When Anna Marie Darlington-Gilmour took over as president of the Annapolis Opera, she said her main goal was "to make opera accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience."
Saturday, she succeeded spectacularly with a sold-out dinner and opera concert at the U.S. Naval Academy Officers' Club. Some 180 guests enjoyed Alfredo's pasta and Puccini's music in an intimate setting.
Ronald J. Gretz, the Annapolis Opera's artistic and music director, chose the right composer and program to appeal to an audience that ranged from opera neophytes to cognoscenti.
Puccini's music is among opera's most accessible. It has been heard in the movies and on television commercials selling everything from wine to bras, cars to Big Macs.
Gretz served as master of ceremonies, narrator, and accompanist with an elegant style, gentle wit and superb musicianship. His program ranged from the lesser known "Chi'il bel sogno" (Doretta's dream) from "La Rondine" to "Nessun Dorma" (No one sleeps), the aria tenor Luciano Pavarotti owns.
Tenor Gary Leard wasn't up to Pavarotti standards, but his attack was solid and he had the power to sustain the high Gs leading up the high B at the end of the aria.
Also on the program was lyric soprano Sharon Steinberg, who sang a lovely "Mi chiamano Mimi" from "La Boheme," achieving the right pathos and tenderness as she told of spring's arrival.
She and her husband, tenor John Plier, sang "O soave fanciulla" from "La Boheme" with the intensity of young people discovering love. Plier, however, was suffering with a case of the flu and not at the top of his form.
Dramatic soprano Deborah Curtis was effective as Lauretta telling her father of her love for Rinuccio in "O mio babbino caro" from "Gianni Schicchi."
Curtis was particularly impressive in "Un bel di" describing one fine day when Pinkerton will return; she and Leard sang with a rapturous passion in the Act 1 love duet from "Madame Butterfly."
Sold out weeks in advance, Pasta and Puccini proved so popular that Gretz already is considering Verdi and Vermicelli for next season. This night was such a success, the organizers may want to book the hall for two nights to accommodate the crowd.
The Annapolis Opera's next scheduled event is its second gala, a costume ball, scheduled for March 19.
Darlington-Gilmour, who chaired the first costume ball last March, is adding a silent auction at the fund-raiser this year.
Pub Date: 2/25/99