Symphony Hall, Springfield
April 25, 2009
by Shera Cohen
Within the past few months both the Connecticut Opera and the Berkshire Opera closed their curtains forever. Were these statements about today's economy? Have dollars spent on the arts in general, and opera in particular, been far less than in the past? Probably and sadly so. Yet, the Springfield Symphony's Opera Gala saw a near-capacity audience at Symphony Hall. Obviously, those who appreciate opera are there in large numbers.
The SSO promised a gala and that's what they delivered with the full orchestra donned in black and white, Maestro Kevin Rhodes center stage with baton in hand, nine exceptionally professional vocal soloists, and the chorus of 120 synchronized singers. The audience was dressed to the nines - a wonderful and unusual sight in this era when the arts are oftentimes thought of as mere entertainment.
Of the hundreds of operas and thousands of arias ever written, Rhodes, et al picked the exact selections and program order that made the evening's performance perfect. Needless to say, works by Puccini and Verdi made the list, followed by Mozart, Wagner, Strauss, and Bizet. The conductor jovially dubbed the program "the all time great hits of opera." While the subjective votes are still being tallied as to what is "great," it is obvious that pieces like "Un Bel Di," "Habanera," "Nessun Dorma," and "La Donne Mobile" were offered, each excellently sung by soloists.
One stand-out selection was "Viens Mallika" from "Lakme." The opera may not be as well known as "La Boheme," "Il Trovatore" or "La Traviata" (each represented at the gala), yet this gently flowing female duet was exquisite.
The orchestra and chorus were given two pieces in which to shine - The Polovtsian Dances from "Prince Igor" and "Il Trovatore's" Anvil Chorus. The woman who no one sees onstage is Choral Director Nikki Stoia, whose leadership is evidenced by the resulting sounds of her large chorus. Add Rhodes' humorous pithy synopsis of each opera, and one word describes the experience of the gala - bellissimo!