I really wasn’t at all familiar with Berlioz’ Béatrice at Bénédict before last night’s opening of a production by Metro Youth Opera at the Daniels Spectrum. All I knew was that it had something to so with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and a reputation for being rather tedious. For the record it’s basically the Shakespeare play shorn of all the darker elements; no Don John, no fake funeral, resulting in a RomCom in which the title characters, after much verbal sparring, are finally brought to admit that they are in love and get married along with Claudio and Héro. Further compressed a little (Somarone is axed) for this production it runs a pleasingly untedious two hours or so.
It’s an opéra comique so there’s lots of spoken dialogue (the libretto is by Berlioz himself) given here in English translation. This does sound a bit odd as it’s disturbingly like Shakespeare translated by Google into French and back again. The numbers are sung in French and for this production we have a piano reduction of the score. Some of the music is really good. Both the title characters and Héro get some fairly showy numbers. There’s a gorgeous duet, reminiscent of Nuit d’ivresse, for Héro and Ursule and some good ensembles.
Alison Wong’s production is straightforward and lively. There’s some very good singing, especially from Simone McIntosh as Béatrice. She has a rich toned voice of some power and beauty and deployed it to effectively to both dramatic and comedic effect. She’s also a pretty good comédienne and seemed as much at home with the dialogue as the singing. Asitha Tennekoon managed the high tenor role of Bénédict extremely well too. He has a genuine tenor timbre and is comfortable in his upper register which doesn’t sound forced. He’s a decent actor too, if a little less flamboyantt than Ms. McIntosh.
Lindsay McIntyre,as Héro, was a little less polished. She managed the lyrical portions of the role well but seemed somewhat challenged in her rather virtuosic first aria. Top marks thoughto her and mezzo Alessia Naccarato for their very beautiful and touching rendering of the duet. I was once again impressed by Ms. Naccarato’s smoky contralto timbre, well displayed in this smaller theatre. The singing cast is rounded out by Janaka Welihinda as Claudio and Peter Warren as Don Pedro. They don’t have a lot of music but they do clown around quite effectively. Christopher Pinheiro and Megan Maeve McCarthy round out the cast in the speaking roles of Leonato and Messenger/Minister.
Natasha Fransblow was at the piano and handled musical direction. She gave a sensitive and idiomatic reading of the score. One’s always going to miss the orchestra, especially in something like Berlioz, but she did manage to sound surprisingly and pleasantly lush.
This production is an enjoyable way to take a look at some of Toronto’s emerging singers. Simone McIntosh, in particular, is worth checking out. Béatrice at Bénédict is playing in the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum (Dundas, east of Parliament). There are two more performances; tonight at 7.30 pm and tomorrow at 2.30pm.
Photo credits: Ian G. McIntosh photography.