Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Opera and the Sea
St. Petersburg Opera Company
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Broadway by the Bay

Alexander Boyd singing at a POPera last fall
Photo by Jim Swallow
St. Petersburg Opera keeps finding ways to up the ante with their traveling concerts presented under the banner "POPera." This time the more focused program titled Opera and the Sea boasted most of a wind quartet and singers dressed to the nines, letting the audience know this evening was something special. According to opening announcements from Maestro Mark Sforzini, the program was in the planning stages before the pandemic hit and was intended to fit into a citywide arts mosaic on the titular subject.

Things opened with an obvious selection, "Soave sia il vento" ("gentle breezes"), a trio from Mozart's Così Fan Tutte, with Hanna Brammer and Jordan Blair as sisters and Alexander Boyd (married to Ms. Brammer) as Don Alfonso. Its lovely rippling accompaniment delineates the gentle waves of a calm ocean. Next up, "En fermant les yeux" from Manon was sung by Eric Ferring, who continues to dazzle in these concerts. He does occasionally step out of what will be his current repertoire, light lyric tenor, but this role is not far off in his future and he made a nice attempt at a voix mixte, where the lower voice meets the upper, only to be found in French opera.

Mezzo Jordan Blair stepped up for one of the best-loved arias from one of my favorite operas, "Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno!" from The Italian Girl in Algiers, which was repopularized by Marilyn Horne who made a meal of the aria. Ms. Blair did a fine job here. Next up was the oddity of the program, "I Can Smell the Sea Air" from Andre Previn's opera reworking of A Streetcar Named Desire. The CDs sit on my shelf and I've slogged through them twice, finding the opera too mechanically close to Tennessee Williams, but there is one soprano aria that I have heard excerpted "I Must Have Magic," and now this one that maybe doesn't stand out the way it should in Blanche's mad scene at the end, as they prepare to take her away. With lots of high phrases, Ms. Brammer showed why she is such a valued artist in this area with a lovely lyric soprano.

Another mad scene, this time for a man who is not likely to be well known to anyone other than opera aficionados, "Look, through the port comes the moonshine astray" from Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten, rapidly becoming one of his most-produced operas. Alexander Boyd gave it a great performance. The flute/piccolo had a really interesting obbligato, as played by David Tagliarini. I especially liked this selection because I have come to know the opera more and more, though I've never had the chance to see it on stage.

Eric Fanning sang "Un Cygne" ("a swan"), part of Mélodies passagères by Samuel Barber with text by Gian Carlo Menotti. Its a lovely song and Mr. Fanning sang the heck out of it.

"Come in quest'ora bruna" by Simon Boccanegra opens with a brief musical painting of calmish seas at a shore. Ms Brammer sang it luxuriously and I believe she might be able to get through the father/daughter recognition scene that follows, but after that, this role is a bit heavy for her at this time. A more raging sea is portrayed in "Die Frist ist um" from Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. I will be the first to admit I do not worship at the shrine of Wagner, but this selection for the title character is exciting. Mr. Boyd gave it a good go, but he is seriously underpowered for the role at this stage of his career.

Rinuccio's aria in praise of Renaissance Florence from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi brought spine-tingling singing from Mr. Fanning, while the orchestra continued the accompaniment at the end to pick up strains of the opera's most famous aria, "O mio babbino, caro" ("oh my beloved father"). Ms. Brammer stepped forward for Dvorak's "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka. With its high, lovingly sculpted phrases, no wonder its a favorite with sopranos the world over. This aria is the easy part; the rest of the opera might be beyond Ms. Brammer now.

Mr. Fanning next sang an interesting version of the folk song favorite "Shenandoah" with shifting woodwind accompaniment. The program closed with a baritone/tenor duet from The Pearl Fishers, "On Fond du temple saint," sung by Alexander Boyd and Chris Romeo. Nothing like masculine voices singing in thirds and sixths going up, up. It is always a crowd pleaser and the audience was on its feet.

I was seated on the stage left side, and during the running narration by actor Stephen M. Ray, Jr., it seemed his microphone may not have been working properly, so I had trouble hearing much of what he had to say.

Accompaniment was provided by Teresa Ancaya on piano, David Tagliarini on flute, piccolo and clarinet, Joseph Beverly on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Maestro Mark Sforzini returning to his bassoon roots. Musical preparation by Maestro Sforzini was exemplary all through, every selection well rendered.

March's concert promises "Madness in Opera," which has interesting possibilities as there are literally hundreds of mad scenes for men and women.

Opera and the Sea, ran through February 28, 2021, at St. Petersburg Opera Company in St. Petersburg FL. For more information, please visit

Jordan Blair, mezzo soprano
Hanna Brammer, soprano
Alexander Boyd, baritone
Eric Ferring, tenor
Chris Romeo, tenor
Stephen M. Ray, Jr., narrator