Bach Elgar & Co. – light opera Gala Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin (1936)

One of Canada’s oldest choral groups; this country’s oldest Reform Synagogue, and the Nation’s perhaps oldestmentally teen-aged music critic united for a gala evening of light opera. Held at Hamilton’s Anshe Shalom Synagogue (1853); the Bach Elgar Choir (1905) enlisted the amazingly lyrical voices of soprano Charlene Santoni; Keith Klassen – tenor; and baritone Alexander Dobson. Accompanied by pianist Krista Rhodes who has also been a contributor to this paper; the programme featured arias from both light & tragic opera, as well as operetta works by Herbert; Strauss Jr.; Sullivan and Smetana.

Under the baton of its artistic director, Alexander Cann; Bach-Elgar can also boast of the durability of enjoying participation in the ensemble. Among its members, we met a gentleman comfortably in his eighth decade! The 64-member group has deservedly received accolades and last night’s concert more that adequately demonstrated why.

Their cohesion, focus and obvious dedication to the entity manifests itself in the truth behind the principle ‘the whole being more than sum of its parts’.

Introduced by narrator Kelly Nestruck; our counterpart on the Globe & Mail, the audience was given the background and a little context of each aria. Donizetti’s Lucia afforded Klassen the opportunity to enlist the audience in joining him in the opera’s toast. More imbibing during Offenbach’s “Belle Hélène” which is an absurd take on that ‘face that launched 1000 ships’ tale. Still more wine for Sullivan’s ‘Sorcerer’ which contains a trio that brought all three guests to stage front. Even more tippling at concert’s end with the rousing ‘Libiamo’ (at the Shul, its translated L’Chayim) which Alfredo sings to Violetta.

Ms. Santoni’s first solo was the Vilja from Lehar’s Merry Widow. Her clarity and measured vibrato is an aural delight. But it was during the post-interval’s ‘Naughty Marietta’ excerpt that we could appreciate her ease in reaching & maintaining the C6 (two-octaves over middle C) that is the hallmark of the perfect soprano. The lady also demonstrated a comedic acting-bent in her rendering of the duets from ‘Night in Venice’ and ‘Fledermaus’. Her accomplice in both was Keith Klassen who almost exaggeratingly hams up the imagery of each work. He can dance, parade about and expressively utilize all his limbs without a single missed note.

The operatic baritone rarely plays the hero, but he came close to stealing the evening with his rendition of Bizet’s ‘Toreador Song” in which he radiated all the arrogance & egotism of a super athlete (think Bryant or Ali). His duet with Santoni in another Merry Widow excerpt – ‘Lippen schweigen’ which translates as ‘loose lips’ were so well acted as sung that they gave meaning to the moment where the song occurs.

For an opera lover, each piece heard brings a scenario to the mind. We can visualize the set, costume and dramatic or comedic point of occurrence. To a novice; the creative compositional beauty and the vocal talent displayed by the performers suffices even without the background knowledge.
This is probably as good a time as any to drop a mention of Opera Hamilton’s IL TROVATORE which opens April 21st…the Verdi version – not The Marx Brothers!

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