October 12, 2006

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CLASSICAL REVIEWS
Review by Margo Nothnagel news@hippopress.com

'Belle Voci' sings top notch opera
Opera lovers and enthusiasts were greatly entertained on Saturday, Oct. 7 by Belle Voci's "An Evening at the Opera" held at the Manchester Unitarian Universalist Church. The cast included founder and soprano Karol Carroll, permanent members Marta Ebel, soprano, Kathryn Southworth, piano, and marked the introduction of new permanent member Christopher Porth, tenor.

Guest artists included Kim Bolling, soprano, Janice Edwards, mezzo-soprano, Emily Jaworski, soprano, and Mark Andrew Cleveland, bass.

The ensemble presented a well-rounded and impressive performance of semi-staged scenes that depict love, betrayal, rivalry, and seduction. Familiar tunes such as "Toreador" from Bizet's Carmen, "Barcarolle" from Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffman, and "Bess, you is my woman" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess were interspersed with twenty-one separate scenes of solos, duets, and ensembles in two acts that stretched from Baroque to Classical, Romantic, and 20th century eras. Languages included German, French, Italian, English, and Czech and all were accompanied by Kathryn Southworth at the piano.

The evening was a success not only due to the range of repertoire presented but the musical feats of flexibility, dynamics, and expression. The most successful scenes seemed to be when the singers directly connected with each other or with the audience.

The first act opened with an ensemble piece and Mark Andrew Cleveland as soloist. Cleveland's voice was deep and powerful in both his low and high ranges and his face was quite expressive as he drew the audience in to the drama of his story. It was clear from this opening piece that the ensemble interacts well together as Cleveland, a prized bull-fighter from Bizet's Carmen, described his profession.

Marta Ebel's presentation of the beautiful "Moon" aria from Dvorak's Rusalka was very Romantic in harmony and affect. Her voice was sometimes too soft, but the full spectrum of her instrument showed when she opened up through the top of her range to express her love for a human prince.

The word-for-word translation in this scene's description was very helpful in understanding Ebel's movements and emotion. In the second Act, Ms. Ebel presented a scene from Verdi's Ernani with elegance and her voice was expressive in this virtuosic aria.

Next we heard Italian aria "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere Siviglia by Karol Carroll. Carroll's performance included much body movement and her voice was bright, her diction clear, her coloratura impressive, and she evoked laughter from the audience at one point. A shining moment for Carroll was her duet with Cleveland as Bess in Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" in the second Act. The couple worked well together as they overflowed with happiness in their love.

Christopher Porth sang the famous Verdi aria "La donna è mobile" from Verdi's opera Rigoletto with ease as insisted that women are fickle creatures. His voice was clear and true and it seemed easy for him to gracefully sing from low to high register and to enjoy the dramatic high notes of this aria. He complimented others well in duets in the second Act, although it was much less distracting when he did not use music, and his dramatic instincts were also evident.

Janice Edward's rendition of French aria "Mon Coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila was the highlight of the first Act. Edward's voice seemed to flow like deep, dark velvet and was full and rich as she sang this seductive song to Dalila in order to entrap him. The piano echoed the Romantic themes from the vocal part and the scene evoked much appreciation from the audience.

Kim Bolling's finest moment came in the second Act when she sang the aria "Ach, ich fühl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. Bolling's strength as a singer was indicated in her beautiful execution of this aria that expresses loneliness. Her voice rang and she moved the audience with her range of dynamics and by looking directly at the audience.

In Emily Jaworski's presentation of Handel's "V'adoro, pupille" from Giulio Cesare her face was less expressive as she seduces Caesar from afar, yet her voice seemed to float easily and effortlessly to the highest part of her range and made a very solid performance.

The turns and ornamentation on the repetition of musical material were also very impressive.

The second act focused on the ensemble singing duets and celebrated, in part, Mozart's 250th birthday by dedicating over a third of the arias to him. Highlights were the opening "Barcarolle" by Offenbach where the ladies ensemble blended together in this beautiful and lush harmony in thirds and Janice Edwards again made a very strong impression on the audience with Moore's "I send these lacy nothings" as she realizes her husband's betrayal.

Porth and Carroll added much as duet partners especially in Mozart's aria "Non ti fidar, o misera" which ends in the ensemble racing off-stage as drama came to a climax in Act I of Don Giovanni.

The evening ended with an ensemble piece titled "Sing to love" by Richard Strauss when Kathryn Southworth's piano accompaniment again guided the music and added much expression. The singers began in unison and then sang the theme in a round while the piano presented a waltz.

The two encores presented the group in a playful light while Porth and Cleveland fought for the stage in the popular Italian song "O solo mio" and the ladies join the men in a final performance complete with feather boas.

One could see the group's strength in cabaret and Broadway genres as well from this evening of opera and would encourage all to attend the upcoming Christmas Concert "Unabashedly Christmas" on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester.

The group's Web site bellevoci.org also includes full descriptions of the permanent members of the ensemble.


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