THE SOUND OF MUSIC
By: Hal de Becker
The musical sounds heard last weekend at the spacious home of Luana Devol, general director of Opera Las Vegas, did not emanate from DVD’s or TV. Soprano Joan Sobel and duo pianists Philip Fortenberry and Spencer Baker performed very ‘live’ at an afternoon fun function attended by about seventy five invited guests.
The convivial event was organized by the Opera Las Vegas Guild. Of Course, some of the guests already knew each other, but some became acquainted for the first time during the occasion.
It’s easy to make new friends when chatting about a shared interest around a generous table of eye and tummy filling delicacies, luscious pastries and varied beverages.
But more stimulating even than the good conversation and refreshments was the performance by the three artists. That was inspiring.
Ms. Sobel is a young soprano who already possesses impressive career credentials. She’s performed in Europe and sung leading roles with opera companies in Canada and America, including the prestigious New York City Opera.
The renowned conductors and orchestras that she’s worked with include Sir Colin Davis and the New York Philharmonic. Las Vegans know her best for her portrayal of the diva Carlotta in the local production of Phantom of the Opera.
One of Ms. Sobel’s three selections was a song from the period of the Belle Epoque set to a poem by Victor Hugo, Si mes vers avaient des ailes (If Only My Poems Had Wings) by Reynaldo Hahn (1884-1947).
Although Hahn was a prolific composer of instrumental music, ballets and operas he is best known for his songs, many of which are set to poems by Hugo, Verlaine, Musset, Heine, Gautier and even Robert Louis Stevenson.
Vocally and expressively Ms. Sobel’s performance was as exquisite as the song itself. Her pure tone, coloring and nuanced phrasing captured the essence of the poet’s longing for his beloved.
She was accompanied securely and with rare sensitivity by Mr. Fortenberry. He also accompanied her in the Csardas from Der Fledermaus by Johann Strauss and I’ll Be There by Adam Gwon.
Mr. Fortenberry and Mr. Baker opened their program with Darius Milhauds’s spirited Brasileira and followed with the introspective adagio movement from the Beethoven 5th piano concerto, the Emperor. They later gave rousing performances of Gershwin’s Concerto in F and the opening movement of Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto.
The Talented Trio
Mr. Fortenberry recently moved to Las Vegas from New York where he served as associate conductor for the Broadway musical Rocky and received an award as Best Musician on Broadway. In the film Behind the Candelabra it’s Fortenberry’s hands playing the piano that are portrayed as Liberace’s.
He is currently associate conductor for the Jersey Boys show at the Palazzo and has been musician and conductor for a number of other Strip productions. He is a much sought after accompanist for such acclaimed singers as Frederica Von Stade and Ms. Sobel.
Spencer Baker is a home grown talent. He graduated from UNLV with a Masters Degree in piano performance and received recognition in the Steinway Collegiate Artist competition. He has performed with the UNLV Symphony, Las Vegas Civic Symphony and the Desert Springs Arts Chamber Orchestra.
The intimacy of the occasion seemed to establish a special affinity between the three artists and the guests. The standing ovation given by the audience was a sincere expression of appreciation for the artistic afternoon it had experienced thanks to the talented trio, Ms. Devol and Opera Las Vegas.
On October 15th the company makes its debut at The Smith Center with A passion for Puccini in the intimate Jazz Cabaret Theater.
The troupe’s young artists will offer staged and costumed excerpts from a wide selection of Puccini operas, among them La Boheme, Madama Butterfly and Tosca. It is certain to be a memorable evening of passion, romance and glorious Puccini melodies.
Ticket information available at 702-749-2000.