Music to fly by
Opera maestra Gwen Curatilo aims for the heart with her newest production
“I want people to soar,” says Gwen Curatilo, with her usual passion. “I want them to feel rhapsodic!”
In this case she’s speaking particularly of Trio con Voci, the “evening of exquisite music,” as she calls it, that she’s presenting this Sunday evening in conjunction with the Alliance of Music and Theatre Arts. But such passion—about singing, art, performance, teaching, life itself—is this buoyant, charming woman’s stock in trade, as her legions of fans and grateful students well know.
Now retired after 24 years as director of the Opera Workshop at Chico State University, Curatilo’s keeping busy as an adjudicator at music festivals and competitions and also as a private voice teacher. (I should mention that my daughter is one of her students.)
Curatilo wore many hats while at Chico State—teacher, opera director, fund-raiser and all-around cheerleader—but she also produced several delightful shows each year, from full-length operas and the spring Opera Gala to the elegant annual Opera Ball, which was one of the most dazzling events in Chico.
So this Sunday’s concert is a return to form for her. It features two of her best students, soprano Diane O’Sullivan and baritone Liang Zhang, and a splendid piano accompanist, Sandra Libby, in an evening of music that runs the gamut from sprightly and whimsical to dramatic and moving. And it’s being staged at the Lakeside Pavilion, the venue for the Opera Ball and one of the prettiest facilities in Chico, with Curatilo herself serving as narrator for the selections.
O’Sullivan, who is the choir director at Red Bluff High School, earned a master’s degree with distinction at Chico State and had major roles in several productions. As a soloist, she’s been featured with the Chico Symphony Orchestra and University Chorus, the Shasta Symphony and Chorus, and the Red Bluff Master Works Chorale.
Zhang is a native of China, where he studied extensively, including a three-year stint at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He’s been at Chico State since 2000, studying for a master’s degree under Dr. Ying Yeh.
Last year he performed in the Opera Workshop’s production of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and as a soloist with the Chico Symphony in Mozart’s C Minor Mass.
Libby also received a master’s with distinction from Chico State, where she now teaches ear training and music fundamentals and accompanies the A Cappella Choir and the Opera Workshop.
I’ve seen these artists perform, and they’re terrific. All have won prestigious national or international awards. O’Sullivan is “a ravishing singer,” as Curatilo puts it, Zhang can blow off the roof with his booming baritone, and Libby is a marvelous accompanist.
And they’ve worked out a program that promises to be delightful. The first act features duets and arias from such operas as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, ending with a long scene from Verdi’s Rigoletto featuring both singers that Curatilo describes as “very emotional.”
Act II is in English and features two beautiful arias, with dialogue, from American composer Douglas Moore’s tale of Western history, The Ballad of Baby Doe. That will be followed by four songs by the American master Jerome Kern, the man Curatilo credits with inventing modern musical theater with Showboat.
Curatilo says she is presenting Trio con Voci, or "Trio with Voices," out of a "lifelong passion to help young artists. … What I want is for people to come and hear them sing and be moved."