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Christine Brewer [Photo by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera]
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Concert of Arias by Arizona Opera

Advertised as ‘ A night of powerful music with today’s superstars,’ Arizona Opera’s concert of opera arias definitely lived up to those words.

Arias by Arizona Opera

Christine Brewer, Dolora Zajick (March 6, 12, 14), Daveda Karanas (March 7, 13), Richard Margison and Gordon Hawkins. Arizona Opera. Joel Revzen: Conductor.

Above: Christine Brewer

All photos by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera


Generally, one goes to the opera to hear an entire masterwork, but here we were treated to a succession of the arias and ensembles that have helped to make the operas which contain them famous. It was a perfect program for introducing people to opera and quite a few young faces were to be seen in both the Tucson and Phoenix theaters.

On March 6 in Tucson and March 12 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented this evening of arias and ensembles together with a few orchestral excerpts. At the Tucson concert, mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas substituted for Dolora Zajick who was ill. Karanas won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2008 and was later awarded an Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera. She has a smooth, buttery quality to her voice and she sang the aria, ‘La luce langue,’ from Verdi’s Macbeth with considerable dramatic power. Her rendition of ‘O don fatale' from the same composer’s Don Carlo soared over the orchestration with sumptuous tones as did her lines in the Bellini duet ‘Mira, o Norma’

On March 12, the Phoenix concert featured soprano Christine Brewer, mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, tenor Richard Margison and baritone Gordon Hawkins along with the Arizona Opera Orchestra directed by Joel Revzen. The opening selection was the overture to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and it served to show that this group of players has become an excellent orchestra capable of playing the most complex music with ease. The brass instruments, in particular, produced a sumptuous expanse of blended sound.

AZ_Opera_01.gifGordon Hawkins and Richard Margison

The vocal program opened with Christine Brewer singing a rousing version of ‘Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?’ from Beethoven’s Fidelio and she set a very high standard for the rest of the concert. She and Richard Margison then sang the duet from the last act of that same opera with great intensity and resonance.

Gordon Hawkins sang ‘Eri tu’ from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera with dark and robust tonal colours. Later, he would perform Jack Rance’s aria ‘Minnie dalla mia casa’ from Puccini’s La fanciulla del west and join Margison in the duet ‘Dio, che nell’alma infondere’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo. All of Hawkins’ singing was powerful and passionate but, unfortunately, he had a persistent excess of vibrato on his top notes.

Dolora Zajick first sang ‘La luce langue’ from Verdi’s Macbeth. Her ability to act with the voice is legendary, and she put it to good use here. Later her luminous, powerful voice was heard in a riveting ‘O don Fatale’ and a resplendent rendition of the duet ‘Mira o Norma’ with Brewer. Richard Margison delved into Puccini for ‘Nessun dorma’ from Turandot and concluded with the Prize Song from Die Meistersinger. He delivered both selections with keen intelligence and blazing high notes.

The orchestra, seated on stage instead of hidden in the pit for a change, played several pieces that its members might not normally get to perform: the overture to Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, the overture to Verdi’s Luisa Miller and the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. Revzen is a fine interpreter of Russian music and he brought out all the fine points of the Tchaikovsky. The Luisa Miller is a very difficult piece and it served to show that this group could perform the most detailed music with consummate accuracy. Although Puccini wrote his Manon at the beginning of his career, his unique sonorities cut right to the emotions of the listener.

Brewer brought this wonderful concert to a close with a lyrical but full-powered rendition of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Needless to say, the applause at the end was deafening, but it only started after a moment in which the listeners continued to absorb the emotional impact of the music. Next season Arizona Opera will perform five fully staged operas instead of four and a concert. Perhaps in a future year they will again give us a concert similar to this truly memorable evening.

Maria Nockin

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