By Don Heckman
An evening of opera at a jazz club? An unusual combination, it would seem. Yet, there it was Monday night: “Gala Opera Night” at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc., featuring soprano Demetra George, baritone Ralph Cato and pianist/music director Frank Fetta. And why not? As the restaurant’s General Manager, Hoss Zargaran pointed out, Vibrato also includes the word “etc. – et cetera” in its title.
“Not that I would ever think of opera as et cetera,” he said, “but it does open the possibility for scheduling musical events that reach beyond jazz.”
As it did this entertaining evening. Although, as Fetta pointed out in his opening remarks, one could make a case for the fact that opera and jazz share common interests in dramatic pacing, rich harmonies and unique approaches to story telling.
The production, as such, was minimal. Fetta playing the piano, and George and Cato singing arias from Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and others, acting their roles by the sheer use of body language alone. But it was enough. Both singers are experienced musical artists – George a 2-time Grammy nominee, Cato the veteran of world tours with the show “Riverdance.” In addition to their impressive singing qualities, they brought atmospheric believability to each of the arias.
Understandably, most of the selections were classics, with the possible exception of the Vision fugitive from Massenet’s Herodiade, passionately rendered by Cato. Both singers made the most of their showcase pieces. George wove her way through the soaring demands of Sempre libera from La Traviata, the drama of Vissi d’arte from Tosca and the buoyant Czardas from Die Fledermaus. Blessed with a remarkable vocal instrument, singing with appropriate drama for each of her characters, George’s only problem was her employment of a vibrato so wide that it often ranged into the area of tremolo. And she’s too gifted a talent for her singing to be defined by a single, distracting characteristic.
In addition to Vision fugitive, Cato used his rich, strong sound and flowing phrasing to make most of the Toreador Song from Carmen and Alla vita che t’arride from Un Ballo in Maschera. But the highlight segments of the program were the singers’ impressively theatrical renderings of a pair of duets: La Traviata’s Act II duet between Giorgio and Violetta, and the Nedda and Silvio duet from Pagliacci.
Fetta’s accompaniment was both supportive and energetic, and his witty, often humorous introductions provided perspective and background for an intriguing presentation of classic operatic music.
After the program, Zargaran said that there would be more events at Vibrato displaying different genres of music. That would make a worthy addition to Music Director Pat Senatore’s already first rate jazz scheduling, and further establish the venue as a significant destination for fine music.