Just back from a concert at the Conservatorium, styled "Spring Opera Gala". Alas, the fact that outside it still feels suspiciously like winter seemed to have kept the crowds away. We weren't many in Verbrugghen Hall, but we were nicely rewarded for having made it there. Our Gala involved three rising young artists (some perhaps risinger than others) and one established OA principal, aided and abetted by the one man orchestra that is accompanist David Miller. Standard opera highlights gala but with a twist or two. Twist #1: no sopranos! Twist #2: two, count 'em, two baritones! Twist #3: two baritones, and yet I didn't have to listen to a single rendition of "Hai gia vinta la causa"! Amazing.
So our sole female representative was the always lovely (and redheaded, which helps) Dominica Matthews. She was best in her first number, the duet from La Cenerentola, not surprising since she sang the role earlier this year. As the evening progressed she essayed a series of seduction songs, growing gradually more comfortable in their sensuality. So "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" was delivered in manner perhaps better suited to "Divinités du Styx", but by the time she reached Cole Porter's "So in Love" she was rather more romantic. In between, a pretty fabulous Habanera.
First baritone (in order of appearance) was Barry Ryan, lately seen undergoing gentle Viennese humiliation at the hands of Cheryl Barker's Arabella. In robust, impassioned voice — "Vision fugitive" from Massenet's Hérodiade earned the ovation of the evening. "Cruda funesta" from Lucia was good too; lucky thing he sounded like an Enrico since he doesn't exactly look like one. I actually spent most of "Ha, welch ein Augenblick!" just thinking, "Peter Coleman-Wright is going to be so right in this part next year". Which is not a criticism of Barry Ryan at all — I'm just suddenly really looking forward to Peter C-W's Pizarro.
Second baritone, the jolly Shannon Foley [note: link is to a PDF]. Like Dominica, he was at his best in the aria from a role he's sung on stage — in this case, Papageno's "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen", which was lovely. But also, kudos for singing an aria from Hamlet! And rather well, even if the concept of Hamlet singing a rousing drinking song is a bit amusing. For the Act I Almaviva/Figaro scene from Il barbiere he sang from a score, having admitted with admirable candour that he was "having a tenor moment" and hadn't been able to memorise the scene. Fair enough, I suppose, and he sang it very nicely just the same.
However the man of the hour — and I think, the reason the Gala happened — was tenor Brad Cooper. Guess what, Australia? You've got yourselves a real, live bel canto tenor. From those first few ringing notes of "Tutto e deserto" from La Cenerentola, I knew we were in for something wonderful. This is one seriously beautiful voice. Especially in the beautifully live acoustic of Verbrugghen Hall — such an unexpected luxury for my ears, which have grown so resigned to the black hole of the Opera Theatre. If you know me and my partialities, you know the kinds of tenors I like. Juan Diego, Rolando, Aldo di Toro on the Italian side of things; Mark Padmore and Ian Bostridge for the English/baroque stuff. Those kinds of voices. Well, Brad Cooper is My Kind of Tenor. Gorgeous timbre, easy agility, graceful legato, sense of humour and sense of style and the ability to actually...act. Imagine! He did more on an empty stage and in the space of one aria than some of OA's current principals can do in a full and fancy production. You know it's a good sign when I'm actually wishing "Ich baue ganz" could last longer; and, shock of shocks, thinking thoughts like "I actually wouldn't mind if he wanted to sing Ottavio's arias." Ottavio! I ask you! No wonder they loved him in Opera Holland Park's Il barbiere di Siviglia. And there I should probably stop. He's here on what I believe is a rather fleeting visit home, before heading back to his ever glitterier European career (CV dotted with names like Horne, Minkowski and Netrebko...fine then). I hope the next time he's here, it's to sing something sensational for Opera Australia. (Memo to OA admin: three words — Fille du régiment.)
The evening finished up with lighter fare, musical theatre and so on. I've mentioned Dominica's "So In Love". Shannon Foley gave us a nice, understated "Some Enchanted Evening". Barry Ryan brought a tear to every pensioner's eye (and mine) with "Danny Boy". Best — and most fun — of all were Brad's two contributions. The "Agony" duet from Sondheim's Into the Woods, sung hilariously with Shannon, and "Before the Parade Passes By" from Hello, Dolly! Fabulous.