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In its eighth season, Halifax Summer Opera Workshop looked like an opera festival, with three shows of six fully staged operas performed by a cast of over 60 singers. The operas produced were Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bizet's Carmen, both at the Sir James Dunn Theatre, and a program of four one-act operas in English, all fully staged and costumed and accompanied by a single piano. The four included: the Canadian premieres of Marc Blitzstein's 1930 satirical The Harpies and American composer Steven Serpa's 2010 pastoral opera for countertenor and soprano, Thyrisis and Amaranth; the local premiere of the hilarious 1991 Canadian comic opera, Gisela in her Bathtub, by Neil Weisensel in its Nova Scotian premiere; and Ralph Vaughan Williams's moving 1937 tragedy, Riders to the Sea.

Carmen (seen Aug. 4) was satisfying and earnestly executed, but uneven. Jessica Lane could not have been a better Carmen in voice and looks, sounding as if she was born for the part. Her men were less convincing. Both Cody Growe (Don Jose) and Matthew Beasant (Escamillo) had the voices, but appeared to lack the roles' temperaments. Jonathan Bedard (both Morales and Le Dancaire) and Kelsy Vicary (Micaela) were impressive, as were Alyssa McCarthy and Lauren Jacob (Frasquita and Mercedes), but the production failed to soar.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Aug. 11), however, was an inspired production throughout. Andrew Pickett, a well-known countertenor in Nova Scotia, was a flawless Oberon who moved and sang beyond the realm of mere mortals. With a powerful voice, Allison Nicholas was a perfect match as a very strong, charming and earthy Tytania. Lukus Uhlman made Bottom both appealingly comic and sad, with a rich, solid voice. Jeremy Hirsch, Peter Bass, Patrick MacDevitt, Daniel Wheeler and Steven Griffin, as the Rustics, were hilarious, and the bass of Andrew Hernandez (the Lion and Snug), heard too briefly, was outstanding. This production merited a larger audience.

Of the one-act operas (Aug. 12), the first three were witty and very well done. Nicholas Fuqua, Phinneus in The Harpies, was a pleasant but unspectacular tenor surrounded by ghoulish harpies and Argonauts who amusingly could not have seemed less combative. Phillip Rego was a strongly voiced, well-acted Jason. In Thyrsis and Amaranth, Fuqua returned as a surprisingly terrific countertenor. Victoria Borg as Amaranth was delightful. Gisela in her Bathtub was a laugh-out-loud, uproarious performance, with everyone on stage, from Nicole Smith in the tub to Rachel Wood, Michael Hart and Rego, contributing to the madness.

Riders to the Sea, performed after a break, provided a sharp contrast. Meaghan Jamieson is an exciting and beautiful young singer with a wide vocal range and much acting ability. As Cathleen, she eloquently expressed both anger and tenderness towards her mother for allowing her last son to venture to sea without a blessing. Melody Thomas as Nora and Rego as Bartley were excellent. As Maurya, HSOT General Director and co-Founder Nina Scott-Stoddart sang with most convincing passion and poignancy.
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Author:Levit, Daphna
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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