Vapid Verdi

Opera Workshop loses the passion for Verdi recital

Pam Thornton

Pam Thornton

Photo By Tom Angel

Viva! Verdi!
Rowland-Taylor Recital Hall
Thurs., April 15

Watching Chico Opera Workshop’s Viva! Verdi! concert was an uncomfortable experience. It was uncomfortable because almost no undergraduate students took a significant part in the show, and the whole pleasure of sensing a significant number of young people growing into a singer’s appreciation for one of the world’s most powerful art forms was lacking.

It was uncomfortable because the announcements introducing the numbers were flat, uninformative recapitulations of what was already written on the program, taught almost nothing, and seemed uncertain as to whether they were addressing people who knew opera or were newcomers to the genre.

It was uncomfortable because so few of the singers were able to capture the passion in the music of this most brilliantly passionate of composers. The singers of the opening chorus (which should have been Nabucco‘s “Hebrew Slaves Chorus” but was, instead, the far less prepossessing “Sotto ai folti” from Don Carlo) stood around as if they were minor characters in a second-rate Mozart production.

Poor Pam Thornton, who has a very nice voice, could do nothing but bend her elbows at 45-degree angles and raise them alternately across her chest as she sang Aïda‘s “Ritortna vincitor.” Verdi demands both voice and body be totally focused on the singer’s desire; without it, this greatest of opera composers is cheated of his progeny.

Indeed, it wasn’t until guest singer mezzo-soprano Liya Fang glared out from under her brows at the start of her rendition of Il Trovatore’s embittered gypsy Azucena’s “Strida la vampa” that one got a notion of a singer’s beginning to inhabit a role, but even she had trouble detaching her right hand from the piano.

Guest Jaeho Lee had a nice, if somewhat thin, tenor voice; guest Kari Kirk was an appealing Gilda (Rigoletto), although another Gilda, guest Brenda Grimaldi, managed to sing an entire duet with her father—without looking at him.

If it don’t jell, it ain’t aspic. If it’s not impassioned, it’s not Verdi. Uncomfortable.