The Return of the Tenor

Eduardo Villa. At the Marjorie Luke Theatre, Friday, January 12.

Reviewed by James Hanley Donelan

In a white tie and looking precisely like the Spanish nobleman he plays in Verdi’s Don Carlos, Eduardo Villa took the stage of the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Friday night with an air of dignified command. Accompanied by pianist (and conductor) Frank Paul Fetta, he sang with fluency and passion in Spanish, Italian, French, and German, with art songs and opera arias ranging from the comical, Offenbach’s “Chanson de Kleinzach” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann; to the rapturous, Tosti’s “Aprille;” to the tragic, Verdi’s “Niun mi tema” from Otello. Eduardo Villa’s return to his hometown from the world’s great opera stages was a triumph of both virtuosity and generosity — the concert raised funds for the Diabetes Research Center, an important project researching the causes and prevention of childhood obesity.

The first half of the program consisted of 13 art songs, neatly grouped by language. Villa performed all with skill, power, and taste, paying careful attention to the nuances of phrasing, yet effortlessly filling the hall with full, rich fortissimos when needed. Few singers master the dramatic characterization essential to opera while maintaining the introspective sensibility required for art songs, but Villa seemed equally at home in both genres. Grieg’s “Ich liebe dich” finished the first half with style, making us all believe that he really did love us “more than anything in the world, for time and eternity.”

After the intermission, opera took the stage, as Villa performed arias ably introduced by Steven Kronauer, a faculty member of the UCSB Music Department. In turns, Villa transformed himself from an amorous ex-convict to a jealous husband and a few other things as well. (In a show of great courage, Dr. Kronauer sang a line to provide continuity in one scene.) In the end, as he performed two encores, we were left with an image of his true self: a generous and gifted artist, glad to be at home among his friends in a magnificent concert hall.

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