Putting on an opera means making a colossal, daunting, even terrifying investment: Both in talent and money.
This is what BrottOpera had to do before Rodolfo and Mimi could weave their voices together in some of the most glorious music ever to enter and enchant the human ear. The company produced Puccini’s masterpiece, La Bohème, last Thursday evening in First Ontario Place and as always, the talent was assembled, but, as always, too, there was never enough money.
The “run” was, alas, for just that one evening. The curtains were never used. At the end of a scene, what I like to call “the men in black” flitted on stage to remove the old props and set the new. The scene, an attic in Paris, shared by a group of penniless artists, was changed into an attic here in Hamilton in the dirty ’30’s. Fittingly enough, as artists always seem to exist in a state of permanent fiscal depression.
But away with dull care. What of the investment? Did it pay off?
All I can report is that as the first magnificent strains of this sublime music swirled around me, tears poured down my cheeks. I was utterly defenseless as the music I so loved came to me from the stage I have loved for so long. And this was in the happy part of the opera. What on earth shape would I be in when tragedy struck? I wondered.
I was taking my youngest grandchild Samantha to her second opera and she was overjoyed at Mary-Pat Elliott’s wonderfully witty surtitles. “Cafe Momus near Gage Park” read one and the thought that global warming would have to get on its bike and do some serious peddling if we would one day see patio dining in Christmas Eve near Gage Park with a waiter flitting around al fresco in shirt sleeves. But I hope you can’t blame us for longing for the day. The surtitles produced chuckles all evening.
Another joy was Jacqui Muir’s delicious paintings. Two Hamilton scenes, as seen from two attic windows, set the scene, then Cafe Momus near Gage Park and outside the tavern (the Windsor House no less) near the Customs House at the gates of the city took us on our journey around town to return to the attic for the tragic ending. Talk about finding amazing talent on our doorstep.
BrottOpera is also a finishing school for the best and brightest young Canadian singers, just as the National Academy Orchestra is for the best and brightest young Canadian instrumentalists. They are brilliantly talented and will sing and play their hearts out at the drop of Artistic Director Boris Brott’s baton and are under masters of the crafts they aspire to in masterclasses in auditioning and any manner of other skills.
Natalya Gennadi’s Mimi and Andrew Derynck’s Rodolfo were the stars of the show as is only right. Gennadi had it all. Great power and conviction in a love to die for, combined miraculously with a heartbreaking fragility and sensitivity. Her voice and Derynck’s wove together into a seamless vocal fabric that just shone.
I was very impressed by Kyle Lehman’s Marcello. Gorgeous voice, commanding stage presence, powerful actor. His amorata Chelsea Rus’s Musetta could have been wilder and more dangerous. I am sure this will come, and this was a brilliant start. The fellow Bohemians Cesar Bello’s Schaunard and Simon Chalifoux’s Colline romped and sang delightfully.
It was so good to see that splendid Metropolitan Opera veteran and Professor Emeritus at Montreal University, John Fanning lending his august presence as Benoit the landlord and Alcindoro, Musetta’s squeeze.
Maestro Norman Reintamm had his chorus in fine fettle as did stage director Jessica Derventzis her cast. All in all, an excellent show to dedicate to the memory of that great Hamilton patron of the arts, lawyer, businessman and educator Roger Yachetti. La Bohème was his favourite opera. His only complaint against this musical jewel was that the French horns that fanfare Mimi’s entry through the pearly gates after her death, were never loud enough. Thursday night, like every other sound that Maestro Brott conjured out of the pit, sounded just fine to me.
-Hugh Fraser, Former Hamilton Spectator Music Critic
Our Festival is being presented virtually this year.