For Montgomery County lovers of classical music a pleasant new option appeared last weekend with the Saturday debut of The Woodlands Concert Opera at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre. The newly formed Woodlands Entertainment Group of Larry Martin, Garrett Howell, and Bryan Followell presented the evening, under the sponsorship of Jim Fuller and Alfred Flores-Spring Chrysler & Dodge. The talented performers included soprano, Elena Nikulshina, a Houston area voice teacher, as well as two of the fine pupils at her Elena Voce Studio, tenor, Robert Hiwat, and baritone, Bryan Followell. Zoia Golofeeva accompanied the artists on piano, and Dr. Brenda Swain guided the proceedings with brief narrative introductions to each musical selection performed.
Dressed in formal black with contrasting crimson necktie, the handsome Mr. Followell opened the program with an earnest performance of, “Si Puo…,” Il Prologo from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. Next, dressed in a glorious and bejeweled floor length gown of turquoise and pastel green, Ms. Nikulshina joined him on the stage for the amusing, “La Ci Darem La Mano” duet of Giovanni & the coy Zerlina from Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni. Then the solo talent of Nikulshina was on full display in her soaring aria, “O Mio Babbino Caro,” from Puccini’s opera, Gianni Schicchi.
The poised and elegant Mr. Hiwat then joined his teacher on the stage for the “Mario, Mario…” duet of Tosca & Cavaradossi from Act I of Puccini’s opera, Tosca. Hiwat then took a solo turn full of gusto with Calaf’s aria, “Nessun Dorma,” from Puccini’s, Turandot. Hiwat then brought piercing power to his duet with Followell as they vocalized the building fury of the “Ivano Alvaro…” duet of Don Carlo & Alvaro in Verdi’s, La Forza del Destino.
Beginning the even stronger Part II of the program, Mr. Followell would capture some of the biggest applause of the evening with his playful, impish and mischievous performance of Figaro’s aria, “Largo A Factotum Della Citta,” from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Seviglia. As Nikulshina returned to the stage with Mr. Hiwat, she wore a sparkling necklace and was dressed in a lovely gown of deep wine-red with elegant splashes of glittering black. Then, in one of their best pairings of the evening, they combined his vocal power and her glorious voice for the desperate clash of Otello and Desdemona in the Act I duet of “Gia Nella Notte…” from Verdi’s opera, Otello.
In another solo moment, Nikulshina brought the needed wrenching desperation to Santuzza’s aria, “Voi Lo Sapete, O Mamma,” from Mascagni’s, Cavalleria Rusticana, and there was a confident and authoritative power in the thrilling ferocity of the “Tu Qui Santuzza” duet that followed from that same opera. Finally, the three performers combined their talents in a lovely performance of “Deserto Sulla Notte,” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. It had certainly been an elegant night of music at the Crighton.