For two nights only (January 28 and 30) the Great Hall of Hamilton Place will be filled to the brim with a spectacular array of the planet’s most multi-discipline, expensive art form. Opera Hamilton artistic director David Speers will step up to the podium and conduct 18 works that go far beyond the notion of “greatest hits.” For nearly three hours, music that is driven by tales of love, loss, revenge and unbridled passion will captivate the ear and excite the mind. If ever a program deserved “don’t miss it” status, this is it.
As well as the re-energized Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra providing flare in the overtures and intermezzi, Speers will also have the combined choral forces of the Opera Hamilton Chorus and the McMaster University Choir—the decibel count should be staggeringly delightful.
Providing the solo, duet and ensemble contributions will be a quartet of international stars ready to put their personal stamp on perennial favourites. Born in Canada, Italian-American soprano Gianna Corbisiero will offer Giacomo Puccini’s poignant Sola, perduta, abbandonata from Manon Lescaut. “Alone, lost and abandoned” comes late in the opera when everything seems inexorably bleak. In Francesco Cilea’s Io son l’umile ancella (“I am the humble servant”) from Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera’s heroine artfully replies to some extra-sweet flattery given her by the patron of her stage rival—from there, the game is afoot!
Greek-Canadian Ariana Chris returns to her hometown to perform the mezzo-soprano version (originally for soprano) of Urbain’s aria—a letter song—from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. American tenor Richard Troxell’s solo assignment is Lensky’s aria from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s vocally demanding Eugene Onegin. This famous aria written in 1879 concerns the impending duel of desperate men on the banks of an otherwise tranquil stream; Lensky doesn’t survive but Troxell will be put back into splendid service for “Ah, leve toi, soleil” (“Ah rise, sun”) from Charles Gounod’s version of Romeo and Juliet.
Baritone Jason Howard (also from the U.S.) completes the guest artist line-up and will be heard in Umberto Giordano’s “Nemico della Patria” (the dramatic monologue, “Enemy of the Fatherland”) from Andrea Chénier is a dramatic gem.
As is frequently the case in full-length operas, the musical interaction between and amongst the characters often provides some of the best moments of exquisite beauty, unbelievable tension or comic relief. In the former category, Georges Bizet’s tenor/baritone duet, (“Au fond du temple saint) from The Pearl Fishers has few rivals. The plot of romantic intrigue begins to thicken when Howard plays Figaro to Chris’ Rosina in the duet “Dunque io son…tu non m’inganni?” (“Then I’m the one…you're not fooling me?”) from Gioachino Rossini’s ever-popular The Barber of Seville.
In the final scene from Bizet’s Carmen, Don José ends the fairest of the cigarette girls’ life then prepares to meet his own doom as Spain’s best-loved toreador, Escamillo, comes upon the bloody scene just after the full-bodied chorus states “Remember as you fight that two dark eyes are watching you and that love awaits you!” Another crime of the heart brings the world’s most famous opera to a tragic end.
The combined choruses will also put their talents to work in several choral chestnuts. From Giuseppe Verdi’s brilliant mind comes “Chi del gitano” (most affectionately known as the Anvil Chorus)—a true showstopper from Il Trovatore as the gypsies revel in their labours. “The Chorus of Hebrew Slaves” (“Va, pensiero ” from Nabucco) is arguably the Italian master’s most lovingly crafted choral music of his considerable operatic output. Gounod’s deservedly-famous “Soldiers’ Chorus” (Faust) is also on the bill as is Pietro Mascagni’s “Regina coeli”/“Inneggiamo al Signor” settings from Cavalleria Rusticana. An especially beautiful example of word painting and subtle orchestration comes in the gently rocking form of Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcarolle” from The Tales of Hoffman.
Left to their own instrumental skills, Speers and the HPO will kick off this musical feast with Verdi’s Overture to Nabucco. Later, while the singers catch their breath, Tchaikovsky’s unerring ability to write music for the dance will be demonstrated in his “Polonaise” from Eugene Onegin. Opera aficionados might well decry the lack of anything from Puccini’s marvel of dramatic construction and melody, La Bohème. No worries: that four-act masterpiece comes to Hamilton Place April 22 and 24.
Lucky indeed are those who already have tickets. For those who’ve been tempted to dip their toes in these universally acclaimed, artistic waters, here’s an ideal way of taking the first step into the world of musically-spun tales of the human experience. JWR