La Scena Musicale

Sunday, November 8, 2009

COC puts on Glittery Diamond Anniversary Gala

COC Diamond Anniversary Gala Concert (l. to r.)
Tenor Ramon Vargas, baritone Russell Braun, tenor John Treleaven, conductor Johannes Debus

COC Diamond Anniversary Concert
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
November 7, 7 p.m. 2009
Johannes Debus, conductor
Ramon Vargas, tenor
Russell Braun, baritone
John Treleaven, tenor
Canadian Opera Company Orchestra

Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture
Gounod "Ah! Leve-toi, soleil" - Romeo et Juliette (Vargas)
Berlioz Menuet des feux follets - La damnation de Faust
Gounod "Mab, la reine des mensonges" - Romeo et Juliette (Braun)
Berlioz Hungarian March - La damnation de Faust
"Nature immense" - La damnation de Faust (Vargas)
*Massenet "Porquoi me reveiller" - Manon (Vargas)
*Bizet Pearl Fishers Duet - Pearl Fishers (Vargas, Braun)
Wagner Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg
"Preislied" - Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg (Treleaven)
"O du mein holder Abendstern" - Tannhauser (Braun)
Rome Narrative - Tannhauser (Treleaven)
Siegfried's Rhine Journey - Goetterdammerung
"Brunnhilde, heilige Braut!" - Goetterdammerung (Treleaven)
Funeral March - Goetterdammerung

Encore: Overture to Act 3 of Lohengrin
* Item added to original printed program

When the COC announced last Saturday Oct. 31 that star tenor Ben Heppner was indisposed and would be unable to sing in the Company's Diamond Anniversary Gala on Nov. 7, it was greeted with widespread dismay among Canadian opera fans. What do you do when a seemingly irreplaceable artist cancels? Cancelling the concert was out of the question. The COC managed to line up three leading singers - tenors Ramon Vargas and John Treleaven, and baritone Russell Braun - to fill in for the Canadian tenor. While there were some residual grumbling from Heppner fans about the no-refund policy, it dissipated when the COC announced that the Canadian tenor would be giving a "makeup" recital, with piano at the Four Seasons Centre for all ticket holders to the Diamond Anniversary Gala, at a future date to be announced. This really is a generous gesture from Heppner and the company to its legions of loyal fans. Thus Alexander Neef and the COC deftly managed to turn a potential public relations crisis into a win-win situation for the company and its audience. For the price of a single ticket, opera lovers will now hear two artists making their local debuts (Vargas and Treleaven), plus an opportunity to hear their beloved Ben Heppner later in the season, likely sometime in the spring. This certainly contributed to additional ticket sales in the last few days before the concert. A major consideration in the search for replacements was to retain as much of the original program as possible, simply due to lack of time for rehearsals and making sure the orchestral parts would be available on short notice. Thanks to the presence of Mr. Treleaven, there was minimal disruption to the Wagner half of the program.

The first half of the program was all French. The evening kicked off with the Roman Carnival Overture. With the orchestra liberated from the pit, and newly installed acoustic panels on three sides of the stage, there's a vitality and immediacy of the orchestral sound that was a joy to the ear. Kudos to new COC music director Johanne Debus, who gave an energetic yet lyrical and highly nuanced reading of the many pieces. His attention to detail was exemplary. Frankly, I think COC "hit the jackpot" with his man and he will be an enormous asset to the company in the future. Vargas received a very warm welcome that only intensified after each number. His three arias were delivered with gorgeous, plangent tone, very well focused sound that carried beautifully in the acoustically friendly FSC. Interestingly, two of his pieces were not on the printed program - Des Grieux's aria "Porquoi me reveiller" from Manon, followed by the knock-'em-dead duet (with Braun) from Pearl Fishers. Russell Braun is of course a COC favourite. He sang Mercutio's aria with brio and elan. His warm and mellifluous baritone blended beautifully with Vargas' in the Bizet. Braun reserved his best for Wolfram's Ode to the Evening Star. Taken at a very slow tempo, his was a most poetic and heart-felt delivery that will be etched in memory.

After the intermission, it was an all-Wagner second half. The chief interest was the appearance of British tenor John Treleaven. An internationally renowned Wagnerian, Treleaven just sang the title role in Siegfried for Los Angeles Opera, with Goetterdammerung and a complete cycle to come in 2010. His repertoire is almost identical to Heppner's - all the big Wagner roles, plus Florestan, Grimes, Hermann, Bacchus and Kaiser, etc. This evening, he sang the Preislied with a big well focused sound and secure high notes. I don't ever recall hearing the Rome Narration from Tannhauser in a concert program, as bleeding chunks of Wagner really don't excerpt very well. He sang the long narrative with admirable concentration and dramatic commitment, even if his tone, after some 20 years of singing the heaviest of Wagner roles, isn't quite so fresh any more. The printed portion of the concert ended with an extended excerpt from Goetterdammerung, starting with the death of Siegfried, followed by the Funeral March. I thought back to the two marvelous cycles I saw in September 2006 - it's so wonderful to hear this from the COC Orchestra again! With the superb Johannes Debus at the helm, the orchestra sounded resplendent. Let's hope there will be a revival of the Ring Cycle in Alexander Neef's agenda for the COC. The appreciative audience gave Treleaven a warm reception, followed by group bows from the three singers and the conductor. There was even an encore - an exuberant rendition of the overture to Act 3 Lohengrin. This piece was last mounted by the COC in 1983 with Siegfried Jerusalem. That's a long, 26 years ago - it's high time for a revival! Hey, I can dream, can't I?



  • Joseph:

    Thank you for your review. I was thrilled to hear that the COC concert was a success.

    VOA also had a 50th Anniversary Gala this weekend. Unfortunately I cound not attend.

    Enjoy your trip!

    By Blogger paddydan, At November 8, 2009 8:25 PM  

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