Live performers, especially in concert music, are at a terrible disadvantage these days because of the perfection of recordings. Some audience members come to shows with unrealistic expectations. Live performances can never be perfect because the musicians get but one chance, and nobody is perfect all the time. Digital recordings can be re-recorded and treated to the aural version of Photoshop-ing until they are without flaw.
One means by which the reality of imperfect performances is ameliorated somewhat is a venue with appropriate acoustics. The hall should have some ring (how much, of course, depends on the genre of the music, the size of the ensemble etc.) and, again depending on the genre, place even the closest audience members at a comfortable distance from the performers. An intimate venue is appropriate for a string quartet but you don't want to be that close to a brass quintet.
On Tuesday evening, I attended a performance of Rossini's Barber at the Dofasco Centre for the Arts (a.k.a. Theatre Aquarius). Opera Hamilton moved this season to this 750 seat auditorium after many years in the 2100 seat Great Hall of Hamilton Place. You'd think this would be an ideal situation for a small scale production of this opera, but there's more to this than meets the eye or ear.
I'd never thought it was possible to be too close to the stage but my seat in the second row may have been. This small theatre was designed for spoken plays. Even the floor under the seats is carpeted. And I was very close to the performers. It was like sitting at the director's table at a piano dress. At once you can see every subtle expression and gesture but you can also hear all the little glitches, scoops and imperfections in the sound the singers produce. I can't say whether someone further out in the hall could hear as I did.
I enjoyed the show enormously. All of the singers were at home with the music. The staging was very busy, making much of the jokes in the libretto and including gestures, facial expressions and physical humour such that there was almost always something more than Rossini's music happening to engage the audience.
Hugh Russell was an enthusiastic Figaro with a big voice. His clownish costume and make-up, and frenzied business in Largo al Factorum made it clear he was not the romantic lead. I'd like to see him as Danilo or Guglielmo to see how he fares as one. Alexandre Sylvestre was an appropriately pompous Don Bartolo. From my seat, both of these singers sometimes seemed to sing far more loudly and dramatically than this small theatre, indeed this opera, required.
Lauren Segal sang and acted Rosina convincingly, at one moment a sweet young girl, all smiles and fluttering eyelashes and at the next a purposeful young woman, contemptuous of her ward and determined to get her own way. I prefer a lighter voiced mezzo in this role to match her romantic partner who must be a leggiero tenor. I was close enough to see how hard she was working. I didn't hear her sing Carmen this past summer in the Brott Festival but I suspect she was more comfortable in that role. One day she may sing Massenet's Charlotte.
Edgar Ernesto Ramirez was an outstanding Lindoro/Almaviva. He possesses the right voice and his has sufficient colour and is even to the very top. He can also act. He is a singer who may achieve the big, international career.
Giles Tomkins sang the duplicitous Don Basilio and Wendy Hatala Foley the frustrated maid Berta.
None of this is to say that the singing wasn't good. It was uniformly good. But vocal and physical fatigue, allergies, colds; almost anything can mess with an opera singer's voice no matter how well worked out is his technique. In a house with some ring and at some distance from the stage the tiny faults are evened out. Last night I saw and heard everything and I don't think the intimacy of the drama was worth the closeness to the vocal performances.
I am, however, looking forward to Il Trovatore in the spring. A Rossini farce is one thing. A small cast and chorus, one set. A Verdi warhorse is quite another. It requires a bigger orchestra, four dramatic singers and many more choristers. Think "The Anvil Chorus" and "Di quella pira" I can't wait to see, maybe from Row B, how they bring it off.
Luc Robert Manrico
Joni Henderson Leonora
Emilia Boteva Azucena
James Westman Conte di Luna