In review: Béatrice & Bénédict at MYOReview
Yesterday I went to hear Metro Youth Opera’s production of Berlioz’ Béatrice & Bénédict at Daniels Spectrum. I hadn’t seen the opera before, and whenever I plan to see a piece for the first time, I rarely look up details like a plot synopsis. I’m one of those people that thinks that opera fans should have the option of enjoying a piece without needing to do homework, and I was pleased that MYO’s B&B was clear and entertaining, language barriers (and Shakespeare) aside.
B&B is one of those pieces that sets a bizarre, almost exasperating story, to some objectively gorgeous music. There are more than a few beautiful arias, and the ladies have duets and trios that distracted me, in a good way, from the absurd scene going on under the music. Director Alison Wong embraced the story’s absurdities, letting the audience know we were allowed to laugh. With minimal sets and indicative costumes (the bride-to-be, whether she knows it or not, is always in some shade of white), the focus was pulled right onto the characters.
Metro Youth Opera “exists to create viable development opportunities for young artists in all fields related to the world of opera: singers, stage directors, music directors, and more.” The cast of young singers was strong, and they had great specificity in their web of relationships. As Béatrice, Simone McIntosh had strength in her voice and body that easily set her apart from the other ladies. Béatrice isn’t a light role, and Simone did an admirable job of managing light coloratura with long, lyric phrases that stretched way up and way down. I heard a few moments in Béatrice’s Act II aria that reminded me of Berlioz’s Nuits d’été, which isn’t a bad thing at all. What really stuck out for me was how Simone showed us a Béatrice who was acting tough, but whose insecurities are totally transparent for the audience.
As her (eventual) lover, Bénédict, tenor Asitha Tennekoon really impressed me. His is another taxing role, with some corners that seemed pretty nasty on Berlioz’s end. Asitha kept his body and voice relaxed, despite the abundance of anger-motivated arias and duets. If you live in the 21st century, it’s hard to make a character like Bénédict likeable, but Asitha succeeded.
Lindsay McIntyre had what sounded like some of the most difficult music of the night, in her role as Béatrice’s friend, Héro. She was a great foil to the awkward, combative Béatrice; Lindsay smiled sweetly all the time, even when she was basically just meddling in her friend’s life in Act II. Héro has beautiful, endless lines in her aria, which Lindsay sang smart, with just enough voice.
As Ursule, Alessia Naccarato had a warm and light mezzo sound that blended beautifully with Lindsay in their stunning duet. There was something subtle and intriguing about Alessia, and I’d really like to hear her in more stuff, soon.
The men were great bros, with lots of slapstick comedy and corny dialogue. Janaka Welihinda as Claudio and Peter Warren as Don Pedro both sang with booming, wide sounds that worked well with their exaggerated physical presences.
Music director Natasha Fransblow played the whole score at her personal Steinway orchestra, and it made me curious to hear the orchestration. Natasha gave solid support and flexibility to the cast. I only wish that the space had been a bit more acoustically fogiving. The fabric curtains and all the bodies in the audience soaked up much of the sound, and I think it took away slightly from the depth and variation of sound we could have gotten from the piano.
Like I said before, the piece is a bit exasperating. Boy and girl are secretly in love, but their pride and insecurities limit their interactions to the antagonistic kind. Both Béatrice and Bénédict have laughably fast turnarounds from hate to love, and only when they overhear that the other is in love with them. Their respective friends orchestrate their getting together in a very sitcom-like way (“HEY, DID YOU HEAR BEATRICE IS IN LOVE WITH BENEDICT?”, et cetera). I couldn’t help but think that two people with such deep-rooted misconceptions and insecurities about marriage and relationships really should first work on themselves. But hey, that’s not comedy.
So, I thought the piece was entertaining and well-sung by this cast of young singers, and I look forward to hearing all of them a bit more in the coming seasons. If you can make it, the last performance of Béatrice & Bénédict happens today at 2:30pm at Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas St. E.