Vancouver Island Does Naxos Island Proud

27/02/2014

 Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos: Pacific Opera Victoria, soloists, Oriol Tomas (director), Ian Rye (set designer), Sheila White (costume designer)), Kimberly Purtell (lighting designer), Jacques Lemay (choreographer), Victoria Symphony, Timothy Vernon (conductor), Royal Theatre, Victoria, British Columbia, 21.2.2014 (BJ)

 Cast:
The Music Master: Bruce Kelly
The Major-Domo: J. Patrick Raftery
The Footman: Andrew Erasmus
An Officer: Christopher Hinz
The Composer: Arminè Kassabian
The Tenor/Bacchus: Roger Honeywell
The Wig-Maker/Truffaldino: Neil Craighead
Zerbinetta: Suzanne Rigden
The Prima Donna/Ariadne: Colleen Skull
The Dancing Master: Joseph Schnurr
Naiad: Virginia Hatfield
Dryad: Aidan Ferguson
Echo: Eve-Lyn de la Haye
Harlequin: John Brancy
Scaramuccio: Riccardo Iannello
Brighella: James McLennan
Supernumeraries: Felix LeBlanc, Geoff Malcolm, Frank Morin
Pixie: Amelita Galli-Pixie

 

Of all the fine orchestral performances I have heard Timothy Vernon draw from the Victoria Symphony in Pacific Opera productions over the past five years, his account of Ariadne auf Naxos must be ranked the finest. From bubbly comedic opening to grand opera-seria close, this was an authentic and ravishing realization of Strauss’s most delicate operatic score. Throughout the last half hour of the work, the company’s founding artistic director wove a seamless web of magical sound, through which one rapturous vocal line after another threaded its way. I have always loved this sophisticated prologue-plus-opera, with its inventive interpenetration of commedia dell’arte levity and mythic profundity, but I came away from this performance with my admiration for it more enthusiastic than ever.

 Perhaps, seeing that I begin with the production’s orchestral element, you are waiting for a “but.” But I am happy to say that I have no “but’s” to offer. Oriol Tomas’s production captured the work’s character unerringly, and marshaled the whole cast with compelling dramatic impact. Sets, costumes, and lighting were all splendid. And the singing ranged from merely excellent to positively gorgeous.

 Colleen Skull, as Ariadne, unfurled a soprano voice of ample power and flashing beauty. It would be an exaggeration to say that Roger Honeywell sang Bacchus beautifully—but the part is so cruelly written for the tenor voice (a less happy hunting-ground than the soprano for Strauss) that the consistent strength of his delivery was as satisfying a response to its challenges as one has any right to expect. Suzanna Rigden coped so well with Zerbinetta’s coloratura that I hardly even noticed its difficulty. The commedia quartet was impeccable both vocally and in comic thrust. In smaller roles such as those of the Music Master and the Dancing Master, all went equally well.

 And the Composer—my goodness! It was astonishing that so petite a singer could produce so voluminous and luscious a tone. The Canadian mezzo Arminè Kassabian was making her role and company debut, and I cannot imagine any way in which her performance could have been improved upon. (My only complaint here is with the spelling of her first name–if you have no idea how to pronounce it, neither have I, but I am assured that the grave accent on the final “e” is correct.) In any case, this is a young singer with a talent so exciting that I am sure she has a major career ahead of her.

 Once again, Maestro Vernon’s company has demonstrated its quality. The city of Victoria is lucky to have him.

Bernard Jacobson

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