Philharmonic’s opera night demanding for all involved

If you are of a certain age and have a certain lack of reverence, then "Vesta la Giubba" from "Pagliacci" should be sung with the words "No more Rice Krispies/we’ve run out of Rice Krispies."

You should not apologize for your lyrics, since the 1960s cereal ad has been judged one of the 10 greatest commercials of all time.

At the same time, you and others who have only heard opera in unorthodox offerings — commercials, movies, TV, even cartoons — could have learned a lot about the origin of these works on Saturday.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic’s Masterworks 5 offered 20 snippets from mostly familiar operas in a quick, accessible and generally successful fashion. Call it Opera 101, as what could have been a 10-week course was condensed into two hours.

The orchestra, along with four soloists and the 70-plus member Las Vegas Master Singers, under the direction of David Itkin, breezed through the program in a style reminiscent of rock ‘n’ roll oldies shows. You don’t know, or like, this one? Wait a few minutes, and you’ll hear something else.

It was a demanding evening for all involved. Itkin picked four capable soloists, each with a resume nearly longer than his selections.

Soprano Patricia Johnson had one of her finest moments in Bernstein’s "Glitter and Be Gay" from "Candide," sung in English, with each moment embellished with a certain coquettishness and winsome charm. She garnered so much applause and so many "bravas" after her "Sempre Libera" from Verdi’s "La Traviata" that Itkin pointed to his watch during the applause, implying the ovations were slowing the program.

Mezzo-soprano Eugenie Grunewald owned the role of Amneris, the daughter of the king, in Verdi’s "Aida" and showed defiant, conclusive strength with the duet "L’abborrita rivale a me sfuggia" with tenor Arnold Rawls.

Rawls had one of the strongest solos of the night, "Celeste Aida," also from "Aida," walking on stage and immediately making it his own.

UNLV’s assistant professor of music, baritone Tod Fitzpatrick, sang the winning "Votre Toast/Toreador Song" from Bizet’s "Carmen." It was another highlight, with just the right mix of confidence and grandeur.

The singers could have been used more, but they contributed capably throughout the evening, showing competent Italian skills during the "Anvil Chorus" from Verdi’s "Il Trovatore."

The orchestra opened with a grand "Overture to Il Barbiere di Seviglia" from "The Barber of Seville," a rolling, bright offering showing that the orchestra was ready for the night that would follow.

One fundamental flaw was that opera singers must project to the house and traditionally never use microphones. This was fine until the orchestra overwhelmed Johnson and Fitzpatrick on a couple of occasions.

Another concern was of the program itself. Including nearly two dozen bits of opera in a program for folks who may not be familiar with the genre is certainly commendable . The ovations throughout the program indicated those in attendance loved it and wanted more.

At the same time, the evening could have been considered an information overload even for those who don’t know opera. This was emphasized by the comprehensive but almost dizzying amount of information Itkin noted in his pre-program conversation, and during the show. (Associate conductor Richard McGee capably added to that in the program for the evening.)

Is an opera primer a necessary part of an orchestral season? Future Philharmonic schedules will have to decide that.


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