Opera is one of those art forms that has this way of adapting to every sort of performing medium, whether it is a full scale production at a major opera house or a single singer performing arias with piano accompaniment. The Inspirata Quartet provided a happy medium between those two extremes, and I must say that it was a performance that was far more satisfying than one would have thought. The group's tagline is “Opera In A Box.” Little did I know just how true this would prove. The performers literally changed backstage into costumes they extracted from a box onstage. It was a most refreshing way to hear some very familiar masterpieces. Soprano Elizabeth Claxton, mezzo Cheryse McLeod Lewis, tenor Duane Moody, and baritone Steven Jepson brought music by Bizet, Puccini, and Verdi to life in a most interesting fashion. Accompaniment was provided by the group's very able pianist, Benjamin Blozan. Insightful narrative was offered by Richard Whittington.
The evening presented by Music for a Great Space got off to a patriotic start with a very dramatic arrangement of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” As opposed to hearing just the first verse, the audience was treated to three. As soon as the song concluded, Mr. Blozan launched right into the overture to Carmen. Following were several arias from the work, including the famous “Habanera” which was most expertly done by Ms. Lewis and the “Toreador Song,” sung with great panache (and volume) by Mr. Jepson. Closing out this portion of the program was the finale, “C'est toi, c'est moi.” I found it to be as effective here as it would have been done at The Met. Mr. Moody and Ms. Lewis brought the fateful couple of Don Jose and Carmen to the fore, and poured their hearts out into the music. Not bad for just three performers.
Next up on the program were two short excerpts from Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème. This is an opera that no matter how many times it is done, it is loved every time. The two arias the audience heard were no exception. The two pieces were “O Mimi, tu piu non torni” and Musetta's waltz. There was some very fine singing on the part of Ms. Claxton in her first solo appearance of the night. Also wonderful were the two men in their aria, lamenting on love lost and their women. The audience gave a very warm reception to the extracts and set the stage well for the next set of arias on the second half.
Perhaps even more popular than La Bohème is Madama Butterfly, also by Puccini. From this work the audience heard two duets – the “Love Duet” and the “Flower Duet.” The chemistry between Ms. Claxton and Mr. Moody was electric – I held my breath for the duration of it. The whole sanctuary rang with their voices, and the duet closed with a wonderfully staged, romantic kiss between the two vocalists. Although it was but a short excerpt from a far larger work, the emotional level was still just as high. Following this incredible aria was the Flower Duet, sung by Ms. Lewis and Ms. Claxton. Although the situation of the aria is happy, one could hear in the music that all would not be well. The singing was wonderful – the two lady's voices complemented each other very well.
The last set of arias came from Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto. This is one of the most popular operas ever written (as were the other ones featured on the program), and it was clear that the performers had put a lot of time and work into the preparation of this last part of the program. The audience heard three selections – the Overture (played most expertly by Mr. Blozan), “Tutte le fests al tempio,” and “Un di, se ben rammentomi.” The second selection was a duet between Rigoletto and his daughter Gilda, after finding out that Gilda has been seeing the Count, and he becomes sad upon finding this news. The emotions ran very high in the duet, and the anticipation was set up well for the evening's final selection, a quartet that is the centerpiece of the famous Inn Scene in the opera. The overlapping of voices between the four singers was exquisite, and the clarity with which the words came through was very well executed; a very fine way to conclude the operatic portion of the night. The performance drew to a close with an encore of “Ev'ry Time I Feel The Spirit,” which brought the audience to a very warm standing ovation. All in all, a wonderfully musical evening that Greensboro will not soon forget.