La Scena Musicale

Friday, 28 January 2011

Popera A Perfect Winter Tonic

Top: ( r.) Allyson McHardy, Lyne Fortin, David Speers, Gordon Gietz, Daniel Okulitch in "Helas! mon coeur s'egare encore!", the finale of the "Giulietta Act" of Les contes d'Hoffmann

Bottom: Allyson McHardy singing Non piu mesta from La cenerentola, with the McMaster University Choir in the background and David Speers on the podium

Popera Plus!

Lyne Fortin, soprano
Allyson McHardy, mezzo-soprano
Gordon Gietz, tenor
Daniel Okulitch, bass-baritone

Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra
McMaster University Choir
David Speers, conductor

Overture from Luisa Miller
Ave Maria from Otello / Fortin
Non piu andra from Nozze / Okulitch
Habanera from Carmen / McHardy, Chorus
Chanson de Kleinzach from Les contes d'Hoffmann / Gietz
Intermezzo from I Pagliacci
Viens, Mallika from Lakme / Fortin, McHardy
O du mein holder Abendstern from Tannhauser / Okulitch
Finale from Act 3 La traviata / All soloists & chorus
Overture from La cenerentola
Non piu mesta from La cenerentola / McHardy
Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux from Le Cid / Fortin
E lucecan le stelle from Tosca / Gietz
La ci darem from Don Giovanni / McHardy & Okulitch
Kermesse Waltz from Faust / Chorus
Aleko's Cavatina from Aleko / Okulitch
Love Duet from Madama Butterfly / Fortin & Gietz
Va pensiero from Nabucco / Chorus
Encore: Concertato from Giulietta Act, Les contes d'Hoffmann / All soloists and Chorus

Hamilton Place, January 27, 2010 8 p.m.

You've got the winter blues? The snow, freezing rain, and dreary grey skies getting you down? There's nothing like a healthy dose of opera to cheer up any winter-weary Canadian - at least it works for me! Yesterday I drove to Hamilton, in rather benign weather even if the traffic didn't cooperate, for the opening performance of Popera! An annual event of Opera Hamilton, it's the "opera's greatest hits" affair that have proven an audience favourite over the years. While it wasn't sold out, attendance was respectable and the audience suitably enthusiastic. OH has assembled an excellent quartet of soloists, all singers who have previously performed with the company. On hand last evening was soprano Lyne Fortin, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor Gordon Gietz and bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch, all singers with beautiful voices and noteworthy international careers. OH audiences are lucky to be able to hear these fine singers all in a single evening. Toronto and COC audiences are of course familiar with mezzo Allyson McHardy, who was an outstanding Suzuki last season and will be back as Juno in Semele next season. Tenor Gordon Gietz has sung in Beatrice et Benedict, Flying Dutchman and most recently Don Giovanni at the COC. But Lyne Fortin and Daniel Okulitch have yet to sing in the Four Seasons Centre and it's a real shame - let's hope with the new administration, the situation will be rectified soon.

Following the overture to Luisa Miler, Fortin kicked off the singing with an affecting Ave Maria from Otello, her warm, silvery tone and lovely mezza voce was perfect for Desdemona. She followed it up with an even lovelier "Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux" from Le Cid. This is one of my very favourite arias, and I have heard it sung by some of the greatest sopranos over the years, including Regine Crespin, Montserrat Caballe, and Francoise Pollet. Fortin captured the spirit of this tragic aria magnificently, her heart-felt delivery equal to any of these great ladies. To my ears, Fortin's timbre is so reminiscent of the wonderful Francoise Pollet whom I heard at the height of her powers. In addition to these two solo arias, Fortin and tenor Gordon Gietz paired up for a powerfully sung Love Duet from Madama Butterfly. Instead of singing to the audience as is often the case, they sang and reacted to each other, with Gietz particularly paying attention to the text. There was no holding back by these two artists, as they both ended the duet with a strong high C, held longer than any of the performances I've seen in recent memory. Also very lovely is the "Flower Duet" from Lakme, the voices of Fortin and McHardy blending perfectly. I give credit to the singers and conductor David Speers for including as much of the recitatives as possible, turning the stand-alone arias into scenes.

With her excellent agility and rock solid technique, Allyson McHardy contributed a sensational "Non piu mesta." If her Carmen was a little understated, her Angelina was just right, and her Zerlina subtly amusing opposite the charming and sexy Don Giovanni of Daniel Okulitch. The McMaster University Chorus offered yeoman support. Curiously, despite its huge size, there wasn't the big sound coming out of them as one would have expected, especially in Carmen. Perhaps the choir isn't very familiar with the operatic repertoire? For some reason, there was no choral accompaniment in the Kleinzach Aria. No matter - tenor Gordon Gietz was a very well sung and acted Hoffmann, here as well as in the ensemble from the "Giulietta Act", sung as an encore. Okulitch is a singer we don't get to hear at all in Toronto. His Wolfram's "O du mein holder Abendstern" from Tannhauser was lovely, sung with hushed tone and poetic imagination. And I'd be remiss in not mentioning the Aleko's Aria, sensationally sung by the bass-baritone. My concert companion was a Russian-speaking Czech lady, and she said Okulitch's Russian diction was perfect. Conductor and OH General Director David Speers offered solid and attentive support to the singers. The Hamilton Philharmonic was solid, although one would want a fuller and richer sound from the upper strings - the principal cello, however, was marvelous. The concert is repeated on Saturday, Jan. 29 8 p.m. at the Great Hall in Hamilton Place.

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