It’s All About Love

Florentine’s Valentines concert features great singers performing with a jazz quartet.

By - Feb 3rd, 2019 01:43 pm
Baumgartner Studio Artists. Photo courtesy of the Florentine Opera Company.

Baumgartner Studio Artists. Photo courtesy of the Florentine Opera Company.

Proving the adage “things improve with age,” the Florentine Opera Company continues its 85th Anniversary Season with Con Amore: The Baumgartner Studio Artists in Concert, on February 8 – 10 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Think of it as a prelude to Valentine’s Day–without the roses and chocolate.

This is a hand-crafted concert featuring operatic love songs, ballads old and new, and Broadway tunes to help audiences explore all the different meanings and phases of love. The concert showcases the talents of the 2018-2019 Studio Artists: mezzo-soprano Briana Moynihan, tenor Nicholas Huff, soprano Nicole Heinen and Ohio born baritone Nathaniel Hill. Hill was a member of Studio Artists last year. They will be accompanied by staff pianist Ruben Piirainen

“This was a unique opportunity to work with the quartet,” Hill says. “It’s not often you get to perform with a jazz  quartet.”

That would be the Jamie Breiwick Quartet, also featured in the concert. Breiwick is a noted trumpeter, band leader, composer and educator. Breiwick has performed with jazz artists such as Adonis Rose, Ralph Bowen, Matt Wilson, Dan Nimmer and many others.

“There’s a wide variety of music in the show,” Hill said, “taking us through various stages of love.” Speaking of love, Hill fell in love with singing after he heard the voices in Puccini’s opera, Tosca, during his sophomore year in high school in Defiance, Ohio. It was a very small town and most of Hill’s friends had never heard of opera, so he didn’t have a lot of exposure.

Nathaniel Hill. Photo courtesy of the Florentine Opera Company.

Nathaniel Hill. Photo courtesy of the Florentine Opera Company.

“I think it helps when you know the story ahead of time,” Hill says. “I was into musical theater,” he adds, and played guitar through his childhood. He says natural talent goes a long way but we shouldn’t discount influences from an early age.

“My parents always had songs on the stereo,” Hill recalls. “There was a lot of Elvis. My mother took me to see a lot of musicals, shows in Toledo and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Once I showed an interest in musical theater they supported me all the way.” Hill says Defiance High School was small, but did what it could to promote the arts.

He went on to Indiana University in Bloomington to pursue his bachelor’s degree. “They have a great music program, and then I moved on to a master’s degree in voice at Northwestern.” During his studies he spent a lot of his time learning languages, became proficient in Italian, French, German and Russia. “I would say I understand the languages and if I picked up a simple article, I could get through it. Come up with words in the right syntax.”

Hill says it’s opera that burns in his heart. “My favorite opera is Glory Denied. It’s about the longest serving Vietnam prisoner of war in military history. I do gravitate toward modern American opera. We are leaning more toward theater in opera, providing a more intimate storytelling. New works tend to be specifically relevant, focusing on social issues.”

Working with familiar cast members makes things a little easier for Hill. “I tend to learn something from each performer,” he says. “There are so many rewarding experiences, performers from different backgrounds. I’ve worked with so many people from large cities like New York and San Francisco, and they’re all so happy to share, help you learn.”

Hill has performed on both coasts but hasn’t been onstage in Europe. “Not yet. Mostly in the Midwest. Some on east and west coasts.” He says he’d love to do this forever but is pragmatic: “Everyone’s voice has a shelf-life. If I can no longer perform at a top level I can see myself teaching, But there are way more performers searching than there are jobs in this country. It can be a tough lifestyle with all the travel. I love it, but can see where it takes its toll.”

Like many performers, Hill says he has a favorite. “Mine is Sir Thomas Allen. He’s sang professionally since 1969. He’s a baritone so there’s an immediate connection. You tend to gravitate to the people that sing like you do. Even in his mid-twenties he was singing lead roles.” Now in his 70s, Allen performs every so often. “His technique was so good,” Hill marvels. “I try to emulate his technique and we sing a lot of the same repertoire.”

In Con Amore, Hill gets to sing a variety of music. “It’s nice because outside of this show I don’t get to sing a ton of jazz. We’ll do songs like “My Funny Valentine,” and Cole Porter.

Hill notes a local creative team made up of Dylan Sladky as stage director and Marisa Abbott as lighting designer will help transform the Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall into an intimate and romantic cabaret. You know, a kind of Valentine’s Day mood.

Shows are Friday, February 8 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, February 9 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 10 at 2:30 p.m. at the Wilson Theater in Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range in price from $30 – $75.

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