Permanent closure of one of the West Coast’s premier operatic organizations was never on the immediate minds of most San Diegans, so when San Diego Opera’s former regime wanted to take the easy way out, the news hit like an earthquake with multiple aftershocks. Enter: a rallying community and an inventive and unrelenting Board to find ways to reinvent itself and operate with innovative viability. 2014 was nail-biting, but President Carol Lazier and her cadre of supporters found a way to make “things work.” Right on the heels of these tumultuous months lay the quickly-approaching historical occasion: San Diego Opera’s 50th Anniversary. With that in mind, was there any doubt of The Company’s foreseeable future?   Never.

Lise Lindstrom © Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Lise Lindstrom
© Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Synergies from San Diego Symphony (SDS) and San Diego Opera (SDO) and Chorus were like the Allied Forces forging through ambiguous waters, but with a fervent mindset of triumph inside the walls of Copley Symphony Hall. So significant was this performance alongside last year’s culmination of events that Mayor Kevin Faulconer (though not in attendance) officially declared April 18 as “San Diego Opera Day.” And what an evening it was.

Former Music Director of the Hannover State Theatre, Karen Kamensek, took firm command of the podium, managing all the complexities of 19 pieces surrounding seven principal singers, full orchestra and full chorus. Logistically challenging, the end result, however, was varied and thoughtfully conservative.

Foreshadowing the uncertainties inside San Diego Opera, it was only fitting to begin this concert with Verdi’s “Overture” to La forza del destino. Frequently performed independently as a concert piece, the SDS rendered the melodramatic score without over dramatization, yet the “Destiny” motif was acute with benign melody lines light and fresh.

This energy propelled forward with the lovely Lise Lindstrom performing “Dich, teure Halle” with her smoky, smidgen-brass voice that gave the audience a feeling of warmth and happiness ahead of a radiant rendition of the Chorus’ “Entrance of the Guests” from Tannhäuser. Charles Prestinari’s efforts were meticulous with exceptional notice of grace notes filling the airwaves.

One of SDO’s operatic “sweethearts”, Lise Lindstrom was one of few singers last night that truly “lived” her character. Her gesticulations were sincere, connected and passionate. The elegantly framed Ms Lindstrom (who sang superbly in 2011’s Turandot) parlayed “In questa reggia” into something gigantically grand that caused a stir and partial standing ovation while her “Liebestod” was emotionally fluid especially in the piece’s final orchestral closing.

Making his company debut, René Barbera was one of the most highly animated and charismatic singers of the evening. Notwithstanding other pieces, La Fille du régiment’s “Ah! Mes amis” was the definitive crowd-pleaser. Following the ebullient Men’s chorus and Scott Sikon’s uneventful role as the Corporal, Mr Barbera easily tackled the famous nine high Cs flawlessly with his steely tenor timbre, yet it left no sustainability to hold onto his final F note.

Most recently seen in SDO’s 2014 production of Pagliacci, Stephen Powell’s stirring baritone voice was pleasing enough in the “Te Deum” from Tosca, yet his voice, pivoted between the snowballing, deafening roar of Chorus and tutti orchestra, was severely lost. A lightened touch, however, was found via-à-vis Barbera in Il barbiere’s Count Almaviva/Figaro duet.

Emily Magee’s soprano voice sparked magic in the last of her two selections: the liquidly legato lushness of Erich Korngold’s notes inside “Marietta’s Lied” fitted well within her tessitura. Ms Magee’s jumps were clean and polished and she demonstrated suitable voice control. On the other hand, her “Vissi d’arte” had her frequently losing synchronization with the orchestra.

Eight years ago Marianne Cornetti sang Azucena from Verdi’s Il trovatore, and in this stage appearance we saw her exhibit a continued, heavier subject delivery, one French and one Italian. Exuding a smoky texture with sanguinity, Ms Cornetti’s mezzo-soprano had shades of beautiful tonality and soulfulness, yet the passion behind the voice was tentative. Her blending of thirds with interspersions involving Tebaldo from Don Carlo’s “The Veil Song” was balanced and melodically crafted, but without any highly exotic Moorish animation alongside uneventful roulades and unflattering trills.

Saving for the lowest of registers, Reinhard Hagen had a rather successful outcome. Prince Gremin's aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was sincere, not overly accentuated, the pacing rather brisk; he held on to his final note with grace and dignity.

Back to “rising from the ashes”. It was fitting to conclude the evening’s performance with the “Triumphal March” from Aida. With the horns positioned in the side wings of the hall, this made for an impressive array of brass delivery while Acting Principal Associate Concertmaster, Jisun Yang, aided in the rhythms and dynamics with grand speed as maestro Kamensek kept subtly increasing the tempo inside the movement de ballet. Clearly, everyone on stage was on fire, poised and positioned.

Amidst a thundering round of applause and a passionate standing ovation, a fitting encore ensued: Leonard Bernstein’s “Make our Garden Grow” from Candide… a bit mawkish, but certainly well within San Diego Opera’s justified limits. It re-emphasized what Congresswoman Susan Davis said upon commencement of the festivities… (paraphrasing): We have ushered in the first 50 years at San Diego Opera, and now we move forward into the next 50 years, full of innovation and creativity.