Review: Lohengrin (Opera by Request)

Opera By Request offers singers a chance to act out their dream roles in the latest production

Lohengrin, like many operas by Richard Wagner, is based on a medieval German myth. Opera by Request’s in-concert performance of this work on January 28 provided an excellent opportunity to be exposed to this work, which is not one of the most performed in the repertory. Given the cost of tickets to see opera produced by companies such as the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier, taking advance of Opera by Request performances is a great idea.

The program is unique, to my knowledge, in the realm of opera training programs in Canada. Any group of two or more singers who would like to sing specific roles in the opera of their choice can make arrangements with the company and they will find the remaining cast.

Naturally, the performances are not accompanied by a 90-piece orchestra. They are accompanied by piano, performed by William Shookhoff, the program’s director. The performances are given in concert, meaning that rather than staging the opera as a drama, the performers sing through the work like a collective recital. A translation is projected onto a screen. You still get to hear the entire work however it is absent of staging, props, and costumes. Ideally, in-concert performances of opera should still successfully tell the story and communicate the dramatic nuances of each role.

Lohengrin has some excellent music and the performance featured some truly lovely singing. I will say, I thought this work was somewhat of a bold choice for this context, since it is so obvious from Wagner’s flashy and dense writing style that his works are meant to have big sound and spectacle. I feel there are other composers whose works are more suited to adaptation for piano accompaniment. Nevertheless, Mr. Shookoff is sufficiently experienced with the genre that he was able to capture much of the nuance of a symphonic arrangement.

The cast was comprised of very talented young singers who all had extensive education in the genre as well as a mix of professional and training credits. In addition to having a phenomenal voice, Mezzo-Soprano Kristine Dandavino as Ostrud, was very successful at injecting her performance with the full dramatic flair of her malevolent, vindictive character.

Rachel Cleland, who played the role of Elsa, the innocent ingénue, has a warm, bright full-lyric soprano instrument which was quite suited to this musical style. Her evening gown was also magnificent.

I greatly enjoyed the singing of the entire cast and would definitely see another performance by this Company. The program not only provides the opportunity for affordable exposure to opera as performed by talented musicians, it is also a great way to support young singers.

Lohengrin played at College St. United Church, 452 College St. at 7:30 on January 28, 2012.

All tickets are $20. For reservations and information call 416 455-2365

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