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Mother's Day audience treated to opera tribute

May 15, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

It was a first for Hagerstown, said Brian Sullivan, executive director of The Maryland Theatre.

The 400 people gathered at the theater Sunday afternoon for a Mother's Day tribute heard four New York City opera singers perform.

"They were able to hear for the first time voices used as instruments in this theater," Sullivan said. "They were floored."

Virginia Powers, of Hagerstown, brought her mother to Sunday's event, featuring singers Claudia Huckle, Ross Benoliel, Amy Lynn Grable and Robert Zimmerman. Powers said she surprised her mother with the tickets Saturday.

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"It's been fantastic," she said. "Just breathtaking."

Christina Barone, of Hagerstown, brought her daughter, 10-year-old Alexis, to the performance. Her husband was out of town for the day, and she wanted to take her daughter, a budding singer, to the theater.

"They're amazing," Barone said. "Very expressive. You don't have to know the language to understand what they're saying."

The performance was mainly in French, Italian and German.

Barone said the opera also was a change from typical Mother's Day activities, like going to brunch.

Judy Conrad, of Hagerstown, attended the event with her mother, daughter and two grandchildren. Her youngest grandchild left before intermission, but 8-year-old Abigail Garner said she was enjoying the opera.

"Her mother plays classical music for her every night before bed," Conrad said.

Abigail said she enjoyed the duets, especially Benoliel's performance. Benoliel's parents, who were in the audience, overheard Abigail say their son was her favorite performer.

Clutching several programs, Abigail nodded when Benoliel's parents told her she could be onstage someday.

"I like the music," she said.

Conrad said she wished more people had attended the performance.

"It's just wonderful," she said. "Such young people, and their voices are wonderful."

Shula Finkelstein, of Howard County, Md., brought her mother and husband to the event.

"I thought I would do something special," she said. "It's great. I'm looking forward to the show tunes."

During the second half of the performance, the singers, accompanied by pianist Jennifer Peterson, performed highlights from musicals such as "Porgy and Bess" and "Les Misrables."

Diane Hockensmith, of Hagerstown, and her mother, Sarah McGaha, said this was their first opportunity to hear opera locally.

"We're getting a taste of this culture," Hockensmith said. "We've enjoyed it. Their voices are just so beautiful and controlled."

Sullivan said he hopes to bring more opera to Hagerstown, eventually planning on four performances each year. He is already planning the next event.

"I'd love to see opera in Hagerstown regularly," he said. "I'm so happy I could put something together for our mothers."

Sullivan said he contacted Zimmerman, a former roommate, when he joined the theater earlier this year and told him he wanted to put something together for area mothers.

It was the first time a Mother's Day tribute has been offered at the theater, he said.

"I have huge goals," Sullivan said. "I won't stop surprising people."

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