A trio of soloists and two choruses joined the Orlando Philharmonic for its season-opening concert Saturday night but the orchestra more than held its own, thank you very much.
The Philharmonic presented a concert of well-known operatic works by Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi, backed by a combined choir of the University of Central Florida Chorus and the Florida Opera Theatre Chorus.
The program, conducted by music director Christopher Wilkins, got off to a strong start with a precise reading of the overture from Verdi's "La forza del destino" — "The Force of Destiny."
The deep brass notes created the gravitas that destiny implies, while the nicely balanced strings added a sense of disquiet.
The choir made its presence known in a high-spirited version of the Anvil Chorus, properly "Vedi! Le fosche notturne spoglie" from Verdi's "Il Trovatore," in which the Gypsies sing praise to work, wine and women.
The chorus clearly shone above the instruments, though the percussionists made the distinctive hammering sound stand out.
The concert's staging was sometimes to the detriment of the music. Did the male soloists have to cross the stage before the chorus had finished singing a lovely "Spuntato ecco il di d'esultanza" from Verdi's "Don Carlo"? Distracting.
And instead of being lost in the emotion of "O mio babbino caro" — a woman pleading with her father to let her unite with her true love — the audience was caught up watching soprano Janette Zilioli navigate some tricky steps with help from the brass section.
Zilioli fared better on the romantic drama from "La Traviata," the high note in the "Ah fors'e lui … Sempre libera" sequence ringing out from the stage.
"Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turnadot" has, of course, been sung by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Prince Poppycock. Tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan's rendition may not have been the warmest sounding, but he imbued the work with a formal nobility.
Of the three singers, baritone Timothy Mix showed the most acting range with an expressive face, as well as a grand vocalization of "E sogno? O realta?" from Verdi's "Falstaff."
Unfortunately, his lower notes were often overwhelmed by the orchestra, a problem that blunted the end of Manucharyan's "Nessun Dorma" as well.
Before the concert began, veteran Philharmonic supporter Carol Stanley Fenner received the first John O. Blackburn Distinguished Service Award, named for the Phil's longtime volunteer finance director and treasurer who died in January.
The Philharmonic also kept up its pleasing tradition of opening each season with "The Star-Spangled Banner." The audience was treated to a chills-inducing arrangement in which the choir singers harmonized on the national anthem's tune, vocalizing just "oohs" and "ahs," before the audience joined to sing the words.
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