A splendid afternoon of opera favorites

The quartet from “Rigoletto” performed by (from left) Brandon M. Brown, Dana Campbell, Leslie B. Dunner (conductor, with back to audience), Melissa Piantedosi, and Henry Pleas. – Spencer Bibbs

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

The South Shore Opera Company of Chicago (SSOCC), gave a free concert on the last Sunday of June to a good-sized crowd at the Robeson Theater of the South Shore Cultural Center. They seemed very well pleased.

The concert’s theme was “Opera at the Movies” with a program made up of operatic excerpts that have been used in film. This didn’t really serve to narrow the field much, as some of the excerpts were listed as video versions of the original opera. By this account, almost nothing from the opera canon might have been left out. So in the end, it amounted to a kind of greatest hits concert.

Yet it was much more than that. The singers and instrumentalists gathered that afternoon found that special place where solid musicianship and easy communication meant that something special was in the air.

Leslie B. Dunner, the music director of the South Shore Opera, led the proceedings, conducting the 10-member ensemble on stage with singers up front and the enseemble behind. She had a clear ability to convey the heart of the music.

The concert featured both singers who have performed many times with the SSOCC, such as soprano Dana Campbell, as well as some fascinating newcomers, including countertenor Matthew Hunter.

There were several performances of great power that afternoon, not least of which was Giordano’s “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chenier. Here, Dana Campbell put her great storytelling skills to work, making this account of a mother who died protecting her daughter during the French Revolution an engrossing and moving moment. Campbell conveyed deep desperation as well as the hope for the future.

SSOCC newcomer Matthew Hunter made a splendid debut with the company, his pretty voice put in service of music by Mozart and Handel, which was particularly pleasing in “Lascia ch’io pianga” from “Rinaldo Farinelli. Here he combined dignity and delicacy and he had a wonderful way of realizing the softest parts of the music.

Tenor Henry Pleas brought the house down with “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot”. His tenor sound was flexible and plangent, imbued with love and triumph.

Another SSOCC newcomer was bass–baritone Frank DeVincentis. His “Non piu andrai” from “The Marriage of Figaro was solid, but the top notes simply were not there. His other selections seemed to prove he is really a strong, solid bass. His performance as the Commendatore from “Don Giovanni” in the scene where he sends the title character to hell, was chilling. DeVincentis was dominating and he conveyed immense power as well as a thirst for justice.

Also offering solid performances were baritone Brandon M. Brown, soprano Melissa Piantedosi and baritone Adrian Dunn.

One thing that elevated this from so many other concerts of opera favorites was the insertion of a few ensembles into the program. Most notably was the closer for the first half of the concert, the sextet “Chi mi frena in tal momento?” from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”. Campbell, Pleas, DeVincentis, Hunter, Brown and Piantedosi sang with clarity and it was a joy to hear this operatic gem in the slimmed down orchestration all the better to hear each of the six voices clearly. It was a tremendous success.

Dunner led the ensemble in two purely instrumental works, the Overture to “Don Giovanni” suffered violin intonation problems at first, but closed with great excitement. (Dunner used “Don Giovanni” to open and close the concert, in both cases, excellent choices.)

“Gabriel’s Oboe” by Ennio Morricone, written for the film “The Mission” was a lovely little number and oboist Grace Hong was marvelous.

The South Shore Opera Company of Chicago will close out its 2018 season on Sunday, Oct. 28 with a performance of “Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadows,” the complete opera trilogy based on the life of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore by composer Steven M. Allen. Leslie Dunner will conduct and the cast should be announced soon.

Last year, the SSOCC performed one part of this trilogy, and it was a roaring success, so the entire work should be much anticipated.