A starry night, soft lighting, ladies in ball gowns, men in tuxedos. Lush strings, velvety winds, music soft and persuasive. This and so much more was the centre of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s Viennese Delights concert, a tour de force that included orchestra, opera singers and dance.
The evening opened with the OSO performing that iconic waltz, The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss Jr.
Hearing this music was like sinking into a welcome and familiar embrace.
The sweeping melodies, infectious waltz pulse and tight ensemble work made this piece sparkle. Kudos to piccolo player Lisa Kilgour who executed her exposed musical lines flawlessly in this piece and throughout the concert.
Having thus set the stage, Maestra Thomson ingeniously presented the very best selections from two operas: Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) by Franz Lehár, and Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr.
The OSO was joined by a troupe of nine singers from Nancy Hermiston’s UBC Opera Ensemble. The group of three sopranos, one mezzo soprano, three tenors and two baritones each performed solos, duets and trios.
This remarkable and fresh-faced ensemble showed poise, stage presence and generally good understanding of character acting that is so important in opera.
Tenor Jeff Fang sang with an undeniably sweet tone and was a lovely partner for soprano Tamar Simon whose voice shone in both Ich bin eine anständ’ge Frau (I am a Highly Respectable Wife) and Wie ein Rosenknospe (Red as the Rose in Maytime). Kudos to Rachel Kristenson for her careful matching of violin line to the tenor’s melody. Baritone Jason Klippenstein demonstrated excellent projection and good characterization, complete with eye twinkle, in his solo Da geh’ ich zu Maxim (I’m Off to Chez Maxime).
Not to be outshone by operatic brilliance, Maestra Thomson gave a cheeky wink to the audience and launched into The Can Can from “Orpheus in the Underworld” by Jacques Offenbach. Thomson had the audience clapping in time to the music and it was clear audience and orchestra alike enjoyed this romp.
Soprano and Penticton native Elizabeth Harris sparkled in her two solos, Vilya Lied (Vilya’s Song) from The Merry Widow singing with confidence and poise. Tenor Scott Rumble sang with Caruso-like clarity and excellent diction in Dein is mein ganzes Herz (Yours is my Heart Alone), as well as shining in several ensemble pieces. This is a young man who enjoys the spotlight.
After intermission, the orchestra played Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning Polka) complete with timely flashes of lightning courtesy of the theatre’s technician.
Then the ensemble launched into the second opera of the evening, Johann Strauss Jr.’s Die Fledermaus (The Bat).
Soprano Gwendolyn Yearwood is a force to be reckoned with and her trio with Scott Rumble and baritone Matthew Kim, Trinke Liebchen, trinke schnell (Drink my love, drink fast) was well controlled and performed with exquisite blending of voices. Her solo, Czardas demonstrated excellent vocal control and understanding of characterization, and her rendition of Die Uhr Duett (The Watch Duet) with baritone Alireza Mojibian was a real delight. While he did not have a complete solo, Mojibian demonstrated outstanding vocal control and accomplished technique — definitely a rising star.
An able and convincing performance by mezzo soprano Yenny Lee as Prince Orlofsky in Chacun a son gout, proved that the opera program at UBC focusses as much on acting skills as it does on vocal technique.
The final number, a toe-tapping Toast to Champagne took us on a breathtaking gallop right to the end. It was a delightful and innovative concert, the concept for which had been percolating in the back of Maestra Rosemary Thomson’s ever-fertile brain for a number of years.
Anita Perry is a Summerland music teacher.