Laudable glimpses of opera classics
Summer Nights at the Opera with Jannie Moolman (tenor), Jacques Imbrailo (baritone), Beverley Chiat (soprano) and Violina Anguelov (mezzo soprano). With the Symphony Orchestra of the University of Cape Town under the baton of Bernhard Gueller. At the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre.
The Oude Libertas Amphitheatre is situated amongst bountiful vineyards and impressive mountains in the university town of Stellenbosch in the Boland. Few theatre venues can boast such beautiful natural surroundings in which one cannot but be aware of the seasonal changes. In mid-March Oude Libertas ended its summer season with a programme of opera favourites, while metres away some of the vine leaves already had their autumn colours and a light drizzle threatened at one stage to ruin the evening.
The fare was light and popular and included Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Bizet. The evening was suitably rounded off with a beautiful rendition of the quartet Brüderlein und Schwesterlein from Die Fledermaus by Strauss. The programme included 11 arias and ensemble pieces in total, but perhaps because one hears so little opera nowadays the evening felt far too brief.
The amphitheatre is not a sympathetic or forgiving acoustic space and particularly the young orchestra from the University of Cape Town battled to overcome the demands it set. They opened the programme with the overture from Die Zauberflöte by Mozart and also contributed the overture from La Forza del Destino by Verdi, the Suite from Carmen by Bizet and Two Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor by Borodin. The fact that the works are so well known only added to their woes, as one was only too aware of a fair amount of inaccurate playing, very little dynamic contrast and some imprecision. Some of the more experienced players, acting as section leaders, also had to work too hard, which resulted in individual instruments standing out and the orchestra not creating a homogeneous sound.
The singers fared much better and the 26-year-old baritone Jacques Imbrailo definitely qualifies as the find of the season. His precise pitching, sensitive phrasing and beautifully sweet vocal quality attest to an innate musicality and could perhaps, in part, also be attributed to his extensive choral experience. Though he lacks a bravura quality in his lower register at this stage, one looks forward to hearing him sing the Largo al factotum from Rossinis Il Barbiere di Siviglia again when he is slightly older and the voice has grown fuller and stronger.
Beverley Chiat started her contribution with the technically demanding Der Hölle Rache - the Queen of the Nights famous aria - from Die Zauberflöte, which she performed satisfactorily. The aria Ebbené andro lontana from La Wally by Catalani, however, much better displayed her good voice and technical ability, while the duet Dôme è pais le jasmin from Lakmé by Delibes with Violina Anguelov was one of the highlights of the concert.
Anguelov not only has a balanced, versatile voice, but she has a stage personality to match. Her rendition of Rosinas aria Una voce poco fa from Il Barbiere di Siviglia was charming and convincing, as was Prés des remparts de Séville from Carmen in which she augmented her interpretation with lively body language and facial expressions.
Jannie Moolman has always been very impressive in the myriad of opera roles he has performed both here and in his home province of Gauteng. One was, therefore, understandably disappointed by some imprecise pitching on his part in the aria La fleur que tu mavais jetée from Carmen and in the quartet Bella figlia dellamore from Verdis Rigoletto in which the tenor sets the tone. However, he thoroughly compensated in the duet Au fond du temple saint from Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Bizet, which he performed with Imbrailo. This particular duet is a personal favourite and both Moolman and Imbrailo truly did justice to it.
The Oude Libertas Amphitheatre ended its summer season in the same manner in which it had started it: with a celebration of music. The audience left with a sense of appreciation for the talent of all those involved in this laudable effort.
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