Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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Music/Theater

Princeton Singers Members Change Direction, Feature Soloists in a Night at the Opera

Nancy Plum

Princeton Singers stepped out of their usual orbit this past weekend with “A Night at the Opera,” an evening of arias and scenes designed to showcase the ensemble’s singers outside the choral realm. Grouped together in themes of text, the concert’s vocal selections also strayed far in deviously romantic themes from the performance venue of Trinity Church in Princeton. Despite the unusual setting for saucy and humorous operatic portrayals, the evening showed that the members of the Princeton Singers can hold a solo stage as well as fit into an ensemble.

Soprano Margaret Anne Butterfield was a clear stand out, singing Mozart, as well as Gilbert & Sullivan. In the renowned Countess aria “Dove sono” from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, Ms. Butterfield had the operatic style well in hand, with a clear and light voice which carried well into the space of the church. Ms. Butterfield maintained a smooth tempo for the aria, easily dipping into her lower register and taking a delicate approach in the aria’s recapitulation.

Ms. Butterfield returned to the stage later in the concert to sing Mabel’s aria “Poor Wandering One” from The Pirates of Penzance. This aria was tailor made for Ms. Butterfield, with its opportunity for nimble and sparkly singing and humorous characterization.

Another Mozart stand out was bass William Walker, singing a selection from The Abduction from the Seraglio and also participating in a Marriage of Figaro ensemble scene. Especially in the Abduction aria, Mr. Walker handled the comedic acting and very low register well, effectively declaiming the German text.

Two legendary duets were included in the concert, one for women and one for men. Soprano Michelle Zuckerman and mezzo-soprano Sage Lutton sang the immortal “Flower” duet from Leo Delibes’ Lakmé — a duet used in numerous television commercials and one which requires impeccable tuning. Ms. Zuckerman was sufficiently vocally delicate (in keeping with the character) on the upper part, while Ms. Lutton moved well through the registers of the lower part. Both singers were well-timed with each other, clearly working vocally together.

The second most unforgettable duet in operatic repertoire is the “Pearlfishers” duet from Georges Bizet’s opera of the same name. Tenor Scott Clausen and bass John Britt also provided a matched vocal pair, meshing their voices and French diction together well. Mr. Clausen has clearly studied with some operatic heavyweights, and maintained an even sound through a ringing top register.

Throughout both of these duets, pianist J.J. Penna provided flowing and sinuous accompaniment, finding the subtleties between these two composers who were twenty years apart in age and lived in the same country.

Several mezzo-sopranos also demonstrated their soloistic mettle, including Jody Sinkway, who sang a lovely aria from Henry Purcell’s Oedipus and Elaine Harned, who performed a demanding Tchaikovsky aria from The Maid of Orleans. Ms. Harned fell victim slightly to the facility; it was hard to make late 19th century high notes ring dramatically in the high arches of Trinity Church — there seemed to be nowhere to aim the sound. The two mezzos joined forces for the very “catty” (showing Rossini’s humor in more ways than one) “Cat Duet.” Tenor Chris Hodson, with more of an edge to his sound than some of the other singers, had more success using the space for his selection, singing the well-known “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love sensitively and with precise diction. Mr. Hodson joined Ms. Butterfield for the closing number of the concert, creating a very nice vocal pair for Verdi’s “Libiamo” duet from La Traviata (no doubt programmed also to entice people to attend the post-concert reception).

Lest anyone forget that the Princeton Singers is principally a choral ensemble, the concert opened with a choral piece from Henry Purcell, one of opera’s earlier composers, and the chorus joined Mr. Hodson and Ms. Butterfield for the closing Verdi duet. Considerable credit must be given to accompanist Mr. Penna, who was always right with the singers, yet always understated, and to Music Director Steven Sametz, who discretely conducted the ensemble numbers and providing entertaining commentary linking the arias and scenes. When hearing the Princeton Singers sing their inherent ethereal choral works, one might wonder how those singers could execute these demanding pieces, yet once one heard the opera concert on Saturday night, one might wonder how all those voices full of color and richness fit themselves back into an exacting and translucent chorus.

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