Sag Harbor’s chamber music series “Bach, Before and Beyond” will enter its fifth season on October 27 at Old Whalers Church.
Of course, Old Whalers artistic director Walter Klauss is not surprised. “We made it. We’re growing,” he said. Klauss had been an organist, conductor, and choir master for decades in the city. Now a resident of East Hampton, he sensed an appetite for year-round classical music on the East End that would feature singers adept at both the operatic and popular repertoire. And to judge from the increasing numbers who attend the standing-ovation BBB concerts, his intuition was correct.
This fall, under Klauss’s direction, soprano Paige Cutrona and bass Jonathan Fox Powers will present “Bach to Broadway,” songs that will showcase an unusual collaboration for them and be a first for BBB, which hitherto has focused on solo performers or groups.
Cutrona and Powers are not just a couple professionally, but personally. Although they met casually 10 years ago rehearsing “La Boheme,” Powers assumed a starring role in Cutrona’s life when they were both cast in Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” at the Utopia Opera Company at Hunter College in 2018.
Although they had seen each other over the years in various productions at the Amore Opera (the old Amato in the East Village), it was only in “Passion” that their own emerged: their first kiss was onstage.
Though tenors usually get the girls, Powers will have a grand lower-voice time with his lady love at BBB doing classical and pop. Has their personal relationship affected the professional? Yes, but only in good ways, they say. Powers now studies with Cutrona’s teacher and finds himself asking for more feedback than he would if they were just colleagues.
He describes himself as a “music theory nerd,” meaning he focuses on what’s special about a particular composition. “He can transpose keys,” Cutrona said, admiringly. “I can’t.” They both noted their respect and admiration for each other’s talent and the “egalitarian” quality of their relationship.
The chemistry is real between them, both on and off stage.
Cutrona, a lyric soprano, trained at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and earned her master’s in vocal performance from Carnegie Mellon University. An “enthusiast” of lesser known operas (“little gems”) as well as of the better-known repertory, she delights as well in taking on contemporary work, such as the international premiere of Paul Leavitt’s “Requiem” at Saint Sulpice in Paris.
A magna-cum-laude graduate of SUNY Oswego, Powers is an accomplished pianist in addition to being a versatile bass who has performed with several New York opera companies. He adores Gilbert and Sullivan and notes that he recently created the role of Mr. Darcy for a musical adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” for Theater for the New City. His credits also include music directing and accompanying.
The October BBB concert, not incidentally, will close out Old Whalers’ 175th anniversary year. Of course, local history buffs know that a “house of public worship” has always served Sag Harbor residents, but it was only in May 1844 that the noted architect Minard Lafever finished building the iconic Egyptian Revival (with Greek-style elements) church on Union Street, 185-foot-high steeple and all — though the three-sectioned decorated tower fell in the Hurricane of 1938.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994, Old Whalers, also known as the First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor, and dedicated to serving community interests and needs, seems an ideal place to bring together the arts, past and present. The newly renovated organ, the oldest in a church on Long Island, boasts famous lineage, and the recent restoration of the sanctuary includes a knock-out trompe l’oeil wall behind the altar.
Mark your calendars: Sunday, October 27, 3 PM. At Old Whalers Church. Tickets are available at the door or at Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor. Visit www.bachbeforeandbeyond.com.