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Friday night’s Toledo Opera Gala celebrated what was dubbed “the architects of love,” composers who capture potent yet fleeting emotions and fix them forever in our hearts through memorable music.
Thoughtfully structured from start to finish, the evening itself was a marvel of beautiful sound and convincing acting in a simple yet compelling setting.
Presenting the gala in the Valentine Theatre was a brilliant move by the opera, for the old hall’s configuration and advantageous sight lines enhanced overall effect and increased intimacy one-hundred fold.
Moreover, the cabaret-style production, with the effervescent Kevin Bylsma as impresario, set up each number and added background interest to the music.
On the podium for the first time was dynamic guest conductor Sara Jobin. She flipped the ON switch for the Toledo Symphony at the opening number, Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi, and kept the orchestra’s lights bright until the grand finale, the great chorus from Verdi’s opera Nabucco.
Despite the steady exchange of singers on and off stage for arias by composers from Cilia and Dvorak to Verdi and Wagner, there was a sense of continuity and coherence. And although all voices but one — tenor Shawn Mathey — were of the soprano persuasion, the variety of music and the different qualities and colors of each singer’s voice created a sense of diversity.
As Bylsma exulted in his brief intro, all the singers are based in the Toledo area. Such riches we have, for in Jennifer Cresswell, Sujin Lee, Jennifer Goode Cooper, and Diane McEwen-Martin, this region has the vocal equivalent of a mighty artistic power plant.
Some of the singers, particularly Cresswell and Lee, already have performed in Toledo Opera productions. Now that we’ve heard Cooper and McEwen-Martin, let’s hope they are cast in the near future, too.
Highlights of the diverse selection of excerpts included Cooper’s performance of The Jewel Song from Gounod’s opera, Faust, and, in the second act, Rossini’s Cat Duet, showed off her rich dramatic voice. Partnered with Cooper, Cresswell, who has some serious comedy and acting chops, was hilarious.
Cresswell was at her musical best in Un bel di, the hopeful song from Puccini’s Butterfly.
Real emotion radiated from the stage in duets by Mathey and Lee, first the Love Duet from Madama Butterfly by Puccini, and later, an arrangement of two contemporary love songs, “Be My Love,” and “Because.”
Mathey seemed to sing with no effort at all, his smooth and well-supported tenor floating through works by Lehar and Verdi. In a scene from Gounod’s Faust, there were signs of a newer intensity and depth that seem to lie just below Mathey’s cool surface.
Lee’s performance of Ebben, from La Wally, was pristine and convincing, showing her range and control effectively. And in an aria from Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino, McEwen-Martin sang with conviction and magnificent control.
The Toledo Opera Chorus turned up for several numbers and sounded simply grand. Lighting designer Tim Durham’s wizardly use of simple colored backlighting intensified each musical mood.
The program repeats at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre. Tickets, priced at $30 to $75, are available at 419-255-7464 or www.toledoopera.org.