From the opening notes of Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell” opera overture to the closing (audience-participating)’ Va Pensiero’ from Verdi’s “Nabucco”; POPERA 2015 had three distinct entities showcased, and one lone (musical) arranger who, even out of context, brought out some of the essence of operatic arias. Entity one certainly had to be the polished members of the National Academy orchestra whose faultless technique and instrumental skill shone throughout. Under the batons of conductor Boris Brott and his apprentice Janna Sailor; the ensemble plus the seven vocalists worked as a harmonious unit.
The guest soloists were certainly the third element delivering each selection from the domain in such a manner as to mentally evoke a fully-staged representation.
Four baritones; a tenor and two sopranos…the vocal ranges presented a selection challenge for Brott and project director Taras Kulish. It’s usually the tenor who is the hero, while the lower male range is either the parent or the villain. Naturally the soprano or mezzo is the damsel character (except Salome and Delilah). All seven soloists possess superb vocal control and tonal quality, but it was their familiarity with the arias; confidence, and understanding of each work that made the evening such a success.
Charlotte Burrage is a mezzo with a full operatic C.V. Her duets and solo numbers were performed with emotion and an insightful depth of feeling. Her C-4 to C-6 colleague was Hélène Brunet and there is a special luminosity in her aria renderings. Baritones Jeremy Ludwig; Aaron Durand; Keith Lam & Christopher Dunham all embrace an individual style and performance methods. Lam is the most dramatic while Durand has a more comedic bent. Tenor David Menzies is a powerhouse performer. His voice stood out even in the trios and especially the duets. The familiar ‘Fond du Temple’ from The Pearl fishers’ was the male counterpart of the ladies’ ‘Sous la dome épais’ standard. Both selections earned rousing audience response. The podium’s recognition of the flute/harp duet during the latter acknowledged the efforts by NAO members Ana Isabel Ruiz and harpist Rachel Nolan. Both should have no trouble securing permanent orchestral employments.
Three of Mozart’s operas afforded aria opportunities including one from the composer’s ZauberFlöte. As a trivial aside, the five-note melody that Papagano uses for his magic; if played backward becomes the interstellar connection used in ‘Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind’! A stunning orchestral rendering of Mascagni’s “Intermezzo” and the ‘Rigoletto’ overture all showcased the orchestra’s cohesion and collective focus, something that has become a hallmark of the Brott assemblages.
Next Thursday, the Festival will present Rossini’s “Barber of Seville”. Staging an opera is an enormously demanding challenge; both financial and presentational. Brott’s time with Italy’s Bari Opera is certainly good grounding & experience; his imagination and stage creativity should make this an important event for the community, perhaps even the impetus to revitalize the genre in Hamilton. ‘Barbiere’ at Mohawk’s McIntyre needs & deserves to be a full-house occasion. Maybe even Elmer and Bugs will show up!