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Frederica von Stade [Photo by Eric Melear]
23 Oct 2016

Arizona Opera’s Sapphire Celebration

On Saturday evening October 15, 2016, Arizona Opera celebrated forty-five unbroken years of presenting opera. The company first presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson and a few years later it was performing five operas per year in both Tucson and Phoenix.

Arizona Opera’s Sapphire Celebration

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Frederica von Stade [Photo by Eric Melear]


Sapphire is the stone that represent forty-five years and at Arizona Opera’s Sapphire Celebration patrons wore blues, dark and light, brilliant and matte fabrics, with deep toned genuine or sparkling faux jewels.

Conductor Ari Pelto opened the program with a slightly rough rendition of Mozart’s overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio. Everything fell into place, however, when Mistress of Ceremonies Frederica von Stade joined Marion Roose Pullin Studio Artist Alyssa Martin in the soaring melodic duet from the same composer’s The Marriage of Figaro, “Che soave zeffiretto,” (“A gentle zephir”). The second vocal selection echoed the company’s first opera from 1972, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, as Martin blended her mellifluous voice with that of suave young baritone Joseph Lattanzi in the Act I Scene 2 duet: “Tu non m’inganni” (“You don’t deceive me”).

Arizona Opera has a fine chorus directed by Henri Venanzi and its members showed their abillity to set a scene and elicit emotional responses with their rendition of “Patria Oppressa” (“Oppressed Fatherland”) from Verdi’s Macbeth. Later, they would show us a sunnier scene with their rendition of a chorus from Mascagni’s verismo opera, Cavalleria Rusticana.

Daniel Montenegro is a fine young tenor who gave an excellent rendition of “La donna è mobile,” (“Woman is Fickle”) from Verdi’s Rigoletto, reminding us all that “locker room talk” is as old as mankind. Montenegro and soprano Laquita Mitchell then sang the universally loved duet from the first act of Puccini’s La bohème that began “O suave fanciulla.” As is usually done in a staged version of the opera, they took the final note off stage.

Craig Verm scaled down his sizeable baritone sound to match the lyric tones of Andrew Stenson for the duet “Au fond du temple saint” (“Into the holy temple”) from Bizet’s The Pearlfishers. Verm followed it with the burnished bronze tones of “O Nadir, Tendre ami” (“O Nadir, dear friend”) while Stenson followed their duet with the plaintive aria ‘Una furtive lagrima” (“A furtive tear”) from Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love.

Before the intermission, Arizona Opera celebrated its success with a duet the company had never before performed. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi and bass-baritone Zachary Owen joined their strong, virile voices with the orchestra’s brass to sing the gracefully melodic “Suoni la tromba” (“Sound the trumpet”) from Bellini’s I Puritani. The company then brought the first half of the concert to a delightful end with the sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Rachele Gilmore was the deranged bride and her final high note was simply glorious.

After the intermission, Laquita Mitchell and Thomas Cannon caused vocal sparks to fly as they sang a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aida. In it, the Ethiopian king convinces his daughter to ask her Egyptian lover to commit treason and reveal the route by which Egyptian forces will march to Ethiopia.

As the evening wore on, the fare became a bit lighter. Coloratura soprano Rachele Gilmore and mezzo Mariya Kaginskaya sang a tuneful duet from Delibes’ Lakme about flowers blooming on a riverbank. Then Mistress of Ceremonies Frederica von Stade pretended to have drunk just one too many in a riotously funny version of “Ah, quel diner” from Offenbach’s La Perichole. Rachele Gilmore responded with her version of the mechanical doll from the same composer’s The Tales of Hoffmann.

Soprano Laquita Mitchell returned with an icy aria from Puccini’s Turandot and baritone Thomas Cannon countered with the universally loved “O du mein holder Abendstern” (“O you my blessed Evening Star”) from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Over the past decades, von Stade has sung myriad performances of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Here she sang the duet “La ci darem la mano” (“Give me your hand”) with every baritone on the program and it was a delight to watch. Crowning the evening was a rendition of “Make Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, featuring everyone not already onstage. The audience was thoroughly enthused and the sounds of applause were enormous. We will have to wait five more years for Arizona Opera’s fiftieth anniversary, but I guarantee it will be a fantastic celebration.

Maria Nockin

Cast and production information:

Conductor, Ari Pelto; Stage Director, Joshua Borths; Scenic Designer, Anthony Diaz; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Master of Ceremonies, Frederica von Stade; Sopranos: Rachele Gilmore, Laquita Mitchell; Mezzo-sopranos: Alyssa Martin, Mariya Kaginskaya; Tenors: Andrew Stenson, Daniel Montenegro; Baritones: Craig Verm, Thomas Cannon, Joseph Lattanzi; Bass-baritone, Zachary Owen.

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