St. Charles Art & Music Festival Closes on High Note

Press Newspapers (IL)-July, 1995
Author: Renee Tomell
Section: ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

A brilliant concert closed the St. Charles Art and Music Festival on Saturday night, and left the audience wishing it would never end.

But the 200 volunteers behind the ambitious 16-day festival finally could stop holding their collective breath after pulling off more than 50 events catering to every age and entertainment palate. Bob White, president of the festival board, opened Saturday’s concert in the Norris Cultural Arts Center by thanking the volunteers and the board members who gathered at 46 meetings in the past two years to turn the 1993 installment of the biennial festival from dream to reality.

After 15 days of relatively smooth sailing behind the scenes of the various venues, the gala closing celebration offered more drama than organizers bargained for. The concert of opera favorites was to feature young opera star Margaret Jane Wray, a St. Charles native, who became indisposed less than 24 hours before the performance starring the 65-member Illinois Chamber Symphony, 80-voice Festival Chorus and tenor Barrington Coleman.

White told the audience Saturday that the last-minute efforts of Grace Hunt, the festival’s program chair, and Robert Murphy, its executive director, had pulled off the coup of finding two top-notch sopranos to fill in at the eleventh hour. And they did more than fill in. The exquisite solos and duets by Cynthia Haymon and Coleman from La Boheme brought tears to eyes, and likely reflected some past practice by the duo who happen to be husband and wife. Haymon recently returned from the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London where she sang the role of Mimi in La Boheme.

Also rising to the occasion with no rehearsal with the orchestra was talented soloist Rose Guccione of Chicago. Miraculously no changes were needed in the promised program. Standing ovations were plentiful, and the chorus led by Jeffrey Hunt, and orchestra directed by Stephen Squires came back for a rousing encore of the March of the Toreadors from Bizet’s Carmen.

A special treat was the famous voice and face of WTTW-TV’s Emmy Award-winning Marty Robinson who served as narrator, and lavished praise on the festival and its significance for the community. “The quality we’re hearing tonight (is) wonderful.”

A scene-stealing feast for the eye was the floral garland that spanned the entire edge of the stage, a living work of art composed predominantly of orchids, lilies and roses in an arresting profusion of colors. The designer for each of the gala performance floral arrangements was Richard Abrahamson of St. Charles, who’s furiously preparing for the opening of his Pariscope shop next month.

While fans put into scrapbooks their festival tickets for such greats as diva Frederica von Stade, pianist John Browning and British composer John Rutter, they can rest assured that the excitement will be back. White confirmed the festival returns July 11 to 26, 1997.

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