Florentine Studio artists 23 enchant in ‘Opera’s Greatest Hits’ program

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The Florentine Studio Artists. - PHOTO: KAYLA BRUSS/FLORENTINE OPERA

Before Julie Tabash, Erin Gonzalez, Aaron Short and Pablo Siqueiros even sang a note the evening of Feb. 1, happiness filled the Florentine Opera Center.

And why not? The four young singers, the Florentine Studio Artists, stood beaming and eager in full view before the concert. A big crowd of opera fans and friends of the company — many of them know one another and the singers — socialized amiably. The room, the Florentine’s Riverwest rehearsal space, made us feel like insiders.

For most of its life, the building was a factory, complete with truck-sized overhead door. A few years ago, owners Cathy and Mario Costantini, who operate the La Lune Collection furniture company in the same complex, leased it to the opera company. Now it’s like a tech start-up’s hip loft.

This Opera’s Greatest Hits program was my first chance to hear this edition of the Studio Artists for a full evening. The very capable Ruben Piirainen accompanied. Scott S. Stewart, the Florentine’s chorus master, oversees the studio artists. He arranged the program and served as master of ceremonies. Stewart introduced the 14 numbers, but the singers gave prefaces to set the scene. Smart. All four singers showed great poise and a sense of humor in speaking to the crowd. They’re charmers; just being in the room with them is fun.

And what voices! Excellent intonation, full support and projection, clear articulation all around. Gonzalez’s rich, dark mezzo, especially, impressed.

The repertoire, quartets and duets aside, comprised the sorts of pieces you might hear at the Metropolitan Opera Auditions: “Una voce poco fa” (Rossini’s Barber), “Una furtiva lagrima” (Donizetti’s Elixir), “Habañera” (Bizet’s Carmen) and so on.

But Stewart also chose a few pieces that you don’t hear that often. Either they haven’t quite made the leap from opera to recital, or the operas have fallen out of the rep and the selections live on only in recitals and contests. Siqueiros gave an excellent account of “O vin disspie la tristesse” from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet, and Short made every second count in the two-minute “It’s about the way people is made, I reckon,” from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Tabash, Siqueiros, Short, Gonzalez. They were on fire, but only metaphorically. The fire extinguisher stayed in its rack. They balanced and blended beautifully in the ensemble numbers, the women in the barcarolle from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann and the men in “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. The big finish comprised two quartets, the familiar “Bella figlia dell’amore” from Rigoletto and the unfamiliar but worthy “Take Care of this House” from Leonard Bernstein’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, arranged by Arnold Freed.

After the concert, people hung around for a while to congratulate the singers and bask in their glow.

Next up for the Florentine Studio Artists: Festa Florentina, Feb. 14–16 at Marcus Center Vogel Hall.

Go; I think you’ll be happy you did.

For more of Tom Strini’s reviews and insights into Milwaukee’s cultural scene, go to striniwritesblogspot.com.