Toronto’s METRO YOUTH OPERAS refers to the cast/crew; not the audience judging by the plethora of canes and white hairs; including us. Another hint, only one or two of ten grabbed their I-pads as soon as the houselights went on. If we were the under-thirty crowd, that figure would be 98.7%! Schlepped in from the ‘burbs to see ‘Béatrice & Bénédict; Berlioz’ comedic opera based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing”. It was worth the trip!
The plot deals with a pair of frenemies who attack each other verbally whenever they are near. Both are vociferously anti marriage as much as they are opponents. Berlioz (& Bill S.) offers each protagonist ample opportunity to enunciate their rationales. Beatrice spouts another version of ‘Kate’s’ “I hate Men”, while Benedict paraphrases all those bon mots that proliferate ‘Merchant of Venice’; Henry VI etc.’
The MYO staging starts out with a decidedly ‘Silent Movie’ ambiance. The cast pantomime to a piano background; so, a familiarity with the plotline certainly helped. Direction focuses on accentuation of the major arias and in a more musical operetta format has spoken dialogue rather than the more formal recitative. Briefly the plot deals with two love stories; Claudio and Hero (more a heroine) who are about to marry; and his buddy & her cousin who despise each other. Given than each admits to the qualities of the other; a match is subtly arranged and as Willy so ably said it ‘All’s Well that ends Well’.
The nominal duo is sung/acted by Simone McIntosh & Asitha Tennekoon. The former bears a slight resemblance to a young Cynthia Dale and possesses a dramatic soprano voice that demonstrates strength and control at both ends of range. Even more amazing is her talent for facial display that exposits full spectrum of comedic emotion. Her animation is almost overly dramatic. Tennekoon’s tenor is certainly worthy of his lead role but unfortunately McIntosh overpowers. His solos and especially the trio are a better podium for appreciating his talent. Where the audience learns of his bachelor philosophy, he certainly holds his own against two baritones.
The other love-duo is sung by Lindsay McIntyre (Héro) and Janaka Welihinda (Claudio – the groom). McIntyre’s role requires her to be almost narrating the opera’s progress and she easily handles her part with aplomb. From her dramatic moments to those twinkles of comedy, she is a standout. Her partner in love AND in facilitating the B & B shenanigans, coalesce faultlessly. There is demonstrative chemistry between them. Support is provided by Alessia Naccarato as girlfriend Ursule, but her projection is a little weak. Peter Warren and Christopher Pinheiro are General Don Pedro and Hero’s dad – Léonato respectively.
Three performances seem far too inadequate for such an obviously well-rehearsed and meticulously directed effort. Lighting and piano accompaniment are never a liability and the contemporary costuming by no means jars. It may not be the “COC”, but as opera ‘lite’, it certainly fills a niche.