Just as surely a sign of autumn as is the incipient red and gold of the leaves in our forests that are already in view along I-89 when one heads toward the border, is the opening of the 2007-2008 LOp鲡 de Montr顬's season at Place des Arts. I turned my car Montr顬-ward this last weekend to attend the opening production of Giuseppe Verdi's A Masked Ball on Saturday evening, Sept. 20. It was a brilliant beginning with which to launch their new season.
Just moments before the curtain rose on the first act, an announcement was made to the effect that tenor Richard Margison, the Swedish king, Gustavus III, was indisposed but that he would sing anyway.
Indeed, as the evening unfolded it was amply evident that he did not have the usual resilience and fluidity in his voice. In addition, he also marked lines here and there (marking refers to the rehearsal habit of singing parts of the high tessitura in arias a single octave down), but only once lost control for a split second of his voice. Otherwise it was a well-rounded performance, including the acting.
As his wife, Manon Feubel produced tones that were both beautiful and that carried over the orchestra. Only in her first aria was there a stretch of about twenty measures or so were her voice sounded a bit uneven, but that was the only instance in the whole opera where any technical problems were in evidence. It was a splendid performance and well acted. Oscar the page, a pants role for coloratura soprano, was delightfully sung by Pascale Beaudin. She also stressed the comedy of the part. The Ulrica of Marianne Cornetti was a bit of a character, just as it was supposed to be. She has a rich voice with a good low range that she used to good effect.
Gordon Hawkins, the Renato of this production, is the possessor of one of the best baritone voices that I have heard personally on stage since the time of Leonard Warren, and although he does not sound precisely like Warren, there is a plangent note in his voice that stands him in good stead for all the great baritone roles that Verdi wrote, not to mention works of other composers. It was a real pleasure both to hear him and to watch him.
Starting with Valerian Ruminski as Count Horn and Alexandre Silvestre as Count Ribbing, who were wonderfully effective in act two the balance of the comprimario singers were excellent, as was the chorus. The orchestra under the direction of Gregory Vadja played beautifully, especially in the areas where the orchestration employs solo instruments. A special mention is necessary for the first-chair cellist, who played so beautifully during the introduction to Feubels second-act aria.
All in all, the performance was a great success, and the fine cast was matched -- for the most part -- by a fine set. At the end, the audience stayed to applaud and to rise to their feet during the applause to express their appreciation for an opera well sung.
There are further performances Sept. 26 than 29 and Oct. 1 and 4, all at night. Tickets and information are available at area code 514-985-2258.
I attended an invitational afternoon concert by members of the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble whose intention was to give the audience a preview of some of the highlights of the upcoming season. From the sounds of what I heard, Heidi and says are in for the usual high-standard performances that are one of the hallmarks of this group ... I listened in two parts are two rehearsals with the two new courses recently formed by the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association.
There is one chorus that is all female voices, and a second mixed chorus. Although they are in their preliminary stage -- it was their second rehearsal -- it is quite clear that conductor Jeff Buettner knows what to do during a rehearsal, and what kind of sound he wants from these two groups, which are scheduled to give a first concert sometime in early December. Buettner is also the new Director of Choral Activities at Middlebury College. CVU's Carl Recchia is the rehearsal pianist/accompanist for the group....
A great deal is happening in Montr顬 also: a festival called The Magic of Lanterns is on display at the Botanical Gardens; at Le Th顴re du Deux Mondes on St. Catherine Street near Place des Arts there is a production of a French language version of the Iliad which sounds fascinating; at Place des Arts the resident theater company, La Companies Jean Duceppe, is doing a French translation of John Patrick Shanleys play The Doubt. All are currently running or soon to open. And you know how busy we are here at home.