Opera fans are entitled to great hits
Manitoba Opera closed its 2021-22 season with a galaxy of Canadian opera stars on Saturday night; each of the five vocalists in the cast having performed on their stage in past productions.
The evening hosted with panache by tenor James McLennan (replacing an ailing Monica Huisman) for a physically distant crowd of 484 people, in addition to being broadcast live, notably celebrated the return of principal conductor Tyrone Paterson. It has been well over two years since the maestro stood on the podium of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in Susanna in November 2019.
Highlights abounded during the feel-good evening, with General Manager and CEO Larry Desrochers joking about “15 hours of non-stop operatic success” during his welcoming remarks on stage. .
Baritone James Westman got the party started with a blaze of all guns Your toast, I can give it back to youa.k.a Toreador’s Song from Bizet Carmeneven making the audience cheer and sing along during its lively chorus, matched also by its latest Di Provenza il mar from Verdi La Traviata.
As expected – and hoped for – the iconic tune of Newfoundland-born and raised tenor David Pomeroy Sleep Nessun from Puccini Turandot nearly shut down the show, captivating listeners with his booming voice and high notes underscored by steely conviction. The captivating singer also dazzled during his previous Dress the giubba from Leoncavallo Pagliaccisung with heartbreaking pathos, as well as his duet with Westman, Dio, che nell’alma infoundere from Verdi don carloearning bravo cheers.
Congratulations to Winnipeg soprano Lara Ciekiewicz, who replaced the originally scheduled soprano Andriana Chuchman who had to step down on two days notice. This beloved singer wowed listeners with her bright performance of Dvorak song to the moonfrom Rusalka, wielding its gnarled Czech text with aplomb. Each lyrical phrase lingered, though a slightly slower tempo would no doubt have allowed its higher notes to shine through even more.
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel dominated the stage during her solos: O mio Fernando of the Spanish flavor of Donizetti The Favorite. His hot duo Near the walls of Seville from Bizet Carmen displayed palpable chemistry with Pomeroy as his Don Jose, the latter masterfully moving through a prism of emotional subtext, from macho bravado to utter helplessness as he’s trapped in the seductive web by Carmen. In fact, their all-too-brief performance got so engaged, even without costumes, sets, and lighting, that it was a shock when the last notes dropped.
The sleeper hit of the evening turned out to be Winnipeg soprano Lizzy Hoyt, who also enjoys a vibrant career as a Celtic singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Hoyt, chosen for the title role of Rossini The Cenerentolaa.k.a Cinderellaoriginally scheduled for this weekend but now postponed to November due to the pandemic, whetted our appetites for more, with its bubbly Nacqui all’affanno… Non piu mestaincluding effervescent and punctual coloratura passages.
The evening ended with a quartet Un di, se ben rammentomi… Bella figlia dell’amore from Verdi Rigoletto, performed by Ciekiewicz, Daniel, Pomeroy and Westman. As with the duets, the physical distance required with the singers widely spaced apart diluted the overall effect.
It also had an impact on the smooth Mozart trio sung by Ciekiewicz, Daniel and Westman, Soave sia il vento from Cosi fan tutteit felt oddly hesitant and never quite gelled, like it should have.
The otherwise well-balanced program could also have included a further orchestral number or two, in addition to its scheduled overtures of cosi and The Cenerentola to add more texture to the overall mix.
As expected, the audience jumped to their feet at the end of the 130-minute evening (including intermission), including a request for several encores. Despite many cries for “again!” none arrived. Ending the program with another lively choir – that of Verdi Libiamo ne’ lieti calici, alias the drinking song from La Traviata comes to mind as the ultimate opera hit; not only giving us the perfect last drink, but sending us (hopefully) into a post-pandemic era; sing for joy and live life to the fullest.