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In Good Company

Symphony Hall
01/24/2008 -  and January 26, 27 (Tucson February 2, 3)
40th Anniversary Gala Concert: Famous opera overtures, arias, and ensembles
Emily Pulley (soprano), Carl Halvorson (tenor), Donnie Ray Albert (baritone). Arizona Opera Orchestra, Joel Revzen (conductor).

Arizona Opera was brilliantly celebrating its 40th anniversary last night.
Phoenix, AZ. You have to see it to believe it. Five hundred thousand inhabitants in the fifties. Four million today. With such a sprawling increase in population, added to global warming issues, the magnificent Sonoran Desert is dangerously shrinking.
Phoenix, AZ. Brutal and endless summers. Any Arizonian visiting the desert of “La Crau” in Southeast of France would most likely laugh at Mireille’s : “Voici la vaste plaine et le désert de feu.” Oh, really? May I borrow a sweater, Monsieur Gounod?

Outside the US, Arizona is famous for its Grand Canyon, its basketball team, its football teams, and its giant Saguaro cacti. Some cultured foreigners may also have heard of a visionary architect by the name of Frank Lloyd Wright. However, quite frankly, no one will ask you if you attended an opera, one of the fifteen symphonic concerts, or one of the fifteen ballet performances this season in the Valley of the Sun.
Yet, for 40 years, Arizona Opera has consistently offered good quality opera seasons (five productions for five performances each, two in Tucson and three in Phoenix), mixing standard repertory with productions of less-performed works, e.g., Menotti’s The Consul, Handel’s Semele, Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. Few superstars here, but rigorous professionals and music lovers serving an audience of connoisseurs and, occasionally, one outstanding production worthy of the most famous opera houses: The Ring Cycle in 1984, and, more recently, Pearl Fishers, or Macbeth.

With all the flowers decorating the proscenium and the elegant audience, the Symphony Hall last night was beginning to look like Carnegie Hall the night of a gala concert. The entire orchestra, along with four promising young soloists, were placed under the baton of Musical Director Joel Revzen. It is impossible to give a comprehensive account of the eighteen “hits” (arias, ensembles, and overtures) that had been selected for the evening. We do regret, however, that the program did not include a few less-performed pieces, or one or two excerpts taken from the American repertoire.
The evening started with the overture of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. The orchestra produces a beautiful, transparent sound with Revzen demonstrating an unequivocal sense of Mozart’s brilliant score where grace and apparent light-heartedness intertwine with deeper, more solemn tones. Later in the evening, the overture of Carmen was yet another occasion for the orchestra to shine.

Emily Pulley’s sensitive rendition of La Bohème’s “Mi chiamano Mimì” is convincing. Although Carl Halvorson appears to be a true lyrical tenor, he did not seem quite comfortable in Lenski’s aria (Eugene Onegin). On the other hand, he demonstrated elegant lyricism and an impeccable pronunciation of French in Des Grieux’ “En fermant les yeux” (Manon). Carolyn Betty‘s dramatic soprano did fair justice to the first part of Leonora’s aria “Tacea la notte placida” but her cabaletta appeared to lack conviction. Baritone Donnie Ray Albert compelled recognition for his stylish rendition of “Cortigiani” (Rigoletto) and “Urna fatale” (La forza del destino). Albert’s voice is opulent, energetic, and vibrant with a ringing high register. With a little more volume, he could become an authentic Verdian baritone.

Arizona Opera 2008/2009 season features: Rigoletto, The Mikado, The Elixir of Love, Don Giovanni, and Tosca.

Christian Dalzon



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