July 25 was a memorable night for the Concerts Populaires de Montréal. After extended negotiations, the Orchestre de la Francophonie (OF) finally obtained the legal rights to one of the most famous and iconic musicals of Broadway, West Side Story.
Written by Stephen Sondheim and composed by Leonard Bernstein in 1957, this dramatic story takes place in the Upper West side of Manhattan in the 50’s and highlights two opposite gangs of the working class, the Sharks and the Jets. It’s a typical love story inspired by the tragedy of Romeo and Juliette where Maria, from the Sharks, falls in love with Tony who is friends with the chief of the Jets.
To present this masterpiece, the OF, direct by Jean-Philippe Tremblay, brought up to the stage 73 musicians, 25 young singers and 4 soloists, including soprano Anne-Marie Suire, remembered for her unforgettable performance in The Phantom of the Opera last summer.
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The music was a typical Broadway style arrangement that gave an important place to the drums, violins, and of course trumpets. Fast rhythms, instrument disputes, and dissonances brought up the idea of a chaotic city, with policemen trying to bring order by whistling at cars, or even finger snapping probably imitating the street gangs in Manhattan.
The performance was quite outstanding seeing that the small stage of the Centre Pierre Charbonneau had to accommodate 73 musicians. We were even surprised when one of the soloists came down to dance during the performance of the unforgettable air America.
Every renowned air was performed with an impressive technique, especially the beautiful duets Somewhere and Tonight between Maria and Tony. And finally, Suire sang the famous Finale air remarkably, leading her to sing it second time.
The immense amount of work that took place behind this concert made the performance unique, and we were lucky as it is probably one of the last representations of the West Side Story, until Steven Spielberg’s 2020 version is played once again on the Broadway stage.
The Concerts Populaires conclude on Thursday, Aug. 1.