Opera in Concert is adding Canadiana to its opera rara mandate. In April, at the Jane Mallett Theatre, the very stage where the opera first made its debut in 1982, OinC mounted The Shivaree by composer John Beckwith, who was in the audience, and librettist James Reaney.
Good diction on the part of the singers allowed the listener to hear Reaney's droll text clearly, and some lines received real belly-laughs from the audience. The slight story centres on a prosperous 58-year-old man who marries his third wife, a 19-year-old girl. The ensuing shivaree (when young men of the neighborhood make a lot of noise on the wedding night outside the house) so distracts the husband that the bride is able to run off with her true love.
Beckwith, who composed the opera in 1966 (first act) and 1978 (second act), set Reaney's text in the declamatory, singspiel style of the period. If only he had given in to his natural melodic inclinations. His "Serenade to the Moon" ensemble came close to rapture, but the love duets fell short. Only in the instrumental parts was melody given free rein and one could hear the opera that might have been. Nonetheless, Beckwith's clever musical settings of the more amusing dialogue were interesting to hear.
John Hess, a 20th-century opera specialist, was the perfect musical director for this production. He obviously worked hard to get his talented young cast to enunciate clearly, and did what he could with the piano accompaniment.
Baritone Gregory Dahl was outstanding as the bridegroom, Quartz. He's an expressive singer blessed with a rich, bold voice. Barbara Hannigan (the bride, Daisy) had a charming stage manner and a lovely lyric soprano. Tenor John Tessier (Daisy's swain, Jonathan) is the new light, lyric tenor on the block, and possesses a sure, bright sound. Another talent on the rise is tenor Richard Dumas as Ned, Quartz's hired hand. He not only has a promising light tenor voice but he is also a wonderful actor. Mezzo-soprano Michele Bogdanowicz (Aunt Annie) continues to show more artistry every time she sings, and her warm, honeyed voice should lead to a good career. Soprano Cindy Townsend (Miss Beech) had some difficult coloratura to negotiate and tended to be shrill at times, while mezzo Lori Klassen (Henrietta) showed off a solid voice in her small role. As for the enthusiastic shivareers (Charles Baxter, Scott Bell, Richard Shaw, Nicholas Gough and Alexander Wiebe), one would have liked a bit more evenness of sound, although they were fun to watch.