By Mike Keenan
What an evening!
First, we attended Chorus Niagara’s 6.30 p.m. pre-concert talk in enticing Partridge Hall, (St. Catharine’s beautiful FirstOntario Arts Centre) featuring host, lain Scott and two soloists, Claire de Sévigné, soprano and Vartan Gabrielian, bass, both young, relaxed and responsive to multiple questions, Vartan with no need for a microphone, his coalmine-deep voice resonating richly throughout the hall and Claire playfully celebrating her COC success. Both admitted that their voices were changing over the years, Vartan claiming that he is now a bass baritone. Iain soon whisked them away as it’s not an accepted practice for soloists to talk prior to performance.
Then, it was “Amadeus”, a tribute to Mozart featuring his sacred and secular music conducted by Robert Cooper, Chorus Niagara’s Artistic Director and, this, their last performance of the season, a fabulous production that earned an enthusiastic and long standing ovation at the end.
The interplay between Chorus Niagara and the soloists was remarkable, and the soloists were phenomenal, each rising to the challenge of Mozart’s magical notes. Accompanied by the superb Niagara Symphony Orchestra, Claire de Sévigné, soprano, local Jocelyn Fralick, soprano, Isaiah Bell, tenor and Vartan Gabrielian, bass, thrilled the audience with their finely-tuned voices, and the secular second half of the program was enriched by Scott’s knowledgeable commentary, providing us with key items to listen for and interesting background behind each operatic piece.
Part One presented Mozart’s imposing Mass in C Minor, composed in Vienna (1782-1783), when he was no longer a church musician at the Salzburg Cathedral. He celebrated Constanze, his wife by bringing her back to his hometown where she sang the Et incarnatus est at the premiere.
I recently visited both cities, intrigued with Salzburg, the Sound of Music centre where I visited Mozart’s museum and house, close to multiple tasty chocolate purveyors, who wrap their delicious wares in Mozart’s likeness and also the seventeenth-century Baroque cathedral, dedicated to Saint Rupert and Saint Vergilius, where I viewed Mozart’s ornate baptismal font.
Born Jan. 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria, Mozart received musical training from his father, Leopold, in violin, clavier and organ. Showing genius when not yet five years old, he toured Europe with his father, giving concerts from 1762 to 1773. Sadly, he died much too soon December 5, 1791 in Vienna at age 35 while writing his Requiem. Nonetheless, he wrote 41 symphonies, 21 operas, 17 masses, multiple concertos: 27 piano, 4 horn, 5 violin; numerous string quartets, piano sonatas, serenades, divertimenti, etc.
Part Two opened and closed with La Clemenza di Tito. Next was Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) which Scott regards as the Number One opera of all time. He suggested that Claire de Sévigné’s stellar rendition of Ach Ich Fuhls (Oh I feel it) lamenting lost love, was the most poignant such aria in opera, but I respectfully disagree. For me, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly possesses arias that repeatedly stab at one’s heart.
When I first heard Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467, employed in the Swedish film, Elvira Madigan, and written in 1785 when he was 29, I was swept away by its absolute beauty and grandeur. When we attended the Stratford Festival’s rendition of Amadeus, our teenage daughter emerged from the theatre weeping. Such is the power of Mozart! Scott repeated the famous claim about angels in heaven ‒ that when they play for God, they play Bach, but when they play for themselves, they play Mozart – and God listens in.
Thanks to Robert Cooper, we were thrilled by Mozart’s theatrical genius with wonderful excerpts from his other greatest operas including Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. Thanks to the musicians and singers, we reveled in the dazzling vocal virtuosity from the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! What a wonderful way to end a season. And what a terrific way to impart a hunger for more!
You can listen to Chorus Niagara at – https://soundcloud.com/user-881006664/tracks
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