Review by Terry Gaisin
We’re democratic (in the social -non-political way) so we respect folks right to different opinions than ours. This is especially true of opera. Unlike many other ambiguous items, this particular genus seems to elicit, like piano keys, either a black or white response – no grey area. We understand this because opera is more than just listening to music it’s experiencing the entire presentation; sight, sound and ethos. When we attend an in-concert opera performance our minds recall the whole libretto, the rationale and the scenario behind each presented aria. Non-aficionados may thus not appreciate the piece as part of an entirety.
Last night, the Hamilton Philharmonic under guest conductor Fabio Mastrangelo with soloists Shelley Jackson & Kristian Benedikt presented a concert that emphasized the compositions of Giacomo Puccini along with works by other of his contemporary Italian composers. For us, it was like a dinner party featuring only chocolate… i.e. SUMPTUOUS.}
The opening work was Verdi’s overture to Forza del Destino. The work is physically as well as technically challenging. Unfortunately, for some of the HPO members, a little too technical as there were more than a few noticeable errors…something rare for this usually precise assemblage. Mastrangelo is obviously passionate about the operatic art form and especially its composers as in his commentaries, he incorporates the trivia that defines their psyches as well as their compositional output.
Early 20th century composer Francesco Cilea only wrote 5 operas and it was from his two best-known that diva & divo Jackson & Benedikt offered popular arias. The soprano piece from ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’ demonstrates a sort of false modesty and Jackson ably incorporated a posture that underscored the lyrics. Then, Benedikt offered the lamentational piece wherein the hero tells of his disappointment to a local shepherd. This renowned tenor was a somewhat late recruitment as the scheduled performer, John MacMaster had laryngitis. His rendering of the piece demonstrated an innate acting ability that incorporates stance and posturing for emphasis. Jackson also exhibited this knack in her rendering of Leoncavallo’s ‘Qual Fiamma etc. From Pagliacci. ‘Nedda’ offers insight into both her history and future doubts in her lyrics and Jackson did try and physically show her character’s ambiguity. To continue with the same opera, Benedikt offered the popular ‘Vesti Le giubba’ that would have been Caruso’s ‘platinum record’ if there were such awards in 1900! The opening word is “Recitar” which translates as ACT and again Benedikt did so, and with a highly sympathetic rendering. The quotable 3 words tell the hero to ‘put on your costume’; something most of us do every day.
The orchestra closed out the first section with a tender reading of Cavalleria Rusticana’s ‘intermezzo’. Good choice given that both the above are normally presented in tandem.
Post-intermission, the orchestra performed Manon Lescaut”s Intermezzo which was performed in a worm almost intimate manner especially the viola solo by Chau Luk. Among the selections, Jackson offered the brief aria ‘O Mio Babbino caro (Dear Daddy), followed by Benedikt undertaking Pavarotti’s theme piece, Turandot’s ‘Nessun Dorma’, (none shall sleep). The tenor gave it his all without theatrics, handkerchief, or posturing…just the aria. Result -standing ovation and cries of ‘bravo’ and “dis” (repeat).
The Act I duet from ‘Bohème’ just after Mimi and Rudolfo meet and their magic affection is realized, was sung and staged in keeping with a full production. It gave off all the feeling and pathos that aficionados know is doomed, (spoiler -her illness). The finale was the longish ‘Tosca’ Act I duet between a jealous Floria Tosca and her suitor Mario Cavardossi who is painting a ‘Madonna’ (Mary Magdelane, not the pop singer) while seeking sanctuary in a sanctuary. Both soloists obviously know the libretto because their on (& off-stage) antics communicate the opera’s message.
We loved the evening; and certainly glad that in spite of some medical discomfort by my muse, were able to enjoy it. Maybe next year’s H.P.O. such event will feature Rossini, another favourite Italian opera composer –hint hint.