Kat Murrell

NEW! UWM shows off the next generation of opera stars

"An Evening of Opera Arias" featured moving, theatrical solos and duets from the UWM Opera Theatre on Saturday.

By - May 13th, 2012 05:03 pm

On the cusp of summer, there is a sense of accomplishment in the air. Another semester ends and graduation days approach.

For students in UWM’s Opera Theatre, Saturday’s program, An Evening of Opera Arias, represented a fine culmination of study and preparation.

The stage of the Helen Bader Concert Hall was set sparsely with only a grand piano, played by Kerry Hart Bieneman, the musical director and accompanist for the evening. The singers began the program with a Mozart-dominated repertoire, augmented by selections from Beethoven, Rossini, Offenbach and others. Each piece was performed in a foreign language, showcasing their abilities to perform European selections.

After intermission, singers returned for pieces in English, many featuring theatrical interpretations. One of the most interesting parts of the evening was the opportunity to hear the variety of voices and styles among these musicians. Though still early in their careers, each has a distinctive voice and presence.

Highlights of the evening included a number of duets alongside the solo arias. Soprano Kelly Behling and baritone Niklas Eden paired up for “Bei Männern” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Their tone and chemistry was light and charming, and Behling has a particularly supple, sweet voice, shown to great effect.

Another standout artist of the evening was soprano Gladys Rodriguez-Olleros, who sang in a solo and two duets. She had an absolutely effortless quality to her singing, and tremendous charisma.

But the evening’s most dramatic performance came from mezzo-soprano Lauren Decker. Decker, who also performed a duet with Rodriguez-Olleros, performed “To This We’ve Come,” from Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul. With nothing more than a red dress and a simple piece of paper as a prop, her phrasing and gestures brought palpable drama to the stage.

Theatricality of a comedic sort was found in a duet by Kaitlin Topinka and Rebecca Strelitzer, singing the soprano and mezzo-soprano parts, respectively, of “Where am I?” from Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. They, too, brought the dramatic elements of opera to the concert stage, and elicited a few laughs for their playful characterization in this lighthearted piece.

Male singers were also well-represented. Confident tenor Bryan Ross sang in both halves of the program, finishing with a duet with strong soprano Gina Graffagna: the ensemble piece “Make Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. Dustin Hertzog also made multiple appearances, showing great fashion sense with a polka dot bow tie and cummerbund that added a dash of playfulness to his demeanor. But when singing in impassioned fashion, as in Gioachino Rossini’s aria from Guillaume Tell, “Sois immobile,” he was all business.

The evening was one of high-quality music, and though the occasional extreme high or low note was a bit unfinished around the edges, it was a memorable program featuring the next generation of opera.

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