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Millennium Opera Gala.



with Richard Margison, Adrienne Pieczonka, Michael Schade, Catherine Robbin, Measha Bruggergosman, Tracy Dahl, Brett Polegato, Russell Braun, Isabel Bayrakdarian, James Westman, Frances Ginzer, Jean Stilwell & others. Toronto Mendelssohn Choir & members of the Toronto Symphony, conducted by Mario Bernardi & Richard Bradshaw. CBC Recordings SMCD 5198


The New Year's Eve 1999 Millennium Opera Gala at Roy Thomson Hall, produced by the Hall's Wende Cartwright and programmed by the CBC's Neil Crory, quickly became the stuff of legend. It brought together many, if by no means all, of Canada's most exciting singers for a beautifully arranged sequence of arias and ensembles, and the audience, realizing it had happened into a new hall of fame, pretty well tore the roof off with enthusiasm. Much of the excitement of that evening is captured in this exhilarating CBC recording, which allows us to relive the evening again and again. Nobody interested in opera in this country can afford not to have this CD in their collection.

There can be joy in predictability--when our top rank of seasoned operatic singers is able to demonstrate, with such panache, what put them at the top. In that context, the recording celebrates the brilliant effervescence of coloratura soprano Tracy Dahl (with her dazzling "Je suis Titania" from Thomas's Mignon); the moving refinement of tenor Michael Schade (with a hushed "Dalla sua pace" from Mozart's Don Giovanni); the virile charisma of baritone Russell Braun (in Bizet's Pecheurs de Perles duet, with Schade); the understated elegance of mezzo Catherine Robbin (in the Flower duet from Delibes' Lakme, with the shimmering soprano of Isabel Bayrakdarian); the witty sexiness of mezzo Jean Stilwell (as Offenbach's La Perichole); and the frank forcefulness of Richard Margison's heroic tenor (in Verdi's "Celeste Aida" and Puccini's "Nessun dorma"). It seems clear that we are right to revere these talents.

Just as rewarding, however, and perhaps even a fraction more exciting is experiencing the next generation, the younger singers who seized the gala as an opportunity to stake individual claims. Soprano Adrienne Pieczonka has rarely sung in Canada, being based in Europe, but her sumptuously vocalized "Vissi d'arte" (Puccini), lush and seductive, was an unarguable persuasion for bringing her back for projects built specifically around her. Pieczonka, Stilwell and Dahl also contribute a soaring final trio from Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Frances Ginzer's Turandot ("In questa reggia") was fearless and potent, the voice a laser of focus. Bayrakdarian, singing "Bel raggio" from Rossini's Semiramide, confirmed her poise and flourish in the bel canto repertoire. Brett Polegato, as Thomas's Hamlet, brought a Barrymorelike matinee-idol dash to the Drinking Song. Two of the youngest singers delivered the greatest emotional wallop: James Westman, a future Verdi baritone to be reckoned with, sang a heartbreaking, though rightly austere, "Di provenza il mar" from La Traviata; and the astonishing Measha Bruggergosman, whose every phrase burns with feeling, tore the heart out of Catalani's La Wally aria.

A couple of things from the concert have gone missing from the CD: Gino Quilico's Carmen toreador, and Russell Braun's Rossini Figaro. Most curious of all, however, is the almost total absence of Ben Heppner, who was a central artistic pillar in the hall. There may be two explanations: first, that CBC was not able to overcome Heppner's contractual obligations to other labels, or, more likely, that Heppner was unhappy with his own work. He notably cracked on a top note in the final duet from Giordano's Andrea Chenier (with Ginzer, in fantastic voice). That glitch strangely did not recur in subsequent CBC radio rebroadcasts of the concerts--an edit from a rehearsal?--and in the hall, Heppner sounded gorgeous also in arias from Massenet's Le Cid and Wagner's Die Meistersinger. His absence from this important disc may require a Miss Marple to solve it.

The recording does include, however, and thank you for it, the final encore--all these remarkable forces (Heppner included) joined in an unforgettable "O Canada," making the listeners' hearts sing along with those on stage.
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Author:Kareda, Urjo
Publication:Opera Canada
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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