For the latest concert combining the marvelous talents of the Willoughby Symphony and Choir, the concert hall at the Concourse was packed to the rafters and we were privileged to hear some ravishing, glorious playing and singing.
The program opened with a delightful , somewhat boisterous rendition of the Brahms Academic Festival Overture Op.80. Written for the University of Breslau, the piece was given a brisk, dynamic reading. Rather lighthearted, Brahms develops and expands the melodies of four well known student drinking songs and the piece features triumphant horns.
The Independent Opera presented Opera two in their 2014 season at Sydney’s Russian Club. Russian vocal, operatic and orchestral music was highlighted in the program’s first half. In the second half, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s one-act realist opera, MOZART AND SALIERI, gave truth to one of the popular rumours surrounding Mozart’s death. Namely that he was poisoned by his envious contemporary Salieri.
The four soloists singing in the first half were very ably supported by the Sydney Independent Opera orchestra in their excerpts from Russian and Mozartean opera. The use of orchestra to accompany all soloists and also the featured chamber opera is a satisfying part of attending any program performed by this group.
Rachmaninov’s ‘Serenade’ and other orchestral pieces also entertained. Qestra Mulqueeny’s theatrical and vocal presence during an excerpt from Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The Golden Cockerel’ showed power and thrilling control. Her sweet singing of Alabiev’s ‘The Russian Nightingale’ was an obvious crowd pleaser.
Christopher Nazarian brought us a focused Prince Gremin’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’, adding his admirable bass voice to the afternoon. Karen Fitz-Gibbon’s ‘No Word from Tom’ from Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ revealed her to be a powerful storyteller and expert creator of character. Rosa Krel’s Joan of Arc’s aria from ‘The maid of Orleans’ by Tchaikovsky was solid drama, vocally strong and well-shaped.
The performance of Rimsky Korsakov’s “Mozart and Salieri” was presented with well- defined characterisations of the two different musicians. The small cast of Damian Arnold (Mozart) and Ian Fisher (Salieri) as the only singing characters never appeared exposed in any solo or dialogue scene.
The pair were well directed to make use of all parts of a suitable set depicting Salieri’s music room and salon. Damian Arnold’s Mozart was sufficiently distracted and with shifting sensitivities. In moments of tenor cantabile, Arnold’s secure vocal delivery contrasted well to Ian Fisher’s fine declamatory singing of Rimsky-Korsakov’s score. Fisher sang and acted his path to crime in an effectively measured way within the one-act structure.
A master stroke in this production came after Salieri poisoned Mozart. The Introitus to Mozart’s Requiem is scored to be heard as an offstage chorus. Instead, this audience saw three of the soloists from earlier in the afternoon, dressed in black, surround Mozart on stage for a powerful moment.
The orchestra was again a good support for the voices and the compact drama. It maintained the forward direction needed to deliver Rimsky-Korsakov’s score. Sections in contrasted styles, playing of modern and traditional shapes, motivic shifts and moments of quoting other composer’s material were well managed across the orchestra.
This interpretation enabled us to witness a Russian realist opera authentically presented within a larger Russian themed performance. Brutal revenge is to be the next realist opera offered by The Independent Opera. In August, the performances of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci should not be missed.
The talents of the Sydney Independent Opera begin 2014 by luring us into the world of opera buffa, in particular an engaging excursion into fine voiced French humour. This is in great contrast to the dramatic and full-scale operatic works the company has offered in the recent past. However their trademarks of fine orchestration, neat playing and enthusiastic singing from rising local stars are once again present.
Even though laws now don’t restrict opera companies in Sydney other than the government supported group to perform one act trifles, a little mid-19th century French satire and farce in contrast to other arts events and world news in general is a welcome diversion.