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TOP-notch show

The Gallo Center for the Arts' first public performance concluded Sunday with a rousing standing ovation and shouts of "Bravo!"

While the downtown Modesto venue's grand opening gala is more than a week away, the Townsend Opera Players performed a season-opening concert in the smaller of the facility's two theaters.

A sold-out crowd packed the 444-seat Foster Family Theater to see about 20 soloists, an adult and children's chorus and an orchestra perform selections from favorite operas and shows in TOP's upcoming season.

"This was quite a day for me," said Erik Buck Townsend, the opera company's founding general director. "I'm speechless."

Peter Jaffe, the concert narrator and the Stockton Symphony conductor, praised the theater's "warm, resonant sound."

Everything ran smoothly for the most part. Smiling ushers greeted ticket holders enthusiastically as they entered the doors. Smartly dressed concession workers served up snacks and drinks. The bathrooms sparkled and were decorated with white roses and candles.

Even though there were a few glitches, including insufficient air conditioning in the theater, a lack of water fountains and an orchestra pit that was set too low for the performers to easily see the conductor, ticket holders were forgiving.

"We're just thrilled Modesto finally has something like this," said Cindy Jackson as she waited in the lobby during intermission.

She praised the center's elegant look and said she was happy that local performers have access to such a lovely venue.

TOP and the arts center's three other resident companies previously performed in school auditoriums.

"It's great to have a home," said Peter Neuffer, a horn player in the TOP orchestra. "It's so much better that the difference is night and day."

YES and Stan State were onstage Friday

Although the Sunday concert was the first public performance, it wasn't the first musical program at the arts center. On Friday, Youth Entertainment Stage Company members and California State University, Stanislaus, music Professors Stephen Thomas and Joseph Wiggett performed for major donors at an invitation-only concert in the 1,252-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater. On Saturday, TOP singers performed a short preview concert for those who attended the company's $250-a-plate fund-raising dinner in the lobby.

Sunday's nearly three-hour concert featured performers who have sung with the opera company since they were small children as well as guest artists from the Bay Area and beyond.

Modesto's opera-singing married couple Roy Stevens and Annalisa Winberg, who have performed in major opera houses around the world, wrote new lyrics to a duet from Beethoven's "Fidelio" in praise of the Gallo center.

Their revised lyrics, printed as a "translation" of the German piece in the supertitles above the stage, praised major donors Marie Gallo, the Foster family and all of the arts center's amenities.

"It took 80 years to build, but now it's open!" was one humorous lyric.

Audience member John Gerling of Mo- desto gave the arts center a good review.

"It seems like a facility for a much larger city," he said. "We are very fortunate to have it."

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or lmillegan@modbee.com.

The Gallo Center for the Arts, on 10th and I streets in Modesto, holds its grand opening gala Sept. 27. The center has two theaters: the 1,252-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater and the 444-seat Foster Family Theater. For information, visit www.galloarts.org or call 338-2100.

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