Reviewed by George B. Parous
Those fortunate enough to be in Carnegie Music Hall last evening enjoyed a genuine treat. Michael Chioldi, a truly gifted baritone, sang his way through an interesting and generous program as the second Pittsburgh Festival Opera Legends in the Limelight offering. Chioldi, a western Pennsylvania native, who has appeared with major opera companies throughout this country and Europe, made his Pittsburgh debut in the concert. He received a rousing reception from an audience probably united in one question as they left the hall – “WHY are we only just now hearing him?”
His voice is a splendidly sonorous baritone, with a wide range that touches bass-like dark tones and the occasional peal of a tenor. His excellent breath control allows for the smoothest of phrasing. As his selections proved last night, he is comfortable in a variety of styles, and he has a charming personality and gracious manner which he makes obvious to his listeners from the moment he walks onto the stage. Some opera singers, without the aid of costumes, scenery and orchestra, can give the impression of being out of their element on the bare concert stage, but Mr. Chioldi isn’t one of them. He seemed perfectly at home and happy to be there, despite the fact that the hall was uncomfortably warm, especially on the stage, under the glare of the lights.
He opened his program with Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée cycle of three songs, which he sang beautifully. They certainly lent an air of novelty, as they are hardly “overdone” on concert programs. Much the same can be said of his second group, Gerald Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring, which includes “Who is Sylvia?” (much better known through Schubert’s setting), “Come Away, Come Away Death,” “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun,” “O Mistress Mine” and “It Was a Lover and his Lass.” Chioldi’s voice and artistry lent these numbers an interest they may not have enjoyed in less capable hands.
“To Dream the Impossible Dream,” from The Man of La Mancha, was one of the best sung pieces of the evening. Before Chioldi began “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” he brought Marianne Cornetti, Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Artistic Director, from behind the scenes, and they sang the song together. It was a touching moment, and the two truly made beautiful music together, as the saying goes.
He saved a generous selection of operatic excerpts for last. Unfortunately, by the time this part of the program was reached, the oppressive warmth of the stage had begun to take its toll. In order to maintain the excellent quality of his singing, Chioldi was forced to admit that some of the selections would have to go. This was certainly understandable, but what a disappointment it was that “Il balen” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore was one of the casualties. The numbers he did sing, however, amply displayed why he has enjoyed such a prolific operatic career. He sang the prologue to Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci probably better than anything else he sang through the course of the evening, which is saying much. Excellently delivered was a highly dramatic excerpt from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. He closed with Rigoletto’s “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata,” sung with an impassioned vehemence that brought his audience to their feet.
Dr. Nikolay Verevkin provided excellent piano accompaniments. He seemed to be in complete sympathy with the singer, and while there was clearly music at the piano, frequently his eyes were on the baritone. The songs he turned into duets for voice and piano, as it should be, but for the operatic selections, he created as much of an orchestral sound as was possible. He played with such skill that a solo, while the singer caught his breath, would not have been amiss.
It was a truly inspiring evening of truly inspired singing. Those who heard this splendid baritone can only be wondering, “When will we here him again?”
There are two more “Legends in the Limelight” concerts to come. For more information and tickets, visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera.