Thursday, April 15, 2010
As “Largo al Factotum” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia is about to begin, a suited man struts onto center stage carrying a large white straitjacket with multiple belts dangling from it. He casually asks if two people from the audience would be willing to come up on stage and tie him in. After the volunteers have left his arms twisted tightly around his torso, the baritone proceeds to pour forth powerful, rippling notes while wriggling to fulfill his promise of escaping from the jacket by the end of the aria.
Patrick Bell calls himself the world’s only opera-singing magician. In addition to escaping from straitjackets, he can be found pouring wine into a goblet, pulling out a scarf, then transforming the scarf into a rose, all while delivering flawless performances.
Bell will display his magicianship at Monterey Opera Association’s Saturday concert. His voice certainly does not require tricks to earn attention, and he will give several purely vocal performances, but Bell tends to carry fun along with him. To that end, he brings some Broadway charm to the largely operatic show with “Maria” from West Side Story and “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General” from The Pirates of Penzance.
More traditional operatic arias performed by three non-magician vocalists complete the concert, but fall into the camp of the lively and popular rather than the inscrutable and obscure, befitting the show’s light-hearted title, “If It’s April, It’s Opera.”
“They’re kind of opera pops,” says musical director and conductor Carl Christensen. “We want to demystify opera. We picked the arias that were the most lyrical, the most justifiably famous.” “Chanson Boheme” from Bizet’s Carmen, “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicci and “La Dona è Mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto rank among the highlights.
Soprano Susan Gundunas, mezzo-soprano Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai and tenor Adam Flowers also conjure their own brand of magic. Flowers’ voice erupts urgently yet smoothly, charging “Che Gelida Manina” from La Boheme with suspense, while Iranian mezzo Shehabi-Yaghmai sings the gypsy song from Carmen with a mysterious, sultry quality. Rivaling Bell in the ham department, Gundunas blends her strong, shattering notes with excellent acting reflective of her undergraduate and professional training in theater.
All three will collaborate in the medley of Italian folk songs like “O Sole Mio!” and “Funiculi Funicula” that ends the program. Probably much more moving, however, will be the duets: Gundunas and Shehabi-Yaghmai will do the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé, while Bell and Flowers will perform “Au Fond du Temple Saint” from Les Pêcheurs de Perles.
“It’s not a really popular opera,” says Bell, “but it’s a memorable tune and a beautiful duet. There’s not a lot of really great male duets out there.”
A brand new piece will also take the stage. Christensen commissioned his friend and musical Robert Nelson to compose something inspired by the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Although the full work will not be presented until the Monterey Opera Association’s sister organization and collaborator in this concert, the Monterey Bay Symphony, gives their Memorial Day performance, one of its arias, called “Rock and Hawk,” will debut.
“It’s pleasing to listen to,” Bell says. “I think the audience is going to like it a lot.”