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Music

Review: Opera Theater Summerfest concert fitting honor for founder

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 11:15 a.m.

Opera Theater Summerfest celebrated its founder Mildred Miller Posvar on July 23 with the best form of tribute — a concert devoted to repertoire she made her own at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and other major houses in Europe.

The singers were, with one exception, young artists at Summerfest. Some won the Mildred Miller International Voice Competition in Pittsburgh; others won its European counterpart.

The program began with two arias for Cherubino from “The Marriage of Figaro,” a role Miller sang more often at the Met than anyone else. The presentation was smart to include the recitatives preceding “Voi che sapete” and “Non so piu” to set the stage dramatically — as well as to provide other young singers the chance to perform. Mezzo Evelyn Rossow sang the arias with fervor and a cultivated quick vibrato.

Miller excelled in trouser roles, such as the teenage boy Cherubino, but Carmen was one of her specialties. Cassandra Santiago brought plenty of spirit to the “Seguidilla,” though hopefully the lower range of her voice will fill out more. The quintet from Georges Bizet's opera was performed at a good quick tempo, but like many ensembles during this concert needed finer balance between the singers.

Adele Grabowski, who studies with Miller Posvar at Carnegie Mellon University, sang “Una voce poco fa,” Rosina's voice lesson in “The Barber of Seville,” with the most polished, attractive and even tone throughout her range, and with plenty of personality.

The big treat came after intermission when several historic videos were shown of Miller performing two of her signature roles on television variety shows, as well as a duet from Otto Nicolai's “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Her naturally beautiful voice was rich from top to bottom and required no extra vibrato sweetening. Those qualities and her excellent pitch can be heard on recordings. The videos completed the picture by demonstrating her riveting stage presence and personality.

After the quartet from “Rigoletto,” the concert concluded with two excerpts from “Der Rosenkavalier.” Miller had spoken after the videos were shown and mentioned that her attraction to the role of Octavian in “Rosenkavalier” was what got her into the opera business.

Erika Hennings sang Octavian in the excerpts, joining with the very promising soprano Chelsea Hollow as Sophie for “The Presentation of the Rose.” Hennings also was excellent in Summerfest's production of Strauss' “Ariadne auf Naxos” as The Composer, which Miller Posvar was singing in Vienna the week President Kennedy was killed.

The concert concluded with the last act trio from “Rosenkavalier,” in which Hennings and Hollow were joined by Kelly Lynch as the Marschallin. Lynch's vibrato was not helpful for the mix of three female voices, but fortunately the performance continued through the ensuing sublime duet between the young lovers.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877.

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