Culture & Conversation

Friendly Opera

After months of anticipation and a week of hysterical weeping from the neighbours, we left to attend the opening of Opera da Camera’s first full production, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, at the Rialto on Friday. This is not a good theatre for opera, its acoustics are as successful as Greek government and significantly less loud, but its size worked to our advantage and the evening’s wrong notes faded into a glow of joy at close range.

The singers mostly had more charisma than lungs but what was really surprising was how little that mattered. It’s something like the difference between acting for stage and for the screen; stage acting requires physical bigness—the projection of presence—but that looks hammy through a camera. It’s difficult to think of operatic parallels probably because there just aren’t many opportunities in Montreal to hear it in small halls. The Rialto let the big voices relax while keeping smaller ones to a tolerable range, a flexibility that let a varied cast play to their strengths.

Baritone Martin-Michel Boucher, sopranos Ellen Wieser and Valérie Bélanger (born to play Bette Midler in some to-be-written opera), mezzo Kathrin Welte, and even the young soprano Magali Simard-Galdès sounded capable of filling a bigger room. Boucher was a louche and greasy Count, a fantastic bit of casting, while Simard-Galdès fluttered in for Barbarina’s tragicomic cavatina, emitted a lovely sound and fled. Wieser, as the Countess, graciously held the moral high ground in the ridiculous plot and dispatched one of the more difficult vocal parts with aplomb; her tone has bite and a promising weightlessness, like a silk scarf with a razor tied to its end.

Bélanger was magical as Susanna, a natural actress with a creamy voice and an easy, apparent joy, and Welte’s ample talents seemed wasted on the relatively minor part of Marcellina. Since Welte is one of the co-directors of Opera da Camera and Bélanger is a guest, this could represent a rare example of management generosity. Mezzo Meagan Zantingh, on the other hand, took two acts to round out her tone as Cherubino. Was it as cold onstage as it was in the audience?

In any case, the men were weaker. Baritone Philippe Bolduc was a captivating Figaro with a stage presence like a lucky charm, but he sang like they’d just pulled him out of the alley with fresh surgery scars. His “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi” in the Third Act was half gasp; thin stuff.  Baritone Simon Charette and especially tenor Jeffery Boyd (to an Italian coach pronto, pigrone) covered four roles unremarkably, but still with pleasure.

Five musicians lead by Christopher Hossfeld replaced an entire orchestra with a bumpy liveliness. Some early ensemble parts were problematic, and I wonder how much this was because Hossfeld’s cramped position in the corner of the stage (there’s no pit) where he was out of the singer’s sight. Director Andrew Cuk’s staging was unobtrusive and its only addition was a cute introduction and exit ploy that I won’t ruin by describing. Most of the attention was on Rachel Germinario’s costumes and the creatures wearing them.

A small company in a small hall has a magical opportunity to connect with the audience; our affection comes easily if they don’t get between us and a singer in love with their part, and imperfections that would be intolerable on a bigger stage fall away. This Figaro is a delight. May we have many more like it.

Le Nozze Di Figaro, by Opera Da Camera, at the Rialto Theatre
February 22, 23, 24, 7:30 pm.
For more information go here.

 

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