My senses are heightened and fully engaged. One moment I experience clarity, brightness and effervescence; another moment feels lush, full-bodied and velvety. If this sounds as though I am describing the experience of tasting wine (after all, you are reading these words in the pages of a magazine that celebrates food and drink), you would be correct. However, the same words are equally apropos to another great sensory experience: listening intently to the sound of a magnificent operatic voice — and while drinking wine, at that.
On a dark winter afternoon, my mother and I brave the slush-filled streets of Pittsburgh to join an intimate group of opera and wine lovers (more than a few of them, including my mother, devoted football lovers as well, all surreptitiously checking their phones for the score in that afternoon’s Steelers game), for the inaugural Magnvm Opvs Tasting Concert (MOTC). As we gather in a private home in Mount Washington, emcee and MOTC founder Mathew Burns, along with co-founder Daniel Teadt, invite us to “see, smell, taste, feel and listen,” using all of our senses to explore the complexities of voice and wine.
Combining wine tastings and voice recitals, MOTC’s unique events thoughtfully merge two distinctive modes of creative expression. Professional singers spend years studying, learning, and listening in order to perfect their vocal technique; similarly, winemakers spend years studying growing climates, the chemistry of fermentation, and aging processes in order to refine and polish their finished vintages. As Burns points out, the vivid language used to describe the experience of wine tasting often echoes words used to describe operatic voices: elegant, complex, rich, well-balanced, bold. Language plays a key role in the company name, too: the name Magnvm Opvs Tasting Concerts seemed like a natural fit to Burns and Teadt, who explain that a magnum opus is a musical term meaning “great work,” while the Latin word opus translated into Italian is “opera.” A magnum of wine is a double bottle. Why the “V’s” in the name Magnvum Opvs? They represent Voice and Vine (or Voce e Vino, and Voix et Vigne).
Event-goers are provided with a program booklet that lists the concert performers and selected music, along with the wines chosen to accompany each piece, and several blank pages that attendees may use to record wine-tasting notes. As Soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird electrified the crowd with Charles Gounod’s “Je Veux Vivre,” we sipped Pannier Brut Rosé Champagne selected by sommelier Christian Tripoldi. Afterwards, Tripoldi and Burns encouraged us to use our palates to draw parallels between the wine in our glasses and the music we heard. Both are bubbly and bright, and Bird’s voice – like the champagne – is crystalline and sparkling. A refreshing acidity on the finish of the champagne mirrored the soprano’s high note at the end of the aria. A virtuoso pairing, we all agreed.
Baritone Daniel Teadt moved the audience into rapt silence with his sorrowful renditions of English folk songs by Frederick Keel and Benjamin Britten, and as I lingered on my final sip of WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Blanc, I caught a faint whiff of loss and longing in my glass. When the songs ended and our tears dried, our glasses were refilled with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner that Tripoldi chose for the upcoming Richard Strauss aria. On his way forward to perform again, Teadt pauses by my mother’s seat and leans down to whisper, “27-20, final score. Go Steelers.” (Bravo!)
Each tasting concert employs a sommelier, a pianist, world-class singers from the opera world, support staff, and an emcee. Principal Musical advisor Laura Ward, co-founder of Lyric Fest Philadelphia, serves as the company’s musical backbone and principal pianist. Dubbed by Food & Wine magazine in 2016 as one of the nation’s top sommeliers, Master Sommelier David Keck, a former opera singer, serves on the young company’s board of advisors and plays a significant role in each MOTC program.
The company has big plans for 2017, with planned concerts in several cities, including Pittsburgh, New York, Washington DC, and others. In addition to the tasting concerts, Burns and Teadt are making plans to record the content of their concerts and sell the recordings along with a varied selection of wines in artfully designed gift boxes that will be available for sale following the events.
For more information on attending or even hosting a Magnvm Opvs Tasting Concert, visit magnvmopvs.com, and drink in the sound.