24 Oct 2010
Divas and Divos Concert, Manitoba
It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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.