Music / “Richard Gill – In Memoriam”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s opera gala. At Llewellyn Hall, Saturday, May 18. Reviewed by HELEN MUSA.
THIS gala opera presentation, staged in memory of the late Richard Gill, was a cut above the usual run of “great hits from the opera,” and no wonder – it had been entirely programmed by Gill himself before his death in October last year.
Gill, the famous educator, opera director and former artistic director of the CSO, was to have conducted this gala, but the baton was instead picked up by the entertainingly dramatic Jessica Cottis, Canberra School of Music graduate and a rising conductor on the world stage.
Gill’s legendary good taste was evident in this concert, which was largely devoid of the clichés which can plague “jukebox” opera nights.
An educator to the last, he choose to give us not only beautiful music performed by the orchestra, soprano Jacqueline Porter and bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman, but a lesson on the history of the operatic form itself.
This was obviously appreciated by the orchestra, who were given full scope and at times the centre stage.
The evening began at the beginning, with a flourish of trumpets in opera pioneer Monteverdi’s “Toccata” from the prologue to “L’Orfeo.” The evening ended with an encore performance of work by a living composer, Stephen Sondheim.
The operatic history lesson progressed with two instrumental sections from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” and Porter singing the aria “Che fiero momento”, illustrating the point that Gluck had brought a more natural singing style to the art form.
Conductor Cottis had been amusing enough in her outline of the Orpheus story, but she hit her straps when introducing the centrepiece of this concert, Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” engaging with the audience and urging them to laughter and applause.
This segment gave Kleeman scope for comic acting as he sang Figaro’s sardonic “Se vuol ballare,” while Porter performed the Countess Almaviva’s nostalgic aria “Dove sono I bei momenti’ with great refinement, later returning for a similarly affecting aria from Beethoven’s “Fidelio” as we jumped ahead in time.
Heading for the modern era, one might have expected an avalanche of arias from “Carmen,” but Cottis, purporting to have spotted children in the audience who might be shocked by the risqué content, announced that the three segments from Bizet’s opera would be performed by instrumentalists, notably Teresa Rabe on flute in the intermezzo and trumpeter Justin Lingard representing the swaggering Escamillo in “The Toreador Song.” The orchestra members joined in with gusto.
The verismo style of Puccini was next on the menu, with Porter and Kleeman taking the stage again for segments from for arias from “La Bohème”. Kleeman proved a little light in touch for Colline’s melancholy aria sung to his coat, but Porter rendered Mimi’s affecting Act III aria, “Donde lieta uscì” (Addio, senza rancor) with great delicacy.
Back on stage for the 20th century and a bit of jollity, the pair performed the celebrated waltz, “Lippen schweigen” from Lehar’s ‘The Merry Widow”, then “Wunderbar” from Cole Porter’s “Kiss me Kate” before vocal students from the ANU School of Music joined the orchestra and soloists for Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday” from “Sunday in the Park with George.”
What a fabulous tribute this concert was to Gill, a “titan” of music, as Cottis said.
His consummate programming took us right into the modern era and proved that the operatic arts are still alive and well.