Music of the Night

Posted on Sep 24 2013 - 8:30pm by Alison Haywood, A&E Editor
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Performers who took part in Opera Night on Saturday prepare to bow for a delighted audience. All of the opera singers are students of Janeanne Houston, Pacific Lutheran University’s Senior lecturer of music. Photo by Alison Haywood.

From undergraduate students to master’s degree holders, Pacific Lutheran juniors to 5th Avenue stars, an eclectic group of vocalists came together on Saturday evening to bring Opera Night to PLU.

Despite their variances in experience and ability, they all had one thing in common: their teacher, Janeanne Houston.

Houston, who is a senior lecturer of music and teaches voice lessons from her private studio and at PLU, organized the recital to give her students a performance opportunity.

“They all need experience with an audience,” she said. “So I decided to let a large group of students sing together and inspire each other.”

Mezzo soprano Elizabeth Giesbers, who holds a master’s in music from the University of Washington, started off the recital with “Va, l’error mio palesa” from “Mitridate, Re di Ponto” by Mozart.

Her deep, rich vocal tones echoed and bounced around Lagerquist Concert Hall, which was less than half full with an audience of around 50.

PLU senior Miranda Matson-Jewett followed with “Bester Jungling,“ also a Mozart piece, from “Der Schauspieldirektor.”

Her antics of leaning on the piano and gazing wistfully into space, as well as her goofy facial expressions, made the audience chuckle.

“When you first start singing a song, you’re worried about the mechanics and the techniques,” Matson-Jewett said after the show. “Then you really start to become the character … [Tonight] I was more than a character.”

Four performers later, coloratura soprano Anne Eisendrath, University of Michigan graduate and singer with the 5th Avenue Theatre,  finished up the first half of the recital with two songs in English, “Poor Wandr’ing One” from “Pirates of Penzance” and “Monica’s Waltz” from “The Medium.”

Her performances featured just as much acting as singing, and she danced with, flirted with and teased guest actor Eric Hagreen during her performances.

After a dramatic cadenza — a short musical improvisation — that showed off her vocal range in “Poor Wandr’ing One,” she made as if to kiss him, then poked him on the nose instead and grinned mischievously out at the crowd, much to the audience’s delight.

Lyric tenor Derek Sellers of the Seattle Opera kicked off the second half with “Comfort Ye Every Valley” from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Una furtiva lagrima” from “L’elisir d’amore.”

He stood with his feet planted firmly on the stage, looking straight out to the audience with his chin slightly raised, the perfect picture of absolute confidence.

“I don’t often do little recitals like this, not since college,” he said. “[But] my heart was still palpitating.”

Sellers described Houston, his voice teacher of two years, as a “wonderful person,” saying she was one of the best teachers for tenors and sopranos. “More than a teacher, she also acts as a psychiatrist,” he said.

Another noteworthy performance came from coloratura soprano Jenny Shotwell, PLU class of 2004, who now sings with the Tacoma Opera and at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

During her performance of “Quel guardo il cavaliere, so anch’io la virtu magica” from “Don Pasquale,” she sang a showy cadenza that turned into a fit of giggles, causing the crowd to laugh with her.

Michael Dudley, a baritone who has sung with opera companies in Seattle, San Francisco, Vashon and Bellevue, finished off the recital with an excerpt from “Porgy and Bess” by George Gerschwin.

Houston sat unseen in the back of the audience and cued him to breathe deeply before he began.

First, Dudley mimed cooing to and cradling a baby in his arms, then he set the baby down and gained more energy as he repeatedly insisted, “a woman is a sometime thing,” which is also the name of the song.

The more energetic piece earned him a passionate round of applause from the audience, a fitting end to the night’s theme of audience approval.