Review: Operatic homecoming soars
BY RUTH BINGHAM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
No matter how large the hall, hometown performances have a special intimacy: warm support flowing from the audience, family and familiar faces scattered through the hall, and snatches of conversation about “back when.”
Baritone Quinn Kelsey, of the musical Kelsey family and a University of Hawaii at Manoa grad, returned home from his national opera career to perform Sunday before a large audience in Blaisdell Concert Hall, where only the largest voices can be heard over a full orchestra.
Kelsey surprised everyone by stumbling (intentionally) on stage for his first aria, the clown Tonio’s Prologue (Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”). He is still tall, of course, but slimmer and sporting a buzz cut and beard.
His voice is now fully mature, a beautifully trained natural baritone, rich in timbre, and with a marked strength in long, liquid notes. In roles he knows well, his acting is delightful, and he has a special affinity for the Italian style — Lencavallo, Rossini, Verdi.
Kelsey is still a bit young for the role of the father in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” but his rendition of “Di Provenza il mar” — a father remembering the beauty of his homeland and agonizing over how his son could have left — was melting. Singing that aria — Quinn being the son who left — while here in Honolulu shifted its meaning and added an unusual piquancy.
Kelsey opened the second half with a dynamite “Largo al factotum” (Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”), a role and style that fits his voice perfectly. I have heard baritones sing the aria faster, but very few so well.
It is often challenging to avoid being pushed to the sidelines by the hometown hero, but Kelsey’s wife, lyric soprano Marjorie Owens, more than held her own.
Owens has a very large, spectacular voice with a sweetness of tone perfect for heroine roles. Her training is bel canto (perfectly smooth and even throughout her ranges), and she has a distinctive tight, trilling vibrato in her head voice.
Her voice is now so large that it easily filled the concert hall, and even playing “fortissimo,” the orchestra did not come close to overpowering her. She lent an appealing lyricism to the massive late 19th-century works of Wagner and Strauss, and her performances of “Tu, che le vanita” (Verdi’s “Don Carlo) and “Es gibt ein Reich” (Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos”) were outstanding.
The Hawaii Symphony Orchestra is sounding ever more cohesive the more it performs together, and there were several fine solos by Todd Yukumoto (saxophone), Scott Janusch (oboe), Susan McGinn (flute) and Paul Barrett (bassoon).
Condutor Stephen Lord balanced orchestra and singers nicely, and although his reading of Rossini’s Overture (“Barber of Seville”) was rather symphonic in approach, both the Mascagni Intermezzo and Wagner Overture (“Flying Dutchman”) were beautiful.
Kelsey and Owens received a standing ovation — of course! — and although they declined to offer encores, Blaisdell management finally had to raise the lights to prompt the audience to stop applauding and depart.
Kelsey and Owens are just entering the peak years of their careers, in opera typically between ages 40 and 60 (the largest voices often don’t “come in” fully until the mid-30s). Let’s hope they return regularly to perform.