La Scena Musicale

Friday, 12 October 2012

COC Ensemble Studio Fledermaus Excerpts a Delight

Final Bow (l. to r. ) Cameron McPhail, Jenna Douglas, Timothy Cheung, Sasha Djihanian, Owen McCausland, Christopher Enns, Ileana Montalbetti, Ambur Braid, Rihab Chaieb (photographer: Karen Reeves)

Madcap Moments: Highlights from Die Fledermaus 

by Joseph So

Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Thursday October 11 noon

Christopher Enns (Eisenstein)
Cameron McPhail (Dr. Falke / Frank)
Ileana Montalbetti (Rosalinda)
Owen McCausland (Dr. Blind / Alfred)
Rihab Chaieb (Orlofsky)
Ambur Braid (Adele)
Sasha Djihanian (Ida)
Jenna Douglas / Timothy Cheung (pianists)

"Komm mit mir zum Souper" (Eisenstein / Falke)
"Nein, mit solchen Advokaten (Eisenstein / Rosalinda / Dr. Blind)
"Ich lade gern mir Gaste ein" (Orlofsky)
"So muss allein ich bleiben" (Adele / Rosalinda / Einstein)
"Spiel' ich die Unschuld vom Lande" (Adele / Frank / Ida)
"Klange der Heimat" (Rosalinda)
"Ich stehe voll Zagen" (Rosalinda / Alfred / Eisenstein)
"Im Feuerstrom der Reben" (Company)

Of all the Viennese operettas, Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, together with Die lustige Witwe, are the two most performed on this side of the Atlantic. Given that the Strauss was last seen at the COC a long twenty-one years ago, it's high time for a revival. The new production currently running at the Four Seasons Centre has great singing, backed by a terrific sounding orchestra and chorus all under the helm of COC Music Director Johannes Debus.  Many of the young Ensemble Studio artists are covering the principal roles, so unless someone gets sick, we normally won't get to hear them during the run. (That is with the exception of sopranos Ambur Braid and Mireille Asselin, who are sharing the starring role of the saucy maid Adele)  So it's great to have this noon hour Highlights concert at the Amphitheatre, with these young singers showing what they can do. 
It's amazing how much music can fit into an hour!  Without dialogue, the artists performed eight numbers, some of them extended scenes. With the exception of the Csardas and Adele's "Spiel' ich die Unschuld vom Lande" in Act Three, all the selections were ensemble pieces.  
Christopher Enns (Eisenstein) and Ileana Montalbetti (Rosalinda) Photo: Karen Reeves

It was apparent right from the start that everyone was extremely well prepared and well rehearsed musically and dramatically. Collectively they gave a totally polished performance, one that would not be out of place on the mainstage. This was tenor Christopher Enns' first appearance this season since he was ill and didn't participate in the Introduction to the Ensemble concert a few weeks ago. Instead of the originally assignment of Alfred, Enns is covering Eisenstein during the run. He sang his three ensemble pieces with nice tone and a real flair for comedy. Baritone Cameron McPhail, who made a strong impression last time out with Valentin's "Avant de quitter ces lieux," was a terrific Dr. Falke, his powerful high baritone sounding great in that space. The opening phrases of "Bruderlein, Schwesterlein" ensemble from Act Two was sung with mellow tone and nice expression. McPhail is definitely a singer to watch.  Dressed for the trouser role complete with cigarette and ash tray, mezzo Rihab Chaieb was an excellent Orlofsky, commanding the stage with authority.  Arguably Strauss was at his least inspired with the yodeling, throw-away melody in "Chacon a son gout" - it's hard to make those rapidly attacked high A-flats at the top of the mezzo range without sounding shrieky. But if one considers Strauss was actually mocking Orlofsky here, then it makes a lot of sense. Chaieb sang the ungrateful aria beautifully. 

Currently at the COC covering Rosalinda, ensemble Studio alumna Ileana Montalbetti has the right vocal weight and timbre for this role. She is a dramatically scintillating Rosalinda and sang well, her big, bright soprano making a statement in the ensembles.  In the Csardas, she let rip a knock 'em dead high C sharp at the end, though in the rest of the aria, one would have preferred a little less steeliness. Ambur Braid, whose Adele was extremely well received on opening night, repeated it with lazer-beam high notes and scenery-chewing melodrama.  Given that the tenor antics in Acts One and Three were omitted, Owen McCausland (Alfred) didn't get a lot to do, but he managed to seize the few moments in the spotlight, singing with firm, ringing tone. The same can be said for soprano Sasha Djihanian (Ida) who had even less opportunity to shine.  I do recall her impressive Act One aria from Manon in the last concert, and I am sure there'll be plenty of opportunities for us to hear her in the future. Jenna Douglas and Timothy Cheung, the two Ensemble Studio coach/pianists were called upon to speak as well as play, and they did it all with consummate skill and aplomb. All in all an enjoyable concert, and I look forward to many more to come.  

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