La Scena Musicale

Friday, January 1, 2010

Scintillating Bravissimo Brings 2009 to a Close

Curtain Call at Bravissimo (l. to r.) : broadcaster Rick Phillips, tenor David Pomeroy, mezzo Elena Bocharova

Bravissimo! Opera's Greatest Hits
Susan Neves, soprano
Sarah Jane McMahon, soprano
Elena Bocharova, mezzo
David Pomeroy, tenor
Bruno Ribeiro, tenor
Nikola Mijailovic, baritone
Rick Phillips, mc
Opera Canada Symphony
Roberto Paternostro, conductor
Roy Thomson Hall, Dec. 31, 7 pm.

At one point in his introduction during Bravissimo on New Years Eve, broadcaster and master of ceremony Rick Phillips mentioned that this particular Dec. 31 was not only a full moon but a Blue Moon, a rare event that occurs every twenty years or so when there are two full moons in a single month. Last evening was so enjoyable that I hope we won't have to wait another twenty years for an encore. This is the third season that Attila Glatz Concert Productions has brought the new years eve opera gala to Toronto. I have attended them all, and this one was easily the best, with a very strong roster of singers and an excellent conductor at the helm.

As is typical of these events, a cancellation or two can happen. American Carl Tanner cancelled, but we got to hear Canadian David Pomeroy, who made a triumphant house debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of The Tales of Hoffmann the previous evening. He was there covering Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, and got the call at 3 pm that he would go on. I heard the performance on satellite radio, and thought Pomeroy did exceptionally well, fully deserving the generous ovation the audience gave him at the end. Singing two days in a row is not for the faint of heart, so it is to Pomeroy's credit that, with youth on his side, he was able to pull it off without a hitch. He sounded terrific last night, with his customary ringing top and no trace of fatigue. Particularly noteworthy were a powerful 'Nessun dorma' and a dramatically engaged final scene from Carmen with mezzo Bocharova, who was very good vocally as Carmen and Dalilah, even if her appearance was more matronly than sultry.

A major artist last evening was American soprano Susan Neves, for some reason billed as a "French soprano". I have seen her a number of times in the past, including a very small role two weeks ago at a Met Elektra. But I must admit I did not recognize her last evening when she walked out in a kimono for the Butterfly selections - I thought Rick Phillips forgot to announce a change in cast. Neves has shed a tremendous amount of weight. She looks fabulous with her new hair style and colour. She still has her trademark pianissimo, which she used in the Act One Love Duet, but she and tenor Bruno Ribeiro did not sing the high C, taking the lower option. There were also some minor memory lapses with the text, understandable as Cio-Cio-San does not appear to be in her active repertoire. Ribeiro has a fine lyric tenor, and he sang a credible 'Kuda, kuda', Lensky's great aria and 'Pourquoi me reveiller'. American soprano Sarah Jane McMahon is a voice new to me. She sang with lovely tone in 'O mio babbino caro' and as the lead soprano in 'Libiamo' in the encore. Her Papageno-Papagena duet with baritone Nikola Mijailovic was charming. Incidentally, this might be the only time a baritone sang both Papageno and Rigoletto's great Cortigiani on the same evening! Special kudos go to conductor Roberto Paternostro. Often opera aficionados turn their noses up at these gala concerts with what is best described as "pick up orchestras" with "routine" conducting. But this is quite unfair - given the limited rehearsals, it takes a really good conductor to hold an orchestra together and have the disparate musicians, not used to playing together, play as one. The "Opera Canada Symphony" played very well under the assured leadership of Paternostro, a few sour notes primarily from the brass section notwithstanding. The strings were particularly good. All in all, a highly enjoyable evening and I look forward to the 2010 Edition!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

COC Ensemble Studio Alumni in a Concert of Opera Arias and Duets

(l. to r.) Allyson McHardy, Yannick Muriel Noah, David Pomeroy, James Westman. Seated at piano: Steven Philcox
(Photo: Joseph So)

"Alumni Reunion" Concert
Yannick Muriel Noah, soprano
Allyson McHardy, mezzo
David Pomeroy, tenor
James Westman, baritone
Steven Philcox, piano
"Ai capricci della sorte" from L'Italiana in Algeri - McHardy and Westman
"Vogliatemi bene" from Madama Butterfly - Noah and Pomeroy
"Di Provenza il mar" from La Traviata - Westman
"Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila - McHardy
"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lachens - Pomeroy
"Ebben! Ne andro lontana" from La Wally - Noah
"Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pecheurs de Perles - Pomeroy and Westman

Following an auspicious opening concert given by current COC Ensemble Studio members two weeks ago, the Vocal Series continued today with an "Alumni Reunion" opera concert starring four former members who have gone on to significant careers - soprano Yannick Muriel Noah, mezzo Allyson McHardy, tenor David Pomeroy, and baritone James Westman. McHardy and Westman were members in 1997, Pomeroy in 2001, and Noah in 2005. All four are currently starring in the season-opening Madama Butterfly. I've seen both casts and can honestly say they all gave fine performances. This concert was highly anticipated - by the time I arrived 30 minutes before the show, a huge lineup had already formed in front of the opera house, and as usual, it was standing-room only.

McHardy and Westman kicked off the proceedings with a scintillating Isabella-Taddeo duet from L'Italiana in Algeri. This show was last staged by the COC in 2003. Judging by the performance of McHardy and Westman, it is time for a revival with these two artists! McHardy's rich, dark mezzo is perfect as Isabella, and Westman, with his warm, robust baritone and irrepressible stage persona, is a marvelous Taddeo. Given their razor-sharp comic timing and excellent chemistry, even I, a non-Rossinian, enjoyed it. They were followed by Noah and Pomeroy in the love duet from Act One Madama Butterfly. Being in different casts in the current run of the Puccini, the two have not sung together until now. Noah has a huge, dark-hued soprano which she is able to scale it down to a lovely pianissimo, an absolute requisite for Butterfly. Pomeroy has an ardent quality that makes him an engaging Pinkerton. The two big voices rang out excitingly in the hall, and they capped the duet with a powerful high C - it lasted a good four seconds, but who's counting...

Westman returns for Germont's aria from La Traviata. "Di Provenza" has become his calling card the last few years. I heard his Germont at the ENO three years ago, and Westman was easily the best singer on stage. This afternoon, his warm, rich baritone with its totally secure high register was a pleasure. McHardy may look a little too youthful as the dangerous Dalila, but vocally, "Mon coeur" fits her like a glove. Even with the leisurely tempo adopted by pianist Steven Philcox, McHardy sustained the long lines beautifully, capping the end with a lovely mezza voce. Pomeroy's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" is a party piece, which he delivered with gusto. Noah's solo piece was "Ebben, ne andro lontana" from the rarely staged La Wally. Following her win at the Hans Gabor (Belvedere) Vocal Competition, Noah was offered a chance to sing this role at Klagenfurt, which she did to excellent notices. This aria, made famous by Wilhelmina Fernandez in the movie Diva many years ago, requires a voice of spinto weight and strong high notes. Noah, with her opulent tone and lively vibrato, fit the bill perfectly. Her climactic high B was particularly exciting. The last piece on the program - there was no encores - was the Pearl Fishers' Duet, an audience favourite if there ever was one. Pomeroy and Westman gave their all, and their voices, even with very different timbres, blended well. The audience rewarded them with a rousing ovation. The whole cast then came back to vociferous applause from the enthusiastic crowd.

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