Preaching to the Choir

Admittedly, Knoxville Opera was preaching to the choir last Sunday at the Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion Church in their afternoon concert entitled Knoxville Opera Goes To Church. By design, the program of gospel soloist and choir numbers, Broadway tunes, and opera arias was a bit incongruous, but that is definitely its charm and draw.

Drawn to the concert was a diverse audience as well. Spotted in the audience along with the usual operagoers, music professionals, and community and church members were Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown, former Ambassador to Poland (and ex-Mayor) Victor Ashe, the ageless and beautiful soprano Mary Costa, and bass Andrew Wentzel.

Of course, part of the intention of staging such a concert is to advertise a bit for the opera season which begins in two weeks with La Traviata. KO music director Brian Salesky induced the stars of that production—Joyce El-Khoury as Violetta; Zach Borichevsky as Alfredo; and Kevin Thompson as Dr. Grenvil—
to participate in the afternoon in what turned out to be quite the showcase of young vocal talent.

El-Khoury was heard last season at the Met in productions of Carmen (Frasquita) and in the Met/Juilliard joint production of The Bartered Bride. Her “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s Otello on the program was gorgeous. The tenor Borichevsky, who is a third year resident artist at Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, pleasantly surprised me with his clean and seemingly effortless range in “Yours is my heart alone” from Lehar’s operetta, The Land of Smiles. Bass Kevin Thompson has a truly room-rumbling voice that impresses with its richness. He did two selections: the gospel “O Redeemed” and “Here is the World” from Boito’s Mefistofele.

Knoxville Opera’s La Traviata opens at the Tennessee Theatre (Downtown Knoxville) for a weekend run, October 28-30. Brian Salesky conducts the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra with production direction by Keturah Stickann.


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