Celebration! Four Programs by the Amazing Vocal Music Department at GSA: German Art Song, Messiah Sing-Along, a Cabaret Evening of Music by Richard Rodgers and the opera Hansel and Gretel

Allerseelen Liederabend, auf Deutsch
Pianists: Dr. Stephen Z. Cook & Kelly Vaughan
GSA Black Box Theatre, October 27, 2016
Review by John Campbell

Billed as “an evening of songs about witches, goblins, elves, and all things that go bump in the night...," we heard songs by Mozart, Beethoven, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Loewe, Schubert, both Clara and Robert Schumann, Brahms, Wolf and Richard Strauss. A brief synopsis of the text of each song was written by its singer and placed in the program booklet.

The more experienced students, many of them seniors, turned-in polished performances but there were surprises. Jaelin Mitchell, with a large powerful voice sang Edward by Carl Loewe. He is a second-year student. The song tells a gruesome tale of a boy who comes home with a bloody knife after killing many animals and his father. He then tells his mother that she and the other children can beg for a living, while he flees. Senior Ava Anderson gave a dramatic reading of Hexenlied (Witches' Song) by Mendelssohn. It tells us of the witch's broomstick ride, gifts from a dragon and celebrating Beelzebub.

Cecelia Humphrey offered urgency and superb low notes building an air of mystery in Schubert's Der Tod un das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden). Death soothes the stricken girl as she lies dying. Ricky Goodwyn, Jr. sang Schubert's Erlkönig, the tale of the deceptive Elf King who lures a child away from his father into death. Madison Finke, with a commanding stage presence, sang Robert Schumann's Die Kartenlegerin (The Fortune Teller) as the gypsy daughter fantasizes about becoming a queen as she reads Tarot cards. Kelly Vaughan and Stephen Z. Cook accompanied on the piano.

Messiah Sing-Along
First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk
December 19, 2016
Review by John Campbell

Chorus Director Stephen Z. Cook was at the organ for the uninterrupted two-hour performance, joined by vocal music department current students and alumni Joshua Ross and Joey Haney, recent graduates continuing their under-graduate college degrees, as soloists. Then there were the headliners, the more vocally mature alumni who have moved into professional careers: Frederick Ballentine, Will Liverman, Tiffany Haas and Chrystal E. Williams.

Mr. Ballentine recently had leading roles in two short operas, What Gets Kept and Adam at Washington National Opera's festival of new works with his picture in the Washington Post review. Mr. Liverman was Figaro in Virginia Opera's fall production of The Barber of Seville. Ms. Williams created the role of Rebecca in Charlie Parker's YARDBIRD, presented both in Philadelphia and New York and will reprise the role with Hackney Empire/English National Opera in London in June. Alumnus trumpeter Hamed Barbarji played with the superb student chorus in Glory to God, The Trumpet Shall Sound (Liverman was sololist) and Hallelujah.

Wearing simple black gowns and tuxedos for the guys, the students sang from memory and GSA student Leah Finn and Chorus were outstanding in O Thou that Tellest. Tiffany Haas sang an outstanding Rejoice Greatly and I felt I was in the presence of greatness when Chrystal Williams sang He Shall Feed His Flock—beautifully ornamented. And then there was the big, juicy voice of Ballentine in He That Dwelleth in Heaven and Thou Shalt Break Him before the exuberant Hallelujah Chorus.

GSA: Cabaret - The Music of Richard Rodgers, Kelly Vaughan, Pianist
Black Box Theatre, Januay 20, 2017
Review by John Campbell

Many programs end with a choral song for all the singers together. For the “Music of Richard Rodgers” evening it began with the exuberant choral song It's a Grand Night for Singing from State Fair. There were songs from early musicals of Rodgers and Hart that were new to this reviewer, such as the duet Mountain Greenery from Garrick Gaieties (1925) sung by Gemauria Fennell and Donte Thompson and also the duet of the familiar I'll Take Manhattan. In this number Justin Estanislao showed crooner potential with his partner, soprano Kennedy Stone.

With thirty-six songs in the program, all I can do in my brief review is hit some high points. Sing for Your Supper was outstanding—choreographed by Lauren Sinclair and sung and danced by Shannon Crowley, Brooke Jones and senior Matilda Siegfried. From the musical The Boys from Syarcuse, Juliet Ortiz gave a fine performance of Falling in Love with Love. From Carousel Emma Giometti with the ensemble sang You'll Never Walk Alone.

From Cinderella (1957) Emily Myers and Eryk Nicolay were well-matched vocally in a good cabaret rendition of 10 Minutes Ago. From Sound of Music Isaac Martin offered his fine, deep voice in Edelweiss and Elise Dresdner's natural sound and incredibly great diction in My Favorite Things evoked pleasant memories.

We know Shannon Crowley from her solo Bach performances but she was equally great in Do I Hear A Waltz from the musical of the same title. The program closed with Oklahoma!, sung by the ensemble in Italian (with the final chorus in English) on Inauguration Day 2017. Quite a surprise! Who but Alan Fischer would have that in his background?

GSA Hansel and Gretel
ODU Theater, March 10, 11 , 12
Review by John Campbell

We saw the March 11 performance of the fully staged Hansel and Gretel (1893) by Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921). Director and Conductor Alan Fischer moved the action of this German fairy tale opera to the American west of Little House on the Prairie era. The settings are different but the actions are the same. With Stephen Z. Cook at the piano, Hansel was sung by Matilda Siegfried (other performances by Leah Finn with Gretel by her sister Camryn Finn). Our Gretel was the excellent Ava Anderson. The children are left at home with chores while the parents are away but they dance and play instead. Mother, sung by Margaret Hallauer (Julia Ortiz) returns and is furious. After a chase in which their only food—a pitcher of milk—is broken, she sends them to the woods to pick strawberries. The pitiful mother is tired and hungry— the curse of being poor?

The children have a fine time eating strawberries but get hopelessly lost. Ricky Goodwyn as Father (Delvin Joppy) returns from the town happy and with plenty of food since he has sold all of their handmade brooms. He panics when he learns that the children were sent to the Western Woods—the home of the witch. He picks up his gun and they go looking for the children. Hansel and Gretel are lost but happy until night falls. Magic begins when an Old Prospector/Sandman played by Catherine Scalzi (Devin Koehne, Cecilila Humphrey) soothes their fears into sweet sleep. Fourteen voices as spirits of Gingerbread children surround them for protection and bathe them in the most lovely music.

Awakened by the Dew Fairy sung by Yasmine Scott (Samantha McCarty/Amber Hughes), the siblings share their dream of their nighttime shield of protection. As they wander they see the witch's enchanted candy house—here a western saloon run by Miss Kitty Sugarmouth, a sensual, inviting Madison Finke (Shannon Crowley). They are so hungry that they eat a piece of the house that Hansel has broken-off. They are entrapped and soon figure out the danger they are in. Hansel is being fattened-up in a pen. The witch is so excited that she rides her broom and as she returns for her meal she gets careless and puts down her magic wand. Using the wand Gretel is able to free Hansel and fakes ignorance about how the oven works and together they trap the witch in her own oven. The spell is broken and the gingerbread fence —the entrapped children—comes alive. Finally their parents arrive and all the children devour the giant gingerbread cookie that the witch has become.

The production was engaging and the singers at their best—vivacious, charming and on-key. Ricky Goodwyn in the father role has a mature voice that was outstanding in a student production. Lauren Sinclair's choreography was effective on the small stage and Elwood Robinson's sets and lighting worked well. Costumes and wigs were by the talented Ricardo Melendez and as stage manager Christina Sherman kept the action flowing.

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