Sunday morning began just before 9 a.m. with an important email from the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival with driving instructions to their sold-out performance. Opera On the Rocks was held at a private venue, The Ocean Club at Mauna Lani Resort. It was the second performance for this event, and it opened Friday evening at the Hilo Palace Theater.
At 3:30 p.m., an aura of mystique and excitement began to brew as the patrons arrived at this exclusive destination and were shuttled to the Ocean Club. Strong Kona winds cooled the blazing sun as palm fronds danced above the well-constructed, thatched roof lanais; one used for refreshments, the other as the stage. The beautifully landscaped site boasted an infinity pool and spa right on the ocean, and 75 comfortable chairs and folding seats faced the stage lanai backed by a lava rock wall.
Promptly at 4 p.m., Executive Director Justin John Moniz welcomed the patrons in his intelligent, articulate, warm, friendly style. Dressed handsomely and impeccable in dark slacks and a subtle vertical striped, burgundy red and white collared shirt, I only realized later the nod to tomorrow’s Independence Day holiday. The makani (wind) settled down to listen as Dr. Moniz gave his opening monologue, and then – WOW.
David Drettwan, baritone, opened the first set with “Non piu andra” from Le Nozze di Figaro. At just 22, Drettwan set a very high bar for the rest of the show. Dressed comfortably in hippie Bohemian style with a plumeria blossom over his right ear, this reviewer was delighted at Drettwan’s refreshing singing and acting performance.
Sabina Balsamo, soprano, followed with another Figaro piece from Mozart, which was lovely (she also sang “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” at St. James’ Episcopal Church service earlier this morning). The gentleman next to me raved over not only the beautiful voices of Sabina, Paulina, and Jennifer – but Sabina’s porcelain skin and dark hair, Paulina’s fabulous attractiveness, and Jennifer’s ageless beauty and voice that never fades!
Soprano Ciara (“see AIR uh”) Emily Newman was another new surprise – a delight at the end of the first half, presenting “Czàrdàs” from Die Fledermaus (Johann Strauss). Fully immersed in the character of Rosalinde, Newman ended the first half with all of us longing to hear more!
Kudos to the HPAF volunteers who checked in patrons and directed them to the secluded venue. They also served wine and prosecco, and provided a variety of snacks and chocolate; always appreciated!
Faculty members Paulina Villarreal, mezzo-soprano (Mexico), Jennifer McGregor, soprano (London), and Bill Christensen, tenor (Oklahoma University), were on hand and delighted the audience who had missed their live presence – last seen in 2019. The three faculty members’ presence anchored the show with solid performances of “Habanera” (Carmen), “La rosa y el sauce” (Gustavino), “Del Cabello mas sutil,” and “El Vito” (Obradors), “Dein ist mein ganzes herz” (Lehàr), “Bacarolle” duet by the ladies (Offfenbach), “O toi qui prolongeas mes jour” (Gluck), “Ideale” (Tosti), and the always fun toast to drinking revelry “Liniamo” from La Traviata (Verdi).
Artistic Director Val Underwood was brilliant as ever, and, new to HPAF but well known in his own right, Maika’i Nash (Hawaii Opera Theatre) took turns accompanying the singers on the keyboard. This reviewer is thrilled that Nash could participate in the Festival for the first time, and he encouraged all the performers to wear flowers in their hair or over an ear. The sound was very well balanced – not always easy outdoors with the wind. When Drettwan sang “O del mio amato ben” (Donaudy) in the second half, astonishingly, a white bird (perhaps a Manu O Kū) and a mynah bird were attracted by the baritone’s rich vocals interpreting the “lost enchantment of my dearly beloved” art song and briefly flew in, landed in a palm tree above the covered lanai stage and sang back to Drettwan for four measures!
I’m looking forward to hearing Drettwan in Orpheus on July 16th at Kahilu Theatre.
Newman’s “Quando m’en vo” from La Bohème was brilliant. Another regular patron was heard to thank Newman for singing and state prophetically that she would be singing on stage at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York, no doubt! So, keep an eye on this one, folks.
“O Sole Mio Di Capua,” a festival favorite last seen in 2018 sung between Justin John Moniz and Brett Sprague, at the Hapuna Westin Breezeway, was the final ensemble piece beginning with Christensen, tested by Villareal, then McGregor, and back to Christensen with Drettwan, Balsamo, and Newman singing in the ensemble. One can see the latter three moving up the ranks to perform this “competition between singers” favorite in the near future.
Many thanks to Clive and Carol Davies, and Steve Dunnington for sponsoring and hosting Opera On the Rocks – the patrons were all smiles and “bravos.” This was an incredibly satisfying event, although without a “Hana Hou” (encore.) We’ll just have to wait until Thursday: get your tickets now for Great Performances 1 on July 7. A Hui Hou!
About the author: Rona Lee studied theatre arts and film at SUNY Purchase (Conservatory – College of Performing Arts) and Communications at the University of Arizona. She traveled abroad with Up With People! (1983-84) and moved to the Big Island from New York in 1990.
Photos: Steve Roby
Performance date: 03/July/2022
A full calendar of HPAF events and tickets for all events are available by visiting https://hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org/. Tickets for Kahilu Theatre events may be purchased at https://kahilutheatre.org/ or via phone at (808) 885-6868.