JOLIETTE – Hats off to Lanaudière. What other festival in North America could attract a four-figure crowd to an out-of-town venue with a tenor known mostly in Europe singing repertoire that rarely cracked the operatic top 40?
Oh, yes. In a thunderstorm. Such is the loyalty of the Lanaudière fanbase – as long as vocalists as gifted as Michael Spyres remain part of the schedule.
The program Saturday at the Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay was billed as an evening of bel canto, a term that comprises warm cantilena, stentorian calls to arms and high-altitude acrobatics, not necessary in that order. I cannot recall another recital by a tenor as amply adorned with high notes.
Not that this was all the stocky American had to offer. Even the flourishes on the first word of Rossini’s “Vieni fra queste braccia,” a little-known number from La gazza ladra, suggested a knack for carrying a tune. Tone also was appropriately nuanced. After mellifluously spinning out “Ô blonde Cérès,” an aria from Berlioz’s Les Troyens requiring an effortless high C, Spyres added just the right measure of metal to the same composer’s “Nature immense” from La damnation de Faust.
A little formal in stage manner before intermission, Spyres loosened up in the second half, comporting himself with amusing nonchalance in “Mes amis écoutez l’histoire” from Adolphe Adam’s Le postillon de Lonjumeau, as if he knew nothing of the fearsome high D that lay in waiting. This note came off well, as did many others. If the Cs at the end of Act IV, Scene I of William Tell sounded close to the red line, this added to the heroic force of the sequence. Sometimes the act of fending off an orchestra and chorus generates its own brand of excitement.
Elsewhere balances were just under the suave baton of Corrado Rovaris, the Italian-born music director of Opera Philadelphia. The Orchestre du Festival, numbering about 50, played three instrumental pieces, including Rossini’s celebrated William Tell Overture. Warm cellos, songful woodwinds and steely brass had their usual invigorating effect. It was a treat to hear Ambroise Thomas’s Overture to Raymond, a colourful potpourri possibly written with Rossini’s masterpiece in mind.
The Choeur du Festival as prepared by Francis Choinière produced hearty shouts of “Vengeance” in the Tell excerpt. The women sounded full-bodied in a chorus from Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.
But back to Spyres. By the time he finished Don Ramiro’s aria from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, deep in the second half, we had probably heard enough high Cs. The time was ripe for a more terrestrial number like the “Kleinzach” aria from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, which was full of fun as the tenor performed it.
Spyres brought along a guest, soprano Tara Stafford, who happens to be his wife. They created the chemistry one might expect in duets from Bellini’s La Sonnambula and the Borodin-saturated Broadway show Kismet.
The encores were “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Lehár’s Das Land des Lächelns and “Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fête” from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. The tenor crossed himself in jest before the latter number, which is noted for its multiple high Cs. No supernatural intervention was needed.
The concert, dedicated by artistic director Renaud Loranger to the memory of its founder Père Fernand Lindsay to mark the tenth anniversary of his passing, made a good impression despite the audio backdrop of rainfall and the occasional intervention of thunderclaps. The opera-loving Lanaudière crowd was enthusiastic from the start. It takes more than a little rain to dampen these spirits.
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