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Opéra de Montréal Hosts 17th Annual Gala

La Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
12/02/2012 -  
Operatic excerpts by Vincenzo Bellini (I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Norma), Georges Bizet (Carmen, Les Pêcheurs de perles), Gaetano Donizetti (Linda di Chamounix), Charles Gounod (Faust), George Frideric Handel (Xerxes), Franz Lehár (Die lustige Witwe), Ruggiero Leoncavallo (Pagliacci), Giacomo Meyerbeer (Les Huguenots), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte), Giacomo Puccini (La bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot), Gioachino Rossini (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Richard Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier), Piotr Ilitch Tchaikovsky (Eugen Onegin), Giuseppe Verdi (Rigoletto, La traviata, Il trovatore) and Richard Wagner (Tannhäuser)

Antoine Bélanger (Tenor), Gordon Bintner (Bass-baritone), Julie Boulianne (Mezzo-soprano), Étienne Dupuis (Baritone), Marianne Fiset (Soprano), Wallis Giunta (Mezzo-soprano), Hélène Guilmette (Soprano), Miriam Khalil (Soprano), Marianne Lambert (Soprano), Kurt Lehmann (Tenor), Allyson McHardy (Mezzo-soprano), Kimy Mc Laren (Soprano), David Pomeroy (Tenor) and Philippe Sly (Bass-baritone)
Le Choeur de l’Opéra de Montréal, Claude Webster (Chorus Master), Orchestre Métropolitain, Paul Nadler (Conductor)

E. Dupuis (Courtesy of O.d.M.)

As a gourmand I love opera galas. There’s nothing more enticing than being presented with a buffet of a dozen desserts without having to wade through the soup, appetizer and main course! Opéra de Montréal (OdM) served up 24 arias, ensembles and choruses—some delicious, some not—at its 17th Annual Gala Benefit Concert on Sunday afternoon. Not all performances were to my taste, but there were some treats.

The most beautiful voice belonged to young bass-baritone Philippe Sly—first prize winner at this year’s Montreal International Musical Competition and grand prize winner in the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Making his company debut, he sang “O du mien holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser with luscious, full-bodied resonance and ease. He will make his San Francisco Opera debut in June. Another young, bass-baritone making his debut with OdM was Gordon Bintner, 2011 grand prize winner at the 72nd edition of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s Standard Life Competition. His duet with Antoine Bélanger, “Au fond du temple saint”, from Les Pêcheurs de perles revealed a fresh, warm, well-rounded voice that in time should develop in power, confidence and expressiveness.

Also making their company debuts were mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta and soprano Miriam Khalil. Guinta sang “Una voce poco fa” from Il barbiere di Siviglia with impressive agility, purity and strength. Khalil’s meltingly beautiful “Si, mi chiamano Mimí” from La bohème evoked all the passion and pathos one could desire.

Other morsels included Étienne Dupuis’ smoky, thrilling “L’orage s’est calmé” from Les Pêcheurs de perles, Kurt Lehmann’s expressively convincing “Kuda, kuda, kuda vi udalilis...” from Eugen Onegin and Antoine Bélanger’s deftly-honed “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Carmen.

Julie Boulianne opened the concert with Meyerbeer’s “Nobles seigneurs, salut!” characterized by her effortless high notes. Marianne Lambert wowed the audience with her agile coloratura and the well-placed top note in “Ah!Tarda è troppo...O Luce di quest’anima” from Linda di Chamounix, and Allyson McHardy brought a welcome breath of fresh air near the end of the program with a radiant, artfully-sung “Frondi tenere...Ombra mai fù” from Xerxes.

The ensemble numbers were less satisfying. The Rigoletto quartet lacked pizzazz; some voices drowned out others. The Presentation of the Rose scene from Der Rosenkavalier, with Hélène Guilmette and Julie Boulianne, failed to captivate. Even the “Libiamo” from La traviata, which ended the program, lacked drive and coherence.

The Chœur de l’OdM sang some rousing choruses (from Faust, Il trovatore and Norma)with robust vigor, splendid diction and unity. Each member was obviously pulling his or her weight to the maximum. Paul Nadler led the Orchestre Métropolitain with nuance and well-controlled vigor, never overpowering and generously supporting the singers.

Recently, OdM has been inviting fewer big stars and fewer international ones. This year all 14 soloists were Canadian, mostly from Quebec, and all seemed to be under the age of 40. The printed program message from OdM’s chairman of the board emphasized that the company was showcasing a new generation of opera stars. This is fine, but it could have been a more exciting afternoon if we had had some established stars.

The gala opened with the traditional induction into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame. Created in 1991 by OdM, the Hall of Fame honors a Canadian singer who has contributed to the development of opera in Canada. This year’s recipient was baritone Bernard Turgeon, who accepted the award from Artistic Director Michel Beaulac. Former inductees include Emma Albani, Raoul Jobin, Edward Johnson, George London, Joseph Rouleau, Maureen Forrester and Richard Margison.

The concert ended with all performers on stage for the traditional, uplifting “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”.

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Earl Arthur Love



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