Last weekend, the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival transformed Edgartown into a foodie paradise with a host of dinners, tastings, seminars, and other events. While internationally famed chefs and vintners, along with local culinary stars, shared their talents and expertise to capacity crowds for four days, the icing on the cake came on Saturday night as patrons “ate up” at a grand opera dinner.
Wendy Taucher, performing arts producer, director, and choreographer; and Lure chef Matthew Passalacqua hosted a wine dinner that paired five courses with 15 short performances by young opera talent from New York.
In between courses, the performers, accompanied by pianist Jason Wirth, sang troubadour style, strolled through the dining room, presented choreographed vignettes at the front of the room, and at times even addressed individual diners in song. The entertainment began with a song from La Traviata appropriately titled “Let’s Drink From the Joyful Cup,” which not only introduced the entire cast, but set the theme for the evening. Although there were classic heartbreakers interspersed throughout the program, many of the selections celebrated food, drink, and joi de vivre.
The arias, in many cases, were familiar ones by the likes of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, and Strauss, while others were lesser known gems covering a range of emotions and voices. A few contemporary pieces filled out the bill and showed off the singers’ versatility. Mezzo soprano Erika Person and tenor Glenn Seven Allen charmed the crowd with a spirited duet to Cole Porter’s “De-Lovely” and baritone James C. Martin brought the house down with a song and dance to jazz great Fats Waller’s “All that Meat and No Potatoes.”
And those voices! Surely the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard has never played witness to such a rich, sou-stirring vocal experience, at least not since ancient sirens wooed sailors to risk rocky shores with their irresistible call. Ms. Person, Mr. Allen, and Mr. Martin all took part this past summer in Ms. Taucher’s presentation of the comic opera “L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers).” Those who enjoyed one of the sell out performances were no doubt thrilled to have another chance to hear these accomplished singers again.
Mr. Martin is has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Washington National Cathedral, and has appeared in musicals throughout the country. His strong voice and commanding stage presence added considerable heft to his opera dinner duets and made more than one man sit up and pay attention when he warned of the wily nature of women in “Aprite un po’quegli occhi,” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
Ms. Person, a veteran of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, displayed her comedic chops in a song in which she staggered and hiccuped adorably as she wove her way through the tables as a drunk girl in “La Périchole” by Offenbach. In duets and solos, Ms. Person showed off the vocal talent that has earned her and has appeared at Carnegie Hall and the New York City Center.
Mr. Allen has several Broadway shows to his credit, including a role in Caberet, which earned him a nod for a Best Actor Helen Hayes award. Mr. Allen returned to the Vineyard this past week following in the wake of his Carnegie Hall debut and, with his good looks and rich tenor, he proved himself a rising star to keep an eye on.
The fourth member of Ms. Taucher’s abbreviated troupe, Michelle Trovato, thrilled the audience as only a virtuoso soprano can. Her portrayal of a lovesick maiden pleading with her father in Puccini’s classic aria from Gianni Schicchi brought tears to more than a few diner’s eyes. Equally, she drew laughs as she sang her own praises to various audience members during Strauss’s popular “Adele’s Laughing Song” from Die Fledermaus. It was truly a treat to have a soprano of Ms. Trovato’s stature on hand. The young singer came to the Island straight from the Metropolitan Opera Guild where she is singing in a masterclass at Lincoln Center with renowned soprano Jane Marsh.
The evening’s festivities were introduced by accomplished New York City theater and television actor Donovan Diez, whose face was familiar to many from his literally hundreds of TV commercial roles. Mr. Diez introduced each set with brief explanations of the action and a lot of humorous asides. He has worked with Ms. Taucher in many of her previous productions and is not only a brilliant actor but a skilled improv comedian and writer.
Party patrons enjoying chef Passalacqua’s sumptuous feast were enthralled and enchanted throughout the eventing. Luckily, the Lure chef was able to stand up to the competition for his diners’ attention with a meal that was praised as a fitting to the voluptuousness of the entertainment.
The Vineyard is very fortunate to have Ms. Taucher building an artistic bridge between New York City and the Island. “I’ve been coming here for 15 years,” she said after the dinner, “Working here feels as much like home to me as Hell’s Kitchen does. It’s a really lucky, happy medium to be able to go back and forth.”