Saturday, June 23, 2018
Stage

Verdi's 'Un Ballo in Maschera' opens Florida Opera Festival

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

TAMPA

What would baritones do without Verdi? Until the great Italian composer began writing his operas in the 19th century, there wasn't much distinction between baritone and bass, and the characters they played tended to be predictable: older men, primarily in supporting roles to sopranos and tenors.

Mark Walters, a baritone, explained the debt he owed to Verdi.

"One of the big things Verdi did for baritones is that he often made them the leading characters and gave them a lot of interesting dramatic choices," Walters said. "This allowed him to bring out another, higher part of the voice. You have the heroic, joyful or evil high notes that he wrote, and then you also have to be able to show, vocally, a lot of compassion. You need a reasonable amount of heft throughout the range, but also the ability to bring out more caressing colors in your voice."

Walters is singing one of those Verdi baritone roles, Renato, in Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), staged this week by Opera Tampa to open its first Florida Opera Festival at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. He plays the male secretary to Riccardo, a count who is besotted with Renato's wife, Amelia. Renato gets involved with a political conspiracy that climaxes with Riccardo's assassination at a masquerade party.

Though Renato is not at the very top of Verdi baritone roles — they would probably be the characters for the voice in Macbeth, Rigoletto, Simon Boccanegra and Otello he does have a passionate aria, Eri tu.

"It occurs in the third act right after I've discovered, or at least I think, that my wife has been unfaithful," Walters said. "We come back to our home and I tell her that she is going to have to pay with her blood for her infidelity. Her main aria, where she pleads to see our son one more time before I kill her, comes right before my aria in which I realize that it's not her on which I need to focus my revenge but the count."

Walters is performing Renato for the first time. As he has with other roles, he studied it with one of the all-time great Verdi baritones, Sherrill Milnes, now retired, who lives in Pinellas County. He spent time with Milnes working on the role before Ballo rehearsals began.

"He sings the stuff I sang, so I can pass on traditions from the old conductors and singers," Milnes said. "We work privately at my house on the big bomber arias like Eri tu."

Milnes, who sang Renato (called Anckarstrom in another version of the opera) hundreds of times at the Metropolitan Opera and other major houses, has a wealth of practical advice for his student.

"I will say things to Mark like 'Here, swallow twice in this rest, so that you get your throat remoistened, because you're going to be dry.' Or I'll tell him to back off during a big chorus. Don't give it your max when nobody is going to hear you. Save it until you're going to need it."

The baritone is also picking up useful insight into performing Renato from Daniel Lipton, artistic director of Opera Tampa. "Daniel knows the opera inside and out," Walters said. "He said the first time he conducted it was with Piero Cappuccilli, one of the great Italian interpreters of the role. In general, Daniel likes the tempos on the quick side, which is what he has found from his study of Verdi."

Walters, 48, who grew up in Iowa and now lives in Jacksonville, N.C., is moving into heavier baritone roles. Also with Milnes, he studied the role of Jack Rance in Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (Girl of the Golden West), which he'll perform for the first time with Mobile Opera in March.

"Puccini wrote lower than Verdi for baritones," Walters said. "Scarpia (in Tosca) and Jack Rance sit a couple steps lower. They don't go quite as high for the dramatic high notes and in general the roles lie a little bit lower. If you don't have pretty strong low notes Puccini can be tricky."

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

Comments
On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

On stage this week: Freefall Theatre’s ‘The Musical of Musicals,’ Jay Pharoah

SENDUP: MUSICAL OF MUSICALSFive composers, a talented cast, choreography by Cheryl Lee and music directed by Michael Raabe — that’s Freefall Theatre’s recipe for a laugh-filled, season-ending summer musical, appropriately titled The Musical of Musica...
Published: 06/20/18
Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

Jobsite’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ should be more gripping than it is

TAMPA — The virtues of Dancing at Lughnasa, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, are many. This drama by the celebrated Brian Friel opened in 1990 to much acclaim. It captures a family’s joys and sadnesses, and the quickness with which one s...
Published: 06/19/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/15/18
Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

Irish boxer brings his dream to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — In his vision for this weekend, Connor Coyle is standing in the ring at the Coliseum, and the referee is raising his gloved fist.He’s got a National Boxing Association middleweight championship belt around his waist, the first of sev...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/16/18
Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

Why this ballet dancer is skipping college in favor of her own St. Petersburg Ballet Conservatory

GULFPORT — Brianna Melton is as serious a ballet student as they come.By her junior year at St. Petersburg High’s International Baccalaureate program, she had already spent four summers training with ballet companies across the country and had narrow...
Published: 06/14/18
What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

What’s on stage: The Illusionists, ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ G. David Howard

OPENING: DANCING AT LUGHNASAIrish playwright Brian Friel, who died in 2015 at 86, won’t be traveling anymore. But I’ll bet he packed a tidy suitcase. Dancing at Lughnasa, Jobsite Theater’s season closer, manages to address a lot of issues: race, reli...
Published: 06/13/18
Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall tees up comedy, romance and Kristin Chenoweth for 2018-19 Broadway season

Ruth Eckerd Hall rolls out a new lineup of musicals for its 2018-19 season, a mix of comedy, favorite musicals and romance."For the last 35 years, Broadway has always been a staple at Ruth Eckerd Hall," chief executive officer Zev Buffman said in a p...
Published: 06/12/18
A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

A tense night at the Tony Awards ends in euphoria for Largo doctor Jeffrey Grove

Dr. Jeffrey Grove sat three-quarters of the way back from the stage at Radio City Music Hall, waiting for his moment. The Largo physician made the trip with family to New York for Sunday’s Tony Awards, where he hoped to see his investment in O...
Published: 06/11/18
Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

Neal Boyd, ‘America’s Got Talent’ winner, dies at 42

SIKESTON, Mo. — Neal Boyd, an opera singer who won America’s Got Talent and dabbled in Missouri politics, has died. Scott County Coroner Scott Amick says Boyd died around 6 p.m. Sunday at his mother’s house in Sikeston. He was 42. Amick says Boyd had...
Published: 06/11/18
Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Parkland drama teens bring down the house with stirring performance at Tony Awards

Members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s drama team stole the show at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards Sunday night.The performance brought the crowd— many of whom were wiping tears from their eyes— to its collective feet at the Radio City Music ...
Published: 06/11/18