Opera Review: ‘Variant Valentine’ streaming by Maryland Opera

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Dinyar Vania, tenor, and Katelyn Jackman, mezzo-soprano, in “Rigoletto”. Photo by Ed Davis. Courtesy of Maryland Opera.

On February 12, Maryland Opera offered its “Variant Valentine” program – a variety of Valentines featuring staples from the world of opera and American musical theatre. The program was broadcast live from the beautifully decorated home of Maryland Opera board member Rob Hair (and Steven Ralston), on the Maryland Opera Facebook page. “As we all navigate these ever-changing pandemic waters,” Maryland Opera said in its press release, “we are committed to continuing to deliver our dynamic, creative and exciting opera performances.”

The evening more than lived up to the Maryland Opera press release’s low-key promise of an “exciting Valentine’s Day experience for our audience.”

Things got off to a raucous start with soprano, Christine Lyons, and tenor, Dane Suarez, ranting along to the drinking song (“Brendisi”) from Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Baritone Craig Verm entered with a moving “Da, viene alla finestra” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. Mr. Verm then took us off the beaten path with a heart-pounding rendition of “Questo amor” from Puccini’s lesser known opera, “Edgar”.

A highlight of the evening was “Vogliatemi bene” from the end of Act I of “Madama Butterfly”, with Miss Lyons and Mr. Suarez again featured, this time in a moving duet as Butterfly and Pinkerton . In their evocative performance, the two singers brought out all the drama of the opera.

At two-thirds of the program, we moved away from the lyrical repertoire to turn to the music of Hollywood films, but nevertheless with a classical touch. Mr Suarez performed a powerful “Be My Love”, made famous and forever associated with legendary tenor, Mario Lanza, in the movie “The Toast of New Orleans”. Miss Lyons returned with a poignant rendition of “My Ship” from Ginger Rogers’ film, “Lady in the Dark”, with music written by Kurt Weill. Weill is famously straddling the worlds of opera and popular music, as is this “Variant Valentine” program.

Broadway is recalled in this precursor concert to Valentine’s Day. As befits the atmosphere of this program and the lyrical talents of the performers, Broadway love standards have been selected paired with opera-style timbres from the past. That’s certainly true when Mr. Verm recalls memories of former Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza romantically singing “Some Enchanted Evening” in “South Pacific” and Robert Goulet singing “If Ever I Would Leave You” in as Sir Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe’s ‘Camelot’. Mr. Suarez gave a moving rendition of Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” in “West Side Story,” a show that has once again gained popularity via Steven Spielberg’s recent cinematic remake of the Broadway and Hollywood classic. The program ends on a high note with the three singers doing justice to “My Variant Valentine”, the concert’s namesake.

Maryland Opera artistic director and pianist James Harp receives praise for his consistently melodic piano accompaniment that seamlessly alternates between opera, light classics and Broadway musical fare. In particular, we enjoyed how Mr. Harp replaced the big, bloated orchestra in selections from Puccini’s operas, “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly,” with impressionistic piano phrases reminiscent of Debussy.

The show proved, in music for Valentine’s Day, that “love makes the world go round”, as it says at the end of the show. The evening more than delivered on the Maryland Opera press release’s quiet promise of an “exciting Valentine’s Day experience for our audience.”

Duration: approximately 75 minutes.

“Variant Valentine” was streamed live on February 12, 2022 on Maryland Opera’s Facebook page. For more information on upcoming offerings, visit the Maryland Opera website here.

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