Members of the Santa Fe Opera move the audience at the Anderson Museum Wednesday. From left to right: Kirt Pavitt (pianist), Joshua Dennis, Sara Heaton and Joseph Dennis. (Amy Vogelsang Photo)
The music was heard in every room of the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, sometimes merely as a distant echo. The melodies enhanced the ambience. A new depth was added to the art as paintings came alive, the colors and patterns seeming to dance off the canvas, skipping along to the harmonious lines of notes — dancing with the piano and singing with members of the Santa Fe Opera.
Wednesday night brought an eclectic mix of people together, all gathered for one purpose: to listen to three young people sing opera at the “Arias, Carols and Songs” concert.
The intimate setting moved people in a way big stage opera can’t, and it was an emotional atmosphere felt by both the audience and the performers.
“It was a very warm audience,” soprano Sara Heaton said after singing. “It feels sort of like a living room.”
The closeness allowed the singers to engage with their audience.
“When you move them, you see it immediately,” exclaimed Joshua Dennis, who also made the point that opera is not out of touch.
“The challenge for us is to take opera, which has a certain air to it, and show that everyday people can take it and feel it,” added Dennis’ twin brother, Joseph.
This was the first time the brothers performed together in concert, and Heaton, having sung with Joshua before, said, “It’s kind of blowing my mind right now that I’m singing with both of them.”
With this and other statements, it was clear the trio not only loved what they were doing and had fun with it, but that they brought that joy and humor to their stage personalities.
After Joseph sang a sad song, “Pourquoi me réveiller,” Joshua quickly brought the audiences’ spirits back up with the comment, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing it that well (…) this song is a bit happier, but still not Christmasy.”
Of course, it was ultimately a Christmas concert, so eventually the songs turned to classics such as “White Christmas” and a Christmas carol sing-a-long that required audience participation.
All three have been part of the Santa Fe apprentice program — Joshua and Heaton for two years, Joseph for one. Although Joshua and Heaton have always had a love for music, Joseph never thought a life of opera was for him, and was off doing missionary work while his brother studied musical theatre.
“I was not planning on singing,” he admitted. “I wanted a 9 to 5, a little picket fence and maybe six children.”
He also admitted that, while his brother has a girlfriend and Heaton was recently married, he has a dog, named Stella.
“She’s the best part of me,” he laughed.
But amidst the laughter and smiles, there was also solemnity. Shivers and goose bumps were felt as the Dennis twins sang “O Holy Night,” and Heaton’s rendition of “Ave Maria” had many in the audience wiping away tears.
“She knocked it out of the park,” exclaimed audience member Kim Guerrero of Heaton’s performance.
Guerrero said everything — especially because of the intimate setting — was very emotional.
“I loved it,” she smiled. “I haven’t been able to get up to Santa Fe for the opera, so this was great. It put me in the holiday spirit.”
The audience was blown away, and traveling as ambassadors of opera, the trio couldn’t have asked for more from their listeners.
“I love the audiences that are as friendly as you,” announced music director and pianist Kirt Pavitt.
From somber and magically entrancing, to fun, bouncy and festive tunes, the performance was surprisingly comical, but also enthrallingly beautiful.