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The Rover 5.09.2011

The gilt-edged envelope smelled of perfume and was obviously caviar-stained. A monumental footman waited for a reply with a silver tray in one hand and a gun in the other. More opera tickets, I thought. Hooray.

The invitation was for an evening of arias presented by a new opera group, Opera Piccola, at Theatre Outremont. I had high hopes. My standard opera companion set the mood by coming late directly from the gym, with extra spandex for me, so we matched, but the evening was still disappointing.

I might have been naïvely optimistic. When I heard about a new opera company, I imagined they would be young, poor and unafraid. A company that would enlarge the scene in Montreal; instead, the four talented stalwarts on the lovely stage tasted like flat pop from Opera de Montreal’s fridge. The only novelty of the evening was the more intimate setting.

That is not enough. But Opera Piccola is explicitly not devoted to sustaining the future of opera, something it seems to take for granted, but to “education and accessibility”. Fine. The small space is certainly accessible, and there is undeniable power in opera at close range, an almost physical awareness of trained organs.

Wide-eyed soprano Mariateresa Magisano carried a solid sound that coloured nicely in “Donde lieta,” but never connected with the other humans onstage. She came alive once, sharply, with “On My Lips Every Kiss is Like Wine.” It was her only solo, so perhaps the other singers distracted her.

Baritone Alexander Dobson-son-of-Danny-Kay was an energetic dancer, naturally, and a sporting singer. Though his Don Giovanni was anemic, he opened up with the lighter material of the second half and zinged as the Pirate King.

Montreal workhorse tenor Luc Robert and his triangular figure were a stable addition to the evening, like an inherited dining room table. His “Rossignol de mes amours” was sweet, and its easy buffoonery suited his relaxed voice and slouchy manner.

Soprano Julie Boullianne withdrew at the last minute because of sickness, so CBC Radio host Julie Nasrallah stepped in. She was husky, occasionally vivid, and always a charming and bright presence, but perhaps not quite “one Julie for another”, as she was introduced.

There was minimal but effective staging, restrained lighting, and a skeleton crew of musicians. It suggested a high quality student production, but jarred with the Establishment onstage. When Nasrallah sang the habanara from Carmen, I recalled a crackling performance by the young Emma Parkinson at Jean-Talon market in 2010, and I wondered, where’s she singing tonight?