Among the many cultural summer happenings occurring simultaneously in the province of Nova Scotia, the 15th annual Halifax Summer Opera Festival (HSOF) distinctly held its own. In the true spirit of a festival, it hosted events in several venues across the city commencing with a public lecture series at the Halifax Central Library delving into three of the operas on the program. In addition, HSOF collaborated with the Halifax Pride Festival in Opera Backwards, a program featuring LGBTQ stories as seen through opera repertoire. There was also an evening of Broadway our Way for operatic talents.
One well-attended event was the combined lecture/performance evening, “Women Composers of Opera” at Paul O’Regan Hall in the Halifax Central Library. Dr. Jane Gordon gave a brief introduction to the eight composers: Hildegard von Bingen, Francesca Caccini, Clémence de Grandival, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Ethyl Smyth, Germaine Tailleferre, Kaija Saariaho and Elizabeth Raum. Then, Musical Director Nicholas Gilmore offered an animated, informative explanation of the musical traditions in which these composers wrote and of the historical and contextual development of their music. Accompanied by Giancarlo Scalia on piano, Gilmore also conducted singers from casts of past and present HSOF productions in short selections from these composers’ rarely performed works. Among the many impressive excerpts, Emily Wang’s solo rendition of Kaija Saariaho’s “Si tu t’appelles Amour” from L’Amour de loin was spectacular.
Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann was performed at the Sir James Dunn Theatre on Aug. 3rd, also under Gilmore’s keen musical direction. Stage direction was by Nina Scott-Stoddart and Andrew Pelrine with Scalia at the piano. This production exuded remarkable energy and highlighted the vocal talents of quite a number of emerging artists. Koosha Khorramian was a superb Hoffman, with a powerful, dramatic voice and dominant stage presence. As Hoffmann’s name-changing but ever-present nemesis, MarKo Hubert exuded menacing authority and a wicked, albeit sometimes humorous, demeanor. Eli Aronson appeared in a number of different roles, some more vocally demanding than others, but always with terrific comedic timing.
Hoffmann’s muse Nicklausse, performed by Mairi Demings, was not entirely convincing as the prospective amalgamation of all the poet’s many loves. Of these, we get to hear the voices of three: Olympia, Antonia and Giulietta. The mechanical doll Olympia, performed by Meggie McKay, was amusing, robotic and adept in her higher range. Olivia LaPointe, as the ill-fated singer Antonia, was breathtakingly perfect. Her duet with Hoffman, “C’est une chanson d’amour,” was one of the production’s most magical musical highlights. And Leslie Higgins as the courtesan Giulietta was convincingly duplicitous and covetous of diamonds which clearly outstripped any love she might have for the poet. Loren Graziano inhabited the minor role of Cochenille very cleverly.
Also on Aug. 3rd, Mozart’s The Magic Flute was directed by Jason Davis, with musical direction and piano accompaniment by Greg Myra and Sibylle Marquardt on flute. The production took a very literal approach to the text and lasted almost 3 1/2 hours. It utilized child performers during the overture and elsewhere to spell out the backstory, and included a real dog onstage for no clear reason. The singing was in German; the spoken text in English with projected English translations.
This opera’s potential to delight was mainly the result of the vocal and artistic abilities of the singers. Alexander Cappellazzo was a stunning Tamino, with clarity and richness of voice, natural ease onstage, and a credible portrayal of innocence and determination. He was a joy to hear and behold, despite the incongruity of his ill-fitting red coat. Luke Noftall as Papageno was another star of the Festival. Playful and mercurial, his warm baritone and dynamic interpretation complimented and contrasted effortlessly with his more earnest Tamino. Greg Myra on piano provided a charming comical exchange with Papageno. Duncan Stenhouse, as Sarastro, exhibited the stern regal posture befitting the role. He was very steady, perhaps a bit wooden, but his voice is outstanding and maybe just a few years too young for the lowest notes.
The three ladies, Skylar Cameron, Corrinne James and Natalie Vong, get to sing the best music and did so with joy and flair. Anastasia Pogorolova as the Queen of the Night furnished mighty coloratura and completely looked the part—cold, ravishing and unearthly. Pamina was performed by a very likeable Lindsay Heyland who openly conveyed love and hurt, and expressed herself in very sweet voice. Papagena appears on the stage far too briefly but Emily Wang served her well in both comedic style and vocal aptitude.
Sung in Italian with projected English translations, Handel’s Alcina played at the Lillian Piercey Concert Hall on Aug. 4th, directed by Erin Bardua with musical direction by Markus Howard, and keyboard accompaniment by Ria Kim with Hilary Brown on cello and Celeste Jankowski on violin. Handel’s early 18th century, Baroque concoction is not easily transported into a contemporary context but in this ingenious production, Alcina “the sorceress queen” controls a huge industrial and commercial corporation where everyone involved is given a potion to render them completely at her mercy. Literally, they all sip from large drinking containers. The singers were very well matched to their roles; the costumes well-conceived—the entire performance was fabulous.
Jodie Alcorn-Miller, as Alcina, moved convincingly from seductive to cruel to heartbroken without any loss of vocal power. Sevan Kochkarian was a multi-faceted Morgana, played with an enormous range of emotion and a huge, beautiful voice—which got some serious competition from her sharp comedic skills!
Sean Jordan was a compelling Ruggiero, initially weak in character but strong in voice and then successfully overcoming the potion to rise to battle against the giant corporation of evil. Jordan has sung with HSOF before, but his countertenor has matured and strengthened significantly. Laurel Coddington, as Bradamante, Justin Li as Oronte, Emma Battel as Oberto and Camilo Rodriguez-Cuadrado as Melisso all made strong contributions to this flawless Halifax production.