Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
APO at the Opera, Tales of Passion and Betrayal
The Trusts Community Foundation Opera in Concert
Auckland Town Hall
One of the upsides to the Covid crisis is that many of our world class singers are marooned in New Zealand at the moment. Simon O’Neill is normally performing at the big opera houses of Europe as are several other singers who have developing international careers such as Amitai Pati who had his European debut last year singing at the Philharmonie de Paris. So, mounting an evening of opera meant that some great talent was available and the Auckland Philharmonia took advantage of that to mount the ambitious concert “Tales of Passion and Betrayal”.
A concert which goes under the title of Passion and Betrayal manages to include virtually every opera of the nineteenth century as falling in love and then encountering some form of betrayal often followed by death are at the centre of those operas.
This concert which took the romantic highlights from several operas presented the ways that various composers and librettists went about conveying notions of love through music and poetry.
Simon O’Neill hosted the concert noting that the evening was not just about celebrating the best of opera . It was also a chance to showcase New Zealand artists who have international careers as well as an opportunity to hear the APO and its talented musicians.
O Neill was resplendent in his multi coloured smoking jacket designed by Liz Mitchell, one of a number produced by the gifted local designer for all the singers.
The Covid crisis also meant that Holly Mathieson who has just been appointed the music director of Symphony Nova Scotia was also in the country and able to conduct the APO.
She was a nimble guide, conducting with a mix of precision and flamboyance and at time she seemed on the verge of dancing across the podium inspired by the music. Throughout the concert she was attentive to the singers ensuring that the orchestra never dominated.
The evening began with Mathieson conducting the orchestra in the overture to Bellini’s opera “Norma” leading them with balance and care providing an electrifying opening to the concert.
The first aria on the programme was from Bellini’s “I Puritani” with Oliver Sewell looking like a 19th century Parisian flaneur singing the role of Arturo. He dealt with the floating lines and full-bodied lyricism with great poise, bringing an authenticity to the role. Then it was Natasha Wilson in the role of Julietta from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” singing aria “The rapture of youth lasts but a day”. She captured the sense of a young ingénue delightfully, inhabiting the stage comfortably. She was then jointed by Amitai Pati with his expressive warm voice. Together, singing the balcony scene with their tentative gestures and expressive faces they provided a thoughtful and sensitive depiction of young love.
This scene of the birth of love was explored later in the evening with Anna Leese and Amitai Pati in the roles of Mimi and Rodolfo from Puccini’s “La Boheme”. The sequence, close to fifteen minutes gave enough time for the two singers to really explore the roles. Anna Leese’s voice moved her Mimi from the reticent and modest to the mature and voluptuous, from child to woman in the course of their brief interchange. Pati provided a towering, unaffected voice along with a genuine comic approach in his hiding of a lost key.
There were a couple of other extended sequences which allowed for an almost potted version of the opera with four scenes from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette and three from Verdi’s Rigoletto. This was a much better approach than the usual best hits approach to such concerts.
Simon O’Neill had one solo piece as Otello, railing against the world over his belief that his wife, Desdemona had betrayed him. Here he showed off the quality of his vocal talent with a voice filled with rage as though crying out from a personal pit of despair. In a previous scene he sang with Anna Leese (Desdemona) after he has sent everyone away so he can be alone with her. The two sang the sensuous duet, “Già nella notte densa” — “Now as the dark deepen” in which they speak of a pure and secure love which provides a contrast to later scenes.
Natasha Wilson had another solo aria with “Caro nome” from “Rigoletto” giving an exquisite reading with a voice which captures the various aspects of love, the ecstasy the brooding contemplation and helplessness.
The finale of the night saw the five singers joined by Kristin Darragh to sing one of the highlights of “Rigoletto” with a torrent of sound which had the audience on its feet for a sustained ovation.
Future APO Concert
Thursday October 22
Auckland Town Hall
Conductor Giordano Bellincampi
Oboe Bede Hanley
Debussy, Prélude à L’Après-midi d’une faune
Gary Kulesha, Oboe Concerto (world premiere)
Prokofiev, Symphony No.7