BWW Review: THE BEL CANTO TRIO Kicks Off San Diego Opera's Detour Series in La Jolla
An enchanting performance at the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center
The San Diego Opera's first Detour Series performance this season belonged to the new Bel Canto Trio, starring tenor Joshua Guerrero, soprano Julie Adams, and bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee--all outstanding young award winners with impressive voices and resumes. Music director and pianist Christopher Allen was their accompanist.
The concert took place on March 4, 2020 at the Prebys Center's Baker Baum Theatre.
The group was established by Columbia Artist Management in honor of the original Bel Canto Trio, which consisted of famed tenor/movie star Mario Lanza and star bass-baritone George London, with soprano Frances Yeend.
The new trio is touring with the same program as its namesake. How much have opera-goer tastes changed over seven decades? According to Operabase, six of the 16 arias sung were from operas that are among the ten most performed today, and six were outside the top 100. The least familiar arias were probably "M'appari" from Flowtow's MARTHA and "Légères hirondelles" from MIGNON by Thomas.
The latter is the playful "Swallow Duet," which bass-baritone Brownlee described as "sorbet" between heartier courses. That comment was typical of his light-hearted approach throughout the evening.
Singing with Guerrero in a comic duet from Donizetti's L'ELIXIR D'AMORE, he entered with the "elixir" in a large plastic cup with a straw. In an aside he noted it was from In-N-Out. Guerrero's stage presence was equally informal and friendly. As in a previous San Diego Opera recital with soprano Ailyn Pérez, his formal wear was supplemented with what seemed close to slippers and either bare ankles or flesh colored socks.
a??The program included a mix of duets and trios, and three solo arias for each singer. Brownlee has a deep rich voice that wowed the audience with its power in "Tra la la" from Bizet's LA JOLIE FILLE DE PERTH. Guerrero has a warm, pleasing voice, and a disarming stage presence that make him ideal for roles such as Nemorino in L'ELIXIR D'AMORE. But in "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's TOSCA, he showed he can also sing with the authority and strength needed for more dramatic Italian operas.
To recognize an important step in his young career, Guerrero made the only change in the list of arias from the original Bel Canto program of the '40s. Last October in Frankfurt, he sang the role of Des Grieux in Puccini 's MANON LESCAUT. To celebrate the event, he sang that character's best-known aria, "Donna non vidi mai," instead of the familiar "La donna e mobile" from Verdi's RIGOLETTO.
Dramatic soprano Julie Adams easily holds her own with fellow trio members. She has a supple voice with effortless power, and her dynamic control makes for stunning liquid beauty in higher passages. Her version of Musetta's waltz from LA BOHÈME was an evening highlight.
Allen, a rising-star as an opera conductor, provided such attentive, unassuming support for the trio of singers that his virtuosic performance of the G-sharp minor Rachmaninoff prelude and Scriabin D-sharp minor etude to open the second set may have surprised many in the audience.
The acoustics in the relatively intimate Prebys Center are perhaps the best in San Diego. At one point, joining in the banter that enlivened the evening, Allen said the whispers from behind the closed doors to backstage were distracting him.
This was the San Diego Opera's first event at the new venue, and General Director David Bennett said it won't be the last.
For information about the remaining performances this season, visit the San Diego Opera website.