Saturday, February 21, 2009

Opera in the Park 2009

Outdoor Music-Making -- Summer's Bliss

My list of fun things to do this summer looked like this:

My parents and I went on our bush walk and picnic, I found a marvellous swing that endowed me with proprietory rights for 9 days, and to my astonishment, I was blessed with attending 3 concerts, 2 of which were outdoor events.

Nephews and I playing shady characters on the swing. Yes, a bowl of cherries was involved. Swingsational.

Dad and I went to Nelson's Opera in the Park, a type of show I've been waiting half my life to attend. We arrived at the venue to the lively sounds of a terrific Nelson brass ensemble. I'll never forget the welcome of that as we proceeded from our car through the park grounds, in the venue gates, and across the field to our seats.

The official program was a classy New Zealand showcase (apart from the M.C. radio hostess trying too hard and the strange antics of mezzo soprano Helen Medlyn), with superb vocals from internationally acclaimed soprano Anna Leese (whose big sister and I once shared a bowl of birthday cake icing), a girl whose serene presence on stage is an experience indeed. I would have liked to hear more from Georgia Jamieson-Emms, winner of last year's Sealord Aria, off to seek a singer's fortune in Europe the day after this concert. She sang just one item, "Caro Nome" from Rigoletto.

Tenors Simon O'Neill and Ben Makisi got together for the first time since their 1st and 2nd placings at the Nelson Aria in 1994, and offered magnificent vocals along with amusing memories of emergency shoe-swapping. Their "Au Font du Temple Saint" moved me to tears. I'm a sucker for that melody...

Dad and I held Gold Patron tickets, with all the luxuries laid on. Dad even waved to himself on the big screen (I'd gone walkabout to experience the backbenches). It was a night to remember.

Arriving hatless, our neighbours found that desperation under the evening sun made them creative.

Last weekend, my parents and I took our deck chairs north to Central Hawkes Bay's prestigious back of beyond, the historic homestead of Oruawharo. The Lions fundraiser event has been running for three years. I attended the first one at the time I started voice lessons with Ileana Otto-Johansen, who is the musical director and featured soprano.

I stood in the shade of a mighty tree while people were arriving, and a man passed by whom I haven't seen in a while. I once sang in his garden. He waved at me in my heirloom skirt and white linen hat sporting feathers and flowers. "Are you performing this year?" he said.

The program runs for 4 hours, with 3 satisfying brackets of mixed opera and musical theatre songs, the first two separated by a 15 minute interval, and the second and third by an hour for tea. Those who paid $50 entrance were classed as prestige-ticket holders and enjoyed a restaurant meal cooked in the homestead kitchen and served under the trees at linen-draped tables. Those who paid $40 received a plastic-wrapped plate of salad, meat, and bread bun. We were quite happy with our personally serviced picnic hamper.

650 concert-goers mean a lot of cars, and the homestead grounds were well organized for coping with this influx. The wooden swing hanging from a very tall elm that I'd been looking forward to sampling was pre-booked --- gowned in white linen, clearly the sole property of the bouquet of pink roses resting among the folds. I found the intervals tedious, it being necessary for me to walk (deckchair malaise) rather than stand around talking, but I filled in some time with my own vocals down the far end of the paddock. As folk regathered for Session 3, a man maneuvering down the row behind mine said he'd enjoyed my music. He must have been socializing with the cars to have heard that, but it was nice to know I'd entertained more than myself.

Ileana's performances were wonderful, and so were her gowns -- 8 of the former, 3 of the latter. I was totally blown away by tenor Jason Parker, a 17-year-old with not much training (yet) but an incredible power and richness to his voice that I eagerly anticipate hearing again. I took quiet pleasure in listening to soprano Janet Smith and studying her demeanor. Having in recent months become happily acquainted with Andre' Rieu's relaxed, joyful style of classical music, followed by the bantering featured in Nelson, I felt a slight culture shock in the seriousness of the Oruawharo singers' presentations. The only time I saw Ileana smile on stage was before her last solo, the second to last item on the program. Janet had a sparkle that made her a pleasure to watch as well as a pleasure to listen to, a distinction that reminds me of the difference between my demeanor at my Town Hall debut and the way I handle gigs now after a year of working with Elaine Swanney. Ileana is a trained, experienced performer and a woman of strong character, so I figure she just sees opera as very serious business.

Ileana Otto-Johansen with guest artist Patrick Power (local tenor of international renown)

Summer's passive entertainment becomes a warm and pleasant memory as the year's program takes over. A sudden, unexpected improvement in my health has allowed me to dig into music preparations with enthusiasm, and bookings are beginning to dot my calendar. So then, on with the dance! May the melody of love be woven in the fabric of your days.
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