Festival Vancouver 2008

Gala Opera Evening: Denyce Graves Marianne Fiset and
Tuesday, 5 August 2008 @ 8.00 pm • The Orpheum Theatre

Vancouver Opera Orchestra with Mario Bernardi, conductor

Reviewer J H Stape

While it might be lamented that recitals have replaced full and unfamiliar operas-in -concert in this Festival Vancouver main stage slot, the opera galas last year and this have allowed Vancouverites to hear voices of signal, interest, even if in a mainly familiar repertoire.

American Mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves has a huge voice, immense dramatic power, and a polished performing style. The pairing with Canadian soprano Marianne Fiset proved fortuitous, the voices blending effectively in the sensuous barcarolle from Les contes d'Hoffman and the always charming Flower Duet from Lakmé -- to say nothing of the encore, the uproariously funny Duetto de due gatti (aka The Two Cats Duet).

The concert followed the usual format: two arias for each singer in each part, orchestral interludes -- played deftly and with great verve by the Vancouver Opera Orchestra under veteran Mario Bernardi -- and duets at the end.

Madame Graves seemed awkward in the opening aria from the French repertoire-- Samson et Dalila. Her mezzo is of a Verdi an (Eboli/Ulrica) or even a Wagnerian cast and the aria seemed too small for the voice, or the voice too large for it. More happily, she hit her stride in the second part, on top form in a dramatic and big-scaled aria from De Falla's little known La vida breve and in "Acerba voluttà" from Adriana Lecturer.

Marianne Fiset is cut from different cloth: a singer utterly sensitive to textual nuance and at the service of her art, she gave compelling renditions of the "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka -- given a strongly dramatic appeal of late by La Fleming --returning it to the register of the peasant girl in love. Her rendering of the Letter Song from Tchaikovsky's Eugenii Onegin was likewise nicely scaled, dramatically powerful but not heavy or overstated.

The Vancouver Opera Orchestra was another star of this exceedingly pleasant evening of thirteen pieces, offering a vivid opening Overture to Bernstein's Candide and a white-heat performance of Mexican composer José Pablo Monacayo's Huapango, with excursions into Jean Coulthard's impressionist palette in Canada Mosaic and British-Canadian composer Healey Willian's wittily playful "Overture to an Unwritten Comedy."

This was a concert where the first half was very genteel and rigorously polite, but the heat built up and relaxation set in, and the audience eased into a mood of enjoyment and appreciation. What summer fun!

© 2008 J H Stape