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Night at the opera spotlights talents of energetic performers

With a whole weekend's worth of Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts in store at Artpark, the crowd that turned out for Friday's opera arias program was on the small side.

But how enthusiastic these listeners were!

Friday's concert, conducted by BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta, was a great example of how audience and performer can inspire each other. Quiet and rapt, the listeners gave the music perfect silence. They listened alertly, applauded perceptively and never missed a joke.

And you could just see the singers responding. When they re-emerged after intermission, they were overflowing with eagerness and energy.

You needed that kind of spirit in a program like this. It was an all-Italian program, mostly Verdi, with three Rossini numbers and a little Puccini and Ponchielli thrown in.

It could have grown heavy. But it didn't.

The singers -- soprano Jane Redding, tenor Benjamin Warschawski and baritone Grant Youngblood -- kept things interesting, filling the music with emotion and natural grace. They weren't merely singing arias. They stepped into their characters.

Youngblood, a couple of summers ago, entranced an Artpark audience with his portrayal of Figaro in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville." Students should be required to observe his performance of "Largo al factotum" (that's the boastful "Figaro-Figaro-Figaro" aria), which he sang Friday.

Treacherous though the music is, Youngblood made it look like fun. Before he even opened his mouth, he rubbed his hands together, as if he couldn't wait. He employed a dizzying range of effects -- hoarse, comic falsetto, clever pauses, subtle gestures, funny faces.

Redding had her own charm. In an aria like "Caro Nome" from "Rigoletto," made up of little more than simple descending lines, everything depends on subtlety. I could hum the melody, and it would sound like nothing. When Redding sang it, her impeccable timing and phrasing gave it life and shape.

Warschawski, while more low-key than the irrepressible Youngblood, has a fine tenor and a satisfying, passionate approach. His "De Miei Bollenti Spiriti," from "La Traviata," was warm and moving.

Most of the second half was "Traviata." Youngblood, stepping admirably into a far different character from Figaro, gave us a sympathetic Germont, the father of the opera's tragic hero, Alfredo. His duet with Redding, "Dite alla giovine," was the most emotional moment of the night.

I completely forgive the BPO for rearranging the opera scenes to end with the party scene, "Liabiamo ne'lieti calici," with Youngblood singing the part of the chorus. We went out into the night happy.

Also worth remembering was Puccini's overture to "Manon Lescaut," featuring ravishing solos by cellist Feng Hew and violist Natalie Piskorsky.

The party continues at 8 p.m. today with a special tango program featuring dancers as well as musicians; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, which brings an appearance by guitarist Pablo Garibay.



Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Great Opera Arias on Friday night in Artpark Mainstage Theater.

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