|(L-R): Grant Youngblood, Jeffrey Miller, Ben Wager,
Martin Hargrove, Alok Kumar. Photo courtesy of OperaDelaware.
We attended OperaDelaware's quasi-new programming (it's a few seasons in, although some may not realize) Inside the Opera Studio. The program brings audiences up close and personal to well-known and (perhaps) lesser known — but equally captivating — works from productions both international and U.S. born, under a collective theme. This time, it was "Devils, Drunks and Dastardly Dudes."
OperaDelaware's second-floor rehearsal hall was set with large candlelit tables and rear platform seating facing a small stage under chandeliers, giving the entire night a personal, intimate feel.
Our four featured dastardly dudes were OperaDelaware stars Alok Kumar, Ben Wager, Martin Hargrove and Grant Youngblood in a showcase OperaDelaware General Director Brendan Cooke described as "...men behaving badly."
OperaDelaware Music Director Jeffrey Miller, who was accompanist and creator of the program, also served us well as the entertaining "Master of Ceremonies," introducing each piece with brevity and humor, providing background about the opera and its characters. I enjoyed his discussion, as it helped to set the mood of the performances and give us interesting notes about each piece.
The evening began with tenor Kumar in a selection from Verdi's Rigoletto, in which Miller noted, "The Duke is probably a drunk...but definitely a dastardly dude." I know little about opera, but will say that Kumar's voice was incredible and delivered the perfect power-packed start to the evening.
I will also note that bass Ben Wager has his 'devils' down pat — in works from Faust and Mefistofele, his voice not only conveys the proper dose of darkness, but his spot-on laugh and expression are so entertainingly chilling. "Ben seems to specialize in devils..." laughed Miller after one of Wager's performances.
Wager and Hargrove also performed the provocative Ella giammai m'amo from Act 3, Scene 1 of Verdi's Don Carlo — what Miller called, "...no exaggeration; the greatest confrontation scene in opera."
Rigoletto gave me another favorite piece, this time from Youngblood and Hargrove — as Rigoletto and Sparafucile, respectively — in the duet Pari siamo!
Artfans who may not know much about opera or who think they may not like opera — these programs are right up your alley. They're the perfect informal (and enjoyably educational) introduction to many different styles, composers and stories.
Bravi, OperaDelaware! Next up for Inside the Opera Studio is the Ladies' Night program running March 3 through 5. Tickets available but seating is limited.