Wednesday, April 2, 2014

PORTopera: Maine's Divas Come Home!

Last evening, PORTopera kicked off its 20th season with a concert titled: Maine’s Divas Come Home! at University of Maine’s Hannaford Hall. The Maine Divas were: Mezzo, Kate Aldrich and sopranos, Ashley Emerson and Suzanne Nance, accompanied by the excellent pianist Martin Perry.

The concert opened with an energetic four hand arrangement (I did not catch the name of the second pianist) of the overture to Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, which led into the ladies’ (all looking senational) Three Little Maids From School, establishing a tone of camaraderie and playful humor between singers and audience, and (as much as allowed) semi-staging. Ms. Aldrich and Ms. Emerson danced barefoot as Hansel and Gretel in Humperdinck's best-known duets, including the touching Evening Prayer, ending by picking up their shoes and quietly exiting the stage during the postlude.

Ms. Nance followed nicely with I Have Dreamt from Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, later (after a dramatic costume change) camping it up brilliantly in a marvelously sung Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß from Lehàr’s Giuditta.

The first real "Diva at the Opera” moment arrived when Ms. Aldrich, fresh from recent performances of Donizetti’s La Favorite in Toulouse, began Leonor’s O mon Fernand, the audience cheering as Ms. Aldrich held “the pose,” then launched into the cabaletta, tearing through Mon arrêt descend du ciel, filling the hall with dramatic tension, powerful sound and causing the audience to erupt into a genuine ovation. Later, Aldrich topped even that performance with a beautiful rendition of Sesto’s Parto, Parto ma tu ben mio from La Clemenza di Tito, her performance reminding me of Agnes Balsta’s some years ago. Awesomeness ensued in a terrific sense of line, perfect trills and remarkable, clear agility through Mozart’s difficult, rapid fire coloratura passages.

The program noted it was subject to “inspired whims of our divas” and Ashley Emerson wisely switched out Gilda’s Caro nome for Susanna’s De vieni non tardar - a much nicer given the mostly light mood of the evening, her clean, light lyric voice, even and radiant throughout the range. Later, appearing in a white party dress and roller skates, she literally rolled onto the stage, working limbs and skates into a musically excellent and hilarious Les oiseaux dans la charmille from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. The audience ate it up, skates, high notes and all.

Duets included two of the most popular, the Flower Duet from Delibe’s Lakmé and the Barcarolle from Hoffmann. Both beautifully sung.

The evening ended with more comedy, 3 divas having difficulty trying to “share”" I Could Have Danced All Night, the mezzo predictably getting the short end of the stick before exerting a little mezzo vendetta stealing the limelight, before all three concluded it harmoniously. The single encore was a reprise of Three Little Maid's, each maid wearing an iconic Maine image (Emerson in a lobster bib, Aldrich in wool gloves and Nance in a parka), with cleverly reworked lyrics and inventive rhymes such as "lobstah" with "PORTopera." The evening could not possibly have been more fun. Well, okay, the final trio from Der Rosenkavalier would've been a nice touch, but I'm not going to complain!

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