Review by Danny Gaisin
Opera, as a genre, seems to have no grey area of fans; it’s a love or hate response. I’m in the former category and have been for as long as I can remember (radio broadcasts from the Met during WWII!). When Daniel Lipton was artistic director of the Hamilton Opera, his POPERA became a favorite gala evening offering a selection of the most beloved and well-liked arias from the repertoire. Last night, he, and the concept, returned to the Great Hall. It was a super evening.
To perform a pastiche or musical collage, guest soloists soprano Claire Coolen; and mezzo Mia Lennox were joined by Cody Austin-tenor, and the baritone range sung by Chad Armstrong. From the opening selections from Mozart’s Don Giovanni [or Don Juan & the Commendatore’s cenotaph]; the orchestra; director and soloists presented more than adequately the motives and contexts of their selections. Ms. Lennox seemed to put a lot of effort into projecting the below middle C range. Her soprano counterpart managed to almost reach the ‘E’ that occurs at the end of Gilda’s ‘Caro Nome’ from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Coolen’s phrasing contributed a creative passion to the work (BTW, the music equivalences ‘”Joy to the World” and the reverse of Doe, a deer from Sound of Music).
A highlight duet was the magnificent ‘O soave fanciulla’ wherein Bohéme’s Rodolfo and Mimi having just met, are instantly in love. The muted HPO allowed the soloists to impart such emotion into their rendering as to almost parallel the reaction audiences feel at hearing the composition in its full grand opera context.
Cody Austin’s rendering of what is one of opera’s most famous pieces began from within the audience. With the orchestra playing the familiar 12 notes, humming and sub rosa singing could be heard from every corner of the Great Hall. Verdi’s character ‘Mantua’ may have thought women to be fickle, but – spoiler alert – his Gilda was anything but! Austin was joined by Armstrong for the ‘Fond du Temple’ duet by Bizet. The men gave a dramatic and evocative rendering of the popular aria with it mood changes and emotional high/lows.
The published program ended with the toast that Violetta requests that her new guest Alfredo Dumont offer. This early scene from La Traviata seems to belie the musical portent that will befall the young lady of the Camellias and her besotted suitor. The irony behind the optimistic lyrics is probably one of the reasons the work is so eternal. Verdi’s tragedy is one of those operas wherein I sometimes actually sneak out before the end; so folks won’t see the tears start.
Lipton’s invitation for the audience to sing along for the encore was not only well-received by the audience, it was also surprisingly well participated by many who even had the libretto with them. I hummed along and endured no punitive elbowing from the muse….something I underwent with almost every previous offering!
Gemma New will be conducting Shostakovich & other Russian composers on Feb. 6th. One imagines (& hopes) it will be a full house!