Culture Magazine

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

By Galegirl review: Death by Puccini, presented by the Penn Square Music Festival
Live performance: Sunday, November 4, 3:00 p.m.
The Ware Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, Lancaster, PA
Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
4.0 out of 5.0 stars
‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

cast bows after Death by Puccini

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Curtain call, Death by Puccini, at Penn Square Music Festival

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is known for kissing bridges, Conestoga wagons, roadside stands, Amish tourism, Robert Fulton, and Sturgis pretzels, but not necessarily for the favorite live performance art form of this reviewer.

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

head shot of Scott Drackley

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Founder and Artistic Director Scott Drackley

The Penn Square Music Festival hopes to change all that. Scott Drackley, founder and artistic director, is shepherding a brand new Young Artist Training Program for opera singers to bring professional opera to the Lancaster and Central Pennsylvania region, and to train the future stars of opera.

Drackley’s is a winning formula. Rather than rely on a local pool of opera singers to cast his productions, he is bringing a host of young talent to town, singers with professional training and opera chops galore.

The concept behind Death by Puccini was also very appealing. It featured death scenes from Act 3 of La bohème, Act 2 of Tosca, and Act 3 of Madama Butterfly–a hit parade of some of Puccini’s most affecting acts and arias. Also, the choice to include stage direction and some props and set pieces was a wise one since the more context you can provide for these ultra-dramatic scenes, the more they are likely to succeed.

If opera producers want to grow appreciation for the form in the Lancaster community, one must have principals who can nail the glorious music opera is known for.

And the principals of Death by Puccini sang to the rafters of the Ware Center’s Steinman Hall.

Victoria Cannozzi

Soprano Victoria Cannizzo sang a superb Tosca

Most meritorious was soprano Victoria Cannizzo who sang Mimi, Tosca, and Butterfly. The New Jersey native was a last-minute replacement for the soprano originally cast in the roles. And what a welcome addition she was! Her full-throated dramatic soprano, teeming with conviction, was perfectly suited for Italian heroines. She soared singing Tosca’s second-act aria “Visse dArte,” when Tosca cries out that God has abandoned her and Cavaradossi to the evil schemes of the hateful Scarpia. For those who love Puccini as much as I do, the expectations for seeing this aria performed are impossibly high. Puccini lovers want perfection, and Cannizzo delivered. Two weeks prior, I saw Anna Netrebko in concert in New York, and if Cannizzo continues on her upward trajectory, this young talent could follow in the reigning dramatic soprano’s footsteps.

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

Peter Drackley

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Peter Drackley is a versatile tenor with many leading roles in his future.

Tenor Peter Drackley, a Lancaster native, sang Rodolfo, Cavaradossi, and Pinkerton. His lyric-dramatic tenor is so serviceable, I could envision Drackley mastering a range of tenor roles from Nemorino in Elixir to the Duke in Rigoletto. His Rodolfo was particularly winning. Drackley has similar qualities to a young Pavarotti–charisma, wonderful diction, and a powerful Italianate sound. I got tingles through the tops of my toes when he sang with Cannizzo as Mimi. Unlike Pavarotti, Drackley is an expressive presence on stage, which is what opera viewers demand these days.

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

basso Potter head shot

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Andrew W. Potter sings a powerful, imposing basso.

In the opera world, to have a wholly vulnerable and terrified Tosca, you must have a menacing Scarpia. And what an imposing Scarpia basso Andrew W. Potter sings. Standing at a towering 6’10”, his onstage presence alone is something to be reckoned with. His height and vocal part are ideally suited for operatic bad boys. However, his bass voice has an uncommon range, allowing Potter to lend a deep resonance and weight to one of the most villainous baritone roles in the repertoire. This is a wonderfully charismatic performer who would be delightful to see in roles such as the comically greasy Dr. Dulcamara or the swaggering Belcore. A future Elixir perhaps: Drackley as Nemorino and Potter as Dulcamara or Belcore?

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

Megan Potter, a talented young mezzo soprano

What a casting find in mezzo-soprano Megan Potter as Suzuki in Butterfly. She has a beautiful, expressive voice that reminded me of another American mezzo Rosalind Elias. Her third act “Gia il sole!” was so rich and moving, I would love to see her in a full production of Butterfly someday.

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

Nora Graham-Smith succeeded as Musetta.

Another fine mezzo Nora Graham-Smith offered a lovely turn as the coquettish Musetta in La bohème. Her lovely red locks added to the sultry, flirty intrigue expected of the role.

‘Death’ Becomes the Penn Square Music Festival

Baritone Anthony Whitson-Martini

Scott Drackley also brought in a current student from the world-renowned Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) in Philadelphia, baritone Anthony Whitson-Martini, to sing several of the supporting roles. The AVA is where many of today’s leading opera stars honed their craft–Angela Meade, James Valenti, Stephen Costello, and Ailyn Pérez, all of whom are, coincidentally, Richard Tucker Award winners, the (nearly) annual prize that goes to the most promising American opera singer. With any luck, we will see Whitson-Martini on Lancaster stages again soon, before his AVA credentials whisk him off to other companies across the country.

Penn Square Music Festival is offering something very special to the region. They have a number of cleverly conceived productions lined up for the 2018-19 season, which can be viewed here.  Personally, this reviewer eagerly awaits their May 23rd offering, Opera Dark and Dirty, a concert of all the wicked and seedy parts of opera, at Tellus 360 on May 23rd at 6 p.m. If you don’t know that opera can be a wildly sensual art form, this concert is certainly for your edification.

Bravo, Mr. Drackley, for infusing the region with such a high caliber of performers. And bravi to the cast for a very fulfilling show. Judging from the standing ovation the artists received in the packed Ware Center, I’d say Lancaster audiences are hungry for Penn Square Music Festival events.

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