Vancouver Symphony’s opera-in-concert has lasting value

Posted on Jun 11, 2012 in Uncategorized | No Comments

David Gordon Duke (The Vancouver Sun) —A real coup ends the Vancouver Symphony season: an opera-in-concert performance of Music Director Bram-well Tovey’s The Inventor, premiered last year by Calgary Opera.

By definition, an opera-in-concert performance is a different sort of musical and theatrical experience to a fully staged production; here is a concert performance as good as Vancouver has ever seen. Projected surtitles make the word play of John Murrell’s libretto entirely understand-able. A modicum of lighting sets the mood, and there are excellent projections.

Critical response in Calgary focused on the production as a whole. At the Orpheum it was possible to zero in on The Inventor’s musical values. Tovey has created an important addition to the contemporary opera repertoire in the lineage of Berg and Brit-ten. His style is manifestly his own, though occasional flashes of what must be called, for lack of a more elegant term, post-modern pastiche rise out of the action. The orchestral scoring is vibrant, exceedingly well considered, but often dark — appropriate given the pervasive menace associated with the character of the inventor/con man/mass murderer Sandy Keith.

Respectfully aware of operatic tradition, the work includes many conventional moments: a romantic waltz, a grand reception, and a complex first act finale all play their parts in the unfolding action.

Throughout, Tovey’s way with English text setting is exemplary. The dramatic dialogue seems natural when sung; when the focus is more lyrical, as in Cecilia’s second act aria (sung beautifully by soprano Erin Wall), there is an edgy, compelling lyricism.

The dramatic arch of the action is taught and intense; the work is of standard operatic length, but it would be hard to think of much that could be tighter or more focused. Yet there is ample space for the music to breathe and establish its own sense of time. Many of the most persuasive and memorable moments in the piece are for orchestra alone — Tovey knows when to let the music do the talking.

Reuniting the Calgary cast assured continuity, and it would be hard to think of a more effective ensemble. New to this production was the very consider-able, and entirely professional, contribution of the UBC Opera Ensemble. And, of course, the members of the VSO. Their reading was as distinguished as it was committed.

How fortunate that the performance is being recorded for commercial release: this is a score of lasting value that demands further productions.