Couple’s ardent singing illuminates tragic operatic love

By David Fleshler

Stuart Neill and Sandra Lopez performed operatic duets for Sunday Afternoons of Music

A pre-Valentine’s Day concert of arias and duets Sunday in Coral Gables by two leading operatic voices offered doomed love and lots of it.

The soprano Sandra Lopez and tenor Stuart Neill, both singing brilliantly and with as much conviction as if they were on the operatic stage, portrayed the love of Tosca and Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, whose romance ends in gunshots and suicide, Mimì and Rodolfo in La Bohème, which ends in her death by tuberculosis, and Tony and Maria in West Side Story (gunshots again). This sunny valentine from the world of opera and musical theater was brightened by a sprinkling of popular songs and zarzuela.

The concert, presented by Sunday Afternoons of Music, took place at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall. As they sang, the singers acted out the roles, in earnest performances that transformed the bare concert stage into a Roman prison, a Parisian garret and a Manhattan tenement. And there was an unusual degree of chemistry between the two singers, as they portrayed lovers across different generations and languages. This was not entirely accidental, as Doreen Marx, Sunday Afternoons of Music executive director, took the stage after intermission and told the audience “a little secret”—that the two singers are married and have a baby daughter.

The Atlanta-born Neill made headlines in the opera world in 2008 when he became a last-minute substitute in the title role of Verdi’s Don Carlo opening night at La Scala in Milan. Lopez, a University of Miami graduate, has gone on to win the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions and establish a national career.

Both singers sang superbly, with big voices that filled the small hall. In Vissi d’arte from Tosca, Lopez sang with more power and passion than normally lavished on this aria, with a rounded, full voice that delivered at the big moments. In E lucevan le stelle, where Cavaradossi contemplates his impending execution by firing squad, Neill built up the power of the aria masterfully, with a soft searching voice at first, gradually bringing in the vocal heavy artillery to maximize the power of his strapping vocal equipment.

In the scene from La Bohème in which the two lovers first meet, Neill brought real gusto and conviction to Che gelida manina, where he tells Mimì that he is a poet and lives in carefree poverty, giving the words real meaning through his phrasing and diction. The sound, especially Neill’s big voice, was often a bit overwhelming for the hall, where the volume of the two singers was enough to make your ears ring.

After intermission, they performed lighter works. Neill’s agility and power shone in the popular post-World War II song Be My Love by Nicholas Brodszky, made popular by Mario Lanza, and Lopez was at her best in the Romanza from the zarzuela Maria La O by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.

At the piano, Richard A. Raub played with greater style and verve than usually heard from an accompanist, providing firm support to the two robust voices on stage.

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Mon Feb 14, 2011
at 12:20 pm
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