Area group adds 'Spice' to opener


Rochester Aria Group will open its 2012-2013 season Oct. 20 with a spicy concoction: selections from Russian and Czech operas.

"The Spice of Life" concert is a first for the organization which has, over its first 13 years, presented a steady diet of selections from Italian, French and German operas.

But Russian and Czech are something new and different, if for no other reason than the difficulties presented by the respective languages.

"The singers are very primed for it," said George Smith, director of the aria group. "The Russian is much more daunting. Czech is a cleaner, more straightforward study than Russian."

Luckily, the group is working for this concert with pianist Thomas Bandy, a specialist in Russian and Czech opera and language. The languages are something singers will have to master, especially if they expect to perform at major opera companies.


"In the last 20 years, Russian and Czech have become much more a part of the repertory of larger companies," Smith said. "There's always going to be a problem putting it on at regional companies because of the language."

Selections for this concert will come from Dvorak's "Rusalka," Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa" and Rachmaninoff's "Aleko."

"The music of both countries is highly influenced by folk music," Smith said. "I hear the influences of folk melody and harmony. I think both of them are highly romantic and lush. Certainly with the Russian there is a darkness to it."

The singers, most of them from the Minnesota Opera Resident Artist Program, are Karin Wolverton, Christie Hageman, Victoria Vargas, Brad Benoit, John Robert Lindsey, Mark J. Thomas and Richard Ollarsaba.

Besides the Czech and Russian selections, Smith promised "a couple of German and French things off the beaten path," and a finale from Gilbert & Sullivan's "Princess Ida."

The Rochester Aria Group will also present "Classic Christmas: Traditions from the British Isles" Dec. 22, and "Life and Times: A Celebration of the Bicentennial of Verdi and Wagner" March 23. All concerts are at First Unitarian-Universalist Church.

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