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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 14, No. 2

Festival Bel Canto : A Beautiful Success

by Paul E. Robinson / October 13, 2008

At the opening night of Festival Bel Canto patrons and donors rubbed shoulders with Knowlton, QC locals and two former prime ministers, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. In only a few months, three gifted idealists, Swiss-Quebecois businessman Marco Genoni, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) music director Kent Nagano and Santa Cecilia National Academy director Bruno Cagli, created a new music festival of international scope in a very unlikely location.

The site was a tent seating 800 overlooking Lac Brome with a sophisticated sound system to make up for the accoustic problems of the venue. The festival opened with a recital by American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore. Lamore is an entertainer at heart. When she takes the stage her storyteller’s face exudes joy and enthusiam

The next night American soprano June Anderson and members of the Opera Studio of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia joined Nagano and the OSM performing excerpts by Donizetti and Rossini. The festival organizers sent the audience home smiling and eager for more bel canto.

Kent Nagano is a musician with an inquiring mind. He is intensely interested in learning about bel canto as musical literature, singing style and orchestral playing. With this in mind, he hired violinist Riccardo Minasi, a specialist in early nineteenth-century performance practice, to work with the OSM string players. Nagano’s musicians played with a minimum of vibrato and were very light on their feet.

In another concert, Korean-born Sumi Jo gave the audience a taste of the bel canto repertoire with a superb performance of Mozart’s Exultate, jubilate and a theatrical excerpt from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman.

The organizers of Festival Bel Canto 2008 focused on the great bel canto composers – Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini – but only included one full-length opera. Bellini’s Norma is generally regarded as the greatest of the genre but it is problematic to stage because it requires an exceptional artist to conquer the challenges of the title role. Micaela Carosi acquitted herself admirably, as did the rest of the cast, including Canadian baritone John Relyea, conductor Kent Nagano and the OSM.

Festival Bel Canto, August 15 -24, 2008, Knowlton, QC

(c) La Scena Musicale