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Music lives through ‘Love and Death’

Jennahway Huerta
Staff Writer

More than 80 people gathered in Morgan Auditorium on Saturday to hear exquisite soprano Courtney Huffman and University of La Verne artist-in-residence and award-winning pianist Grace Xia Zhao.

The University of La Verne’s Department of Music presented a soprano and piano performance called “Love and Death.”

Zhao’s performance consisted of solos and collaborations with Huffman that followed a theme of love and death.

Zhao performed difficult pieces by Frederic Chopin, Jean Sibelius, and many others. University of La Verne students, faculty and supporters marveled at Zhao’s skill. She played each note with passion and delicacy, which illustrated love.

“The inspiration of the concert theme first came from the Nocturne by Chopin,” Zhao said. “I thought about how love has always been such a favorite subject for composers and how music could express the idea of love so powerfully.”

Huffman came out in a marvelous, flowing gown in a shade of green.

Her beauty and vocals captured the audience’s attention. The soprano and piano collaboration allowed the audience to feel various feelings.

One of the songs performed was titled “Eccomi in lieta vesta…Oh quante volte ti chiedo” by Vincenzo Bellini. This was from I Capuleti e it Montecchi from “Romeo and Juliet.”

“This is the first time we see Juliet getting married not to Romeo, but to someone else,” Grace Xia Zhao, pianist said. “She is hoping Romeo comes to rescue her.”

It is easy to get lost in the music and picture Juliet waiting in her room. The elegant yet haunting notes allow the listener to experience what Juliet may be feeling.

Zhao and Huffman performed six art songs, which were a French set. Zhao was playing airy and happy melodies. Huffman performed with a bright smile on her face as if she were in love.

“I am going to sing about love in French, the songs are happy and full of hope,” Courtney Huffman, said.

The transition from love to death was dramatic. Huffman changed costumes for these haunting pieces, which vividly illustrated the story and timeline to the audience.

The set of songs “Try Me Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII” were executed by Zhao beautifully. The tone was elegant with a more dark tone.

Huffman’s dramatic facials, vocals and positions expressed a poetic feel and eluded death by touching her stomach as if she were hurt or ill.

“Have mercy on my soul,” Huffman sang.

The last songs were based on Isolde’s Love-death, which was elegant and dramatic. Another set were Chinese love songs.

The night ended with happy and traditional melodies, and left the audience fascinated as many bouquets of flowers were taken to Zhao and Huffman.

“Courtney is one of the rising opera stars in the country and I was delighted to have her performing on campus,” Zhao said. “Her musicality and dazzling grace on stage was exceptional and I think she is an inspiration for young singers.”

“I thought it was a beautiful performance,” said Hannah Knous junior, creative writing major, said. “I am taken back on how wonderful Grace performed and Courtney’s voice was exquisite. Grace is my piano instructor and I feel lucky to have someone like her teach me.”

“They are very passionate performers and work well together,” said Jennifer Kinnear, Azusa resident.

Jennahway Huerta can be reached at

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