Performance Santa Fe 2017 Review – Festival of Song: Brief Encounters: Vocal Quintet & Three Short Operas Deliver Memorable Evening

On July 30, 2017, at the Scottish Rite Center, Performance Santa Fe presented a vocal quintet and 3 short operas. Fifteen-year-old Ezra Shcolnik, a graduate of Performance Santa Fe’s young artist program who currently studies at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, wrote the Quintet. Mark Adamo, Jake Heggie, and Joe Illick wrote the short operas. Maestro Illick also accompanied at the piano.

The concert opened with Shcolnik’s “Madrigal on Lines of Emily Dickinson,” a well-constructed quintet for a capella voices that alluded to music by Gesualdo and to Caroline Shaw’s “Partital for Eight Voices.” Soprano Maren Weinberger, mezzo-soprano Katherine Tombaugh, tenor Javier Abreu, baritone Samuel Schultz, and bass Anthony Reed sang Dickinson’s poem about home. The composer had been inspired to write his quintet by the words: “And yet we knew that gentle Clock/Meant nought be Going Home.”  The five singers sang in beautiful close harmony that was a joy to hear.

The Madrigal was the only unaccompanied piece. Maestro Joe Illick played the piano accompaniment for the three following works. The stage director for each opera was William Florescu, the general director of Florentine Opera in Milwaukee. Anne DeMay designed all the costumes.

In Mark Adamo’s “Avow,” a young couple contemplate their marriage, which is slated to happen later that day. Maren Weinberger sang the Mother, Katherine Tombaugh the Bride, Javier Abreu, the Priest, Samuel Schultz the Groom, and Anthony Reed the Ghost.

The opera tells the thoughts of each person involved. The groom feels trapped, but the Ghost consoles him. The bride is unsure of her choice, but her mother assures her that the marriage should happen and so does the priest, who cools the couple’s nerves. The piece ends in a happy wedding day with music that the composer actually had played during his marriage ceremony. Smooth, melodic, and memorable, this piece jells into a perfect start in life for a young couple. Best of all, it’s beautiful music to hear at any time.

The characters of “Again,” which has music by Jake Heggie and a text by David Patrick Stearns, are straight out of “I Love Lucy.” Maren Weinberger sings Lucy; Javier Abreu, Ricky; Katherine Tombaugh, Ethyl; and Samuel Schultz, Fred. Fred and Ethyl try to prevent Ricky from abusing Lucy who has a noticeable black eye. Ricky makes up with Lucy and promises never to hit her again. Then, when she does not expect it, it happens “Again.” The music is intense and it helps bring out the stark drama of this most common domestic evil.

The finale was the piece that has been discussed all over Santa Fe. “Feel the Tango” has fascinating music by Joe Illick and a charming libretto by Susan Westfall. Joe and Sandy, a bored couple, go to their usual restaurant on their usual night out. Joe, sung by Samuel Schultz, is watching a ball game on his phone even though Sandy, sung by Maren Weinberger, would like to chat with him.

Joe goes to another room to see a big screen and a waiter, Javier Abreu, suggests Sandy dance the tango with him. When Joe sees her dancing expertly with the waiter, he is amazed and dances awkwardly with a waitress, Katherine Tombaugh, for revenge. After a few moments, Joe and Sandy begin to dance together and eventually they leave the restaurant with renewed appreciation of each other. Joe Illick’s music is masterful and if there had been room in the aisles, the whole audience would have danced to it.  All of these pieces contain fine dramatic music and I hope to hear them again soon.

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