By Walter Rutledge
The second installment of the highly successful Opera is HOT series took place February 10- 12 at the Faison Firehouse Theatre. The series is the brainchild of Tony and Emmy Award winner George Faison.
Opera is Hot brought together emerging operatic talent with established artists and the result was a performance of power and potential. By surround these young performers with greatness, they can only aspire to do great things.
This concert saw the return of three young emerging artists Patrick Dailey, Barry Robinson and Jasmine Thomas. They shared the stage with Cook, Dixon and Young, aka. Victor Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young who electrified audiences as the original Three Mo Tenors. Artistic Director Faison created a sensorial multimedia spectacular encompassing video, animation, dance, spoken word, music and of course, song.
The concert opened with a video montage of film clips from television, stage and concerts that was staged, directed and/or choreographed by Faison. The three-minute plus video biography was set to the riveting O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. A brief introduction by Faison followed.
Referencing the imagination and cultural self-determination of the Harlem Renaissance Faison stated, “It is our responsibility to preserve the culture and heritage we have inherited. We are going to celebrate the art”. His stylish black velvet jacket, in lieu of a tuxedo, gave him the persona of a proud impresario; and with just cause the Faison Firehouse Theatre has evolved into an impressive black box space.
The intimate 120 plus seat house has surprisingly good natural acoustics, and state of the state of the art lighting and projection capabilities. Through the efforts of Faison and Executive Director Tadeusz Schnugg the Faison Firehouse Theatre has become a cultural gem in the Harlem community. Faison finished, and then swung open the movable black flats, which acted as a proscenium front curtain to reveal an open stage with Musical Director Brian P. Whitted seated behind a black grand piano upstage. With the aid of projections on backdrop and front legs we were now transported to a tiered opera house complete with chandeliers.
The young artists took to the stage, each introducing themselves through song. Jasmine Thomas began with Depuis Le Jour from Gustave Charpentier’s opera Louise. Her poise and simple yet complete staging match the confidence in her voice.
Baritone Barry Robinson’s rich voice and dramatic presentation of Franz Schubert’s An die Leier wowed the supportive audience. And countertenor Patrick Dailey’s rendition of Gioachino Rossini’s Di tanti palpiti closed this introductory set to resounding approval. It was exciting to see the growth in these artists since the first series. Not only in their vocal delivery, but also in their stage deportment and rapport with the audience.
An extremely entertaining short animation entitled “On the way to the Faison Firehouse” was our next “course”. I refer to the video as a course because it reminded me of a light but flavorful sorbet that cleanses the palette between courses at a banquet feast. The animation depicted Cook, Dixon and Young on their way to the performance.
Seconds later Cook, Dixon and Young entered and cast their unmistakable magic on the audience. The trio began with Verdi’s Libiamo ne’ leiti calici from La Triviata, and performed a total of five songs ending the first act of the program with another Verdi classic La donna e’ mobile from Rigoletto. This was the first New York appearance by the celebrated trio since their 2004 PBS special, which was also staged by Faison.
The second act left the lofty world of European opera and presented music from an American songbook. Spirituals, jazz, Broadway, pop, patriotic, poetry, and soul were on full display from both novice and professional. Jasmine Thomas’ rendition of Give Me Jesus and Patrick Dailey’s Ride On King Jesus captured the essence and power of the spiritual.
The Home (The Wiz) and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables) duet featuring Victor Cook and Rodrick Dixon was a moving moment that reached beyond the footlights. Thomas Young and dancer Hollie E. Wright in the Luck be a Lady/Twisted medley were pure fun! Young’s delivery was witty and very tongue-in-cheek, and the effervescently seductive Wright communicated Faison’s spot on choreography with the right amount of sass and proficiency.
As the evening progressed Faison’s opening remarks revisited us. The theater had a feeling of a bye-gone era; part concert hall, part uptown salon on Sugar Hill or Strivers Row. There was a grandeur and sense of privilege surrounding us as if at any moment Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson or Marian Anderson might join us, and in spirit they were there.
The Opera Is HOT series is just one of the many programs offered by the Firehouse that is designed to enlighten and educate the public. The credo of this organization “reclaim, restore and rebuild our youth and our community through dance, music, art and theater” professes this ongoing commitment. The programming and the audiences that attend these events reflect the diversity of the new Harlem.
The Firehouse Theatre’s commitment extends beyond savvy programming and world-class performers. They also understand the need for community accessibility by keeping the productions affordable. Nowhere uptown or downtown can you get this quality at such a fair price. We continue to applaud and support the Faison Firehouse Theatre and we will keep you informed of the exciting upcoming events planned for 2012.
For tickets and other information please call: 212 665-7698 or email your ticket order to email@example.com
The Faison Firehouse Box Office 11AM-6PM Tue. – Sat
In Photo 1) Victor Cook, Rodrick Dixon and Thomas Young (poster art) 2) Jasmine Thomas 3) Barry Robinson 4) Cook, Dixon and Young 5) Patrick Dailey 6) Thomas Young and dancer Hollie E. Wright