He was supposed to sing for us a year ago, but came down with the Skrog and could not even croak on pitch, so instead we got a lovely last-minute program from Amy Connours and Lee Dougherty Ross. This season, he came, in good voice, and it was well worth the wait.
Jason Stearns’ background includes training at Eastman School of Music, work in Vegas, a long stint in the U.S. Army Chorus, and many years with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He performed for us on January 18, accompanied by Ms. Dougherty-Ross, in the familiar Eicher Auditorium. The hall was as full as I have ever seen it, with virtually no empty seats. Why so many people? I asked those on either side of me, not regulars, and they said they had heard Stearns and/or Ross in other venues, and they “would not miss it.” They were wise.
Starting off with three songs from Man of La Mancha, Stearns moved into the audience to extravagantly flirt with the ladies in the front row. They loved it, just as the Vegas crowds had, and why not? Stearns has a body-builder’s physique and an enviable way of making each lady in the audience believe he actually is singing just to her. And that voice! A virile bass-baritone, rich in overtones, and with power to easily fill the Met’s 3800 seat hall in Lincoln Center, Stearns overpowered the limited acoustics of Eicher even though he was trying not to. With his menacing good looks, powerful presence and strong voice, he would be a massively frightening Scarpia in anybody’s production of Tosca.
In a way, his program for us was a condensation of his professional career, for after the La Mancha songs, he sang French and German art songs by DuParc and Brahms, with impeccable pronunciation of each language, then the beautiful aria “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot, a favorite for tenor voice, that he handled easily.
A couple more songs from long-ago operettas, then my favorite of the morning, Billy Bigelow’s “Soliloquy” from Carousel. This one song tells the story of Bigelow, his fears, his braggadocio, his need to be a real father to his as-yet-unborn child, and his realization of his total inadequacy for that job. A play or an opera can take a couple of hours or more to tell a story, and here is Billy’s story in four minutes. All told with great heart by a skilled singer. Really moving, as the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes attested!
As to be expected, Lee Dougherty Ross provided exactly the right keyboard backing to set each selection perfectly in place. She wears the piano like a hand wears a glove, and she makes it look effortless. Together, Stearns and Ross brought one of the finest performances of any kind I’ve heard, in a community rife with fine performances, to the Sarasota Music Club stage. Kudos!
Photo Credit: Herald Tribune