Amidst the grandeur of Rutherfurd Hall in Hackettstown, New Jersey, a buoyant crowd gathered on September 30 to hear a nearly sold-out performance of “A Night at the Opera.”
Addressing the need for classical music performances in the area, professional contralto Alison Bolshoi, Director of The Bolshoi Studio, collaborated with Rutherfurd Hall (a cultural center and museum managed by the Allamuchy Township Board of Education) to bring some of today’s most talented voices in opera to Northern New Jersey.
Samuel Bolshoi emceed the event, introducing the audience to each piece with a quick synopsis and sharp humor that would have made Groucho Marx laugh — proving that you do not need to be a member of the elite to enjoy music that touches on every emotional aspect of human nature.
Doug Han, opera coach, Italian specialist, and pianist took the stage to accompany the singers. Han, who has worked with Grammy award-winning artists, played seamlessly through the varied repertoire, with an almost psychic ability to know when the singers wished to start, breathe, or stop.
The performance featured complex and versatile voices, including Daniel Sutin, baritone and Metropolitan Opera veteran, who enthralled the audience with pieces from Bizet, Wagner, and Verdi. Sutin’s rendition of “Eri tu” from the opera Un Ballo in Maschera by Verdi captivated everyone with his full, meaty voice and expressive acting skills that left no need for costume.
Matthew Tartza, a young tenor who has performed with companies such as Boheme Opera NJ, took to the stage as if preparing for a bullfight to let loose a crystal clear, warm voice for “Che gelida manina” from La Boheme by Puccini.
He also sang pieces from Schubert and Wagner. He later teamed up with soprano Andrea Bickford to play Rodolfo to her Mimi with “O suave fanciulla” also from La Boheme.
During one of Bickford’s high notes in “O suave fanciulla,” a “Jesus Christ!” was elicited from an audience member, reminding everyone that they were still in New Jersey and not on the streets of Paris watching two people fall in love.
After a few laughs and gasps, the offender quickly apologized saying “I’m so sorry, this is amazing, I’ve never heard anything like that before.”
Bickford’s voice was vigorous but controlled as she sang pieces by Wagner and Puccini. Her range was evident, and she kept it in check for the space. She recently won an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition and has sung at Lincoln Center.
Alison Bolshoi, known for her complex range and ability to connect with an audience, sang pieces from Bizet, Ponchielli and an Italian art song by Giordani.
She also joined Sutin for a compelling rendition of “Er hebe dich genossin meiner schmach” from the opera Lohengrin by Wagner. Together, they were fully convincing as Ortud, the manipulating sorceress and Frederick, her easily led husband.
Alison Bolshoi will be making her debut as Carmen in a production of Bizet’s opera Carmen at the Boheme Opera in March. She treated the audience to a sneak peek by performing the aria “Habanera” in French.
To ensure that everyone could understand the gist of the piece [If you do not love me, I love you. If I love you, then beware!] Bolshoi effortlessly stepped across the line dividing performance and reality — and off the stage — to sing directly to audience members, stopping to sit on a few laps on the way.
This interactive performance was the highlight of the night and cemented the fact that opera, no matter what language it’s sung in, is a fully relatable art form that delivers humor, passion and drama.
The secret weapon of the evening was Anna Viemeister, mezzo-soprano, who performed pieces by Verdi, as well as the “Witch’s aria” from Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.
“Not that Humperdinck,” Samuel Bolshoi said of the German composer, not to be confused with the British pop star of the same name. Viemeister, who has performed with the Regina Opera Company among others, had an easy splendor to her voice and gave a compelling and lively performance.
After the performance, the singers stayed to mingle with audience members, who appeared tickled to see opera (and its stars) up close in Hackettstown rather than buy pricey tickets for a “nosebleed” seat an hour and a half away.
Rutherfurd Hall and The Bolshoi Studio plan to continue the series throughout the year.
For information on performances at Rutherfurd Hall go to: https://rutherfurdhall.org/
To learn more about The Bolshoi Studio and the lessons offered go to: https://www.bolshoistudio.com/
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer
Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.