A Night at the Opera (2019)
A Night At The Opera. Nelson Civic Choir and Nelson City Brass
Review by Jenny Snadden.
What a great idea it was to combine these two venerable Nelson music organizations (160 years since their respective inaugurations) in a concert of favourite opera hits. The city has always been conscious of fostering homegrown music at a serious amateur level, and tonight’s full house of appreciative listeners showed there is an enduring appetite for such entertainment. Congratulations to conductor Nigel Weeks for inventive programming of “the best bits” from famous operas, loved and adapted over many years like cover versions of pop songs. In their smart blue uniforms and with gleaming gold instruments Nelson Brass set the tone, while the choir’s sparkly Bal Masqué headgear showed they were up for an enjoyable collaboration. It is pleasing to see the fostering of youthful talent in Nelson Brass. Well done those confident young percussionists and instrumentalists.
The opening Grand March from Tannhauser already has Wagner’s beloved brass strongly featured, so the audience was immediately in opera mode with this satisfying band version. Cornet soloist Douglas Couchman then produced a beautiful soprano line in Song to the Moon, from Dvorak’s Russalka, a tasteful arrangement aided by the band’s gentle underpinning restraint. The choir sang a lively rendition of the Chorus of Wedding Guests from Lucia di Lammermoor, with Kate Scarlett’s immaculate piano accompaniment a feature of the evening. Ewen Griffith’s solo tenor line added a fine gloss to the background choral sound, and in their following work, the Chorus of Scottish Refugees, from Verdi’s Macbeth, some velvety alto sounds enhanced the sadness of the story. To their credit, the choir’s enthusiasm for the music generally overcame some lack of numbers in the lower parts, and in collaboration with the band they gave their all to rise above the full brass sound. Knowing that professional opera choruses are full of wanna-be vocal stars, we can be well satisfied with our local choristers’ hard work. They even imported a real blacksmith’s anvil for the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore!
Ewen Griffiths did not disappoint with a fine rendition of Puccini’s eternally famous Nessun Dorma from Turandot, his triumphant final note thrilling above the full brass. Pavarotti having almost copyrighted it, the audience had to be delighted with our home-grown soloist’s confident singing - we could almost see Ewen take out a white hanky and wipe his brow!! He also performed a charmingly insouciant La donna e mobile, from Puccini’s Rigoletto. We were completely won over by the superb singing of soprano Rebecca Ryan. To Kate Scarlett’s lively piano accompaniment, she sang one of the hardest showpieces of the coloratura repertoire, the Doll’s Song from Tales of Hoffman, inviting the audience’s amusement and amazement combined, as the doll persona periodically wound down and back up. What a voice! More, please. Her Chacun le sait, from Daughter of the Regiment, was also brilliantly executed, elegantly involving the audience in her over-the-top praise of the soldiers. Zane Maxwell’s euphonium became a perfect Figaro in the Largo Factotum from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, boasting and bustling in virtuoso style over the nimble and supple band sound. The Brindisi from La Traviata brought together soloists, choir and band in a joyous finale, sending this reviewer away with a head full of musical “ best bits”, a fitting end to a great evening’s entertainment.