The young singers in the Gerdine Young Artists and Richard Gaddes Festival Artists serve as the artistic workhorses of each Opera Theatre of St. Louis season, singing in the chorus, taking on smaller roles and covering larger ones. But on the last Tuesday night of the season, they take the spotlight at the Center Stage concert.
On Tuesday evening at the Loretto-Hilton Center, the current crop presented the fifth edition of Center Stage. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra escaped the pit to perform onstage.
Led by resident conductor Roberto Kalb (with two numbers led by assistant conductor Jacobsen Woollen), the SLSO started out with the Overture to Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” in a well-paced, well-played performance that captured the Wagnerian sweep of the music.
From there, the program offered a series of thoughtfully chosen scenes from operas both familiar and otherwise, both old and new. They were directed by artistic director James Robinson, resident assistant director James Blaszko, choreographer Seán Curran and mezzo-soprano MaryAnn McCormick, Marcellina in “Figaro.”
The concert featured 17 scenes and 31 singers. Some standouts: “Non ti fidar, o misera,” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” with an impressive quartet of sopranos Greer Lyle and Jessica Niles as Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, respectively, tenor Joseph McBrayer as Don Ottavio and bass William Guanbo Su as Don Giovanni; “Qui di sposa eterna fede,” from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” with soprano Elena Villalónand tenor Matthew Cairns. Both were creatively staged by Blaszko.
Blaszko returned with the duet “Tvoje moudrost vsechno tusi” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” with Lyle as the lovestruck title character and mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell as the most gleefully wicked Jezibaba since Dolora Zajick. McCormick made good use of the space and her singers in “Don Basilio,” from Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” with mezzo Jamie Groote as Rosina, baritones Heeseung Chae as Dr. Bartolo and Gregory Feldmann as Figaro, tenor Calvet Young as Almaviva and bass Griffen Hogan Tracy as Basilio.
Curran staged “To part is such sweet sorrow” from Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus” for the first-half finale in such a way as to make the audience yearn to return, ably aided by the nimble trio of sopranos Sydney Baedke and Niles, as Adele and Rosalinde, and Feldmann as Eisenstein.
Mezzo Michaela Wolz demonstrated her wonderful vocal gifts in “O Vierge Marie,” from “Mignon,” by Ambroise Thomas; she was ably supported by tenor Taylor Comstock as Wilhelm Meister, bass-baritone Phillip Lopez as Lothario and Blaszko.
The finale was fantastic, “A Real Slow Drag” from Scott Joplin’s “Treemonisha.” Another amazing soprano, Katerina Burton, in the title role, was joined by mezzo Tesia Kwarteng as Lucy and by the talented dancers from “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” Then the ensemble came down the aisles to take up the song. “Treemonisha” was a highlight of the 2000 season; maybe it’s time to bring it back.