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Pacific pulls out all stops for a full-throated `Porgy' concert

October 06, 2006|Daniel Cariaga | Special to The Times

Even in an unstaged concert production, Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" demands the full resources of an opera company. John DeMain, artistic director of Opera Pacific, put them all together this week for two performances in the new Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall: a chorus of 150 members, an orchestra too large for most pits, an expert cast of singing actors, all intensely focused on dramatic values.

Wednesday night in the handsome new showplace -- parts of which remain unfinished -- DeMain conducted a riveting, musically glorious performance that kept a rapt audience engaged for its full length. Opera Pacific has seldom shone so brightly.

The orchestral playing could be raucous in this lively acoustic, but the band's enthusiasm and stylishness held the listener. The well-trained chorus, augmented by the Chapman University Choir, sang splendidly and unflaggingly throughout. And the cast, all specialists in this opera, inhabited their roles convincingly, even without costumes, makeup or scenery.

Angela Brown's Bess exhibited the full vocal and histrionic range of the character, most touching in her vulnerability and even more poignant in her dramatic high points. Henrietta E. Davis showed Serena's frightening intensity most believably and sang with a chilling fervor one will not forget. Anita Johnson's Clara combined dramatic point with gorgeous vocalism.

The men delineated their parts sharply. As Porgy, Donnie Ray Albert meshes the cripple's moral power and fearlessness with his deep sensitivity and shows all these in every line, sung or spoken. Strength and gentleness are delivered simultaneously, giving the role many facets. Gregg Baker's Crown, by contrast, is less complicated yet equally powerful. Jermaine D. Smith, Timothy Jones and Chauncey Packer contribute effectively.

As ever, conductor DeMain held these massive forces together with a light hand, letting the magic in this wondrous score emerge almost insouciantly, a paradox when hundreds of musicians are involved. But it all worked on Wednesday -- and was scheduled to be repeated Thursday.

Opera Pacific resumes this, its 21st season at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, in January with Mozart's "Don Giovanni" in its home theater, the 20-year-old Segerstrom Hall.

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