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Over the past few years, the Opera Nuova training program has pitched itself as the first of Edmonton's many summer arts festivals, featuring more than a month of recitals and three opera productions that any mainstage company might program. Many of the roles for Handel's Alcina and Strauss's Ariadne at" Naxos this year were shared over each opera's four-performance run, though not the roles of the Composer and Bacchus in Ariadne. Seeing a couple of performances (Jun, 26 & 29) provided a perspective on the risks and rewards of live singing for the young artists. At one, soprano Jessica Lane's Composer was less than fully confident as the reduced orchestra, led by Timothy Vernon, negotiated the difficult score. But at the second performance, Lane was magnificent, demonstrating the kind of completely assured singing that should impress on the audition circuit. Tenor Shawn Thuris is already getting work in the U.S., and judging from his captivating tone quality, it's no mystery why. At the Jun. 26 performance, Thuris summoned the clarion sound of a seasoned heldentenor--consistently in the climactic scene--though he sounded less experienced at the second performance. Stephanie Yelovich, a Wilfred Laurier grad, and Margo LeVae, who trained at UBC, more than managed the exposed title role. They both have big voices, but also held the audience with subtler, more suggestive interpretative talents.

Opera Nuova founder Kim Mattice Wanat directed Ariadne, bringing much antic energy and some good physical comedy to the scenes featuring the acting troupe. Both Zerbinettas were excellent in different ways. Frederique Drolet has a vocal warmth that comes through even in the more acrobatic coloratura passages. Anne Marie MacIntosh has the more effervescent coloratura, which allowed her to inject a little more dramatic vivacity into the role. In Alcina, directed by former Edmonton Opera Artistic Director Brian Deedrick, Krysta Mellon's Morgana was both hilarious and musically delightful. Edmonton-native Camille Holland sang the trouser role of Oberto with a pure, unaffected approach and totally convinced as the spirit of innocence. Her "Barbara! Io Ben, Lo So" had all the necessary control of ornamentation, though she might have summoned a little biting contempt for the manipulative Alcina.

Earlier in the festival, I saw Britten's Albert Herring. In the cramped quarters of University of Alberta's Convocation Hall, director Kelly Handerek did marvels to get the flow from scene to scene just right. Among the strongest singers creating convincing characters were Elizabeth Humphries, whose Lady Billows filled the auditorium with imperious self-assurance, and mezzo Lesley Dolman, who did a fine job of making her Florence Pike a very watchable centre of attention in the opening act.

Stage and light designer Nick Blais deserves special congratulations for creating on a modest budget three sets that helped raise the experience of these productions. Mattice Wanat's casting in this year's operas was splendid, and Edmonton opera fans got some excellent opera from her emerging artists.

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Author:Rankin, Bill
Publication:Opera Canada
Geographic Code:1CALB
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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