24 Oct 2010
Divas and Divos Concert, Manitoba
It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.
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It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
With your production just days away, one of your scheduled singers becomes ill. You scramble around to find a replacement. Lo and behold, you find a wonderfully reliable and willing fill-in. All is well.
But it doesn’t end there! At the very last moment, another singer falls ill. This time there isn’t time to put another artist in her place. But the show must go on — so you tinker with the program, adapt and adjust as best you can.
That’s the saga of Manitoba Opera Association’s (MOA) season opening presentation, Divas and Divos Concert on Saturday, October 16 at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg. Tenor David Pomeroy and soprano Mariateresa Magisano were both forced to bow out due to illness. From the reaction of the healthy-sized audience during the performance, however, you’d never suspect there had been a single glitch.
The show was accurately billed as “an evening of opera hits and favourites performed by six gifted singers,” (well, there were five). Add to this the 60-member Manitoba Opera Chorus and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) under the direction of Tadeusz Biernacki and you have yourself an event.
Hosted by the affable and surprisingly humorous general director and CEO of MOA, Larry Desrochers, the evening moved along smoothly, with the varied repertoire and solid performances capturing our attention and emotions.
Canadian soprano Joni Henson was first up with “Ebben! Ne andrò lontan” from Catalani’s La Wally. Henson displayed superb control and a fully refined tone that made for a dramatic and very poised delivery. No lack of power here, as she took the aria from subtle to intense, building gradually to a vivid conclusion.
Later in the evening, Henson transformed herself into Rusalka from Dvořák’s opera of the same name in the beautiful “Song to the Moon.” She was spot on with the requisite delicacy, balanced with just the right dose of authority. Best of all — she sang with a true sense of joy.
Baritone Pierre-Étienne Bergeron was less successful as Don Giovanni in his duet “Là ci darem la mano” with Zerlina, sung by mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal. His light voice didn’t carry well and only served to emphasize the richness of Segal’s tone and delightfully crisp, clear delivery. The two blended nicely in the tutti sections, although Bergeron tended to reach for his upper register.
In the famous Champagne Aria, “Fin ch’han dal vino,” he opted for a subtle approach, when it really needed swagger and a bit of bluster. Lacking the power to penetrate the hall, he was drowned out by the WSO — a shame, as what we could hear of Bergeron sounded pleasant. It would be good to hear him again with a few more productions under his belt.
Segal showed her impressive range in “O mio Fernando” from La Favorita by Donizetti. Finely crafted lines and convincing acting made us feel her sorrow. The beautiful harp and French horn solos added to the bittersweet ambiance of this aria.
Filling in for the ailing Pomeroy was American tenor Jeffrey Springer, who almost brought the house down. He had us riveted to our seats in his spine-tingling rendition of “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca. With expression to spare, he exuded passion and longing. In “O soave fanciulla” from La Boheme, you’d have sworn he was on a full set instead of a sparse concert stage the way he brought the story to life. The only artist to move around the stage (much appreciated by audience members stage left), his expansive voice and expressive execution thrilled listeners. His final note dripped with sweetness.
The opera chorus emerged between soloists with familiar choruses that had audience members swaying from side to side and smiling. “Va, pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco was truly uplifting, with the WSO bouncing along in an Alberti bass line. Nicely phrased, this had a rousing glow that was entirely refreshing. Biernacki’s energy never wavered, his ease with the score a result of years of experience.
Veteran bass-baritone David Watson made a few brief appearances, most notably given the honour of performing the final aria of the night. As the villainous police chief Baron Scarpia from Tosca, he brought his reliably resonant voice to “Va Tosca (Te Deum).” Watson sang with great dramatic conviction and, with the eerie church bells chiming, strains from the organ and the big bass drum tolling, this was a masterful finale.