Thursday, January 18, 2018
Stage

Review: POPera! is a grab bag of crossover opera hits

TAMPA — Opera has always loved its crossover concerts. For galas and other occasions, it's common to have singers troop on and off the stage to perform a bit of everything, from the Seguidilla from Carmen to The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha, with a few orchestral pieces thrown in.

Thus it was on a rainy Thursday night for "POPera!," the latest installment of the Florida Opera Festival, with artistic director Daniel Lipton on the podium in Ferguson Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

These sorts of programs tend to be a grab bag — Mozart here, Verdi there, plus a sampling of Broadway musicals — and the disjointed quality can be irksome. But Lipton brought in four interesting singers, and it was a pleasure to hear the Opera Tampa Orchestra, a pick-up group that included many players from the Florida Orchestra.

I think listeners like to choose favorites at these affairs, and mine was Julie Boulianne, a mezzo soprano of impressive versatility — shining in both the high vocal display of Rossini's heroine in La Cenerentola and the purity of Cherubino's heartfelt aria Voi che sapete from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro — and puckish tomboy charm. However, her earthbound rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, the uplifting anthem from Carousel, landed with a thud.

Baritone James Westman was the most actorly singer, broadly gesturing during numbers such as Germont's aria from La Traviata. He and soprano Micaela Oeste gave a cute performance of the Papagena/Papageno duet from The Magic Flute. Oeste, a willowy blond in black gown and jewels, supplied the glamour of the evening with a more operatic than musical theater version of I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady.

In general, the ensemble numbers were most enjoyable, including a sublime trio (Oeste, Boulianne and Westerman) from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and the Flower Duet (and British Airways theme) from Lakme by Oeste and Boulianne.

Bruce Sledge was the go-to guy for Puccini, singing a pair of signature arias, the ever-stirring Nessun Dorma from Turandot and Rodolfo's Che gelida manina from La Boheme, in which the tenor showed off an easy high C. Sledge and Westman teamed on the matey duet by Rodolfo and Marcello (the baritone will play the painter in Opera Tampa's La Boheme in March), with concertmaster Nancy Chang ending the scene with a romantic little solo.

The concert wound up on a familiar note, but the listless performance of the Act 3 quartet from Rigoletto made for a less than glorious encore.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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