24 Oct 2010
Divas and Divos Concert, Manitoba
It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
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800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
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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.