Daniel shines in Manitoba Opera's Gala Concert Mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel in Manitoba Opera's Gala Concert, 2022. Photo: C. Corneau.

Daniel shines in Manitoba Opera's Gala Concert

Neil Weisensel

This month’s Gala Concert at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall, presented by Manitoba Opera, was a veritable cornucopia of operatic hits, featuring top Canadian talent supported by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the steady baton of Maestro Tyrone Paterson.

It’s been a long, frustrating 28 months since Manitoba opera last staged a large-scale work on the mainstage, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah in November of 2019. None of us knew that our world was on the cusp of tumultuous change. The program presented last night was in fact a replacement of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, which will now appear this fall. As a replacement concert, however, I am happy to report that it was pretty darn entertaining!

The evening started off with heartfelt appeal from MO Chorus member George Nytepchuk in support of the people of Ukraine who are suffering through this insane war, and the singing of the Ukrainian and Canadian national anthem.

(l-r) David Pomeroy, Lara Ciekiewicz, Catherine Daniel, Lizzy Hoyt, James Westman, and Tyrone Pateron conducting the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in Manitoba Opera's Gala Concert, 2022. Photo: C. Corneau.

Dynamic host James McLennan kept things moving briskly with entertaining banter delivered with humour and panache. We were first treated to two selections from Rossini’s take on Cinderella: the whimsical overture, and later on, a big aria from the piece, “Non più mesta”, which was sung superbly by mezzo-soprano Lizzy Hoyt. Hoyt’s coloratura is nimble and clean, and she has plenty of power in her higher register. MO CEO Larry Desrochers certainly had a good idea when he decided to include this excerpt, as a means of whetting the audience’s appetite for the fall 2022 production of this piece.

Tenor David Pomeroy shone in his two excerpts: the famous “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot and “Vesti la guibba” from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci. Pomeroy possesses an exquisite instrument: clarion high notes, huge colour, and he employs great expressivity in his singing.

Baritone James Westman came out with élan and flair with the Toreador song from Bizet’s Carmen. Almost as famous as an opera aria can be, Westman brought his signature warm and ringing clarity to the role. In a situation such as this, where the orchestra is onstage (and not in the pit) I could have wished for more diction. But I also want to be generous and say that many of these performers have not been on stage for some time. Full disclosure: Westman sang the role of Louis Riel in my opera Li Keur, Riel’s Heart of the North (libretto by Suzanne Steele) and so I’m trying my best to stay objective! For me, his most persuasive singing of the evening was in Germont’s aria “Di Provenza il mar” from Verdi’s La Traviata, where he sang with great feeling, tenderness, power and passion.

David Pomeroy and Catherine Daniel in Manitoba Opera's Gala Concert, 2022. Photo: C. Corneau.

Soprano Lara Ciekiewicz, as an extremely short-notice replacement for an ailing Andriana Chuchman, was her usual outstanding self. Having recently heard her tremendous tour-de-force in the one-woman opera La voix humaine by Francis Poulenc, I am continuously astounded and gratified by the range of roles she can master. Her “O bio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi was heart-rending – but why in the world is that aria so short!? I really needed to hear more of it, can we somehow give it another verse…? And her “Song to the Moon” from Dvořàk’s Rusalka was another of the night’s many highlights.

The real discovery of the night for me was mezzo-soprano Catherine Daniel. Her plummy, rich, powerful mezzo was just what the doctor ordered in Donizetti’s “O mio Fernando” from his opera La favorita. Powerful, penetrating low notes and superb high notes? Come on! Magnetic stage presence, super-sparkly dress? Check. The crowd rose to their feet after this aria, applauding and cheering a downright incredible performance. And her singing in the final quartet, from Verdi’s Rigoletto, reminded me of Denyce Graves. As a closer, this piece really brought the house down, and reminded us all of how much we have missed hearing voices of this tremendously high calibre, singing together in some of the best repertoire the opera genre has to offer.

Lizzy Hoyt in Manitoba Opera's Gala Concert, 2022. Photo: C. Corneau.

All told, it felt really good to be watching some fantastic opera singers do their thing – without masks! – to hear an excellent orchestra play its heart out under an expert veteran conductor, and to hear (for me) some new repertoire and new singers. It’s so important to get out and support all local arts groups, be they big organizations or small, as they have been one of the groups hit hardest by the pandemic. So when you see someone is putting on a show – please go! I only hope you will be as hugely entertained as I, and the rest of the audience, was with this night’s superb offerings.



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