Saturday, May 23, 2015

'Crescendo' brings opera to the park and launches Indianapolis Opera's next phase

Opera in Indianapolis is reaching out in new directions to find an audience that will support it adequately, and "Crescendo" — a musical term that instructs the player(s) to get louder by a more or less extended "less than" sign — expressed the hope the result will be "more than."

That was the title of Friday night's program at White River State Park, where Indianapolis Opera and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra joined forces in a concert of mostly familiar excerpts from opera and musical theater — from Rossini through Stephen Schwartz.

Kirk Trevor, newly named maestro emeritus of the ICO since his retirement earlier this month after 27 years, conducted. He was in fine fettle, leading more than two dozen numbers, getting estimable results from the orchestra, the Opera chorus, and four apt guest soloists. The sampling was a generous smorgasbord, which could have been just a little skimpier to allow for more spoken context-setting of several of the selections. That might have involved celebrity emcee Angela Buchman more, with some advance pronunciation drill helping to ensure a satisfactory result. Or general director Kevin Patterson, who seems entirely comfortable at the microphone, could have handled the compact commentary.
Kevin Patterson: Deserved greater "Crescendo" role

That would have enhanced one of the outstanding performances of the evening, "Au fond du temple saint," the great tenor-baritone duet from Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers." The romantic rivals Zurga and Nadir, brought together after many years apart, catch a glimpse of their beloved goddess and vow that the vision should unite, rather than divide, them. And presumably, there were many in the audience who had no idea what Barbara LeMay was singing about in the well-known Habanera from Bizet's better-known opera "Carmen."

Opera being more than pretty or stirring melodies, the dramatic and character insights of its famous pieces need to be communicated to a concert audience presumably filled with newcomers. This is by way of crediting the four singers — soprano Katrina Thurman, mezzo LeMay, tenor Scott Ramsay and baritone Galen Bower — with dramatic as well as vocal excellence.

Capable as they are of singing without amplification, they mostly adjusted well to standing in front of microphones, with only Thurman's voice getting too close for comfort now and then. She was well-matched with Ramsay and never overbearing as Maria in "West Side Story" in a performance of "Tonight," with the foreground of the familiar tune nicely established.

Bower's Toreador Song, the other selection from "Carmen," was a stunning introduction to the lineup of guest soloists. He was in thorough command of Escamillo's bravado and self-regarding splendor. Other emotionally close-focused numbers included LeMay's delectable rendition of "I Hate Men" from Cole Porter's "Kiss Me, Kate." She wielded one high-heel as a weapon and scowled and gestured with an avenger's determination while keeping Porter's clever words remarkably clear.

Thurman gave a moving performance as Violetta in the scena comprising "Ah, forse e lui" and "Sempre libera" from Verdi'a "La Traviata."  Her aplomb there contrasted with a couple of false starts earlier in "Ain't It a Pretty Night" from Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah," another operatic heroine doomed through no fault of her own. Well, OK, Violetta also happens to have a fatal disease, but still, both these roles amount to justifiable takes on the "Kiss Me, Kate" declaration "I Hate Men." At any rate, Thurman recovered her composure sufficiently to make an impressive dramatic arc out of Susannah's wistful aria.

Everyone was involved in the finales of each act. Sing-along participation was encouraged in the chorus of "Back Home in Indiana," keyed to leadership by Trevor, the four soloists, and the Indianapolis Opera Chorus. For "Make Our Garden Grow," the conclusion of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," it was sufficient to bask in the optimistic fervor of the professional performers. With a few orchestra bonbons along the way ("Candide" and "The Barber of Seville" overtures,  "Manon Lescaut" Intermezzo, with a "Les Miz" medley bringing up the rear in quality), "Crescendo" was most certainly, as Bower sang so beautifully, "Some Enchanted Evening."