Bard on the Beach

A Merry Evening of Opera

Date 14 August 2006, 20.00 Venue Main stage Tent at Vanier Park

Rossini Overture to L’Italiana in Algieri HandelOmbra mai fu“ from Serse Mozart Sextet from Don Giovanni Donizetti Duet from L’ Elisir d’amore Verdi Rigoletto and La traviata (selections) Mascagni Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana Capua and Capurro "O sole mio" Puccini "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi and arias from La bohème Gilbert and Sullivan The Gondoliers (extracts)

Reviewer J H Stape

If ever proof were needed of an opera boom in Vancouver, "A Merry Evening of Opera" offers it. From a single evening attached to operatic Shakespeare some years ago, The Bard now offers three performances of opera extracts loosened from Shakespeare altogether. This year's evenings are devoted to Italian composers or those who inspired by Italy (Handel and Gilbert and Sullivan).

The indefatigable Nancy Hermiston, head of UBC's thriving opera school, was responsible for the evening's "merriment," showcasing young talents, while a contingent of the veteran Vancouver Opera Orchestra (founded 1977) provided able support in the pit, offering spirited performances of the Rossini and Mascagni orchestral extracts.

Not especially adventurous (one tends to forget that for many this is a first experience of live classically trained voices), the programme featured diversity rather than depth, just the thing for an evening of high culture on the caboodle closing with Gilbert & Sullivan, the musical equivalent of "Knees Up, Mother Brown."

The fresh young voices on display varied in maturity, impact, and musical achievement, but all the participants were exceedingly well trained as regards stage presence and stage poise, a tribute to their own and their mentors' hard work.

With nearly twenty singers having an opportunity at solo work, and all offering committed and well rehearsed performances, comment must be limited to a few. As usual at age of the singers, the female voices were more mature and more fully developed than the male ones. Particularly satisfying were Simone Osborne, whose large attractive voice shone brightly; Katie Cross, whose soprano is vibrant and assured; and Gina McLellan, who took on the highly ambitious role of Violetta in the extracts from La traviata.

Opera School director Nancy Hermiston, in fine voice, gave a high camp rendition of Musetta's "Quand m'en vo" from La bohème bestowing her attentions on several gentleman of a certain age in the front row and bringing down the house.

Among the males the fine baritone of John Conlon made true impact in his "Di provenza" from La traviata and again in the duet for tenor and baritone from La bohème. His is a talent to watch. Baritone Andrew Jameson showed fine potential for developing a darker, plummier sound, and was especially adept at stage business.

The finale from The Gondoliers had the audience swinging in its seats and was generously reprised, with a fine sense of true merriment.

The single sour note was the hosting by Christopher Gaze, admittedly an acquired taste rather like Gilbert and Sullivan: it ranged from the platitudinous (glorious weather) to the irrelevant (lots and lots about himself) but had some rolling in the aisles at the drop of an "h." When commentary was needed -- the extract from L'elisir d'amore required a thumbnail plot summary for those who don't know the opera -- it wasn't offered, and at other moments wasn't needed at all, unduly prolonging the evening. On the other hand, he was in very good form as the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers.

With young talents like these, one feels that the future of musical theatre is in good hands in Western Canada. The Bard is inspired in showcasing the fine work of the UBC Opera School during three summer evenings.

© 2006 J H Stape