The Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis Previewed Two Rising Talents At WCHOF Wednesday

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

An opera recital in the World Chess Hall of Fame? That happened. And it was brilliant. The performances of Lilla Heinrich Szász and Joshua Wheeker on Wednesday evening were a fantastic glimpse of what the two young singers, both part of the highly competitive Gerdine Young Artists Program, are bringing to Opera Theater Saint Louis’ May-June six-week season.

And they’re bringing a lot.

Pianist Brett Klaus, . Courtesy OTSL.

Pianist Brett Klaus, Lilla Heinrich Szász & Joshua Wheeker. Courtesy OTSL.

Opera can be a bit strange: It’s a story told through lyrics, usually in a foreign language (Ed. note: the Opera Theater of St. Louis’ lyrics are all in English). With meaningless words, the story is stripped.

Meaning has to be conveyed from elsewhere: vocal inflections and emphases, facial expressions, movement, gestures. Overcompensation is easy. But if done right, with restraint and subtlety—as it was Wednesday night—an audience can be swept up the story’s elements and emotion. Opera reminds you that there is so much more to a story than its words.

Szász and Wheeker’s alternating performances would have brought those lost audiences back—and drew in more besides. Szász’s clear, Julliard-trained voice rang through WCHOF’s second floor. It was sharp, dynamic and articulate, never imposing or more than it needed to be. Wheeker’s voice, even during his contemporary selections, could fill the corners and curl around the curves of any hall.

Included in the setlist:

Szász: “Szilvia belépője”  and “A Csárdáskirálynő,” by Emmerich Kálmán; “Sempre Libera” from LA TRAVIATA by Giuseppi Verdi

Wheeker: “Lonely House” from “Street Scene,”  by Kurt Weill; “Una Fortiva Lagrima” from “The Elixir of Love,” by Gaetano Donizetti

Duets: Selection from “Elixir of Love,” by Gaetano Donizetti; “Stranger in Paradise” from “Kismet,” music adapted from composer Alexander Borodin

Both will sing in the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ chorus this coming season, beginning May 23 with the classic “Barber of Seville.”

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