The Dallas Opera, as part of its educational outreach, presented its biannual Family Concert on Feb. 2, 2013. This concert brought the entire opera experience to families and scads of children. It was in the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House and the full Dallas Opera Orchestra was on the stage to play some overtures and to accompany the singers. Anthony Barrese, a former Dallas Opera assistant conductor who has gone on to great fame, was the conductor.
The hall was filled to capacity with surprisingly well-behaved and eager young faces. It brought back fond memories of similar concerts that had such profound effects on some children of my own generation who went on to aspire to a career in music.
The program opened with three selections from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and three from Bizet's Carmen. Presenting two selections from Moby-Dick, the Heggie/Scheer opera that the Dallas Opera premiered, was a brilliant programming decision. This inclusion demonstrated that the opera is alive and that new ones are being written every day. The program ended with four selections from Rossini's The Barber of Seville. The singers for the afternoon were mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider and baritone David Pershall.
Unlike the similar concert last season, this one was much more audience friendly. Barrese was an engaging host in addition to his excellent conducting. He explained what was going to happen in the arias beforehand so that everyone knew what would be going on. Although the singers still sang in Italian or French, as the case may be, this time we had the English subtitles projected overheard so that those in the audience old enough to read could follow along. Singing in English would have been better yet so that everyone could get every word. Singers work hard on nuance in these arias and the youngest in the audience would have been able to follow along much better if they understood every word.
Both Crider and Pershall are attractive young singers with a brilliant future in front of them. Crider made her noteworthy Dallas Opera debut last season as a Flora Bervoix, Violetta's best friend, in La traviata. Flora may be a small role, but she gets a lot of stage time. A successful performance has launched many a career and Crider made the most of it. In this concert, she showed some versatility as she easily switched gears between Carmen's seductive "Habanera," Cherubino's self-composed "Voi che sapete" and the highflying vocal gymnastics of the irrepressible Rosina's "Una voce poco fa."
Pershall's list of credits includes a long list of prizes in vocal competitions, from the obscure (Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition) to the well known (Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions). The latter put him on the Met's roster as a first cover. As with most young baritones, the bottom notes in his voice are still on the serviceable, but slightly weak side. However, the top is secure and the overall voice is definitely of prize winning quality. He was impressive, as the Count in his devilishly difficult aria "Hai gia vinta la causa" but his rendition of "The Toreador Song" needs a couple of years to ferment. He was most impressive in Starbuck's aria from Moby-Dick and made a charming Figaro in "Largo al factotum." The kids in the audience were enchanted with his clever rendition of the repeated "Figaro" bit, the hallmark of the aria.
Barrese was excellent and right with the singers in all of the selections. He was especially impressive in accompanying the complicated recitative in the Count's aria, "Hai gia vinta la causa." His rendition of the overture to The Marriage of Figaro was rushed, but everyone conducts it that fast (or even faster) these days. He gave an intensely felt version of the third act interlude from Carmen that hushed even the noisiest of the children.
In the final selection, Crider and Pershall were impressive in the duet from The Barber of Seville, "Dunque io son," the audience favorite of the afternoon. Perhaps fewer arias and more scenes would be welcome in future presentations. That reservation aside, the Dallas Opera presented a delightful afternoon of music that was much loved by all who attended.