Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bellepoque's 'Viva Verdi' in Review

it was a pleasant, chamber style presentation of Verdi's music. Two chairs, a coffee table, champagne bottles and glasses served as a simple set that nonetheless went a long way to allow the performers to act out their characters in addition to singing. The intimate setting of the Esplanade Recital Studio with its warm acoustics allowed the singers to perform naturally while letting listeners feel the natural resonance of their voices. Time flew by all of its intermission-less 70 minutes.

On the programme is a healthy dose of excerpts from La Traviata, as well as arias from Un ballo in maschera, Aida and Falstaff. Italian actress Alessandra Fel hosted with scripted mologues, drawing laughter by focusing on the high death count of Verdi's operas (firstly, here is an opera where the woman dies, next is another opera where the man dies. This will be followed by another opera where both man and woman dies.) One has to pay close attention to get past her accent, but her participation was fun and livened up the evening.

Of the cast, I thought that Shaun Lee essayed Alfredo's aria and act 1 det (Un di felice) really well. His sound is rich and full if a tad nasal, and allowed him the freedom to inhabit his character. Angela Cortez, a competition winning student at NAFA, sang Violetta's Act 1 duets (Brindisi and Un di felice). She has a pleasant, sweet voice with steady high notes. Sabrina Zuber, suffering (or perhaps aided) by a cold, sang Addio del passato in a fragile, childlike manner with unforced vulnerability. While legato was sacrificed for extra breaths, she was otherwise vocally sound, with pitch perfect soft high notes at the end (the second phrase was presented, something which I appreciate very much).

 I was most impressed with Satsuki Nagatome and William Lim's performances. Singing arias from Ballo and Aida, Satsuki's voice was firm with blazing high notes. More impressive was the genuine pathos that she summoned, whether pleading for forgiveness or seeking divine intervention. The more speech-like parts of her arias could use a little more resonance, but it was a fully committed performance that won

William matched her in the theatrical and musical stakes; the voice flowed with chocolaty smoothness with no hint of difficulty on high, and in arias from Traviata and Ballo, gave personal and sympathetic portrayals of his characters. Performing the aria of the lovelorn Fenton from Falstaff (apparently Verdi's most boring as nobody dies), Brendan Keefe Au sang beautifully with a lovely head resonance, charming the audience over with his winsome smile.

Throughout the evening, pianist Vincent Chen (apparently a last minute replacement for an ill-stricken colleague) played with lively colours and still sensitively supported the singers. I'm guessing that the cast of singers must feel assured and inspired with his playing.

The final number, a full-cast rendition of Va Pensiero, seemed like a last minute addition as it wasn't in the programme and some singers were holding scores. A conductor's hand would have helped to better shape the proceedings, as most of the composer's detailed dynamic markings went largely ignored. Still it was a slight blimp on an otherwise intimate evening, a new way to hear these favorite arias in chamber music form.

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