Orchestral Music, Vocal Music Review



Rising Stars from the Met Grace Joint GOC-GSO Concert

November 6, 2004 - Greensboro, NC:


After a year for reorganization and planning, the future of opera in Greensboro again brightened as the Greensboro Opera Company joined forces with the Greensboro Symphony on November 6 in War Memorial Auditorium. GOC President Richard H. Hicks announced that the company will resume fully-staged productions in November 2005 with Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro; Artistic Director Valery Ryvkin, who has led a number of the company's productions and served on staffs of the Met and the San Francisco Opera, will conduct.

The centerpiece of the well-selected concert was soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge, star of last season's intense production of Lucia. Her consummate artistry was constantly evident: every high note was exactly in place and precisely pitched; her runs and sustained notes were magnificent; and the evenly-supported quality of her voice was evident throughout the evening's solos and ensembles. Her wide stage experience helped her bring each character to life. These ranged from the naïve Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, bursting with joy in "Ah! Je veux vivre," to the wise chambermaid, Adele, who knows all the angles, in the Laughing Aria, from Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus. Welch-Babidge, a native of Aulander, in Bertie County, is a graduate of the NC School of the Arts where she was a student of Marilyn Taylor.

It was pleasant to rediscover baritone Christopher Schaldenbrand, whose rock-solid performance as Guglielmo, in Mozart's Cosí fan tutte, had impressed us favorably at the 2002 Spoleto Festival USA, despite a heavy-handed stage director. His voice has marvelous timbre, is even throughout its range, and is graced by an ideal dark resonance in the lower register. (GOC might wish to line him up for a future production of Mozart's Don Giovanni.) In Riccardo's "Ah, per sempre," from Bellini's I Puritani, he portrayed the anguish of a rejected lover; in Wolfram's "O du mein holder Abendstern," from Wagner's Tannhäuser, he movingly evoked more selfless love.

With a bright and secure tenor voice, Garrett Sorenson made "Una furtiva lagrima," from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, a lovely jewel, and he managed to suggest a tear in Nemorino's voice with just a simple flow of melody, without any Gigli-like breaks in the line. Sorenson's finest performance was Lenski's Aria, the heartbreaking farewell to life from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, an opera that ought to be high on the GOC's "to-do" list.

The singers paired up for a series of fine duets. Sorenson was a believable "poor student" (the Duke in disguise) in the scene with Gilda, "E il sol dell'anima," from Rigoletto, although he was overshadowed by Welch-Babidge's rendition of the cloistered teen's "Caro nome." Still more satisfying were the blended timbres and colors in "Au fond du temple saint," the great duet from Bizet's Les pecheurs des perles, one of the glories of the repertoire. Sorenson's shining tenor entwined with Schaldenbrand's dusky resonance.. Welch-Babidge brought out Zerlina's inner conflict as the baritone's dulcet tones tempted her in the famous "Là ci darem la mano?" from Don Giovanni.

The grand finale, involving all three artists, was the Prison Scene that concludes Gounod's Faust. As the music soared at the end, the soprano's voice easily cut through the orchestra, rising heavenward.

Dmitry Sitkovetsky was a model accompanist throughout, reining in the dynamics of the orchestra to avoid covering the singers' lines or forcing them to strain, all the while securing sensitive phrasing and tight ensemble. Four short orchestral excerpts from operas gave the instrumentalists some of the limelight — the rousing Overture to Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, the Prelude to Act I of Verdi's La traviata, with wondrously expressive string choirs, and the Polonaise, from Eugene Onegin, and the famous Waltz, from Faust, both given with vigorous brass and insistent rhythms. Among the principal instrumentalists, Concertmaster John Fadial brought great sensitivity to his prominent solo during the Rigoletto duet.