In two weeks, Opera Neo will present Mozart’s La finta giardiniera, the first opera of the 2022 Opera Neo Summer Festival. At Friday’s Cabaret held at Bread & Salt, the company’s local followers experienced this year’s cadre of young singers performing together in an array of ensembles from opera, operetta, and musical theater.Cabaret aptly opened with the entire company singing “All The Jazz,” the opening number from Kander and Ebb’s Chicago, the popular 1975 musical about stage life in America’s Roaring Twenties. Mezzo-soprano Mariam Mouawad’s sassy Velma suggested the right touch of snark, and the company backed her up with energetic song and dance.
“Chi me frena in tal momento,” the well-known sextet from the second act of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor featured a stirring duet between the strong, rich voices of tenor Brian Skoog and baritone Kyle White, augmented by the gleaming soprano Öznur Tülüoglu. In the evening’s most dramatic ensemble, the “Scena e Terzetto Tempesta” from the third act of Verdi’s Rigoletto, bass Andrew Boisvert gave us a thundering and aptly menacing Sparafucile that matched Stephanie Doche’s impassioned, vibrant mezzo-soprano as Maddalena. Brian Skoog’s gracefully phrased account of “La donna è mobile” served as a foil to soprano Sara Womble’s flinty Gilda, whose voice soared confidently over both the ensemble and the ominous chant of the chorus conjuring nature’s storm, a mirror of the singers’ emotional turmoil.
In a contrasting vein, the ensemble took a giddy, wine-inspired romp through “Par nos chansons et par nos cris célèbrons Paris” from Offenbach’s La vie parisienne, a comic opera excerpt that allowed tenor Eric Laine to flaunt Brésilien’s bellicose pomposity with brazen assurance and vocal allure. A scene from the final act of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore featured Brian Skoog as the tipsy Nemorino chasing a cluster of eligible young women of the village, sung with well-tuned ebullience by the women of the company.
In “Dentist!” Kyle White slid into amusing camp mode portraying with gusto the sadistic dentist in Alan Mencken’s 1982 rock musical Little Shop of Horrors, ably assisted by sopranos Emily-Margaret Ceres and Jade Dashá as well as Miriam Mouawad. Early in Verdi’s Falstaff, the women catch on to their suitor’s flimsy scheming as they compare his carbon copy love letters to each of them. In this Opera Neo scene, however, the women compared their suitor’s messages on their cell phones! Sopranos Öznur Tülüoglu and Jade Dashá with mezzo-sopranos Anna Trombetta and Miriam Mouawad sang “Eskimo appunto per ridere con te” with bright animation as they exchanged their knowing glances.
Although the format of Opera Neo’s Cabaret evening focuses on ensemble selections, I would be remiss to fail to salute the exceptional solos. I have always suspected that Francis Poulenc was granted a trademark for his world-weary Parisian love songs, of which “Chemins d’amour” is nothing less than iconic. Önzur Tülüoglu’s deft, poignant phrasing of this moving chanson and her subtle dynamic shadings completely captured the composer’s style. In Claude-Michel Schönberg’s musical Les Misérables, Javert’s song “Stars” is his credo, and Kyle White gave it a powerful, uplifting interpretation.
Allow me to salute the three skilled pianists who accompanied all of these demanding solos and ensembles: Kelley Hart, Kihwa Kim, and Joseph Bozich
The company closed Cabaret with a stirring account of Rogers and Hammerstein’s anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, a satisfying, heartfelt touch of inspiration.
This performance was presented by Opera Neo in Bread & Salt in Logan Heights on Friday, July 22, 2022. I will be repeated in the same venue on July 23.