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I scurried from Balboa Park after the symphony concert to Palisades Presbyterian Church in La Mesa. Opera Neo was putting on their Aria Marathon concert. I had no idea who or what Opera Neo was but I trusted the friend who invited me.

I arrived while the 2nd of 19 singers was singing so I started perusing the program. All these people seemed to be voice students from across the country. Many were in master's programs while some had finished.

What was this? Was this a church concert that brought in 19 singers to do one aria each? There was a solitary woman in the foyer so I asked her.

"Who are these people?"

She explained that Opera Neo is a three-week workshop for opera students. The workshop had started two days ago and this was the first of three public concerts.

The woman was Kelley Hart, the assistant director. Her husband, Peter Kozma, is the artistic director.

The singer finished and I went in to the sanctuary. The first half of the concert was about what I expected.

After intermission, my friend and I sat on the back row and listened in amazement. There were singers in the second half of the concert who blew me away.

When Allysa Packard got up to sing Puccini's O mio babbino caro I'll admit I was prepared to endure another young soprano singing an aria that's almost become a punch line.

Holy hell was I wrong. Within the first few measures I had goosebumps. I can't quite pin down what it was about her singing--she just seemed to "get it". I even let a "brava" escape my throat and I never do that.

When 23-year-old bass, Colin Ramsey, opened his mouth and tone started coming out, it signaled the return of "stank face".

If anyone will care to recall, "stank face" last showed up when The San Diego Symphony was ripping The Flying Dutchman Overture a new one. Stank face occurs when something is so bad-ass that your face wrinkles up and all you can say is "gah-dam".

Colin Ramsey's singing was kind of like that.

The immortal Stephon Marbury displays the quintessential stank face below.

Next up, tenor Jon Jurgens sang Questa o quella from Rigoletto. Before he started, I arrogantly informed my concert mate that this aria is for real so this guy better not be messing around. Jurgens proceeded to make me and Verdi his--ahem--bitches. He was not messing around.

The concert finale was soprano Julie-Anne Hamula singing a big hairy aria from Lucia di Lammermoor. She has a fantastic voice and was on top of it until the penultimate high note. The note spread a little and my concert mate and I began discussing what she needs to do to make it better.

We talked about her dropping her jaw but I thought opening her mouth too far might make the note spread further. On and on we went about Julie-Anne's singing. Of course, directly behind us was Julie-Anne's recording device picking up every single thing we said.


Well Miss Hamula if you can't take a little criticism then you're in the wrong business and should hang it up.

That's me being defensive about being caught red-handed. The last thing Miss Hamula should do is hang it up.

The first thing you should do is go to the next Opera Neo concert. It is on August 3rd at 7:30 pm. The venue is Palisades Presbyterian Church. You can see a complete schedule of events at Opera Neo.

Julie-Anne Hamula


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