The Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra
Handel's Giulio Cesare
Dominion Chalmers United Church, 355 Cooper Street, Ottawa
Friday, April 27, 2012
Last night, the Thirteen Strings presented their most ambitious program it has ever produced in its nearly 40-year history. With 8 singers, a stage director, stage manager, and an enlarged orchestra, the ensemble performed a semi-staged version of Handel's Giulio Cesare. No doubt one of its better performances in recent memory, however the opera was an excellent example of baroque music performance during the 1980s.
A great display of young Canadian singing talent, the bunch predominantly came from the modern classical tradition. The vibrato of Caesar, Cleopatra and Cornelia in use throughout the opera became tiring at times and starkly contrasted its little use by the strings accompanying them. Interestingly, in Caesar's aria 'How silently, how slyly..." Ms. Yemen (Caesar) was almost entirely drowned out by the French Horn which she stood beside most of the way through. All that could be made out from the balcony nearest her was her ever-pulsating vibrato.
The star of the evening came in the form of Daniel Cabena (Tolomeo), who shone in his humorous character and the flexible style in which he sung, melding chest voice and falsetto into his lines effortlessly.
The modern instruments performed well stylistically, but some ornaments were muddled in execution. A rather odd beginning to the performance, a cello attempted to accompany the first recitative and, after much difficulty, promptly dropped out for the rest of the opera.
A much-needed production for the city, the opera was, sadly, full of compromises. The Thirteen Strings itself was born out of a want to explore baroque music, though without the baroque instruments other orchestras, such as Tafelmusik, were introducing to North America. One of the few orchestras who seem to operate in this manner, the only other orchestra which comes to mind is Quebec's Les Violons du Roy who, unsurprisingly, are of a similar vintage.
The most concerning part of the evening came in the introductory words by Rob Clipperton. Clipperton noted that the opera was an expensive venture for the orchestra, as attested to in recent pamphlets asking for donations of up to $1000 from individuals, and thanked those who did make a private donation quoting Kevin Mallon who, reportedly, said "people should get off their fat arses and support art." The quote was followed by cheers of "here, here!" from the 400-strong audience overwhelmingly made up of over-60s.
Though it is common to read the term 'silver sea' in classical music discussions, I feel that it is necessary to mention that there may have been 20 people in the audience below 40 years old. If noone pays attention to this fact, there will soon be no more arses left to support art, especially with the high rate of obesity in Canada.