A Night at the Opera!

Dates & Venue: 5 & 6 June 2004 at the Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: John Jane





Conductor: Bramwell Tovey
Featured Performers:
Laura Whalen - soprano; Elizabeth Turnbull - mezzo-soprano; David Pomeroy - tenor; Theodore Baerg - baritone

Laura Whalen as Filumena

There was a time, not so very long ago, that I thought opera was only intended for the musical elitists. While I still make no claim as an opera expert, familiarity with some of the popular and well-loved arias, such as those in this evening’s program have brought much listening pleasure. The late Sir Thomas Beecham, liked to describe such selections as being “for people who don’t like opera, but enjoy the noise it makes”.

Maestro Bramwell Tovey welcomed the audience with Gioacchino Rossini’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro from the Barber of Seville. Baritone Theodore Baerg joined the orchestra on stage for the first act aria Largo al factotum, likely the best-known aria from the same opera.

Auburn-haired soprano, Laura Whalen was next on stage, with the first of her five appearances, with a sparkling interpretation of Ach, ich Fühls (Oh, I feel it) from The Magic Flute, surprisingly the only composition selected from W.A. Mozart.

The program included arias from three of Giacomo Puccini’s operas, all of which were performed in the first half. The power of Puccini's Tosca lies much in its melodrama, and tenor David Pomeroy delivered all of the pathos and passion in E Lucevan le Stelle.

Maestro Tovey was typically entertaining with his characteristic, off-the-podium, ‘pythonesque’ humour; particularly, when he related his anecdote of a “heartbroken” Tosca, leaping to her death from a high building onto a hidden trampoline and then bouncing several times in full view of the audience.

The second Puccini aria, from Madama Butterfly, brought Laura Whalen back to centre stage to sing the light-toned and touching Un bel di (One Fine Day). Whalen’s voice was strong, yet suggested much of Cio-Cio-San’s vulnerability

.No ‘opera gala’ would ever be complete without Puccini’s rapturous Nessun Dorma. David Pomeroy returned to the stage to close out the first half of the evening with a spine-tingling delivery of this aria from Turandot.


Since the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Nessun Dorma has become almost synonymous with soccer. It was even included on the eclectic soundtrack for the soccer-themed film ‘Bend it Like Beckham’.

After the intermission, Laura Whalen captivated the audience in bringing to the Orpheum stage the character, Filumena with Storm Aria. Whelan has already been nominated for a Betty Mitchell Award for her role in John Estacio’s new Canadian opera, Filumena, inspired by the tragic real-life story of an Italian immigrant Filumena Lassandro.

Whalen was then joined on stage by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Turnbull for the Flower Duet, one of many ear-catching melodies from Léo Dilibes’ opera Lakmé. This aria has gained much incidental popularity as a result of frequent use in television advertising. Turnbull displays wonderful dramatic expression in the performances, but her voice is too light full orchestral accompaniment. Her style seemed more suited to recital performances.

She did much better later with the sultry and seductive Habañera from Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite.

Méditation from Jules Massenet's opera Thaïs sighed with melancholy. Featured first violinist Duncan Riddell displayed such emotional involvement and truly brought this brooding melody to life.

For myself, the evening’s highlight was an excerpt from Guiseppi Verdi’s Rigoletto. The quartet of Whalen, Turnbull, Pomeroy and Baerg respectively played the roles of Gilda, Maddalena, the Duke of Mantua and Rigoletto in a united rendition of Bella figlia dell’amore. Whalen’s tone was clear and forthright as the enigmatic Gilda, and Pomeroy was stellar as the licentious duke.

The last offering was the suitably dynamic, Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. After so often hearing George Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic’s landmark version, Tovey’s interpretation seemed restrained. But like humourist Woody Allen, "I can’t listen to Wagner, without getting the urge to conquer Poland".

During the concert, there was a special presentation of a mounted photograph to veteran principal bassoonist Christopher Milllard. After almost thirty years with the VSO, he leaves to join the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. Good Luck Chris......

© 2004, John Jane