Dec. 24, 2003 – For the holiday season, Arts Alive is offering classical music lovers the rare opportunity to enjoy the talents of an internationally acclaimed operatic bass-baritone whose roots go deep into the Virgin Islands.
Arthur Woodley's Classics in the Garden recital takes place on Monday evening in Tillett Gardens.
Woodley, who is included in the Education Department's profiles of "Outstanding Virgin Islanders", has had a distinguished career on opera, oratorio and recital stages throughout the Americas and Europe. Renowned for his portrayals of Porgy in Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," he was accorded the honor in 1985 of being selected to recreate the role in a gala 50th anniversary production by the Catfish Row Opera Company of Charleston, South Carolina.
He made his debut with New York City Opera in 1979. His debut at Carnegie Hall, in the title role of Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah," received a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd. The New York Times praised that performance: "Mr. Woodley has a burly, attractive bass baritone. He phrased forcefully and sensitively … he acted movingly. In short, he was very impressive."
The "acting" aspect of Woodley's artistry, in addition to his vocal skills, has won him numerous plaudits, as recently as last month, when he appeared with Indianapolis Opera in what one reviewer described as a modern-day "spaghetti Western" version of Donizetti's comic opera "The Elixir of Love."
He won raves for his performance in the role of Dr. Dulcamara, which the Indianapolis Star critic referred to as "a sleazy snake-oil salesman" in the production. Woodley "revels in the role," the reviewer wrote. "Decked out in a red jacket trimmed in gold braid, he arrived by steamboat, looking like Donizetti's take on P.T. Barnum. Dulcamara brayed his opening sales pitch like a carnival barker, ticked off amusing patter songs and delivered a marvelous Act II duet with Adina."
Woodley's operatic and oratorio credits are expansive. To cite just a few examples: On opera stages he has sung Don Alfonso in Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte," Pietro in "Simon Boccanegra," Sam in "Un Ballo in Maschera," Banquo in "Macbeth," Raimondo in "Lucia di Lammermoor," Basilio in "The Barber of Seville," King Heinrich in Wagner's "Lohengrin," and the title roles in "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni."
He has appeared as soloist in the Mozart and Verdi Requiems, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" (in a production by Opera Ebony of New York, to glowing reviews), Handel's "Messiah" and Bach's B Minor Mass.
Born in New York City in 1949 to Delma Johannes and Charles Woodley, both native Crucians, Woodley was taken at 2 years of age to St. Croix, where he lived with his grandparents, Prince and Ann Augusta Johannes, in Estate La Vallee. He attended St. Ann and St. Patrick's Catholic schools, then returned to New York after completing the third grade. He continued to spend his summers on the island, though, and attended St. Croix High School for a time, before returning to New York to graduate.
After two years at New York City Community College, he received a scholarship to study voice at the G.B. Martini Conservatory in Bologna, Italy. His intent was to spend a year there; he ended up staying for three — supporting himself and his studies by singing with an Italian rock band which toured throughout the country. He returned to New York to get his bachelor's degree from the Mannes College of Music — and then joined the staff of Dance Theatre of Harlem, as both performer and registrar of its school.
But music was his destiny, and the result has been rewarding audiences for a quarter of a century.
Roger Lakins, Classics in the Garden executive director, describes Woodley as "one of those rare singers who really knows how to work with the space in which he is performing."
Lakins heard Woodley perform last summer at the Bard Music Festival in New York State, where he was a featured soloist with the American Symphony Orchestra. And his reaction was: "All I could think of was 'Wow! Were we ever lucky to get him to agree to sing for us!'"
Woodley "has a voice of very impressive flexibility," Lakins says. He has the dark richness and depth you expect from an operatic bass, but he also has the ability to produce soft, tender nuances in his upper range that clearly show him as a master of vocal technique. When he really opens up, the sound is remarkably powerful."
The program Woodley has chosen for his Tillett Gardens recital "has something in it for everyone," Lakins says: "an outstanding aria from Haydn's 'Creation,' some Brahms lieder, operatic show pieces, songs of Vaughan Williams, Italian art songs, classic arrangements of spirituals, and even some of the most endearing of Hammerstein and Kern, and Rodgers and Hammerstein."
Lakins says he hopes young musicians will be encouraged "to see that someone raised here can go off and make such a big splash in the greater world of art music."
Woodley will be accompanied on piano by Joseph Smith, with whom he collaborated in recording the first album exclusively dedicated to the music of H.T. Burleigh, which has helped initiate a revival of interest in the African-American composer, who was active in the latter part of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.
Smith, a music writer and anthologist as well as a pianist, was highly praised by The New York Times recently for his narration in a concert version of Weber's opera "Oberon" in Carnegie Hall. Two new anthologies that he has compiled of piano music will soon be released.
The concert will begin at 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $30. They may be purchased in advance at the Arts Alive office in Tillett Gardens or, using a charge card, by telephoning 775-1929, as well as at the door. Reservations are recommended, as seating is numbered.
There will be no repeat performance on St. John.
As with all Classics in the Garden presentations, patrons have the option of pre-performance dining in the garden with concert seating at tables. Alexander's of Frenchtown is catering the dinners this season in cooperation with Jack's, the restaurant in the garden. The three-course meal, consisting of salad, choice of entree and dessert, is a prix fixe $30 including gratuity but not beverage service. Reservations are required for dinner and may be made by calling 775-1929.
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