White Rock opera singers featured in Blue Frog concerts
White Rock soprano Shadan Saul and her partner, tenor Sunny Shams, learned a lot about operatic technique and repertoire as students at UBC.
They've gone on to sing leading roles in Puccini's La Boheme, Lehar's The Merry Widow and Bizet's Carmen and have been featured in concerts with the Victoria and Vancouver symphonies and the Palm Court Light Orchestra.
But they've also learned that for singers starting their careers the world of opera is a hard and competitive path.
That's why Saul is still amazed their experience participating in world famous soprano Montserrat Caballe's annual international vocal competition and master classes in Zaragoza, Spain – and the personal encouragement they received from the legendary singer last year.
Local audiences will have a chance to hear the talents that impressed Caballe this Friday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.) in a pair of Mothers' Day-themed operatic recitals, 'Bella Mamma' at Blue Frog Studios (1328 Johnston Rd.).
Featuring Saul and Shams mentor and collaborative piano accompanist David Boothroyd, the concerts present two options to hear a program of highly relatable operatic excerpts and scintillating melodies from the operettas of Lehar, Johann Strauss Jr. and Sigmund Romberg.
For Friday's show, the intimate Blue Frog venue will offer an extravagant pre-Mothers' Day treat featuring cabaret-style dining tables with hors d'oeuvres by Jan's on the Beach and selection of wines from Township Seven winery available through a cash bar.
The same recital will be presented in a simpler concert style at the venue on Sunday, with a coffee and tea reception to follow.
"Friday is a lot more extravagant, with the hors d'oeuvres and wine – we wanted to give a sense of what going to the opera used to be like," Saul said.
"Sunday is more geared to seniors, with the reception and a concert time that doesn't interfere with the lunch hour or dinner arrangements."
As well as arias from such classics as Verdi's La Traviata and Dvorak's Rusalka – with explanatory, scene setting explanations – they're also planning to give audiences a taste of the dramatic excitement of opera with a full performance of the first scene of Puccini's La Boheme.
Excerpts from operettas such as Lehar's The Merry Widow and The Cout of Luxembourg and Sigmund Romberg's The Student Prince will be performed with English lyrics to enhance audience enjoyment of the beautiful melodies.
"They're like champagne – fun and fizzling," Saul said. "It's perfect material for Mothers' Day."
Saul said one of the pleasures of organizing both shows has been "very generous sponsors."
"Usually putting on a concert is nerve-wracking, because of the financial side – we're not biting our nails."
It also means that money raised through ticket sales will go towards more performance and study opportunities for the two young artists, she said.
The two-month trip to Spain to participate in Caballe's competition and classes came as a result of applying and being accepted into the program, Saul said.
"We had great help from friends and family, but as young singers we try to do our best to pursue whatever opportunities are out there," she said.
While she said she and Shams did "okay" in competition in front of an invited international jury, the most rewarding experience was being "hand-picked by Caballe herself from students in her master classes to perform at her gala closing concert."
"It was like a dream come true," she said, adding that that the 10 singers chosen represented the kind of young performers Caballe believes should be on stage.
Personal encouragement from the singer included her telling Shams that he reminded her of a young Pavarotti, and signing a copy of the music of one of her signature pieces – Catalani's 'Ebben? Ne Andro Lontana' from La Wally – to Saul with the words "to the most beautiful voice of my master class."
"I felt like I won the lottery," Saul said. "It was amazing."
Tickets are $40 for Friday (beverages extra) and $25 for Sunday, available (cash only) from Century 21 Seaside Realty, Ashberry and Logan – The Art of Flowers and Tapestry Music.