Hundreds of people came to the Cascade Theatre Saturday to hear local opera soprano Sydney Mancasola perform on her hometown stage with the North State Symphony, conducted by Brian Stone.
"An Evening With Soprano Sydney Mancasola" was hosted by Mercy Foundation North, along with the support of myriad community individuals and businesses, such as Dignity Health North State, Dennis and Sherrill Bambauer, and North Valley Bank, to name a few. The event benefited Shasta Senior Nutrition programs and Golden Umbrella.
The evening began with words from the night's host, Maggie Redmon, Mercy Foundation North president. Redmon told how she garnered Mancasola's presence at the fundraiser via Molly Mancasola, Sydney's mother, when Redmon called to congratulate the Mancasolas on their daughter's Metropolitan Opera award. Redmon popped the question, and asked whether Sydney might come home from her opera training in Philadelphia for a concert to benefit Mercy Foundation North's programs.
Mancasola said she was sure her daughter would do anything to help the Sisters of Mercy. And that was that. A benefit was born.
Accolades for Mancasola are found far from her hometown as she's earned awards and praise ranging from a Grand Finals winner of the 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, to the New York Times, in which she was praised for her "lovely lyric soprano and radiant high notes." Plus, a quick search of "Mancasola" on the pages of Opera News brings up no less than a dozen mentions.
Billed as an "intimate evening" - on Saturday somehow the 26-year-old soprano managed to impart exactly that sensation - from the front of the stage to the back of the balcony - upon which Mancasola bestowed upon hundreds of unabashed admirers with grace, charm, talent and even humor.
The air nearly crackled with anticipation and adoration for this accomplished young musician, made even more electric with the presence of scores of Mancasola's family and friends, many of whom responded with enthusiastic whoops and cheers as she completed each number.
But there was no obligatory praise or forced pride manifested in the theater by the thunderous applause (and eventually two standing ovations) by friends, family or strangers - for this locally born, locally raised and locally educated young woman. Across the theater, frequent exclamations of "wow" and "oh my gosh" were mouthed or whispered as people looked from Mancasola, then from one to the other, in obvious delight and, yes, sometimes disbelief.
Mancasola's performance was a one-two punch of sorts, from the start of the program to the last standing ovation. She began by walking confidently into the spotlight, smiling, head high, perfectly coiffed, adorned in an exquisite off-white off-the-shoulder gown. Mancasola was stunningly beautiful. This wasn't "little Sydney Mancasola" all made up, but rather, a grown woman who'd left home to work hard and learn her craft, now returned to her hometown Cascade Theatre stage a dazzling opera star on the rise.
Though it seemed impossible, Mancasola's voice matched her beauty, as she quickly proved in her opening notes of Il Bacio.
With each number, she further captivated the crowd by demonstrating her ability to not just command an impressive range of both notes and languages (Italian, Spanish, French ...), but she showed a mastery of skill and technique seemingly beyond her years and experience.
She breathed voluminous life into each song through her entirely convincing physical gestures, posture, phrasing and expressions that explained the story, even when a foreign language could not. Mancasola artfully and effortlessly transitioned from playful and flirty in one song, to grief-stricken and heart-broken for another, to even male and haughty for yet another.
She seemed as comfortable speaking on stage as singing as she offered background and details about various pieces. Mancasola was the epitome of professionalism as she graciously acknowledged the North State Symphony and conductor Stone, as well as her piano accompaniment for one piece, Chiharu Sai.
Some of Mancasola's most moving words expressed gratitude for not only the support and love of family and friends, but a childhood experience rich in arts and cultural opportunities right here in the north state.
What's more, Mancasola said that she believed that in many ways, her exposure to the arts here in Redding rivaled those of some of her New York colleagues. She mentioned local voice teachers and dance teachers and even a violin teacher who happened to be a violinist with the North State Symphony playing on that very stage that very night.
I was sitting a few rows behind her parents, Molly and John Mancasola. I looked their way from time to time, and observed the nearly palpable expressions of love and elation as they watched their daughter's performance. Nobody would have batted an eye if the couple had burst into sobs of pride and joy.
As the program drew to an end, and Mancasola departed from traditional opera to sing, I'll be Seeing You, many in the audience joined Mancasola's parents as they dabbed eyes and looked on with complete wonder and amazement that so much talent, poise and beauty could exist in one young woman ... someone who grew up here.
Although Shasta Senior Nutrition and the Golden Umbrella were the official beneficiaries of "An Evening with Soprano Sydney Mancasola," hundreds more were winners, too.
For one night we forgot about the negative polls and rankings. We were reminded that arts and culture are alive and well here in the north state, enough so to produce a bright and shining star like Sydney Mancasola, and so many who've blazed trails before her, and the others who will surely follow in her footsteps.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.