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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Preview: Handel opera Alcina sprouts from Toronto's rich vocal soil

By John Terauds on May 24, 2012

As I sat listening to a dress rehearsal early this evening of George Frideric Handel’s great Italian opera from 1735, Alcina, it stuck me that we are living through a golden moment in Toronto’s operatic history.

There are now so many excellent singers in our midst that it is actually possible for a group of them to sit down over coffee, decide wouldn’t it be nice to climb one of the peaks of Baroque opera — and pull it off.

Fledgling Essential Opera is a gang of young Toronto-based singers with no big patron and no mandate beyond choosing works they want to sing and doing it whenever and wherever they can. Their latest project — the second and last one this season — is a lightly staged, concert version of Alcina.

They perform it tomorrow (Friday) at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church, with an eight-piece period-instrument consort and subtitles. Based on what I heard in rehearsal today, these talented singers would do any fine opera house proud.

And, because it’s not staged, there is no director’s vision to get in the way of Handel’s glorious music (unlike, say, the grandiose Semele still on stage at the Canadian Opera Company a couple of dozen blocks to the south.)

I know all this sounds improbable, if not impossible. But these kinds of wonderful happenings are what become possible when a city grows up culturally.

The title role belongs to soprano Erin Bardua who, with fellow soprano Maureen Batt (as Alcina’s sister, Morgana), are the life forces behind Essenial Opera.

Mezzo Vicky St-Pierre is Bradamante, as well as having taken on establishing the shape of the music and directing the singers. Mezzo Vilma Vitols is Ruggiero. Julie Ludwig sings the role of Oberto.

The male cast features baritone James Levesque (Melissio) and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir regular, tenor Cory Knight, as Oronte.

Knight is that rare, wonderful, lyric tenor who turns every note he sings into gold — the sweet icing on an already tasty oepratic cake.

There is only one performance in Toronto (and a follow-up presentation at the New Hamburg Live! Festival of the Arts on May 31st). The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Online tickets are only $18, which more than makes up for the lasck of air conditioning at Trinity-St. Paul’s.

The gang is being daring by moving from their previous venue, Heliconian Hall, to Tafelmusik’s home base of Trinity-St. Paul’s. This is also their first time with a real (if small) orchestra.

It’s a dare that deserves our attention — and applause.

For more on Essential Opera and tomorrow’s concert, click here.

Here are a promotional trailer prepared by Bardua and Batt, followed by a 60-second clip I grabbed on my iPhone of Knight’s singing from today’s rehearsal:

John Terauds

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