Duets for lunch: UofT Opera in concert
As part of this week's line-up of the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, young singers and pianists of the University of Toronto Opera School offered a programme of operatic duets. The repertoire ran the gamut of picks that are "stretch pieces" (like scenes from La traviata and Les contes d'Hoffmann) and works that are indicative of what these singers are ready to do in the present (like the duets from La Cenerentola and Don Pasquale).
Hearing pre-professional singers is always fascinating, at least for me. It's a chance to hear new voices, in a context that allows for the in-flux status of their vocal development. Personal opinion: voices that are settling and sorting themselves out are one of the world's most interesting things.
The line-up of duets was a great way to show off these singers, while giving them a dramatic partner in crime. It was also a reminder of what's difficult about performing opera scenes: diving headfirst into a number without context, and doing it with a very visible, in-your-face audience like in the Amphitheatre. UofT Opera's Michael Albano gave shape to these scenes with some light staging, which brought the performances up a level from a simple park-and-bark. What worked less well were the spoken set-ups between scenes, which were awkwardly written and bookish. It seemed a shame that the singers were charged with memorizing a speech to introduce the next number (after singing their scene, even); it would have been very cool indeed to hear the singers speak more casually, in their own voices, to hear what they thought about these scenes.
That said, there were some exciting and memorable performances. Pianists Benjamin Zsoldos and Perri Lo were impressively supportive partners in a broad range of styles; it's no simple task to jump from Rossini to Leoncavallo on a dime. Bass-baritone Joel Allison stood out with his acting chops, wielding a dark instrument to match, both as Dr. Miracle in Les contes d'Hoffmann and Silvio in Pagliacci. There's a lot of excitement in the instruments of tenor Matthew Cairns and baritone Andrew Adridge, who proved it with their manly duet from The Pearlfishers. And mezzo-soprano Simona Genga showed off a warm, smooth sound and an onstage poise that belies her age; her Dalila (Samson et Dalila) was a stunner.
UofT Opera is also gearing up for its fall production of Don Giovanni, running November 23-26 at MacMillan Theatre, 80 Queen's Park. For details, click here.