New Jersey State Opera opens concert season in its new home

January 29, 2012 | The Record

BY RICHARD NEWMAN - STAFF WRITER

It seemed fitting that a hometown star in the making would win over the audience Sunday at the New Jersey State Operaís first concert in its new home, the Aprea Theatre in Clifton.

Five-year-old piano prodigy Tyler Fengya of Clifton, a student at the Learning Center for Exceptional Children, turned Beethovenís Sonata, Opus 49 No. 2 in G Major into childís play, and followed it with an equally amazing rendition of a Franz Liszt composition, playing from memory. The music brought the crowd to its feet.

The boy, who was still in diapers when he started playing piano, and who is also in his third year of studying Mandarin Chinese at the Northern Huaxia Chinese School, is no stranger to playing in front of an audience. He played on Carnegie Hallís recital stage when he was 4.

"Thatís a very tough act to follow,Ē said Jason C. Tramm, the opera company's artistic director, after the boy's performance.

The gala also featured opera singers Ronald Naldi, Jennifer Forni, Cassandra Lambros, Jessica Renfro and Mark Watson. "When Tyler walked into my office and started playing, he just blew my mind. I said 'You have to play at our gala,'" Tramm said.

Nearly 500 people attended the show, said Bernard J. D'Avella Jr., chairman of the opera company's board of directors.

"It was almost a sellout. We are very happy with the turnout. It is a sign how much people want to enjoy this kind of art," he said. "There is nothing like a live performance."

The New Jersey State Opera has had financial problems and was left without a permanent home after leaving the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Prudential Hall in 2006. The company took a two-year hiatus.

In the past few years, it has been staging performances in theaters around the state, until making the recent move into the 500-seat Aprea Theatre, where the rent is comparatively low.

Among the other highlights Sunday was a duet by tenor Naldi and baritone Watson, who performed "Au Fonmd du Temple Saint" from "Les Pecheurs de Perles" by George Bizet.

Lambros, a soprano, sang "Signore, Ascolta" from "Turandot" by Giacomo Puccini.

Opera fan Laurie Hagerich came all the way from Madison to see the show, paying $35 for her ticket.

"I think it's a wonderful program," she said during intermission. "The voices are quite outstanding."

Most of the arias sung Sunday were in Italian, and she hopes the company acquires the technology to add subtitles, as is the practice at the Metropolitan Opera.

Although Clifton is "a little bit out of the way," she plans to return in June for the state opera company's first grand opera planned for the Clifton stage, "The Barber of Seville."

"This [opera company] is a jewel for Clifton and for Passaic County," said Ray Egatz, a Clifton businessman and Democratic Party leader in Wayne.

It will be good for business and local restaurants and florists in particular are likely to benefit, he said.

"Opera lovers are a small but zealous group of people, and most of them can spend a couple of bucks."