Le Bell Canto by June LeBell

Susan Graham and Friends

Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:00 am

by June LeBell

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Just back from hearing "Susan Graham and Friends" at the magnificent Santa Fe Opera House.

It was a mixed operatic bag with some of the performances more successful than others. But there were also big stars, the most impressive being the setting of the Santa Fe house itself. Nestled on a hillside, we watched a brilliantly colored sunset — soft dusk and the emerging stars peeking out from behind threatening clouds.

In the distance, a parade of head and tail lights streamed silently on some hairpin turns along a highway. And the crickets chirped and sang as if they were auditioning for the fabled Santa Fe Opera.

On stage, the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra (which features several of our own Sarasota Orchestra members - including Daniel Jordan and Chris Takeda) was led by Kenneth Montgomery in an enormous menu of operatic and Broadway excerpts.

The evening was hosted by Susan Graham, Met Opera mezzo, who has — through her numerous appearances as host of the Met's HD simulcasts  — become equally at home as an emcee. Her charm, singing and speaking, is hard to surpass but some of the repertoire (Mozart's somewhat long and thankless "Ch'io me scordi di te, for instance), fell flat no matter how excellent the singing.

Soprano Erin Morley was a standout in her exquisitely performed coloratura aria, "O beau pays de la Touraine," from Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots," and just about everything tenor Bryan Hymel tackled was pretty stupendous. He's new to me, by the way, and I was very, very impressed by his bright, effortless singing and pinging top.

He was helped a bit by nature in the inhumanly difficult aria, "Asile Hereditaire," from Rossini's "William Tell" when, at just the right moments, the sky outside the House lit up with streaks of lightening - - jagged streaks and magnificent sheets, turning the hills into stormy black silhouettes of barren rock, as powerful as the music pouring from the stage. Yipes!

Yipes, too, for Susan's great gowns: a blazing red diva-like, floor-sweeping dress to start; my favorite - - a shimmering lilac form-fitting flow of material that turned her into an Erte painting; and a long, black pants outfit with what looked like a sheer, colorful coat of many colors to end.

On the not-so-impressive side was the repertoire which was, at times, dull and not really suited to the singers assigned to the pieces. But, hey, it's hard to do not-so-well-known repertoire, taken out of context - - without the help of sets, costumes and acting.

But the real stars of the evening were the Opera House's natural surroundings, the glamour of the event, the excellent playing of orchestra and the grand finale: the emotionally and musically charged "Make Our Garden Grow" from Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," a spine-tingler every time.

Tomorrow - - brunch with some of the orchestra members.


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