REVIEW: Spartanburg Repertory Opera Opens Season with Joyful Musical Survey of Great Choruses

spartanburg rep operaBY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Spartanburg Repertory Opera launched its 29th season last night at the Chapman Cultural Center with a sweeping and rousing array of great chorus numbers spanning some 265 years.

Formerly the Spartanburg Repertory Company, SRO reunited with the Spartanburg Festival Chorus for its fourth collaboration (the most recent was “The Merry Widow” in January, a show CCC missed due to the snow storm) under the direction of Keith Jones, Professor of Music at Converse College. Jones was quick to point out the bizarre plots of some of these operas (i.e. reincarnation) and recognized South Carolina’s historic role as the first colony to produce opera ‑ “Flora” in 1735 in Charleston, of course.

This survey of classic began with an obscure operatic jewel “Chorus of Enchanted Islanders” from Handel’s fantastical “Alcina” about two sorceress sisters, as well  two selections from English composer Henry Purcell’s masterpiece “Dido and Aeneas” about doomed the lovers Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Prince of Troy, Aeneas. Soloist Nicole Harb’s was stupendous in Dido’s aria of lament “When I am Laid on Earth” as she implored her lover to “Remember me” and slowly walked off-stage.

The men dazzled with the brooding melodies in Mozart’s “Priest Chorus” and the altos shined in “Hail, Ye True and Faithful,” both from “The Magic Flute” with Roland Smith as soloist.

The 30-member chorus sang the refreshing libretto for Wagner’s infamous “Bridal Chorus” from “Lohengrin” and Justin Boazman performed the Tsar’s “Coronation Scene” from Modest Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov.”

Jones and soprano Anne Denbow were in delightful character for Verdi’s popular drinking song “Brindisi” from “La Traviata” and Aimee Gans brought the house down as the seductress Carmen with Bizet’s “Habanera.” And the ensemble was enchanting humming the melodies of Puccini’s “Humming Chorus” from “Madame Butterfly.”

Pianist Mildred Roche accompanied the chorus throughout the evening and was impeccable in Verdi’s almost jazzy rhythms in the prologue to “Chorus of Hebrew Slaves.” And she and Julie Smith together caroused the baby grand with the high-octane finale of Aaron Copland’s 1954 Midwestern-inspired square dance number “Stomp Your Foot” from “The Tender Land,” which owes much to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”

All of the works were sung in English (not the original German, Italian or Russian) and aside from the awkward bell ringing sequence in “Coronation Scene,” the presentation was a resounding triumph with strong vocals and tight direction.

Spartanburg Repertory Opera’s 2016-17 season continues with the company’s 7th staging of the seminal holiday classic “Amahl and the Night Visitors” on Dec. 9-10, “Hansel and Gretel” on March 1-2, 2017 and “Fiddler on the Roof” on June 8-10. All performances re at Chapman Cultural Center, 200 E. St. John St. in Spartanburg. Visit www.spartanburgrepertory.com for more information.

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