Thursday, February 16, 2012

Concert Review: "I think, I can" Says the Little Opera That Could, and Did

Dido and Aeneas

Knox Presbyterian Church, 155 Lisgar St., Ottawa

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What was an excellent performance at Knox Presbyterian yesterday evening; Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas nonetheless contained one or two quirks throughout, in the spirit of the work's already peculiar characteristics.

The lofty acoustic was both a blessing and a curse for the seven-strong orchestra, with finite articulations easily lost, but the ‘boom’ from the stone-walled sanctuary giving the illusion of a much larger ensemble. Fortunately for the TEM choir, who sang frequently in the Opera as well as three other selections by Purcell and Tallis, the hall could only make their clear, almost angelic, voices and, consequently, the spirits of their audience; soar even higher.

Humorously, the explanation that Dido was the first English opera which appeared in the program booklet (also mentioned in The Citizen's review the next morning as “the first opera thoroughly sung in English” [emphasis mine]), was met with skepticism by the Carleton Opera Appreciators, who, numbering in the dozens, were quick to offer up that Blow's Venus and Adonis was, in fact, the earliest all-sung English opera. It is notable that many parallels, which can be read on the page in the last link, exist between the two works.

Nevertheless, the evening was delicious and left audience begging for more. The exceptional moments came from Grace Davidson, whose supple, sometimes haunting, tone and stellar diction pushed her character, Belinda, well beyond expectations; the TEM choir, effortlessly singing "With drooping wings" layering their every entry as refreshingly a cool breeze would in mid-July; and Sylvain Bergeron’s extempore guitar interludes, delightfully relayed to us as if recounting a few loved tunes from his childhood. So natural were their depictions of the word painting Purcell added into the recitatives, the orchestra provided an excellent supporting role for the characters and provided wonderful contrast in the interludes. 

As mentioned above, there were some interesting moments in the performance. NoĆ©mi Kiss, the Hungarian soprano who played the part of Dido, shifted her vocal style throughout the opera, beginning with quite the vibrato in “Ah Belinda,” and straightening up as the first act progressed. Surprisingly, the third act saw her regain much of her brilliance for the lament which depicted quite a physical despair from the recently-rejected Dido.

A wonderful mix of players and singers from around the globe, though, admittedly, the majority being Montreal-ers; the fact that most of the singers (apart from that of Belinda and, arguably, the Sorceress) had only a bit part in the production begs a few questions. Before the concert began, Taylor, while taking a moment between works to ask for donations as part of a fund-matching campaign sponsored by CALQ, announced to the audience that each concert on their tour cost upwards of twenty thousand dollars to produce. Exaggeration or not, one wonders why the cast was not entirely Canadian if Taylor was enticed to ask for donations in the middle of the first half.

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