Let no one claim that San Diego Opera does not know how to have a good time! For Saturday’s (May 5) program “One Amazing Night” at the Balboa Theatre, General Director David Bennett corralled two affable opera singers at the top of their craft, soprano Lise Lindstrom and bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, placed them in front of the San Diego Symphony on the Balboa stage, and let them work their musical magic on the crowd. The audience loved the concert and was reluctant to leave, roaring their approval and bringing the singers out for endless of curtain calls.After guest conductor Jerome Shannon took the orchestra through a spirited though polished account of Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla, Lindstrom quickly set the bar at its highest calibration with her splendrous aria “Es gibt ein Reich” from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. This is one of the great soprano moments in opera, and the brilliance of Lindstrom’s upper range filled its gracious, soaring lines with ecstatic wonder. Could we have experienced greater emotional contrast when Grimsley incarnated the Dutchman’s bleak confession “Die Frist ist um” from Richard Wagner’s early opera Der fliegende Holländer? The passionate, dramatic declamation of Grimsley’s deep, rich bass-baritone captivated the listeners, while the orchestra vividly evoked Wagner’s tumultuous seascape under the singer. Throughout the concert, Shannon and the Symphony provided attentive, stylish support to every style the singers chose, and the warm acoustics of the Balboa flattered their ensemble sound in ways that the orchestra’s own Copley Symphony Hall does not begin to accomplish.
Lindstrom and Grimsley joined forces in that tense encounter from the first act of Puccini’s Tosca, where the grand diva and evil Baron Scarpia meet for the first time. As Tosca, Lindstrom instantly communicated her character’s vulnerability, and Grimsley constructed a suave, patrician façade as he subtly inflamed Tosca’s jealousy to draw her into his several dastardly plots.
In a more extended scene from Verdi’s rarely staged Macbeth, the soprano and bass-baritone plan their treachery, even as strange visions alternately stoke their fears and spur them to action. Lindstrom’s striking dramatic flare combined with the clarion purity of her high notes contrasted aptly with the fear-filled edge of Grimsley’s dark legato lines. Is Macbeth too obscure for San Diego Opera to stage? With singers such as Lindstrom and Grimsley, it could be a thrilling production.
From grand opera, the duo modulated to Viennese operetta and American musical theater. Franz Lehár’s aria “Meine Lippen Sie küssen so heiss” may be little more than a familiar chestnut, but Lindstrom elevated this aria to empyrean heights, gently caressing every phrase and gilding her vocal line with the elegant period phrasing you only encounter on copies made from primitive recordings of the great Viennese operetta divas in its heyday at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The duo sang “I Love You So” from Lehár’s The Merry Widow, although the English translation proved pedestrian.
Grimsley’s two songs from American musicals, “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and “If Ever I Would Leave You” from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot demonstrated how much the style of these classic musicals requires well-trained vocalists—as opposed to today’s crop of sad, feeble voices that would not be heard past the second row without their body mics and hefty amplification. Suffice it to say that Grimsley’s singing left mere enchantment in the dust—pure bliss was the emotional state he evoked.
The duo ended their program with that coy duet “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. If this number did not require the vocal prowess of most of the program’s offerings, it did showcase the splendid chemistry between these two A-list artists performing with such mastery.
This concert was presented by San Diego Opera on May 5, 2018, at the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego. It was the final presentation of the company’s 2017-18 season.