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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

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Royal Ontario Museum Opera Experiment A Big Success

By Joseph So June 10, 2002

Mirela Tafaj
Verdi: La Traviata (Concert Performance)
Mirela Tafaj, Violetta
Michele Nasato, Alfredo
Douglas Tranquada, Germont
Coro Verdi of Centro Scuola, Columbus Centre
Giuseppe Macina, conductor
Adolfo di Santis, piano

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
January 20th 2002

Mummies, Minerals, and Ming Tombs - that's what comes to mind at the Royal Ontario Museum, right? Well, to that list, we can now add a fourth "M" - music. For some time now, that grande dame at the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road has been re-inventing itself, making its imposing façade and somewhat forbidding ambience more 'user-friendly' and broadening its appeal to the general public. Among the initiatives was a Sunday Afternoon Concert Series at the Rotunda. Among the offerings on the program were three concert performances of popular Verdi operas - La Traviata, Rigoletto, and Il Trovatore, in cooperation with Centro Scuola e Cultural Italiana, Columbus Centre, Coro Verdi, and soloists from the Toronto Ontario Repertoire under the direction of Giuseppe Macina.

The first of the three performances took place on January 20th to a full house and enthusiastic audience response. It coincided with the dinosaur exhibition and the place was packed with the usual families with kids out on a Sunday afternoon. People started filling the 500 seats hours beforehand and by the time of the show, there were people sitting on the floor and standing at every available nook and cranny.

To purists, the Rotunda, an open, cavernous space with very high ceilings - and equally high ambient noise - is hardly the ideal space for musical performances. Due to the lack of a proper stage, a concert performance with the soloists in costume was the only viable option. Amplification is a necessity under the circumstances. There is also the problem of people constantly coming and going. So it was much to the credit of the artists, their collective performance was of such a high quality that the normally noisy audience was held spellbound. Hardly anyone left in the middle, and many stood through the two and a half hour show. Even the children, with their notoriously short attention span were very well behaved, many of them sitting on the floor, totally transfixed by what's happening onstage.

The cast of principals was very fine, led by the ideal Violetta of Albanian soprano Mirela Tafaj. Now resident of Canada and new to the local music scene, Tafaj possesses a voice of beauty and character, setting off vocal fireworks in the great Act One scena, Sempre libera, complete with a fine high E-flat. A singer of strong dramatic instincts, her Addio del passato was expecially moving, even within the confines of a concert performance. As Alfredo, the young tenor Michele Nasato showed off his bright tone with plenty of squillo and a secure top. With further training and experience, Nasato is definitely someone to watch. Veteran Toronto Opera Repertoire baritone Douglas Tranquada was a fine Germont, singing with his customary mellifluous tone and dignified stage presence. The supporting roles were generally well taken. Oksana Bluy Isoki, doing double duty as Flora and Annina, was particularly noteworthy.

TOR Artistic Director Giuseppe Macina knows the Verdi score like the back of his hand, and it showed. He conducted with assurance, pacing well and drawing idiomatic singing from the Coro Verdi, a group long under his musical directorship. It would not be truthful to pretend that one did not miss the presence of an orchestra. But with the experience of Adolfo De Santis at the piano, the singers were given strong support. So it was unfortunate that the piano was not of sufficient quality, with its flaws magnified by the amplification. While this slightly pared down version of La Traviata might not be for purists, it will help to attract a new audience - particularly young people - to opera in the future. And it demonstrated that opera at the museum is a viable, and indeed popular, proposition.

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