Opera Naples opened its season with a concert at Moorings Presbyterian. Two things stood out: the amazing way that Steffanie Pearce manages to attract great talent, and what I will call “the controversy,” which kept coming up as the performers gave their introductions.
Nancy Gustafson is a fine soprano who is a Naples resident. She and Pearce brought together six first-class performers: along with Gustafson, there were tenor Richard Leech, mezzo Leah Summers, baritone Christopher Holloway, famed soprano Sylvia McNair and pianist William Noll. The program consisted mostly of familiar operatic pieces with some interesting lesser known works. Holloway sang with great authority on “Votre toast, je peux vous le Render” (the “Toreador Song”) from “Carmen.” He and Leech performed the evocative men’s duet from “The Pearl Fishers.” Gustafson and Summers sang a duet of two cats which was amusing and performed with flair.
The acoustics at Moorings can be hard to manage — it is a wonderful hall for musical performances, but the room is almost too warm. Performances need to be adjusted for it. Diction suffered in some of the numbers.
The second half of the program veered toward more popular show tunes. Most of the performers tended to prove the truism that opera singers tend to oversing popular music. McNair, however, a seasoned cabaret performer, clearly understands the idiom and knows how to deliver the goods. She sang a couple of my personal favorites, “A Little Bit in Love” from “Wonderful Town” — the hummed descending fifth which starts the melody always make me smile, and “Everybody Says Don’t,” a Sondheim song from the cult flop “Anyone Can Whistle” and dedicated to Pearce.
Several of the performers made it plain that they were here to support our local opera company in light of the arrangements made with the Phil to bring in the carpetbagging Sarasota company as its semi-resident opera group. We’ll see. I am practically in awe of what Pearce has achieved and continues to achieve. I would love to see our arts organizations cooperate more fully (case in point: it is hard to fathom why our leading local groups cannot get behind the idea of a single civic performing venue). But competition seems to come with the territory. I have a hard time seeing Daniels as the villain here — she is as passionately devoted to the continued success of the Phil as others are to their groups. The Sarasota company is a great improvement over the touring companies that used to come to the Phil. And Daniels has done a lot of things right — nothing succeeds like success.
The opportunities to see first-class opera in town have gone from zero to plentiful in the past five years. Not long ago, you had to go to Miami to see a professional presentation. Now we have the Met simulcasts, a program at SilverSpot, Opera Naples and good presentations at the Phil. These have given us the opportunity to introduce several of our friends, who would otherwise have been intimidated by the form, to operatic music. On this day after Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the variety and multitude of the offerings now available.