24 Oct 2010
Divas and Divos Concert, Manitoba
It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
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.