Who says opera singers can’t be fun?
That is exactly what Paulo Szot has been showing audiences this past week as he pays homage to Broadway. In his seventh appearance at 54 Below, Szot showcased his comedic and dramatic sensibilities in a cabaret performance. Music director and pianist Billy Stritch began the program with a jazz piece; then Szot entered, walking through the audience and greeting them before taking the stage to perform his first song.
First among the evening’s many highlights was “Guido’s Song” from “Nine,” which saw Szot framing the character in a comedic way before interacting with the audience.
Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” showcased Szot’s dramatic power as a baritone and wowed the audience with a display of his full operatic voice. Szot also previewed an aria from “Evita,” portrayed with subtlety.
Szot paid further homage to opera with a piece from “Kismet.” He introduced the piece by talking about Alexander Borodin’s “Prince Igor” and how the musical was inspired by the Russian composer. Subsequently, one immediately heard how the first song took music from the “Polovtsian Dances” and from the second String Quartet. Szot, of course, spun each line with flexibility, allowing the melody to come through.
There were two pieces from “South Pacific,” in which Szot showed his expertise in the repertoire, followed by a moving tribute to Bruce Zemsky, who wrote a beautiful piece about returning to music. This was an inspirational moment as Szot took a page from the piano and read from the paper as he sang the new work with obvious emotion and delight.
There was also a 10-minute medley of Cole Porter songs. That was a stunner for audiences, who responded with enthusiasm and thunderous applause.
Interspersed within the songs Szot joked with the audience about the difficulties of his career, living in New York, finding love, and learning new music. But it all made for a light and relaxed evening. Audiences had cocktails and dinner, all while the baritone displayed his dashing stage presence.
As Szot noted in our recent interview, he adapts his technique to the style of the music he is performing, and this ode to Broadway showed he is an expert. Szot next travels to Pennsylvania for “Evita” before returning to opera at the Paris Opera and Michigan Opera.