Concert Reviews

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Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia

National Arts Center Orchestra / Opera Lyra
Ottawa Male Chorus

Donna Brown (Rosina), Theodore Baerg
(Figaro), Allan Monk (Doctor Bartolo), Torin Chiles (Count
Almaviva), Alexander Savtchenko (Don Basilio), Christina
Harvey-Finlay (Berta), Doug MacNaughton (Fiorello). Susan Haig
(conductor). National Arts Center. March 14, 1998.

Sm3-7IlBarbiere.jpg (16523 bytes)Opera Lyra recently treated the Ottawa public
to a fine production of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia,
the second and final staged operatic production of its 1997-98
season. That production also marked the company debut of the
Ottawa-based soprano Donna Brown (see interview in La Scena
Musicale
Feb./March 1998), and she was not disappointing. The
role of Rosina, which calls for a combination of youthful
mischievousness and mature technique, is ideally suited to her.
(Photo: Theodore Baerg &
Allan Monk)


The success of any Barbiere rests on a solid team of comic
singers / actors who enjoy working together and whose linchpin must
be a strong Doctor Bartolo, the lecherous old man who tries to
prevent Figaro from getting the girl. In that respect, one could not
have wished for a better (i.e. funnier) Bartolo than veteran
Canadian baritone Allan Monk, whose instrument has lost nothing of
its virile and impressive power. Canadian bass-baritone Theodore
Baerg is an experienced Figaro. Baerg realizes that he has just a
few moments to take the stage by storm with his spectacular opening
number (the so-called “Largo al factotum”). Once Baerg had achieved
that objective with resounding success, the rest of the evening was
smooth sailing.


As Almaviva, the light tenor Torin Chiles proved to be an
excellent actor but, vocally, he did not sound perfectly at ease.
Basso Alexander Savtchenko’s Basilio had the looks of an
Hoffmannesque bird of ill omen. His finely shaded rendition of the
“Calumnia” aria would have been even more appreciated if, on opening
night, his voice had not lacked some of its usual power. Christine
B. Harvey-Finlay, as Berta, was an asset, while Doug MacNaughton is
one tenor whom I look forward to hearing in bigger parts than that
of Fiorello. Stage director Tom Diamond’s traditional but
intelligent work, aided by stage manager Debora Johns, delivered a
conventional but successful Barbiere. One hopes that Opera Lyra
overcomes its current financial woes and leadership crisis, and that
the Ottawa public increases its support of well-crafted productions
with top-notch Canadian singers, such as this one. Pierre
Marc Bellemare


Toronto


Puccini: Madama Butterfly

Marina Mescheriakova (Butterfly), Badry
Maisuradze (Pinkerton), James Westman (Sharpless), Anita Krause
(Suzuki), Raymond Aceto (Bonze), Jonathan Green (Goro), Doug
MacNaughton (Yamadori), Karen Ydenberg (Kate). Maurizio Barbacini
(Conductor). Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus. April
14, 1998.

sm3-7MadameB.jpg (27484 bytes)The COC’s
recent production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was better
the second time around. Not that opening night (April 9) was bad,
but by April 14, Russian soprano Marina Mescheriakova had recovered
from a cold and gave a stupendous performance. Mescheriakova’s
instrument is exceptional, one of the loudest voices ever to fill
the cavernous Hummingbird Centre, yet also capable of a pianissimo
high D at Butterfly’s entrance. Of the many Butterflies I have seen
in recent years, including Scotto, Zylis-Gara, Malfitano, Soviero,
Pellegrini, Watanabe, and Hartliep, Mescheriakova has the most
voice. Dramatically, she was also among the most passionate and
italianate. I tend to prefer a shy, inward, stoic Butterfly, but
Mescheriakova’s total conviction won me over. (Photo:
Marina Mescheriakova & James Weston)


Georgian tenor Badry Maisuradze (Pinkerton) is a money-note
tenor: loud, a bit unsubtle, but with a gorgeous voice. He delivered
the goods last night and he even acted credibly. It is only a matter
of time before the Met snaps him up. Canadian baritone James Westman
made his major role mainstage debut as Sharpless. Westman is a real
find, with wonderful stage presence, excellent musicality and a
beautiful voice that is just a tad small for the 3400-seat
Hummingbird Centre.


Canadian soprano Anita Krause has become a dramatically and
vocally superb Suzuki. Though the role does not offer Krause many
moments to shine, her voice made one sit up and take notice.


Maurizio Barbacini’s
conducting was brisk, well paced, and more sympathetic to the
singers than on opening night when, in the first act, they were
scrambling to catch up to the conductor’s beat. The minimalist
production of director Brian Macdonald and designer Susan Benson
grew on you – the faded look was evocative but not very dramatic.
Joseph So



Beethoven: Fidelio
Sophia Larson (Leonore), Clifton Forbis
(Florestan), Raymond Aceto (Rocco), Elzbieta Szmytka (Marzelline),
Benoit Boutet (Jacquino), Kevin Short (Pizarro), John MacMaster
(First Prisoner), Christopher Cameron (Second Prisoner), Jay
Baylon (Don Fernando). – Richard Bradshaw (Conductor) Director
(Richard Monette). Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorus.
April 8, 1998 (Hummingbird Centre).

The COC kicked off its spring season with a revival of the 1991
production of Fidelio, appropriately dedicated to Amnesty
International. This production is rather standard-issue but, to be
fair, it is hard to make a dungeon look glamorous. In
Fidelio, tradition is not necessarily a bad thing. Director
Richard Monette, in keeping with this strategy, gave us a rather
conventional staging.


Fidelio stands or falls by its Leonore. Sophia Larson, last
seen locally as Isolde in 1987, replaced Nadine Secunde, who had
withdrawn. Larson, a veteran of 25 productions of Turandot
and countless Isoldes, Sentas, Leonores, and Sieglindes worldwide,
brought experience and dramatic strength to her Leonore. Possessing
a big, slightly nasal voice somewhat like Nilsson’s, she sang with
intelligence and resourcefulness, if not with tonal beauty. Her
portrayal had some very fine qualities, but she was below her best
on opening night, often flatting at the top, especially on the first
high note of her great scene, “Abscheulicher! wo eilst du hin?”
Fortunately she was in much better form by the second performance.
As Florestan, Clifton Forbis took top vocal honours. It is
incredible but true that in about two years Forbis has graduated
from Lensky to Florestan. The inhuman tessitura of “Gott! welch
dunkel hier” and the final measures where so many tenors strain held
no terrors for him. Word has it that Siegmund is on the horizon: it
looks like we have another Heldentenor in the making…


The rest of the cast was variable. Szmytka was a bright-voiced
and well-acted Marzelline, a nice match physically and vocally for
Benoit Boutet’s Jacquino. Aceto made a very good Rocco, but his
deportment (and makeup) was not sufficient to hide the fact that he
was a very young singer playing an old man. Though he gets an A for
effort, Kevin Short lacked the vocal heft and stature to be a
menacing Pizarro.


The true stars of the evening were the orchestra and the
spectacular chorus, led by the COC’s former chorus master Donald
Palumbo, the best in the business today. Conductor Richard Bradshaw
presided over a deeply felt, lovingly shaped reading of Beethoven’s
masterpiece. Joseph So


Paris



Benjamin Britten : Billy Budd. 19 mars
1998

Bizet : Carmen. 20 mars 1998
Tchaikovsky : Eugene Onegin. 24 mars
1998

Opéra de Paris.

19 mars 1998, Billy Budd (Britten, d’après la nouvelle de
Melville), Opéra Bastille. Sur une scène qui ressemble à un radeau
perdu dans la tempête, et sur laquelle se rassembleront jusqu’à 300
hommes, le metteur en scène Francesca Zambello orchestre
admirablement ce combat du Bien et du Mal. Billy Budd (radieux
Rodney Gilfry) sera ici l’Agneau sacrifié, véritable figure
christique comme le montre on ne peut plus clairement la scène où il
trône en haut du mât de misaine, les bras étendus sur la
grand’vergue. Délaissant les rôles mozartiens, Gilfry incarne un
Billy Budd tout en innocence et en suavité; son solo de Billy aux
fers n’en est que plus touchant. Incarnant le Mal, le capitaine
d’armes Claggart (Monte Pederson, méconnaissable), bottes de cuir
hautes, crâne rasé, fouet à la main, semble tout droit sorti d’un
film S-M. Dans le rôle pivot du capitaine Vere, Kim Begley sait
jouer d’une riche palette de tons pour exprimer l’autorité mais
aussi l’angoisse qui finira par ronger le personnage. Roderick
Brydon dirigeait l’Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris où les
cuivres ont particulièrement brillé.


Pour symbolique qu’il soit, le livret de E. M. Forster et Eric
Crozier n’est pas dépourvu d’ironie. Il fallait être dans la salle
pour savourer la réaction de plus en plus amusée du public (on est à
Paris!) lorsque les officiers font part de leurs sentiments anti-
français (“Down with the Frenchies! Death or Victory!”).


20 mars 1998, Carmen (Bizet, d’après la nouvelle de
Mérimée), Opéra Bastille. Privilégiant selon ses dires le “champ
poétique, allégorique” et se “détournant dusm3-7Carmen.jpg (22487 bytes) réalisme”,
le metteur en scène Alfredo Arias propose en fait une mise en scène
assez embrouillée et surchargée. Ainsi, le trio
Carmen-José-Escamillo est représenté allégoriquement non seulement
par un trio de danseurs, mais aussi par un trio de nains. Arias dit
vouloir souligner que Carmen cherche sa propre mort. On assistera
donc, dans la scène finale, à quelque chose qui ressemble à un
suicide, Carmen forçant littéralement José, veule, hésitant, à lui
transpercer le coeur lorsqu’il lui donne un dernier baiser. Même si
elle a ses moments forts, surtout au début, la mise en scène semble
dépourvue d’une vision esthétique claire.


Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Carmen), un peu nerveuse dans la première
partie de l’habanera, donne sa pleine mesure dans “Près des remparts
de Séville”, chaudement applaudi. Voici enfin une Carmen
francophone, qui maîtrise la diction et l’expression du verbe
français. Et quelle artiste! Elle attaque en douceur les notes, les
tient et les orne comme il sied, avec une facilité déconcertante.
Mais la véritable coqueluche de la soirée, c’est le tenor argentin
José Cura (Don José). Il compose un jeu très mélo, passionné,
nettement moins réservé qu’à San Francisco. À la fin de l’opéra,
lorsqu’il implore Carmen, il est littéralement en larmes et c’est en
pleurant plus qu’en chantant qu’il lui crie “Ne me quitte pas!”
(Photo: Eric Mahoudeau)


24 mars 1998, Eugène Onéguine (Tchaikovski, d’après le
poème de Pouchkine), Opéra Bastille. Cette reprise de la production
minimaliste de Willy Decker était fort attendue, puisque le baryton
americain Thomas Hampson y incarne son premier Onéguine, entouré
d’une distribution de rêve. Dans un cadrage kaléidoscopique
irrégulier, un décor paille et caramel évoque des champs de blé à la
Van Gogh se perdant à l’horizon. Ici, rien que l’essentiel, quelques
accessoires changés à vue par le choeur des paysans puis, au 3e acte
(sans bal), un lustre démesuré tient lieu de décor jusqu’à la fin.
Tout repose sur les interprètes.


Et Dieu, quelle distribution! Au premier plan, Hampson, avec sa
voix chaude, au timbre caressant, incarne un Onéguine hautain,
frisant l’indifférence. Usant avec intelligence d’une sensibilité
musicale exceptionnelle, Susan Chilcott compose une Tatiana tour à
tour radieuse de jeunesse, bouleversée lorsqu’elle est en proie aux
tourments de l’amour, et déchirée mais résolue après son mariage.
Mais mon coup de coeur de la soirée, c’est le Lenski de Sergei
Larin. Est-ce parce qu’il est russe? Il chante et joue avec tant de
passion et de conviction, qu’on dirait bien qu’il n’incarne pas,
mais qu’il est Lenski. Ses intonations plaintives et ressenties vont
droit au coeur, sans afféterie. Le choeur et les figurants
insufflent aux scènes de foule une spontanéité et un naturel comme
on en voit peu. Une réussite totale, rare et mémorable.
Rodrigue Audet


L’Opéra de Paris
présentant ses spectacles (ballets, opéras et concerts) dans deux
lieux différents, le Palais Garnier et l’Opéra Bastille, il est tout
à fait possible de voir en une semaine plusieurs opéras et ballets,
au cours d’une saison qui ne fait relâche qu’au mois d’août. Il est
fortement recommandé de réserver à l’avance, beaucoup de
représentations affichant complet. Le prix des billets (places
assises) varie de 35 à 500 FF. Billetterie: 130 rue de Lyon – 765012
Paris. Tel: 01 43 43 96 96. Internet:
http://www.opera-de-paris.fr .

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About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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