Leave it to Opera Hamilton to offer an array of sunny favourites from the standard repertoire just when it seems that winter 2009 will never end. For much of the generous program, the cavernous heights and depths of Hamilton Place resounded with some admirable orchestral music-making—led by the ever-popular Daniel Lipton—and delightful ensemble work delivered with zest by four soloists and a variety of solo arias that ranged from the engaging to the sublime. Those who missed the program—whatever Wiarton Willie's verdict—will have to suffer the next six weeks without the inner glow that those present took home.
Leading the artistic charge was bass-baritone Nathan Berg. His unerring sense of line, style and just-enough characterization lit the musical fire under soprano Miriam Khalil and mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber, creating a “Soave sìa il vento” that more than washed away any earlier untidiness (Lipton’s reading of the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro was in no hurry to excite and had moments of errant ensemble) or dynamically limited phrasing (Barber’s somewhat cautious rendition of “Voi che sapete”—trumped in spades by her sizzling performance of Massenet’s “Air des lettres” after the interval). The Mozart offerings concluded with Berg’s beautifully, shaded, pitch-perfect “Madamina” where his exquisite change of register technique can only be admired by others.
Miriam Khalil also convincingly demonstrated her range dexterity in Handel’s ever-popular “Piangerò” where the continuo keyboard was missed in the early going but completely forgotten as passion and fire filled the middle section. The strings also produced some of their finest overall tone of the evening. Rossini’s saucy “La Danza” ushered on (literally, the few bits of staging were entirely appropriate) tenor Marc Hervieux who bantered musically with Lipton even as the tambourine added more zap than expected and the low brass were permitted to put a tad too much weight on the fun and joy.
The trio of Puccini excerpts came across with the composer’s intended love and happy discovery of this famous relationship. In Mimi’s aria, soloist and conductor immediately settled into the ebb and flow, producing a memorable result. Wisely opting not to join Khalil on the top C of “O soave fanciulla,” they stepped wondrously into the wings.
Lipton came into his own after intermission. The Overture to Die Fledermaus (notable for Nancy Nelson’s fine solo oboe) lifted off a bit rough-and-ready but soon slipped into the magical waltzes and marches, colourfully setting the stage for the remainder of the night.
Highlights included Barber’s sultry/sexy “Habañera,” Khalil’s reverently thoughtful “Song to the moon” (Lipton providing exemplary accompaniment) and a pair of disparate showstoppers: Berg’s magnificently understated (but never under-sung) “O du mein holder Abendstern” (standing curiously alone, surrounded by all of the Italian, German, Austrian and French repertoire, yet perfectly prepared by the preceding Dvorák) and Hervieux’s finest contribution of the evening, a heroic stand-and-spectacularly-deliver version of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma.” The excitement was palpable.
The only quartet came as the encore. Verdi's “Beautiful Daughter of Love” from Rigoletto left not a few of us hoping that all of the evening’s participants might be cast in a full-length opera and let their collective expertise combine in a complete work. JWR