The 24th Annual Opera thrills and delights audience at the White Church

24th Annual Bel Canto Opera

For the 24th year in a row, on Saturday evening, July 28, the audience at the White Church of Blandford was treated to a jewel box of gems from the opera repertoire. April Martin and Jessica Sandidge, sopranos, Matthew White, tenor, and John Viscardi, baritone, thrilled and delighted the audience with some of the most loved opera arias, duets, and a rousing quartet finale. They are ably accompanied on piano by Eve Queler (who is the founder of this concert) and Douglas Martin.

I have heard many fine opera singers in New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco and these four young singers are as accomplished and mesmerizing as any I have heard in larger venues. One of the most rewarding aspects of hearing these musicians in the White Church is that you are close enough to not only hear all the nuance in their voices, but close enough to see their acting! Although the program notes told the audience what each song was about, it was not necessary to read them to understand the emotional content of each aria because the singers so capably drew the audience into what their character was feeling – it was this that elevated the performance from a delightful aria recital into a mini-scenes from musical-theatrical works. It is also why I highly recommend anyone who enjoys theater and characters and drama to go see this concert when it happens next year.

The evening began with White singing “Questa o Quella” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, in which he portrayed a powerful, sensual man who is delighted with beautiful women. White did this not only with his nimble and clear tenor, but by cocking an eyebrow, smirking and gesturing with his hand. The audience was enthralled. Each of the arias White sang were from the point of view of a different character, from nobleman, to student, to a pearl diver. For each character White portrayed the different emotions they felt by changing the timbre of his voice, playing with dynamic contrast and inhabiting the composer’s intentions.

Viscardi was also masterful in his portrayal of characters through nuance in voice and acting. However, the audience had the added bonus of watching Viscardi’s comic ability, both in the famous “Figaro” aria from Rossini’s Barber of Seville and in Mozart’s “Papageno-Papagena” duet with soprano April Martin. In the Rossini, Viscardi entered from behind the audience in highly dramatic fashion and then proceeded to make the audience laugh with his increasingly embellished portrayal of a man who is at the beck and call of everyone, culminating in incredibly rapid passagework and exaggerated dynamics. This is a singer in complete control of his voice and of his audience. He also sang bel canto style arias such as Tchaikovsky’s “Ja vas Lyublyu” with pathos and power enough to make the audience sigh sadly for a piece most had never heard before.

Both Viscardi and April Martin completely captured the flirtatious naivete of Papageno and Papagena from Mozart’s Magic Flute. Their sprightly voices intertwined as they exchanged happy glances and finally held hands. Martin’s voice is stunning because not only can she navigate the light timber necessary for Mozart, but can sing with the depth necessary for bel canto arias. Her portrayal of Musetta from Puccini’s La Boheme had it all – the change in moods as Musetta contemplates past love and new flirtation, the vocal pyrotechnics that encompass a huge range of notes in a variety of tempos and the acting chops to make an audience care about the character in less than five minutes.

Sandidge portrayed characters who ran the gamut from ingenue, to starving girl, to fairytale water sprite. Her voice was by turns ethereal, passionate, or angry depending on what the character was feeling. The famous “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka as the first piece she sang, and her effortless gliding from high notes to deep burbling notes captured the mood of the doomed sprite. When she sang Mimi’s song from La Boheme, if you looked around you could see tears in the eyes of the audience because of the beauty of her sound.

This concert has been happening yearly for 24 years, and if you possibly get a chance next year, go see and hear the amazing young singers Eve Queler brings to Blandford – you won’t hear any better anywhere in the United States.

–By Sonya R. Lawson
Associate Professor of Music History and Viola at Westfield State University