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Washington Times: Delightful Virginia Opera songfest in Fairfax

The Virginia Opera presented a delightful evening of opera favorites this past Thursday evening in the main auditorium of Fairfax City’s striking new Stacy C. Sherwood Center on Old Lee Highway. Soloists Abigail Paschke, Megan Marino, Jeremiah Johnson, and Drew Duncan were ably accompanied by pianist and apprentice vocal coach Tessa Hartle during this enjoyable but all-too-brief recital highlighting vocal works from Mozart to Franz Lehar.

Thursday’s quartet of young singers performed professionally and well, with only occasional glitches popping up here and there including the occasional off-target high note here and a forgotten bar there. That said, the price—free—was right for this well-attended event which had the twin objectives of showcasing the Commonwealth of Virginia’s statewide opera company while offering these truly marvelous vocalists to display their considerable skills.

An added bonus: the large main auditorium of the Sherwood Center—beautiful to behold but seemingly cavernous for a vocal recital—proved to be most impressive acoustically, a genuinely unexpected happening for this reviewer at least. Congratulations to whomever designed and executed the construction of this space.

Mezzo Megan Marino began the evening with a martial aria from Rossini’s Semiramide, returning a bit later to have fun with the humorous aria “Un voce poco fa” from the same composer’s comic opera Barber of Seville. She demonstrated considerable range and confidence, navigating lower notes with impressive clarity yet also managing considerable leaps into the higher range as well, exhibiting a warm, plummy tone throughout. She proved quite the entertainer as well. Her witty presentations and gregarious personality warmed up both the room and the audience.

Not to be outdone, the remaining trio of singers put their own spin on this varied evening, with the women seemingly in higher spirits than the men whose solos focused primarily on darker moods and moments.

Bass-baritone Jeremiah Johnson was at his best on the opposite ends of the emotional scale, singing “Ya vas lyublyu,” the great lament of a lost love from Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Pique Dame early in the program, but concluding the evening with Escamillo’s triumphant, boastful “Toreador Song,” one of the best-loved tunes from Georges Bizet’s ever-popular Carmen. Both were sung with great heart and great authority.

Drew Duncan’s expressive tenor instrument was particularly effective in Alfredo’s passionate yet idyllic love song to Violetta—“De’ miei bollenti spiriti,” from Verdi’s tragic La Traviata. Yet he seemed even more affecting, sweet, yet passionate in his interpretation of “Dein is mein ganzes Herz” (“You are my heart’s delight”), the impossibly romantic song from Lehar’s wondrously tuneful operetta, The Land of Smiles.

Soprano Abigail Paschke was sprightly and charming, exhibiting a voice as clear and acrobatic as one could wish. Her standout solo of the evening was also perhaps this recital’s most unusual choice, the love song “Depuis le jour” (“Since the day”) from Gustave Charpentier’s rarely heard opera Louise. Ms. Paschke positively radiated emotion, awe, and wistfulness as she sang this “morning after” aria, the signature moment of this opera.

Ms. Paschke also excelled during the evening’s only duet—this one with Ms. Marino, as both soloists had fun with “Sull’aria…che soave zeffiretto,” from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. As Susanna and the Countess plot to catch the wandering Count in flagrante, they can’t help chortling a bit at the ingeniousness of their scheme. In this duet both singers helped their characters enjoy the sheer delicious fun they’re about to have at the Count’s expense and brightened up the room with their witty vocal repartee.

Fans of the Virginia Opera will be looking forward to the company's next operatic presentation in Fairfax, this time at GMU's Center for the Arts. On tap: Johann Strauss II's tune-filled comic farce, Die Fledermaus (The Bat), scheduled to arrive here on November 30 with a single repeat performance on December 1.

For tickets and information, order online at Tickets.com, call 1-888-945-2468, or visit the Virginia Opera's new website.

Rating: *** (Three out of four stars.)

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