “Barcelona” came another soloist standout, Alexis Croy, who projected and expressed cleanly in “Ah, non credea mirarti” from Vincenzo Bellini‘s La Sonnambula, as well as later tearing it up in Heart’s “Barracuda.”

All of the soloists, accompaniment, and chorus expressed tremendous energy through each song, and while there was no credited choreographer or choreography, every participant felt free to add his/her own moves and take up space.

Soloists, chorus, and accompaniment kept up well together in terms of time and tone although, throughout, there tended to be some imbalances in dynamics. The band was often too loud for the soloists who, at times, were drowned out. Occasionally, the opposite occurred with the chorus when the soloist’s microphone was too loud. Consequently, when the chorus came in, instead of supporting and lifting up the dynamics, it was heard with little impact. However, these inconsistencies did not define the performance. There were, in fact, several exceptional moments when balance between chorus and soloist was very powerful, including (but not limited to) The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and the finale, which was in fact the finale of Act III of Carmen.

The show was possibly at its best when Anthony was at hers, as in “Black Coffee,” a jazz standard made famous by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Anthony slid up and down her wide range, belting strongly and at times seemingly whispering notes. Anthony was supported by Freidline, who grooved as she sang and then took a versatile tempo-shifting and style-changing solo (even featuring a musical allusion to “Rhapsody in Blue”) in the middle.

“Black Coffee” was certainly a climax, but one which came with a question: why is it that a concert made up of half ‘belting’ (“Can Belto”) pieces featured only one song in the jazz/soul tradition? Most of the other belting tunes were rock, and not a single one was by an African American composer (“Black Coffee” was written by Sonny Burke, who was white). This felt like an oversight, seeing as how it was blues and R&B, strongly rooted in African American culture, that eventually led to rock and roll. A strong, soulful, belting style is characteristic of the two former styles as much as the latter. Many of the rock songs in the concert were backed by the choir in a gospel manner, harking to yet another traditionally African American musical genre. With such aparent African American influences, it seemed remiss not to directly feature any soul, R&B, or gospel tunes on the program or to perform a single piece written by an African American songwriter.

Bel Canto and Can Belto was an energy-filled program that showcased a talented group of singers and musicians. It also made an important statement in performing two different musical styles together. Having two different styles performed side-by-side set the two forms on an equal and respectful playing field, something which is not always done in the arts arena. Putting together two very different styles on the same stage should not only bring together musicians of different backgrounds but also audiences of different backgrounds and interests. And although the composers on the program may have lacked diversity, the cast and the audience certainly didn’t. Everyone on stage and in the house enjoyed this well-executed and lively performance.