Four Italians and a Russian - surely, melodies of romance and passion were never in better composing hands. Thus convinced, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra programmed its Feb. 11 concert to revel in the lush, long lines of the opera arias that have ripped hearts for almost 200 years.
Two fine singers joined the orchestra, under the baton of an apparently thriving Jon Robertson, to deliver works by Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, Mascagni, and Tchaikovsky for an immensely satisfying concert.
A treat, primarily because the singers sparkled. Soprano Katrina Herrera showed why a fascination with opera has been rekindled: it's all about a truly beautiful voice, elegantly presented, thoughtfully executed.
From her first seemingly effortless notes in “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from Verdi's “La Forza del Destino,” Herrera committed completely to the musical artistry. With a vocal quality dark but not swallowed, she gave us huge drama with every song.
While her low notes diminished in power, she could easily power the bulk of her range over the orchestra when she needed to. Her high notes - and they were myriad - soared elegantly, being whatever Herrera needed them to be - breathlessly suspended to open “Un bel di” from Puccini's “Madama Butterfly,” coming out of a solitary, almost inaudible flute note, to the huge final note of Verdi's “Brindisi” from “La Traviata.”
Herrera's voice was to Christopher Campbell's tenor voice what her simply stunning, elegantly tucked red strapless dress was to his gray business suit. Still, Campbell conveyed a hugely tragic quality in “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini's “Tosca,” appealing tenderness in “Che gelida manina” from Puccini's “La Boheme,” and fine technique throughout, all tempered with a tonal quality that evaporates into mere vibrations on the high notes.
The orchestra, with Robertson commanding every nuance, provided the concert's through-line. As dramatic as the singers, the orchestra played with tight vigor, great emotion, and fabulous energy, from the opening Overture to Verdi's “Nabucco” to the light, bright contrasts of the waltz from “Eugene Onegin” by Tchaikovsky, with its swirling, whirling ending.
Notably, the orchestra stayed out of the singers' space, always demonstrating keen awareness of the music's essence.
The orchestra closed the concert with “Overture-Fantasy” from “Romeo and Juliet” by Tchaikovsky, a mighty piece and ultimate theme of the angst of romance. Despite the somewhat shaky entrance by the winds at the beginning, the orchestra delivered a richly powerful and moving performance, brilliantly savoring the work's expansive and sweeping main theme, and leaving no doubt about the magical power of Conductor Jon Robertson.