Sunday, October 20, 2013

Saginaw Choral Society's night at the opera was a mixed bag

Tami Snyder-Knutson puts the moves on the conductor during her "Carmen" aria

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Poor Glen Thomas Rideout...he was much set upon Saturday night trying to conduct the Saginaw Choral Society’s “Fantasies of the Opera” concert at the Temple Theater.

A trail of lights from the glow sticks
The vixen “Carmen” put the moves on him as he tried to conduct her famed “Habanera”  aria. A very modern major general from “The Pirates of Penzance” actually pushed him off the podium and grabbed his baton. A windup doll from “Tales of Hoffman” wound down, not once but twice, and he had to run off the stage, get a key and then wind her back up again.

But worst of all...these four GROWN MEN came out in tutu garb to hype the coming Christmas concert....and thew glitter on him.

Opera lover that I am, I found this nonsense distracting from the beauty of the music at hand, as was Rideout’s over narration. But I also have to admit I laughed at the did the sparse audience. What was a major major distraction, however, was the use of glow lights during the exquisite Humming Chorus” from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”

Concertgoers were given the gizmos upon arriving and told not to activate them until given the word by Rideout....which, it turns out, was not too far into the “Humming Chorus.” And from then on, the music took second place to the light show. And as fascinating as that light show was, one of the most sound-rich pieces in opera was trashed.

And while we are on a negative note....the sound crew did an abominable job with the soloists. Tami Snyder-Knutson’s microphone cut in and out and in and out and buzzed during the first half. And Jim Smerdon’s basically did not work much at all on his Gilbert and Sullivan “Modern Major General” song, which cut its comic effect nearly totally.

Now to the plusses.

Snyder-Knutson and Rachelle Austin, both sopranos, were outstanding in the “Flower Song” from Delibes’ “Lakme” -- a duet that requires, at several points, their voices to blend as one.

Austin is the one who performed Offenbach’s “Doll’s Aria,” and not only was her voice spot on in the athletic and demanding piece but her pantomime skills as the wind-up doll were a joy to watch.

Snyder-Knutson nicely slinked her way around the stage as the sultry Bizet “Camen” while staying true to the song and also was a joy to hear in  two other arias, from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.”

Two of the four tutu men
The two soloists and tenor Jeremiah Kraniak, who had one solo and joined Austin in a duet, are all graduates of the music program at Saginaw Valley State University, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Nice effect and job, too, from chorale members Suellen Estes and Nancy Stevenson who actually “played” an anvil during the “Anvil Chorus” from Verdi’s “Il Travatore.”

And the choir was in top form on the six chorus pieces in the program, which ranged from that aforementioned “Humming Chorus” to Lloyd Webber’s “Masquerade: from “Phantom of the Opera.”

Opera is so rarely done in these parts anymore, so faults aside it was a concert that delighted the ears.


  1. Here's another take on the glow sticks and "antics".....there were a number of kids in the audience and they loved it! Several of my friends brought their preschool age children who really enjoyed the concert, in part because of the lighthearted fun and glow sticks. I thought it was a good move to allow parents and kids alike to enjoy a night at the opera.

  2. I thought it was great fun! I enjoy his narrations and think that he is a great, imaginative entertainer. Some people think that opera has to be staid, serious stuff, but I am not one of them. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, particularly The Flower Song, which I find totally enchanting

  3. Yes, everyone can agree the microphones were a disaster. I didn't realize, however, that I should have rented a tux and sipped champagne at intermission while mingling with the social elites, as Janet seems to imply was the caliber of this concert. Over narrated? Did you miss the theme of "epic tales"? Seriously, Janet, get your nose out of the clouds, and learn to have a little fun. If you want to be a stuffed suit, please feel free to head to the Detroit Opera House. The rest of us will enjoy being "distracted" by the antics. Who knows, Saginaw just might have gained some opera fans Saturday night.

  4. Janet obviously has no sense of humor! The concert was magnificent and Glen Thomas was the master storyteller! Our community now has a new found appreciation for the art of opera with its many musical dimensions! Bravo to everyone involved!