Young singers answer the bell at Opera in Concert’s “Il campanello”

Fri May 04, 2018 at 1:48 pm
By Wayne Lee Gay

“Il campanello” was the centerpiece of Opera in Concert’s season-ending “Donizetti Delights!” program Thursday night at Latino Cultural Center in Dallas

While Fort Worth Opera currently features the Donizetti standard Don Pasquale in a complex, opulent version in Bass Performance Hall, Dallas’s much smaller Opera in Concert company offered a delightful miniature comedy Il campanello (The Night Bell) by the same composer Thursday night at the Latino Cultural Center. Here, one of the great names of opera today, baritone Edward Crafts, joined a young cast for a smartly staged modern-dress version of a work that is well worth opera lovers’ time.

One might think of Il campanello, officially designated as a “melodramma giocoso,” as a miniature Don Pasquale. In both, an elderly, wealthy bourgeois gentleman is enamored of a beautiful young woman who in turn loves a more age-appropriate man. As in Pasquale, the young lovers of Il campanello eventually manage to thwart the aging lecher.

Crafts brought his decades of acting experience, and a richly resonant voice, to the central role — in this case, a prosperous apothecary named Pistacchio. (At one point, Crafts also takes on the intriguing secondary task of playing the part of a very bad actor.) Meanwhile, soprano Gabrielle Gilliam, a recent graduate of the University of North Texas, demonstrated extraordinary career potential in the key role of the young bride Serafina. With her substantial and sweet timbre and bel canto flexibility, we’ll likely be hearing more from Gilliam.

As Serafina’s love interest Enrico, baritone Will Hughes — who has already scored some significant comprimario roles with major companies — gave an equally impressive performance. With an attractive, nuanced tone and flexibility, Hughes excelled in the series of comical disguises used to trick Pistacchio. Unlike the dramatically parallel tenor role of Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Enrico has the edge of a sexually adventurous past. In Pasquale, the May-December marriage is dissolved so that the younger couple may enjoy legal and morally upright marriage of their own. Here, the marriage of Pistacchio and Serafina is intact (but unconsummated) at the end of the show, with the strong implication that Enrico and Serafina will merrily carry on behind Pistacchio’s back.

Another promising standout was mezzo-soprano Josefina Maldonado as Serafina’s aunt, Madame Rosa. An undergraduate at the University of North Texas, Maldonado possesses a remarkably rich timbre, combined with an impressive stage presence and the vocal flexibility this slice of the operatic repertoire requires. Tenor Doug Brunker was winningly comical and adept as Spridione, Pistacchio’s bright-eyed and hapless assistant.

Crafts founded Opera in Concert in 2014 to present and to assist young artists with performance opportunities in Dallas and summer study in Italy. He is its artistic director, and on Thursday he doubled as stage director for a performance that clipped along nicely. Stephen Dubberly, director of UNT opera, accompanied at an onstage piano, providing flawless support for the singers as well as superb impetus and insight into Donizetti’s lively instrumental style.

The evening had opened with a series of excerpted arias and ensembles from other operas of Donizetti, including L’elisir d’amore, Lucrezia Borgia, Dom Sébastien, Anna Bolena, Don Pasquale, and Lucia di Lammermoor, performed in straight concert style by cast members and by tenor Evan Brown, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin who is currently studying at Southern Methodist University. While Brown demonstrated an unfailingly vigorous quality, he tended to sing at a fortissimo volume level during his two arias and one duet.

The high points of this section arrived with the duet “Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio” from Anna Bolena, in which soprano Gilliam and mezzo-soprano Maldonado joined for one of Donizetti’s great duets — neatly nailing the unison final C, after communicating the complex conflict and tragedy of the scene. One could well imagine these two performing this great moment together on one of the world’s great stages at some point in the future.

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