The Performing Arts Center at Temple College was transformed into an elegant European opera house Jan. 25, when four distinguished singers performed a benefit recital for the Temple Symphony Orchestra.
“A Night at the Opera” featured sopranos Penny Hogan and Teri Johnson, baritone Robert McFarland and bass George Hogan in a diverse program that combined an all-Italian operatic repertoire with selections from American musical theater, operetta excerpts and an Irving Berlin chestnut.
Following comments from TSO founder, musical director and conductor Tom Fairlie, in which he pointed out that “all the musicians have donated their services tonight,” to immediate applause, the four singers strode out on the stage and launched into a bracing rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It’s A Grand Night For Singing.”
And the title of that song was prophetic — accompanied by the remarkable piano of Li-Ping Wu, whose sensitive, empathic musicality never faltered, the concert kept audience members engaged and delighted.
Johnson, who boasts professional performing credits throughout North America, proved up to the task on Puccini’s “Quando me’n vo” from “La Boheme,” thrilling the house with her confident capture of the high notes in this familiar aria. Her coloratura chops and stage presence shone in the Victor Herbert piece, “Art Is Calling Me,” with its precarious upper register demands.
The lyrical, bel canto voice of Penny Hogan soared in her two solo turns. In works by Puccini and Herbert her full, even tones and outstanding diction bore witness to the vast musical experience this soprano brings to the stage.
George Hogan seized the audience with his dramatic performance of Verdi’s “Lacerato Spirito.” One of the composer’s supreme bass arias, it is arguably one of the most powerful musical expressions of grief, and Hogan wrung every bit of sorrow from the score, while never descending to melodramatics. And his masterful singing of “Ol’ Man River” came close to stopping the show.
With McFarland on the bill, expectations ran high. The dramatic baritone won the Metropolitan Opera auditions, sang 27 roles at the New York City Opera under Beverly Sills and performed at nearly every major opera house in the world.
His first selection, Tonio’s “Prologue” from “I Pagliacci,” showed why McFarland has risen to the top of the opera firmament. Exuding power and urgency in his vocal delivery on Verdi’s “Pari siamo,” he demonstrated genuine star-quality, and even switched musical gears to great effect on the Frank Loesser tune “Joey, Joey, Joey.”
After standout performances by Johnson and Penny Hogan on “Cat Duet” and Cole Porter’s “Wunderbar,” sung as a duet by both Hogans, the evening ended all too soon as the four artists joined together in a moving arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “The Song Has Ended.”