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Concert Program Preview: A Tribute To Dr. Robert Larsen

Des Moines Metro Opera

The Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) is honoring their brilliant and beloved founder, Robert L. Larsen at the Des Moines Civic Center on Sunday evening, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.

The Des Moines Metro Opera’s Festival Orchestra will be on the stage with more than 30 DMMO principal soloists together with the DMMO Ensemble and Apprentice Artists chorus, all performing some of Larsen’s favorite opera gems. In tribute, former DMMO Apprentice Artists Elise Quagliata, Meghan Kasanders, John Moore, and John Osborn, are flying to Iowa to perform in this concert!


The Des Moines Metro Opera opens their “Concert for Robert Larsen” with Verdi’s ‘Overture’ to “Nabucco”. The ‘Overture’ includes opera themes and the theme from the ‘Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.’ The Des Moines Metro Opera’s Orchestra, comprising of over 65 auditioned and top-notch professional orchestral musicians from across North America, will be under the baton of the DMMO’s Music Director and Principal Conductor, David Neely. Interspersed throughout the first half of the concert, the orchestra will also present other well-known incidental orchestral pieces. Included in their lineup will be the ‘Farandole’ finale from Bizet’s “L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2”.

Mascagni’s ‘Intermezzo’ from his one-act opera “Cavalleria rusticana” (“Country Chivalry”) is on the orchestra’s program list as well. Mascagni bases the ‘Intermezzo’ on a hymn from earlier in the opera. Mascagni uses the hymn to close an Easter service that he included as part of the work.

The orchestra will also perform the iconic “Four Sea Interludes” from Britten’s “Peter Grimes.” Britten created the interludes to assist with scene changes, reflect inner character turmoil, and he rewrote the endings, so the movements: ‘Dawn’, ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Storm’ could be used as independent concert pieces.

Let the singing begin

Soprano and first guest solo performer, Meghan Kasanders, obtained her Bachelor’s from Simpson, acquired her Master’s from Rice University, and achieved an Artist Diploma from Juilliard. She also participated in the DMMO’s artist apprentice program and was a 2019 Grand Finalist in the Met’s Opera National Council Auditions.

Ms. Kasanders will appear as Elisabeth, the Landgrave’s niece performing from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” ‘Dich teure Halle’ (I greet thee again dear hall.). Elisabeth, who has not gotten over Tannhäuser’s departure to Venusberg, and has not seen or been in the Wartberg Castle Hall since Tannhäuser left, is happy about seeing Tannhäuser again and being back in the hall.

Mezzo-soprano, Elise Quagliata, is a favorite of the DMMO. Quagliata first appeared on the Des Moines Metro stage as an apprentice artist. Since then, she has performed over eight DMMO principal mainstage and 2nd Stages roles. For the Company’s “A Concert for Robert Larsen,” she presents the famous ‘Habañera’ (Love is a Rebellious Bird) sung by the sultry title character in Bizet’s steamy opera comique, “Carmen.” “Opera News” loved her take on Carmen and had this to say about Quagliata’s performance: “Elise Quagliata sang Carmen with passion and fervor – every ounce an imposing femme fatale.” Joining Quagliata in this performance with the DMMO orchestra will also be the DMMO Apprentice Artists Chorus Ensemble.

Simpson graduate and Milford, Iowa native, former DMMO apprentice artist, and acclaimed baritone John Moore, made his Met debut in 2007 as Fiorello in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”. One year later, he completed his international debut as Figaro in the English “Barber of Seville” with the Welsh National Opera. On the DMMO’s concert roster, Moore makes a guest solo appearance by presenting the ‘Soliloquy’ from the 1945 musical “Carousel” by Rodgers and Hammerstein II. Assuming the role of Billy Bigelow, Moore will sing the First Act’s sweet and amusing discovery of a young husband learning that he’s soon to be a dad.

Performing next on the concert is tenor, Corey Bix. “Opera News” commends Bix for his: “Clear sense of drama and self-possession, exhibiting sturdy, unwavering control, flinty resonance and confident high notes.” Bix appeared this summer as the character Beadle Bamford in the DMMO’s mainstage production of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” For the concert, Bix takes on the high and challenging Heldentenor title role in Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin.” Bix will sing ‘In fernen Land’ (In a distant land) which is taken from the end of Act Three in “Lohengrin”. Here, Bix sings Wagner’s legendary aria about the Grail.Tenor, John Osborn, is known for his skill as a bel canto singer. A Sioux City native and a Simpson grad, Osborn was one of the 1994 Met Opera National Council Audition winners. He made his Met debut in “Salome” when he was just 23. Osborn will present Donizetti’s well-known aria ‘Ah! Mes amis’ (“Ah, my friends”) from “The Daughter of the Regiment.” Osborn will perform as Tonio, who has just appealed to all the members of France’s 21st Regiment for Marie’s hand in marriage. This aria is infamous for Donizetti’s use of the tenor’s high C. The high Cs are notorious for making this aria exceedingly difficult, and a musical signature piece for any tenor who can flawlessly sing it.

Baritone, John Moore returns to the stage with tenor, John Osborn, to sing the celebrated friendship duet, known as “The Pearl Fishers Duet” from Bizet’s opera of the same name, “The Pearl Fishers.” Moore sings the role of Zurga, the head fisherman, and Osborn assumes the part of the fisherman Nadir. In the opera, the two men’s friendship had suffered when they discovered they were both in love with the same woman. When they are reunited in the first act, the fishermen reject their love of the unknown woman and promise to be friends forever unto death. Moore and Osborn will sing Bizet’s ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (‘At the back of the holy temple’).

The opening half of the concert will close with ‘The Hunter’s Chorus’ from Act Three of Carl Maria von Weber’s international hit “Der Freischütz” (The Marksman). Performing will be the DMMO’s orchestra plus the DMMMO’s chorus.

Last half

The second half opens with Meghan Kasanders returning to the stage to perform a pivotal aria from Menotti’s Pulitzer-prize-winning “The Consul”. Kasanders’s stunning presentation of the role of Madga with Opera Saratoga, netted her an “Opera News” review: “The Company took a risk on its Madga Sorel and won. Meghan Kasanders – has a wonderfully promising, rich dramatic soprano, an instrument that displays power and sheen at all dynamic levels – Kasanders won justified applause with a thrilling traversal of Menotti’s shattering Act II scene ‘To this we’ve come’”.

In this desperate aria, Kasanders, singing as Madga, is trying to help her family get away from a treacherous dictatorial government and city. Madga, after wading through reams of red tape with the local government, is at the end of her rope. She discloses that her child has died, that her mother-in-law is failing, and that she herself is at personal risk.

Soprano, Sara Gartland considers the DMMO her home opera house and company. Gartland’s busy schedule has seen her performing recently with the Utah, Arizona, Austin Lyric, Dallas, Minnesota, and San Diego Operas, as well as Opera Omaha and Opera San Jose. This summer, Gartland presented the demanding role of Liza in the DMMO’s production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades.”

For her role as Marie in the DMMO’s 2019 production of Berg’s “Wozzeck,” she received rave reviews: “The poignant Marie of Sara Gartland was something of a revelation. Gartland delivered the character through a gleaming column of sound that remained incisive yet consistently beautiful throughout the range up to the top C” (Opera News).

In the DMMO’s tribute concert, Gartland assumes the role of the Countess in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Gartland will be joined on stage by DMMO’s ensemble artist, soprano Cadie J. Bryan. Gartland and Bryan will sing the Act Three duet called ‘Sul’aria’. Bryan will present the role of the Countess’s maid, Suzanna. In the ‘Sul’aria’, the Countess directs Suzanna to write a letter to the licentious Count. The Countess dictates the message to Suzanna as if Suzanna was the note writer and sender.

One of Wagner’s most illustrious pieces comes from the beginning of Act Three of “Die Walküre”, the ‘Ride of the Valkyries.’ In Norse mythology, the Valkyries are the eight Valkyrie sisters of Brünhilde, who are also the messengers of the god Olin. They ride flying horses into the battlefield, where they take care of the dead. They then offer their fallen comrades’ safe transport into the afterlife located in Valhalla.

The DMMO enlists eight members of their 2021 Apprentice Artists to assume the roles of the Valkyrie sisters. Gerhilde will be presented by soprano, Symone Harcum and Helmwige will be sung by soprano Cara Bender. Mezzo-soprano Maria Miller will portray Schwertleite, Waltraute will be presented by mezzo-soprano Cierra Byrd, mezzo-soprano Quinn Middleman will sing the part of Ortlinde, Siegrune will be portrayed by mezzo-soprano Briana Moynihan, mezzo-soprano Camille Sherman will present Grimgerde, and appearing as Rossweisse is mezzo-soprano Georgia Jacobson.

The DMMO concert continues with the intense, moral-of-the-story Second Act Sextet from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Don Giovanni has refused to repent for his immoral maliciousness and has been justly rewarded for his evil and corrupt ways. Public opinion has finally been able to condemn Don Giovanni for his abuse of power and lack of morality. Six DMMO Apprentice Artists will present Mozart’s outstanding sextet: ‘Questo è il fin di chi fa mal, e de’ perfidy la morte alla vita è sempre ugual’ (Such is the end of the evildoer: the death of a sinner always reflects his life). Mezzo-soprano Maria Vasilevskaya will appear as Donna Elvira; Donna Anna will be presented by soprano Cara Bender; and tenor Andrew Turner will sing the role of Don Ottavio. Bass-baritone Andrew Gilstrap will appear as Leporello; Zerlina will be portrayed by soprano Amanda Sheriff, and bass-baritone Jason Zacher will present Masetto.

Another remarkable opera sextet will be performed from Act Two of Rossini’s “La cenerentola” (Cinderella). In Rossini’s version, Cinderella’s nasty stepmother is replaced by an equally disgusting stepdad. The DMMO again showcases six more talented members from their 2021 Apprentice Artist canon presenting Rossini’s ‘Siete voi?’ (What will be?). Angelina (Cinderella) will be portrayed by mezzo-soprano Camille Sherman; tenor Alex Schauermann appears in the role of the Prince, Don Ramero; and soprano Georgia Belmont performs as Don Magnifico’s oldest daughter and Cinderella’s step-sister. Don Magnifico’s youngest daughter, and Cinderella’s youngest step-sister, Tisbe, will be sung by mezzo-soprano Elana Bell. Portraying the nasty step-dad, Don Magnifico, will be bass-baritone Dylan Gregg. Bass Thaddeus Ennen appears as the prince’s valet, Dandini. During the sextet, all members comment on why they should be selected, while Cinderella asks for forgiveness concerning the rudeness of her family.

The Trio from Act I of Verdi’s “Aïda” follows. DMMO Apprentice Artist, soprano Symone Harcum will sing the role of Aïda, the Ethiopian princess held in captivity. The DMMO Ensemble artist tenor, Peter Scott Drackley, performs as the captain of the guard, Radamès. Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian king, is portrayed by DMMO Apprentice Artist and mezzo-soprano Cierra Byrd. Harcum, Drackley, and Byrd will sing: ‘Vieni, o diletta, appressati’ (Come, O delight, come closer). In this trio, Aïda and Radamès each secretly love one another. Amneris likewise loves Radamès, and realizes that Aïda additionally loves Radamès. Amneris carefully hides her feelings as she sings with Aïda and Radamès.

The beautiful aria ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ from von Flotow’s much-loved opera, “Martha” will be sung and showcased by soprano, Sara Gartland.

Farewell Finale

The DMMO’s “Concert for Robert Larsen” comes to a moving close with the ‘Finale’ from Act Two of Puccini’s “La Rondine” (The Swallow). The program completes Larsen’s opera circle, ending as the Des Moines Metro Opera started. In 1973 Larsen set the DMMO’s stage by choosing “La Rondine” as one of his opening mainstage operas. From the very first downbeat Larsen established the Des Moines Metro Opera’s character and high-caliber expectations for future generations of opera lovers to come. Bravo, and thank you Robert L. Larsen!

To end the program, four of the DMMO’s Apprentice Artists form a quartet of characters. Tenor John Kun Park appears as Ruggero Lastouc and soprano Symone Harcum dreams of romantic love as she sings the role of Magda. Soprano Véronique Filloux presents the part of Magda’s maid, Lisette, and tenor Brian Wallin portrays the poet, Prunier. Their performance will be joined by the DMMO orchestra, and the DMMO chorus for a glorious conclusion to the Des Moines Metro Opera’s 2021 “A Concert for Robert Larsen.”

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Jacqueline Halbloom is a Sr. Music Producer and Classical Music Host