IT DOES MATTER WHERE YOU SIT by Hugh Fraser

When I looked down on the stage from the balcony of Mohawk College’s McIntyre Theatre, last Thursday night, I thought I was about to witness a disaster. A disaster called BrottOpera’s production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Which is something that would have broken my heart.
I loved the 10 singers of this cast after their brilliant performances in POPOpera, I have loved the incredible National Academy Orchestra
for its precision, musical excellence and its youthful verve and fervour more and more for every one of its 29 years of life. I adore opera and its presence in my community and my total admiration of Mozart cannot be overstated.But there was the orchestra in a solid circle at stage right. A wall between our ears and the singers voices. What would we hear?
The first notes proved I was right.
The voices went underneath the balcony and the orchestra went everywhere. As soon as I could I sought out some of my favourite musicians in the audience and their took their counsel. They were all sitting in the rear seats on the ground level and pronounced the balance of voices and orchestra excellent. Blessed Miriam Martens found seats next to her for my wife and I and all was suddenly as it should be. Boris Brott’s handling of the orchestra was as perfect as human endeavour can be.
What followed was one of the most exquisite experiences of this mighty masterpiece in my memory.
First, I must lavish praise on stage director Jeanette Aster and her profound understanding of Mozart’s score. With the characters entwined in, around and even through the orchestra (Brott was actually handed Cherubino’s song as he stood on the podium) all the elements of the work’s singleness of purpose in telling the story has never been made with more clarity.
She was both clever and wise in her use of the strange set up and managed every facet of her task with amazing skill.
With Mozart, it is the women who wear the pants and win the game and it is the men who get their come-uppences and other sensitive parts, handed to them on a platter.
The Countess was exquisitely portrayed by Natalya Gennadi. Regal and restrained but deeply wounded, her Dove sono, with apprentice conductor Karl Hizer on the podium, was a highlight of the evening. Her servant Susanna brilliantly sung and acted by the wonderful Andrea Nunez made a sterling co-conspirator. Their letter writing duet, when they bait and set their traps for their erring husbands, is one of my favourite pieces of music and I was in 7th heaven.
The voice and portrayal that jumped out at me somewhat unexpectedly was Amanda Fink’s Cherubino. The madcap lad was brilliantly drawn with subtleties of vocal inflection and acting that made her’s one of the best Cherubinos I’ve ever laid ears or eyes on.
The men were very nicely cast. The Count of Christopher Dunham with his heavier, majestic voice and commanding presence was complemented by Jan Vaculik’s lighter and more secretive bass/baritone. The pair sang and acted superbly as they took their medicine well.
Everyone did their jobs brilliantly. Elizabeth Polese’s shockingly streetwise Barbarina, Edward Hanlon’s Bartolo, Danielle Vaillancourt’s frazzled Marcellina, Mathieu Abel’s loathsome Basilio/Curzo and Joel Allison’s Antonio were all brought to life as real living, breathing human beings with all their faults, foibles and frailties. The chorus was excellent and Felicity Field, Gabrielle Pellerin, Amelia Rak, Martynka Szewczky and Beatrix Volcansek from the world class Hamilton Children’s Choir threw themselves into their parts with a verve that was a joy to see.
That was a close one. If things are just not right. Move yourself. It often saves the day. Bravi everyone

July 15, 2016
NOZZE Di FIGARO or “Fun with Suzy & Rose” Reply
by Ontario Arts Review • Opera, Orchestra

Review by Danny GaisinreviewerDJG
Episode 2 in the Figaro Saga. When we left off; Figaro- the factotum cum barber had finessed Rosina away from her patron Dr. Bartolo and arranged for her to be with her Count Almaviva (aka) Lindoro. Mozart takes up the story a half-decade later. Almaviva has turned into a horny married old man; hired a maid for his countess (Rosina) and employed Figaro as his butler. Figaro wants to marry maid Susanna; Almaviva wants to deflower her before the wedding.
Cue the overture!

The N.A.O.’s Brott Opera presented Marriage of Figaro utilizing just a few on-stage props but with an outstanding vocal cast and talented crew, all of whom were obviously committed to the undertaking. From the artistic director Tara Kulish; the chorus master Roberto De Clara (more about the chorus later) to stage management; the result was as professional and entertaining as opera buffa can be.
Figaro’s opening major aria ‘cavatina se vuoi ballare’ was performed by baritone Jan Vaulik with all the requisite confidence and intent of a master manipulator. Christopher Dunham’s Almaviva should have remembered with whom he’s dealing! In ‘Nozze’; Dunham’s character is on stage even more than the title individual and he proved to be more than able to meet the challenge. In stance, posture and facial expression, he underlined a strong and projective voice that carried each syllable throughout the hall. Vaulik’s advice & warning to Cherubino about military life ‘Non piu andrai’ (one of the work’s most familiar arias) was propounded almost tongue in-cheek and with a constant eye-glint of humour.
The recipient of the advice is Amanda Fink and this diminutive mezzo as the overly-testosterone-ed young man steals every scene she’s (he’s) in. The changing-outfits bit where Rosina & Susanna decide to dress Cherubino as a girl was staged as pure slapstick and was a highlight moment. When Fink sings the aria ‘voi che sapete’ inquiring about love and if the character suffers with it, we were not the only audience members ‘sub rosa’ humming along.
In the critical role of Susanna, Andrea Nuñez owned the stage. Every movement, facial expression and pose affirmed her portrayed’s personality. An amazing soprano voice that seems completely effortless, she also possesses a constantly smiling façade that can emphasize the lyrics making the translated projections almost superfluous. Her duet with the countess, ‘sullaria che soave zeffiretto’; a metaphoric meteorological aria that’s often part of a pop-opera program blended two major talented voices for a memorable performance. Nuñez’ co-conspiratress Rosina was sung by Natalya Gennadi Matyusheva and her rendering of the heartbreakingly wretched plea ‘porgi amor’ certainly touched every audience member.
There was solid contribution from Edward Hanlon as Bartolo and both Danielle Vaillancourt & Mathieu Abel in the support roles of Marcellina and Basilio respectively. As foil for Cherubino, Elizabeth Polese’s Barbarina was a perfect choice for his girlfriend.
The chorus included a dozen or so young ladies that were so adorable as to bring palpitations to every loving grandparent in the audience.’ Cute’ is just not enough of a descriptive synonym. The orchestra never overpowered the vocalists and the 1920 costumes did not detract from the usual or original staging of the opera. It was an enchanting evening, it was melodically perfect and like most of the patrons, we returned home humming or singing excerpts from the libretto.

Question: – What’s next year’s Brott Opera offering…inquiring minds etc.