On Sunday afternoon, October 28, Margot Button, soprano, Simon Chauss_baritone, and Annemieke Spoelstra, piano (the trio comprises Vox 440) presented a concert at 3 p.m. at the Charlotte Congregational Church entitled "Art Songs and Duets for a Smile and a Sigh". There was a small audience, which is too bad, because vocal art song programs are not so easy to come by. There were, as the title suggests, both sad and silly songs, occasions to think darker thoughts and moments to sit back and laugh. If I had to pick which half of the program was better or more approachable, I would have chosen the second half, particularly the songs in English. Leo Hoiby's settings of the poetry of Walt Whitman were highly appropriate. One song by Ned Rorem made me wish they had programmed more of his work. The piece by Sinco was a pure delight. The cabaret songs by Benjamin Britten with text by W. H. Auden were funny and brash and quite unlike most of Britten's output, which tends frequently to the very serious. The final duet, The Mermaid, was both comic and silly. In the first half, I could've done without the Beethoven song for a number of cogent reasons which I won't go into here. The Roger Quilter songs were, as Button suggested, a tad on the overdone side, especially for texts by Shakespeare. The Reynaldo Hahn songs were, as ever, a caution to those who would give space to French art songs and not include works by him. The Poulenc songs were Poulenc songs, carefully crafted, which accurately reflect the text. The Saint-Sa_ duets, especially the Spanish one, were a pleasant surprise. As performers, both singers have a penchant for the arch and the comic. Chauss_as, quite naturally for a Francophone, a delicious way of caressing the text and the notes with his voice, which has a timbre all his own, and which, at its best, reminds me of Fischer-Dieskau's sound. Button's voice on the other hand sometimes tends to get out of focus and control (could just have been that that particular Sunday, because I have heard her sing very well indeed), especially in the German songs. Spoelstras accompanying always provided equal weight to the accompaniment parity with the vocalist. It was a pleasant afternoon spent indoors. I am hoping to see them more frequently round and about performing. LOp_ de Montr_
The opera company, whose home base is Place des Arts in the center of Montr_'s downtown, last Saturday evening, November 3, opened its second production for the year: Rom_et Juliette by Charles Gounod. It was in every sense of the word a home-grown product in so far as the production and the singers were concerned. I saw the production in 1992 and remembered the sets, but the costuming then was traditional. This production was more based on two Mafia families in the same city and their in-fighting. Only in the opening scene, the ball at the Capulet's, was there a mixture of circa-1910 clothing with costuming for the ball. The visual concept worked well, especially in act three, scene one. The opera is not high on the list of works frequently performed, but it has a tradition dating back to its composition of performances in France and in Francophone countries. Certainly Juliet's waltz song is well known, as is Romeo's in the balcony scene of act one scene two. There is a good deal of choral singing throughout the opera, and some slight and unimportant differences between Shakespeare and the libretto that Gounod used. The dialogue of the garden scene is a verbatim transcript of the play, but it simply doesn't use all of it, and there is much other reference to famous lines from the play throughout the evening. What is left out are scenes that are combined with the scenes kept by the librettists, such as the scene between Juliet and her father, which now contains Friar Lawrence and his fatal non-fatal potion. Was it worth the staging? Yes, in a way it was. It is not so poorly written as I recall it to have been, and musically it makes sense, although it tends to run from the post-early-Wagner of the opening scene to its strong indebtedness to Verdi, particularly in the opening men's chorus at the ball, which reflects knowledge of Rigoletto, and the tense scene one of act three, where Tybalt and Mercutio are killed and Romeo exiled. It was worth staging in another sense also: more and more frequently the company is able to fill out comprimario roles with outstanding young singers from their atelier. Antoine B_nger scored significantly as Tybalt, Chad Louwerse as Capulet, a bass- baritone, Alexander Dobson, as Mercutio, Genevi_ Despr_as the nurse and Sarah Myatt as Romeo's page, Stephano. Each carried out his/her separate role with distinction and vocally sound technique. They are the real justification for the companys atelier. The audience cheered at the end, and there was reason: the good casting, a fine conductor in the person of Jean-Yves Ossonce, a fine orchestra, and generally commendable stage conception with some good stage direction. The production is scheduled to run November 10, 12, and 15, 2007 and 8 p.m. at Place des Arts. Tickets and info: 514-985-2258. Briefly noted
The Burlington Choral Society will be performing the Brahms German Requiem at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 11 at UVM's Ira Allen Chapel under the baton of David Neiweem... and the Green Mountain Mahler Festival has scheduled an open reading the same of Brahms work on Monday, November 26 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Elley-Long Music Center in Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester. Conductor will be Nathaniel G. Lew, Director of the St. Michael's College Chorale. The evening will also feature a full orchestra and professional soloists finally -- celebratory drumroll -- the splendid Katisha of Hilary Whitney in CVUs Hot Mikado -- if you will recall, I hadn't heard name because she was inadvertently left out of the program.