Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bill Doggett: African American Men Make History At Opera Santa Barbara

Row 1 Kevin Thompson, Elliott Carlton Hines, Babatunde Akinboboye
Row 2:  John Holiday, G Thomas Allen, Darryl Taylor

L to R: Elliott Carlton Hines, Kevin Thompson & Babatunde Akinboboye

L to R: Elliott Carlton Hines, Kevin Thompson & Babatunde Akinboboye

Kevin Thompson

Rigoletto Poster

Opera Santa Barbara Rigoletto

Bill Doggett writes:

Dateline, Santa Barbara, California, November 7th 2014,The Granada Theater

For the second time in less than two weeks, Black men  who sing opera have made history on two opera stages in Southern California   First, three Countertenors in LA Opera's Barrie Kosky's production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and now...a Bass and two Baritones in Opera Santa Barbara's Season Opening production of Verdi's Rigoletto at Santa Barbara's historic Granada Theater, Friday night, November 7th.

At Opera Santa Barbara's Season Opener, they are....  Bass, Kevin Thompson in the principal role of Sparafucile, Baritone, Eliiott Carlton Hines in the principal role of Monterone and Baritone, Babatunde Akinboboye in the comprimario role of Usher.   To my knowledge, this is the first performance anywhere of Verdi’s Rigoletto  in which three African American men have been cast in leading roles.

Performed at Santa Barbara’s historic Granada Theater, Thompson, Hines and Akinboboye vocally shined in their roles adding to an exquisitely cast production of exceptionally gifted young singers who performed in their Opera Santa Barbara debuts, the principal roles of Rigoletto [Evan Brummel], Duke of Mantua [Cody Austin] and Gilda [Andrea Carroll]        Making his Opera Santa Barbara conducting debut, Christopher Allen, Associate Conductor of LA Opera provided a beautifully hewn interpretation masterfully performed by The Opera Orchestra.

Kevin Thompson, who sang the principal role of Sparafucile is a Bass of commanding presence with a Bass tessitura that is huge,booming and clearly signals to Artistic Directors that he is an awesome choice as a  future Fafner or Fasolt in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.    In his 2013 debut at Opera Santa Barbara, Mr. Thompson sang the principal leading role of Ramfis, The King in Verdi’s Aida to great acclaim,

Opera Santa Barbara General Director, Steven Sharpe and Artistic Director, Jose Maria Condemi must be applauded for the artistic decisions to cast these exceptionally talented young singers.   Having attended the 1997 and 2012 San Francisco Opera productions of Rigoletto, last night I was frankly blown away by the gorgeous world class singing of the Principals with particular applause to Cody Austin’s fantastic  premiere performance as The Duke and Andrea Carroll’s ravishingly beautiful performance as Gilda.   Both singers were making their debuts

Moreover, as one of the Founding Board of Directors of Los Angeles Opera’s African Americans for LA Opera [AALAO] who served on the board from 1994-1999, mirroring on stage the social demographics of the larger community in which a Performing Arts institution resides has long been a critical goal to usher forward new audience development, as well as celebrating diversity in artistic merit of young and emerging singers..   This end goal informed  LA Opera’s first General Director, Peter Hemmings and has blossomed under the leadership of Placido Domingo at LA Opera

What is exceptional about the artistic choices at Opera Santa Barbara is the decision to showcase diversity in casting as a matter of progressive artistic vision.   Demographic mirroring to support the casting choices is not present in Santa Barbara, making this exceptional and noteworthy.

Black Opera History is upon us….In October and November, 2014  at both LA Opera and Opera Santa Barbara, six gifted Black men have and continue to make their mark in celebrating artistic excellence as singers of exceptional promise.       At Opera Santa Barbara Rigoletto: Kevin Thompson, Elliott Carlton Hines and Babatunde Akinboboye, at LA Opera Dido and Aeneas: John Holiday, Darryl Taylor and G Thomas Allen.   Bravi Tutti

Bill Doggett: Strategic Marketing,Publicist consultant for LA Opera production: Dido and Aeneas

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