CENTER STAGE at the Opera Theater of Saint Louis
Once again, the Théâtre de l’Opéra Saint Louis concludes its glorious opera festival with a presentation of brilliant young talents. It’s called Center Stage, and it’s a wonderful evening featuring singers from the Gerdine Young Artists program. This program gives emerging artists intensive training and professional experience. There are master-classes, and the singers perform in OTSL productions – as a choir, or supporting roles, or as “reprises” for the big roles – and they prepare for this Center Stage evening.
This year, the GYA auditions toured seven cities and heard from 1,100 listeners. Thirty-six singers were chosen to participate in the program. These voices are, indeed, the crème de la crème. They come from nine different countries of origin, as well as nineteen American states.
GYA alumni are sometimes brought back as “Richard Gaddes Festival Artists” in subsequent years to perform in OTSL productions.
The program is a helping hand in this most demanding and competitive profession.
Center Stage is a great smörgåsbord of opera… No, no, it’s way too Swedish and Lutheran and heavy. If the whole festival is one big feast, then Center Stage is the delicious icing on top of that final cake. It’s all dessert and no vegetables.
We enter the charming and comfortable theater and are greeted charmingly by the great soprano Patricia Racette, who is the artistic director of the OTSL’s young artists programs. The large orchestra (members of the Orchester symphonique de Saint-Louis) occupies the top of the stage; the singers enter to perform scenes below the orchestra. A large, dimly lit cyclorama serves as the background. It’s very minimal, but, oh my god, such voices!
The fifteen selections presented cover a wide spectrum: lyrical, baroque, singspiel, romantic, heroic, bel canto, modern, etc. And while OTSL uses English translations for its major productions, this Center Stage evening is sung entirely in the original languages. (Some of us cling to the perverse view that opera sounds better that way.)
We have heard:
Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin: opening scene and aria by Olga
Handel’s Orlando: “Consolati o bella”
Beethoven’s Fidelio: “Mir ist so wunderbar”
Mozart’s Idomeneo: “Andrò ramingo e solo”
Stravinsky’s Progress of the Rake: miscellaneous
Puccini’s bohemia: “Mimi! Speravo di trovavi qui”
Puccini’s Turandot: “Non piangere, Liu!”
Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea: “Pur ti miro”
Postcard from Morocco by Domenick Argento: “Is it a hat box?
Handel’s Giulio Cesare: “Son nata a lagrimar”
Ariane auf Naxos by R. Strauss: miscellaneous
Donizetti’s elisir d’amore: “Caro elisir! sei mio”
Puccini’s bohemia: “Dunque è proprio finite”
Florencia en el Amazonas by Daniel Catan: “¡Un ace de corazones!”
Verdi’s Falstaff: “Tutto nel mondo è burla”
Everything was done beautifully. I couldn’t begin to give all the detailed praise these singers deserve, but let me mention a few moments that I felt were truly outstanding:
The final moments of Turandot’s first act: After Calaf has committed himself to the challenge of the riddle, the entire chorus slowly swells in massive and magnificent dramatic power to a wonderfully fulfilling climax. I was delighted to the bone. It is a splendid work by the conductor Kevin J. Miller and all the singers.
“Pur ti miro” from L’incoronazione di Poppea: countertenor Kyle Tingzon and soprano Xiao Xiao sing Nero and Poppea. Their voices are so perfectly matched that when they fit together in this lovely duet, it could almost be a singer singing about his love for himself. The most striking. And perhaps, for these characters, not inappropriate.
The soprano Angel Azzara singing Ariane in Ariane auf Naxos demonstrates power and sheer beauty that is simply astonishing. I saw the rafters lift about an inch.
“Is it a hatbox?” (from Argento’s postcard from Morocco) is a charming little curiosity. Almost absurd, perhaps surreal, it could have been written by Ionesco. (It was, in fact, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.) Such a choice illustrates the freshness and variety of works found at the St. Louis Opera Theater.
The orchestra, under the direction of Daniela Candillari, is one of the best musicians in America. Their playing is rich, subtle and charming indeed.
Everyone seemed to be having a good time! Singers, musicians, and certainly Maestra Candillari, who often left the stage at the end of a selection to throw a proud and radiant smile on these marvelous young singers – her proteges – her colleagues.
Some of my good friends are STLO enthusiasts. They haven’t missed a show in years, but they’ve never been to a center stage party until now. This recent performance blew them away! It is a very important part of the festival. Don’t miss it next year.