Night at the opera

Saturday 24 June 2017
Tony Caffrey

“The concert was a triumph for all – and not least for the audience, who are indeed fortunate to have such tremendous talent on their very doorstep.”

The programme opened with the overture to Verdi’s La Traviata. The orchestra began calmly with no hint of the drama to come and building to the well-known melody. The tenor, Gareth Morris, took to the stage with great confidence, supported with precision and discipline by the choir. Not to be left out the soprano joined with clear melodic projection leading to a full-bodied duet with both singers displaying accomplished stage-craft. This was a terrific start and was enthusiastically received by the audience anticipating a memorable evening.

The orchestra subsequently delivered what we have come to expect of them in the ten years under the baton of Nicholas Concannon Hodges. This includes good ensemble, a clear enjoyment of what they are about, clear sectional leads overall and easy transition between the many varied moods of the programme.

The choir, with Antony Brannick as chorus master, overall provided a balanced and carefully rehearsed underlay or main focus throughout their contributions. This showed itself equally in the Mozart’s Idomeneo with good ensemble across the range, whether surging or in repose, or in the muted lament of Verdi’s Macbeth with a demanding upper voice part. The command of the chorus, when versatility was needed, showed, not least, in The Peasants’ Chorus from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, featuring a male solo with clear tone, good presence and reliable intonation who led his fellow singers in celebratory fashion through to a carillon-type chorale building in declamatory dynamic before decaying to echo the church call to prayer.

The replacement for soprano Victoria Sharp, engaged at short notice was Paula Sides. Once accustomed to the ambiance of the hall and warmed up, she came into her own. The voice was pure, the intonation sound, the control seemingly effortless. Her initial entry, in La Traviata had clear, melodic projection. There was beautiful contrast in Idomineo, reflective as befits the mood, with Paula not just singing her part but convincingly acting it. Similarly her Norma was calm, with no bravura, but great clarity of expression. She set a stately pace and with great control of phrasing and dynamic, seemed to be singing half to herself. Her Musetta, from La Bohème was wonderful, not just because of her singing, but because she came into her own as the natural actress that she clearly is.

The tenor was Gareth Morris, and from the outset his voice dominated any part in which he sang and was hugely powerful from his first entry in La Traviata. He was strong but more restrained, as in cheerful mood he mused over the capricious nature of women in Rigoletto. Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin was a complete contrast. There was sadness, regret for lost opportunities, and passion, sung with expression and first-rate enunciation, adding moment to our understanding of his reminiscence. Gareth’s capacity for self-control matched by self-confidence inspired the audience to enter his role. Lastly, the now unmissable Nessun Dorma brought the house down. What a way to go!

The concert was a triumph for all – and not least for the audience, who are indeed fortunate to have such tremendous talent on their very doorstep.