Toronto-based Opera in Concert, now in its fourth decade as a presenter of unusual or rarely heard repertoire, opened its season with a rousing performance of Verdi's I masnadieri. Premiered in London in 1847 with Jenny Lind in the Prima Donna role of Amalia, the opera is based on Schiller's play, Die Rauber (The Robbers), though, truth to tell, the weak plotting of this opera belies its literary pedigree. Musically, however, there's much to admire and enjoy, an exercise in romanticism and bel canto just as the composer was starting to hit dramatic stride (Machetto had had its premiere in Florence just four months earlier, and Jerusalem would have its premiere in Paris just four months later).
If the role of Carlo, the brigand leader, sounded at times as if it was written a little too high for comfort. Tenor Marcel Van Neer nonetheless gave a suave performance, winning high marks for the smooth legato in his lines. Bartitone Michael Meraw was forceful, though always musical, as Francesco, Carlo's bad brother, while bass Raymond Accolas also cut a fine musical figure as Count Moor, their father. The only female principal in the piece, soprano Arlene Alvarado, made the most of the lovely music for Amalia, showing a richly toned instrument that was particularly strong in its middle register. Ensemble singing in this performance, which also included tenors Willis Bote (Rolla) and Ricarido Gimena (Arminio) and baritone Vasil Garvanliev (Moser), was tight and well balanced. Jose Hernandez set the dramatic pace from the piano, while Robert Cooper directed the always enjoyable OinC Chorus.
For its second offering, OinC chose Saint-Saens' Samson et Dalila, which is hardly a rarity on mainstream stages, especially those that want to showcase a favorite dramatic tenor. It's a colorful score, though in the event, it seemed as if OinC would have benefitted from a few more rehearsals to bring out the full panoply of hues and a keener dramatic pulse. Tenor Keith Klassen and soprano Gabrielle Prata made every effort to bring the title roles to life, both mainly convincing though neither seeming fully at ease with the lithe sensuality of the music. This opera also favours male voices, and there were characterful performances from Philip Carmichael and Sean Curran (First and Second Philistines), Thomas Fleming (Abimelech), Luc Lalonde (High Priest), Thomas Fleming (Old Hebrew) and Rory McGlynn (Messenger). Nathalie Doucet-Lalkens served as music director.