Sopranos Susan Dunn and Penelope Jensen and mezzo-soprano Phyllis Tektonidis, of the Duke University music faculty, invited baritone William Adams of the Elon University faculty to join them to present "An Evening at the Opera" in Baldwin Auditorium on February 23. The public was invited, too, but way too few came. Adams was a late substitution for Wayne Lail, who had to withdraw just under two weeks before curtain. Jane Hawkins and David Heid, faculty/staff accompanists, shared, not quite 50-50, the duties at the piano, each turning pages for the other.
This was a program of trios, duets, solo arias and one mini-scene from various operas that were performed in a style halfway between recital and full staging, with stage entrances and exits and appropriate on-stage movement and minimal acting but in recital attire rather than costume and with a shell as backdrop. Works were performed from memory by everyone but Adams, who used scores on a music stand for all but his solo aria, and Dunn, who held a score in the closing trio.
Opening the evening's festivities was a lively rendition of the trio, "Susanna, or via sortite!" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, featuring Adams, Dunn and Jensen, with Heid playing. Next came the aria "Faites-lui mes aveux" from Gounod's Faust, performed, with Heid at the keyboard, by Tektonidis, who gathered the flowers to which she sang her plea. Then we were treated to a spirited presentation of a mini-scene from Mozart's Così fan tutte, sung by Jensen, Dunn and Tektonidis (Heid still accompanying): the recitative "Andante là," the aria "Una donna a quindici anni," and the recitative "Sorella, cosa dici?" followed by the duet "Prenderò quel brunettino." Adams next sang the aria "Se vuol ballare" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, again with Heid accompanying. The duet "Viens, Mallika" from Delibes' Lakmé, performed by Jensen and Tektonidis, with Hawkins taking over the keyboard, followed this. The rendition and the blending of the voices were particularly lovely, and the conclusion was sung, appropriately, offstage. The first half concluded with Dunn, accompanied by her regular partner Heid, giving a powerful reading of the aria "Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's La Forza del destino.
The second half began with Jensen's beautiful and graceful rendition of the aria "Se pietà di me non senti" from Handel's Giulio Cesare, with Hawkins accompanying. Heid took over the keyboard again to accompany Adams and Tektonidis in the duet "Well, of all people" from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. Next Dunn (again with Heid) gave a stirring rendition of the aria "Dich, teure Halle"--addressed to the performance space--from Wagner's Tannhaüser. There followed the trio "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Così fan Tutte, sung by Adams, Jensen and Tektonidis, with Hawkins accompanying; this was another presentation where the blend of the voices particularly impressed. Then we were treated to a poignant rendition by Tektonidis (again with Hawkins at the keyboard) of the aria "Voce di donna" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda. The evening concluded with the trio "Gut, Söhnchen, gut" from Beethoven's Fidelio, with Hawkins playing for Adams, Dunn and Jensen.
Diction was generally excellent throughout the evening, although Tektonidis' French was not quite right, as I had felt when hearing her recital a short while ago. This reviewer, a speaker of French with native proficiency, professional translator and interpreter, has finally figured out what is wrong. It is not that the sounds are incorrect, for they are not; it's that they are placed too far back in the mouth. French is a very frontal language, in contrast to the more guttural German. I was always accused of speaking German like a Frenchman when I studied it. Tektonidis tends to sound somewhat like a German singing in French when she sings in that language. This is also, of course, partly the function of her voice, which is that of a true mezzo (not simply a soprano who can't hit the high notes!) and which is really lovely. As noted above, she was involved in two of the numbers where the vocal blend was especially striking.
Accompaniment was also generally excellent throughout the evening, although, perhaps out of habit, Heid tends not to reduce his volume adequately in forte and fortissimo portions to accommodate voices less large than Dunn's. Hence Hawkins' playing seemed a bit more nuanced and better adjusted to the individual voices.
No libretti texts were provided although synopses were given to set the stage for the listener, along with succinct, pleasantly unpretentious artist bios.
This was much more enjoyable than tuning in to a Three Tenors show on PBS! Let's have more.