The vocal champagne flowed with the greatest of ease and excellence during Opera Hamilton’s opening production of the season. To a person, the eleven-member cast rendered Johann Strauss’ infectious music with clarity, zest and skill that made every aria, duet, trio, ensemble or chorus well worth the wait of the less-effective dialogue.
Trying to be all things to all people—so quintessentially Canadian—more often serves to compromise the total effect rather than keep the seats filled with those who might have remained in digital heaven where English continues to predominate.
When singing, the original German was employed—perfectly at one with the intended rhythm down to the phrase-ending consonant punctuation. Easy-to-read Surtitles flashed overhead, ensuring that the plot points were noted and the laughs arrived on cue. Yet, when the characters chattered between numbers, English was spoken—perhaps saving a few schillings in literal overhead expense but suddenly yanking the audience out of the conceit of moneyed Vienna and most assuredly back to the cavernous confines of the Great Hall of Hamilton.
Perhaps all of this linguistic to-ing and fro-ing was due to a lost-in-translation present-day-quick-yuks (the “Balloon boy” reference was the unwelcome guest just as surely as Stuart McLean’s Michael Ignatieff haha in his latest Vinyl Café tour was about as effective as its subject matter). With so much going for this production, having the courage to select one language and stick with it could only add to the suspension of disbelief and consistency of colour and tone.
Mireille Asselin was a stellar Adele whether tripping seemingly effortlessly through the “Laughing Song” or killing off another sick aunt. Rosalinda’s delectable “Czardas” was another Act II highlight: Laura Whalen’s deft colourization and magnificent range were constant marvels.
Keith Phares proved to be a delightfully debonair Gabriel von Eisenstein—especially adept in his interactions with Falke (Peter McGillivray: ideal on all counts as The Bat’s tale of revenge uncoiled) and perfectly balanced ensembles (notably “Champagne” and “Dear Chevalier, mon bon ami”). As the love-lost, wooing-tenor, Alfred, Keith Klassen charmed his fickle intended and the large crowd; coming face to face with the real Eisenstein while pretending to be him, both in jail, would have ignited the funny bone in any language (never underestimate the audience’s ability to “get” things when the acting and settings fill in most of the “blanks”—seeing Waiting for Godot in Korean without benefit of text-above-the-stage proved to be a singularly satisfying and enlightening experience, cross-reference below). Here, most of the sets were borrowed from Virginia Opera, largely filling the room with Rubensesque nudes that were at one with the notion of disguises, masks and eventual dénouement.
Rounding out the players were Lauren Segal sporting a mid-Black Sea accent as the laissez faire Count Orlofsky, David Ludwig as the delightfully soused jailer, Frosch; Sean Watson did credit to the force playing (in all senses) prison warden, Frank; Eric Shaw’s take on the delightfully named Blind (Eisenstein’s legal counsel) whether in robes or boxers pleaded his case successfully, leaving Ida (Laura McCarthy) and Ivan (Ken Redish) to effectively fill out the troupe.
Conductor Willie Waters drew some of the finest sounds heard in recent years from the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. With crisp tempi and ability to breathe with the strings or the chorus, except for the occasional “untogether” moments between stage and pit (usually when too many voices were upstage), the collective music-making was a great pleasure. More’s the pity a waltz or polka couldn’t have been slipped in to add to the fun of the ball and further demonstrate Dave Campbell’s choreography acumen.
Director Glynis Leyshon crafted a production that soared through the score and worked steadily forward in between the double bars. With this aggregation of talent on both sides of the footlights, Hamilton Opera has set its bar higher, raising our expectations for a wonderful La Bohème next year. JWR