Monday, January 31, 2011


Allyson McHardy at Popera Plus, 2011

by James Karas

Listening to operatic favourites for an evening is like going to a restaurant and ordering only hors d’ouvres. If you are at a Greek restaurant and order more mezedes than you can count on one hand, the only direction you should take at the end of the evening will be towards a severe diet or the treadmill. In other words you can have a very good time with an evening of highlights from opera and you won’t have to go on a diet.

The advantage of concert versions of arias, duets and short scenes is that you skip the part of the opera that you are not crazy about and go right to the familiar piece. No buildup, no recitatives, just the aria that you love. The disadvantage is that there is no buildup, no development and all you get is the aria that you love.

Opera Hamilton presents an evening of favourite pieces every year and it calls it Popera Plus!, Those with a mild or serious case of operaphobia, can taste a few bites of the art and overcome their psychosis. Next thing you know, they may become full-fledged opera fanatics.

This year’s programme headlined four singers, the McMaster University Choir, the Opera Hamilton Chorus and the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Speers.

Soprano Lynne Fortin, mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy, tenor Gordon Gietz and bass baritone Daniel Okulitch gave a good accounting of themselves in the varied programme.

Fortin opened the vocal part of the programme with the “Ave Maria”, the dramatic aria from Verdi’s Otello. It is a prayer and a farewell to life sung by Desdemona who knows that she is about to be murdered by her jealous husband. Fortin brought out the intense emotional strength of the aria but one would clearly have wished for the lead up in a full production.

Fortin also sang “Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux” from Massenet’s Le Cid. Another dramatic piece sung by a woman whose father has been killed by her lover! She is not exactly a petite Cio-cio San but she made an affecting Madam Butterfly in “Bimba dagl’occhi”, the duet from Madama Butterfly that she sang with Gietz.

McHardy made a superb impression. She sang the marvelous “Non piu mesta” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola beautifully and with plenty of verve and was a superb Carmen in the habanera from that opera. She was at her best as Zerlina in the “La ci darem” duet from Don Giovanni sung with Okulitch. Give her the role in the next production.

Gietz has a fine tenor voice and did well in “Chanson de Kleinzach” from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman. He did not sound very good in the lower register in the opening bars of “E lucevan le stele” from Puccini’s Tosca but he handled the higher notes with ease and produced some fine singing as he did as Pinkerton in the duet from Madama Butterfly.

Okulitch has a strong and wonderful bass baritone voice but he was a bit stiff at times and needs to loosen up on stage even in a concert performance. At one point he sang with his hand in his pocket. He quickly corrected that and found the use of his hands.

He was given the fun aria “Non piu andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro and the tough-going “O du mein holder Abendstern,” the ode to the evening star from Wagner’s Tannhauser. He also sang one of the most unfamiliar pieces of the evening, Aleko’s Cavatina from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s one-act opera Aleko. He produced some heavy-duty emotional depth and vocal sonority in an aria where a husband sings about his wife who has found another lover.

The large combined chorus's vocal quality was not always commensurate with its size but they did provide the necessary singing for the Cigarette Girls Chorus for Carmen and and “Kermesse Waltz Chorus” from Gounod’s Faust. They finished the evening with “Va pensiero” the rousing Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco, and that is one piece that no one can go wrong with.

Opera Hamilton’s next production will by Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, the classic double bill by Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo, on April 22 and 23, 2011. And that will be a full meal without any fat.

Popera Plus! was performed on January 27 and 29, 2011 at The Great Hall, Hamilton Place, Hamilton, Ontario. Tel. 905 527-7627