Divas and Divos Concert, Manitoba

With your production just
days away, one of your scheduled singers becomes ill. You scramble around to
find a replacement. Lo and behold, you find a wonderfully reliable and willing
fill-in. All is well.

But it doesn’t end there! At the very last moment, another singer
falls ill. This time there isn’t time to put another artist in her place.
But the show must go on — so you tinker with the program, adapt and
adjust as best you can.

That’s the saga of Manitoba Opera Association’s (MOA) season
opening presentation, Divas and Divos Concert on Saturday, October 16 at the
Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg. Tenor David Pomeroy and soprano
Mariateresa Magisano were both forced to bow out due to illness. From the
reaction of the healthy-sized audience during the performance, however,
you’d never suspect there had been a single glitch.

The show was accurately billed as “an evening of opera hits and
favourites performed by six gifted singers,” (well, there were five). Add
to this the 60-member Manitoba Opera Chorus and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
(WSO) under the direction of Tadeusz Biernacki and you have yourself an

Hosted by the affable and surprisingly humorous general director and CEO of
MOA, Larry Desrochers, the evening moved along smoothly, with the varied
repertoire and solid performances capturing our attention and emotions.

Canadian soprano Joni Henson was first up with “Ebben! Ne andrÚ
lontan” from Catalani’s La Wally. Henson displayed superb
control and a fully refined tone that made for a dramatic and very poised
delivery. No lack of power here, as she took the aria from subtle to intense,
building gradually to a vivid conclusion.

Later in the evening, Henson transformed herself into Rusalka from
Dvoř·k’s opera of the same name in the beautiful “Song to the
Moon.” She was spot on with the requisite delicacy, balanced with just
the right dose of authority. Best of all — she sang with a true sense of

Baritone Pierre-…tienne Bergeron was less successful as Don Giovanni in his
duet “L‡ ci darem la mano” with Zerlina, sung by mezzo-soprano
Lauren Segal. His light voice didn’t carry well and only served to
emphasize the richness of Segal’s tone and delightfully crisp, clear
delivery. The two blended nicely in the tutti sections, although Bergeron
tended to reach for his upper register.

In the famous Champagne Aria, “Fin ch’han dal vino,” he
opted for a subtle approach, when it really needed swagger and a bit of
bluster. Lacking the power to penetrate the hall, he was drowned out by the WSO
— a shame, as what we could hear of Bergeron sounded pleasant. It would
be good to hear him again with a few more productions under his belt.

Segal showed her impressive range in “O mio Fernando” from
La Favorita by Donizetti. Finely crafted lines and convincing acting
made us feel her sorrow. The beautiful harp and French horn solos added to the
bittersweet ambiance of this aria.

Filling in for the ailing Pomeroy was American tenor Jeffrey Springer, who
almost brought the house down. He had us riveted to our seats in his
spine-tingling rendition of “E lucevan le stelle” from
Puccini’s Tosca. With expression to spare, he exuded passion and
longing. In “O soave fanciulla” from La Boheme,
you’d have sworn he was on a full set instead of a sparse concert stage
the way he brought the story to life. The only artist to move around the stage
(much appreciated by audience members stage left), his expansive voice and
expressive execution thrilled listeners. His final note dripped with

The opera chorus emerged between soloists with familiar choruses that had
audience members swaying from side to side and smiling. “Va,
pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco was truly uplifting, with
the WSO bouncing along in an Alberti bass line. Nicely phrased, this had a
rousing glow that was entirely refreshing. Biernacki’s energy never
wavered, his ease with the score a result of years of experience.

Veteran bass-baritone David Watson made a few brief appearances, most
notably given the honour of performing the final aria of the night. As the
villainous police chief Baron Scarpia from Tosca, he brought his
reliably resonant voice to “Va Tosca (Te Deum).” Watson sang with
great dramatic conviction and, with the eerie church bells chiming, strains
from the organ and the big bass drum tolling, this was a masterful finale.

Gwenda Nemerofsky

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