The rich orchestral coloring was missing from Opera in Concert's production of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa (Mar. 26), of course, but the singing, as well as the pianism of Music Director Raisa Nakhmanovich (how she thundered in the "Battle of Poltava!"), brought the piece to vivid life. If it at first seemed a little foolhardy to mount such a big work--it is, after all, an historical epic--on such a small scale, any doubts were quickly laid to rest right from the opening women's chorus. You could just sit back, forget the spectacle and concentrate on Tchaikovsky's luscious vocal writing.
A uniformly strong cast was led by baritone Peter McGillivray in the title role. Making a welcome return to Canada from his current program of studies in Germany, McGillivray is clearly still on track for the important career that his success in competitions over the past couple of years has promised. The voice is full and strong, and he uses it with a great feel for cadence and line. He's frankly a bit young to carry this role off convincingly, but that's picky in the face of such musicality and commitment. His performance was extraordinarily rewarding to the audience. So, too, was that of soprano Katerina Tshoubar, whose account of Maria's tragic descent into madness and suicide was riveting, and whose vocalism was nuanced, tonally secure and dramatically assured. Nikolay Cherkasov brought the deep and resonant sound you'd expect from a Russian-trained bass to the role of the Cossack Kochubey, while the Bulgarian-born mezzo, Emila Boteva, made the most of the role of Kochubey's wife, Lubov. Rounding out the accomplished cast, tenor Avery Krisman sang Andrei, a young man in love with Maria, tenor Rory McGlynn sang Iskra, Governor of Poltava, and baritone Vasil Garvanliev sang Mazeppa's henchman, Orlik.
The chorus, always a strong asset in OinC's productions, was again under the direction of Robert Cooper. Everyone deserves kudos for this project, both for individual performances and the ensemble work. With Virginia Reh serving as dramatic advisor, OinC managed a more theatrical projection for this concert performance than usual--though as usual, the concert-hall tuxedos of the male singers undermined the attempt to sketch and suggest stage action. Still, it was one of the strongest OinC performances I've experienced on all counts.