In an age when our ears have become accustomed to digital sounds, the purity of hearing the human voice enraptured in song is a rare treat. On January 27, local communities received just such a special opportunity as the Yuba College Cultural Events Series presented the San Francisco Opera Center Singers. The surreal music of operas that haunt the mind long after the final notes are heard, coupled with fresh interpretations, made for memorable moments. The group of traveling performers thrilled the audience with their youthful exuberance that gave a new vibrancy to each piece. For the enthusiastic crowd that filled the theater, hungry for arias that move the soul or for show tunes that bring laughter, few were disappointed.
Fifteen eclectic vocal pieces were performed that covered composers from Mozart to Bernstein. From one song to the next, the audience was transported to eighteenth century Italy and then to the glittering lights of Broadway. In the first piece, “Ah, guarda, sorella,” which featured a duet by Twyla Robinson, a soprano, and Elena Bocharova, a mezzo-soprano, the evening was off to a fine start. The merging of the two balanced voices in middle and upper ranges stimulated the auditory faculties deliciously.
Following this light-hearted repartee, the rich baritone of Kwang Shik Pang, offered a moving interpretation of “Vision figurative.” The dark tones emanating from his throat carried each note fully, but with the slight edge of fragileness that evokes human yearning.Pang’s facial expressions and gestures were genuine, and it was obvious he was feeling something powerful as well. The most dramatic piece of the first half of the program, however, was the excerpt from the opera “Rigoletto” by Verdi, which featured the song “Faglia! mio Padre!”
Singers Suzanne Ramo and Kwang Shik Pang communicated to the audience what was transpiring in the operatic scene beforehand. For those that are new to opera, this simple act was welcomed.
In this piece, the poignant gestures of a deformed court jester, who clings to his daughter in an effort to keep her safe from the evils of the world, offered a touching spectacle that moved the audience. The genuine loving interaction between Ramo and Pang, combined with beautiful and mesmerizing vibratos sustained and then released, captured the intensity and complex nature of human emotions.
Ramo, who demonstrated a vocal ability that allowed her to take chances with ear-piercing high notes and hammering staccatos, that she delivered on successfully, produced memorable performances thoughout the evening. Her tender and bittersweet rendition of the song “Dearest Mama,” from the musical “The Ballad of Baby Doe” and the more difficult “Glitter and be Gay” aria from Bernstein’s “Candide,” were true highlights.
The second half of the evening offered some more humorous and jovial pieces, such as the excerpt “Three Little Maids,” from “The Mikado.” This child-like number, with rousing choruses and comical gestures by Ramo, Robinson and Bocharova playing the maids, was a perfect balance to the other dramatic pieces. It was easy to see that these three “divas” were having fun, especially when they ended the performance by changing the words and doing a mock rendition that poked fun at the operatic world. This piece truly connected with the audience as laughter erupted several times.
The final performances continued on this upbeat mood and were a perfect way to end a magical evening of drama, tragedy and comedy.
Audience member Joaquina Calvo Johnson, who is a voice professor at Yuba College, felt that the performers did quite well, considering the situations they were working under.
“It’s always difficult to take certain operas out of the context of the opera they were written in. It is difficult for an audience to respond to a music that they are not familiar with, and then when you take it away from a drama of a whole work, it is even more so,” said Johnson.
Johnson also felt that biographies on the singers and English translations of the foreign language pieces would have added to the audience’s enjoyment.
Overall, however, Johnson had praise for the dedication and professionalism shown by the singers.
“They all had wonderful training. Their years of study and commitment to what they were doing, their vocal coaching and dramatic training was evident,” said Johnson.
Particularly outstanding for Johnson was the performance by soprano Suzanne Ramo.
“Wonderful stage presence. She is very experienced. I felt she was the best performer.”
Dave Freiler, head librarian at Yuba College, felt the night’s performances were a welcomed occurrence in the local community.
“I was pleased that such capable talent came to our area. I was especially impressed with the baritone singer,” said Freiler.
For many who attended the evening’s performance, it is clear that the piercing musical crescendos reflecting human suffering, as well as the more gentler subdued vocal tones of longing, left haunting impressions that most definitely resonated in the mind long after the evening was over.