It was a bittersweet evening as a capacity crowd packed Bösendorfer Hall at Ruggero Piano on June 28 for the farewell appearances of Fourth Friday Mix’s longtime MC and co-founder Eric Hale and his faithful accompanist and artistic partner Sue Timmons, who bade farewell to their appreciative audience with a celebratory program of songs, arias, and solo pieces that included the regional premiere of a new song cycle marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Things got underway with a tribute to Jewish soul food (as one wag put it) in the form of Alan Menken’s “Pink Fish,” inimitably delivered by Hale and Timmons. (They could have left it there, but at the reception there was a cake featuring bagels with lox atop them, floating in a sea of cream cheese – or so it appeared.)

Psychiatric nurse practitioner Ann Forsthoefel – ideally prepared, educationally, to sing opera! – performed arias from Puccini’s Tosca, Weill’s Threepenny Opera, and Menotti’s The Consul with charm and skill, partnered by pianist S.K. Chipley. The soprano is currently studying with Katherine Posner.

The phenomenal Richard Reid, something of a FFM mainstay, returned to play five richly-varied pieces by Rachmaninoff, nailing two preludes, two Études-Tableaux, and Old Stoneface’s transcription of Kreisler’s “Liebesfreud” – all to great acclaim.

Mezzo-soprano Monica Szabo-Nyeste‘s name will be familiar to readers of NC Opera programs but her solo appearance on this occasion, accompanied by Eva Mengelkoch, demonstrated her superior vocal and interpretive gifts. The two gave the regional premiere of a work by Juliana Hall first given just months ago in Seattle. Through the Guarded Gate celebrates women’s struggles in lyrics by Margaret Widdemer, who lived a long time but whose poems used here are said to have dated from around the time women’s suffrage was approved. As noted by the singer, these are remarkably timely works that address not only the vote but also war plus modern women and their sufferings and joys.

Hale and Timmons made farewell remarks and were presented plaques by Richard Ruggero before enchanting the crowd with ditties by Tom Lehrer and Amanda McBroom. And then there was that cake….

FFM gave literally hundreds of young (and some not so young) regional artists priceless opportunities to perform on stage before appreciative audiences – and with superb pianos always at the ready. This constitutes a public service of considerable magnitude, for which area music lovers must be grateful. Let us hope the series will – as announced – continue, although Eric’s and Sue’s shoes are Brobdingnagian – one of the few words thought not to have been uttered by these folks at any point during their joint reign.

This program was in our calendar here.