Tenor Jeffrey Hill and bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba, with pianist Avis Romm, appeared on the Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota last weekend at the Historic Asolo Theater in a program that started and ended, cleverly enough, with a duet from “City of Angels.” At the beginning, they were pouting, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” but by the finale they were good buddies, singing, “I’m Nothing Without You.” In between, their music ranged from Lieder and art songs to arias and Broadway — some performed with more success than others.
The singers and pianist seemed much more at home with the classical portions of the program. Ollarsaba’s performance of “Il modo di prender moglie,” a comic song in Italian by Schubert, was charming, funny and strong, with more overtones of the Count in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” than the prolific Lieder composer. His renditions of Copland’s “Zion’s Walls” and Steven Mark Kohn’s “Farmer’s Cursed Wife” were stylish and hearty, while Hill’s delivery of two similar American songs by Hub Miller, “Spinning Song” and “Half and Half,” were tender and eloquent.
Much of Hill’s choices of songs didn’t fit his light tenor. Several were too low for him, causing him to stretch the bottom of his voice to depths he doesn’t seem able to handle at this point in his career. And, when it came to the more trendy songs — “People” and “They Just Keep Moving the Line” from the TV show “Smash” — he just didn’t seem comfortable with the pop style. “Smash,” in particular, calls for a brassy, Broadway belt, something this classically trained tenor doesn’t have.
But Ollarsaba seemed as at home with the Broadway tunes as he was with opera. His performance of the Toreador Song from Bizet’s “Carmen,” an aria with a range similar to that of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which took the singer an octave and a fifth, from bottom to top, was stirring, as was his rendition of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha.”
The person who seemed the most discomfited by the range of repertoire was Romm, who was much more attuned to the songs and arias in the first half than the Broadway and pop tunes in the second. It’s hard to switch from one genre to another, and this program was so wide in its range, it’s amazing they were able to pull it all together as well as they did.
Fortunately, the concert was billed as an entertainment, rather than a recital, and the performers managed to entertain the audience well with their differing styles, excellent diction and obvious love of the music.