Enthusiastic shouts of Bravo! Brava! came from a delighted audience of 483 people at the second Opera! Pike! Park! performance held Sunday in the Ann Street Park.
There was an almost symbiotic, visceral connection between the audience and the four singers — Aubry Ballarò (soprano), Anne Marie Stanley (mezzo-soprano), Sahel Salam (tenor), and Titus Muzi (baritone) — who are resident-artists at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia and who sang in Milford for the first time.
Stanley said she saw a man in a military uniform who mostly listened to jazz and country music, yet whose eyes expressed profound appreciation for the arias they sang. One eight-year-old boy doing his thing at the playground stopped as he heard the music, mouth wide open, and said, “Wow! Cool!”
“That type of appreciation for what we do is the fuel that drives this art form,” said Stanley.
Stanley’s parents, Beverly and Joseph Stanley, attended the concert, giving emotional support to all the singers. Beverly said she feels like the “mom” to this group. They attend all the AVA concerts performed in Philadelphia.
The singers came to town with their music director/pianist, José Meléndez. This was the second year for Meléndez, who was here in 2019 with a different group of AVA artists.
There was shared joy on Sunday for the audience and the artists. This was the artists’ first in-person concert since March of 2020 (because of Covid-19, naturally), and they were as delighted to sing for the audience as the audience was to hear them.
Families, young and old people, first-time opera goers, and dedicated opera buffs all turned out.
Stanley remarked on how warm and welcoming the audience was.
“So many people were there and very receptive to what we had to offer as opera singers,” she said. “I found it enthralling.”
Muzi excitedly said, “José told us what a special place Milford was, but it exceeded all expectation.”
The concert was introduced by Carolann Page, a Milford resident who served as master-of-ceremonies. Page has earned critical acclaim as the creator of leading roles in world premieres in both opera and musical theater.
Sunday’s program included 17 arias with one intermission. There were three duets, and about six standing ovations.
The music was varied and interesting and included arias from Donizetti, Puccini, Mozart, Bizet, Offenbach, and Saint-Saens, among others. Muzi’s baritone gave the song “Oh! What a Beautiful Morning!” an entirely new feeling. The encore, “If I loved you,” brought down the house and tears to many an eye.
The synergy between Meléndez as the group’s collaborative pianist and director was evident in their perfect coordination of phrasing, tempo, colors, and the emotions that underlie them.
“This connection between people is something that José is really exceptional at,” Ballarò said. “He can predict what each of us will do, and these connections can make beautiful music together.”
And, standing at the back of the audience, watching and listening to all this beautiful music, was Javier Morales, the founder and director of Opera! Pike! Park! He orchestrated this incredible event, and wore the biggest, brightest smile all day Sunday.
Fun continues at after-party
The after-party was held that evening at the Hotel Fauchère’s Delmonico Room. Milford Mayor Sean Strub welcomed everyone and expression his appreciation of the community’s support. Jim Pedranti donated the Opera wine (a wonderful red with the label Opera). The Greater Pike Community Foundation and the Hotel Fauchère hosted the after concert dinner. Lumberyard Antiques provided the stage decorations for the concert.
As a surprise, Meléndez introduced the four singers who “sang for their supper.” Sahel said this wasn’t rehearsed. “José has every song on his iPod ready to go.”
Mayor Strub posted videos of the singers on his Facebook page.
Gail Howard from the AVA board said the school is a four year, tuition-free, post-graduate academy where resident-artists have rigorous training in acting, language lessons, and “how not to kill anyone with their practice swords.” For the last five years, they have always had a graduate sing with the Metropolitan Opera, she said.
Camille Mola, head of marketing and communications, said there will be a season of full production operas with costumes, a full orchestra, and all the trimmings. (For more information or to support the AVA, visit avaopera.org).
Morales and Meléndez are looking forward to doing a return engagement next year. So, as they say in the opera, and with apologies to the song Torna a Surriento (Come Back to Sorrento), we can also say —
Torna a Milford!
One eight-year-old boy doing his thing at the playground stopped as he heard the music, mouth wide open, and said, “Wow! Cool!”