The expectation and anticipation of travelling to a place of heart and soul, riding on the voices of the thirty-nine strong Voice of a Nation Opera Choir, almost brought tears, just thinking about it, preparing to be a part of something incredibly authentic and special. With the greatest desire to review this performance from a place of fairness, it is important to share that Capetown Opera had flown into the country from South Africa on Tuesday morning, having never worked with Orchestra Victoria, to rehearse and perform the gala on Friday night.
The first half of the program showcased a celebration of Verdi with the casts’ rushed and tentative entrances and exits, ill-fitting suits, and competitive attire and diamonds by the female contingency, creating distraction. Unity and cohesion did not feature in transitions, a sense of connection, and physical freedom absent. For the most part, Violina Anguelov certainly gave her best shot at concert characterisation but stood alone, against the otherwise static stance of the rest of the cast. The vocal prowess and operatic skill was obvious but not enough to hold our attention, though the dramatic and melodic lines of Verdi’s compositions raised the roof.
The choir was mounted on rostra behind the orchestra, faces barely distinguishable, and looked strained and sterile, squashed as they were into a program that felt uptight and imbalanced. The orchestra, however dexterous and rich, drowned the voices with most of the lower registers. The singers seemed to be doing their best to fight against the volume, performing to the best of their ability. It is a difficult balance between articulate tone, timbre, and texture, but a striking of balance is expected on an evening such as this.
Porgy and Bess, the pairing to the Verdi Celebration, was a welcomed shift in energy and style. A few simply stunning moments of complete musical embodiment, characterisation, fun and frivolity illuminated the hall. The Capetown Opera’s Porgy and Bess has toured extensively, and it showed. The choir, animated and joyous, expressed the harmony and discord of the world Gershwin created. A large backdrop with the faces of slavery, isolation, freedom and ruin hung behind the choir, framing the feeling of the world of the characters, present in voice, still wearing suits and gowns, though fewer jewels and more heart and soul.
From Summertime to Lawd, I’m On My Way, I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin, the whole stage buzzed as the theatrics came thick and fast, leaving a feeling of excitement and revelry for hours after. In afterthought, the expectation that led to my lack of enjoyment of the first half of the performance was due to my desire for richness and soul from the South African choir and cast. It is with this understanding that this reviewer is in turmoil over stylistic choice and the contrasts and conflicts they can present.
Given the opportunity to see the Capetown Opera present a program that featured more of the Porgy and Bess style, those traditional styles of South African music, buying a ticket is without question. There is a technical and vocal ability present that is world class.
Orchestra Victoria presents
With the Voice of a Nation Choir
Venue: Hamer Hall, Melbourne
Date: 7th September 2012
More information: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au