Toronto City Opera performed a concert version of Verdi’s Nabucco at St. Andrew’s church on King Street yesterday afternoon. It was strictly a concert version with the principals singing off music stands with no attempt at interaction. The principals were costumed, which helped keep straight who was who and recitative was eliminated in favour of a spoken summary before each scene. That made sense as there were no surtitles. Accompaniment was piano.
Act 1 Finale. L to R. Lauren Estey (Anna), Cristina Pisani (Abigalille), Lillian Brooks (Fenena), Corey Arnold (Ismaele), Michael Robert-Broder (Nabucco), Dylan Wright (Zaccaria), with the TCO Chorus
It was a bit of a mixed bag. There was strong singing from the major characters. Cristina Pisani sang a spirited and nuanced Abigaille. She’s got some real vocal heft but does subtlety too. Michael Robert-Broder, in the title role, sang solidly and with emotional range too. Dylan Wright was a stentorian Zachariah with a booming bass baritone voice of considerable power. Lillian Brooks made the most of the comparatively small role of Fenena. Her Act 4 solo was nicely weighted and pleasing on the ear. Corey Arnold also had some really good moments as Ismaele. He has a properly Italianate tenor sound and was in some ways the most idiomatically stylish singer on show. The minor parts were all competently done.
There was, however, one big snag. Balance and acoustics were poor and one result was that much of the time the chorus was barely audible. It’s hard to think of an opera where the chorus is more important than Nabucco so this was a real issue. I think it was a combination of things. The acoustic of St. Andrew’s is cavernous and boomy. That was apparent in ensembles as well, which tended to get quite mushy. The chorus was positioned quite a way back in the choir and they were masked. I’m not sure why the chorus needed to be masked when the soloists weren’t but it didn’t contribute to clarity or projection! The piano, too, was very loud. There’s something a bit weird going on when a single piano can pretty much drown out a full chorus. And, let’s be clear, I don’t think this an inherent weakness of the TCO chorus. I have heard them before and amateur they may be but they can produce plenty of sound. Nor do i think it was my seat as I was close to the aisle about nine rows back.
So, despite fine playing from Ivan Jovanovic at the piano and extremely competent conducting from Jennifer Tung, who kept everything together despite the acoustics, it was a bit of a curate’s egg. There’s another performance on Friday at 7:30pm at Peoples Theatre for the Performing Arts in Markham. Hopefully the acoustics will be better because there really is quite a lot to like in this show.