Four superb singers took to the stage during the Annapolis Opera's "Concert of Stars," welcoming the crowd to the beginning of the company's 38th season.
The stellar performer was Annapolis resident and Metropolitan Opera baritone Jason Stearns, who has recently returned from performing in Oslo, Norway. Opening this program, Stearns delivered a compelling rendition of Umberto Giordano's "Nemico della Patria?" from "Andrea Chenier." Later, the two-season Met performer sang a riveting "Credo in un Dio crudel" from Giuseppe Verdi's "Otello."
Between Stearns' first two arias, the audience enjoyed an enchanting substitute to the program in Offenbach's hypnotic "Barcarole" from "Tales of Hoffman" in a soprano and mezzo duet sung by soprano Colleen Daly and mezzo soprano Carla Dirlikov.
An Annapolis Opera favorite since her Queen of the Night debut in "The Magic Flute" of 2006 and the first-prize winner of the 2007 Vocal Competition, Daly shines brighter at each hearing. As another local favorite, Dirlikov first earned fans' admiration when she brought charming spontaneity to her Papagena portrayal in that 2006 "Magic Flute" production and later won more hearts as enchanting Rosina in Annapolis Opera's 2007 "Barber of Seville." After their studies at Philadelphia's Academy of Vocal Arts, both singers have enjoyed critical acclaim.
Another rising opera star is tenor Jonathan Burton, who made his Annapolis Opera debut as Canio in Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" in March 2009 and returned as Cavaradossi in last season's "Tosca." Burton chose as his first selection the vocally challenging "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot" — delivered here by Burton in ringing fashion. He sang a lovely duet with Daly — "Parle-moi de ma mere" from Bizet's "Carmen" — where Jose's affection for his mother seemed heartfelt. Burton's voice has both steel and sensitivity, and he is quite capable of delivering his share of tenor fireworks.
The four singers joined together for an inspired version of possibly the most famous ensemble in all of opera: "Un di, se ben rammementomi" from Verdi's "Rigoletto," where the trusting Gilda learns of the fickle Duke's interest in Maddelena, whom he serenades as Gilda and her father listen.
Other vocal highlights included Daly's rendition of Liu's pleading "Signore, ascolta" from "Turandot" and Dirlikov's sensuous "Habanera" in "Carmen."
The artistic peak of the evening came with the "Trio and Addio fiorito asil" from "Madama Butterfly."
A few seasons ago, Stearns seemed the finest interpreter of the role of Sharpless, and he again proved to have no peer in his warmly sensitive definition of the character. Dirlikov delivered her own matching poignancy in a moving duet as Suzuki. Burton held his own in this trio as Pinkerton and sang a powerful "Addio" as well.
The program ended with a sublime baritone-tenor duet from Bizet's "Pearl fishers." Most impressive was Stearns' ability to surmount every vocal challenge in this gorgeous duet after meeting all of the strenuous demands of his preceding five arias.
Throughout the evening, Stearns produced a lyrical, full-throated baritone despite his announcing he was not feeling well. Winner of first prize in the national Verdi Baritone competition, Stearns has more recently been praised for his Barnaba in "La Gioconda" at the Met, where he appeared on less than one hour's notice, and in performances at Savonlinna Festival in the title role of "Der Fliegende Hollander" (Flying Dutchman). Stearns returns to Den Norske Opera and the Metropolitan in the 2010-2011 season.
The Annapolis Opera opening show gave more reason to admire our hometown baritone and to applaud three young stars who know how to glow vocally.
Next will be "Gifts from Grand Opera," the annual holiday concert, Dec. 5 at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Annapolis. Single tickets are priced at $40 and can be purchased at 410-280-5640. Information: AnnapolisOpera.org.