OPERA AT ARATOI with Anna Pierard and Jose Aparicio

Songs, opera and zarzuela arias

Anna Pierard (mezzo-soprano) and Jose Aparicio (tenor and flute) with David Harper (piano)

Auditorium of Aratoi Art and History Museum, Masterton

Wednesday 14th January 2009

Trying to write about such a joyous affair as the first 2009 Aratoi Art and History Museum concert in Masterton seems to produce such a prosaic effect compared with the sheer pleasure savoured in the music-making of singers Anna Pierard and Jose Aparicio, and pianist David Harper on a warm January evening in the Wairarapa. For many people, myself included, this would have been the New Year’s very first concert outing, and one couldn’t imagine a more life-enhancing musical experience than what we were given by these world-class artists.

Their programme was an attractive mixture of the familiar (for example, “La donna e mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto), the darkly exotic (two Rachmaninov songs, including Oh, never sing to me, again), and the colourfully unfamiliar (Zarzuela arias by various Spanish composers), and delivered with all the engagement, skill and musicality we’ve come to expect from the trio. An unexpected but exhilarating bonus was the performance by Jose Aparicio playing the flute (his first musical instrument) of Francois Borne’s challenging Fantasie Brilliante on Carmen – no mere novelty, this, but an exhilarating display of virtuosity worthy of its place in the programme.

As with the Zarzuela programme which this trio brought to these performances something of the dramatic flavour of the stage, the singers using movement and gesture to bring a theatrical touch to the items from the opera or operetta stage. The opening duet from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, which involved the exchange of a ring between lovers, showcased the kind of teamwork these singers bring to their work together, breathing, phrasing and emoting as one. Again, in Vives’ Escuchame from Dona Francisquita, reckoned by some as the greatest of all Zarzuela works, the performers created a real “frisson” of interchange between wounded lover and coquettish sweetheart, redolent with teasing deception and inflamed jealousy, which made for great entertainment, David Harper’s responsive playing in colourful accord with the “stage” action throughout. As a bonus, we got the famous Cherry Duet from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, whose piquant presentation most fittingly left each of us audience members with a smile to take away from the concert.

Both singers presented their solo items with theatrical gesture and movement rather than with a more formal recital platform manner, which gave their performances a bit extra thrust and colour appropriate to the occasion. Anna Pierard brought plenty of dramatic power to Rossini’s ‘Cruda sorte’ from L’Italiana in Algeri, and displayed a real feeling for Rachmaninov’s darkly throbbing realizations of youthful emotion, such as the alarmingly precocious ‘In The Silence Of The Secret Night’, written when the composer was just seventeen. Occasionally I felt the voice over-modulated in our small listening-space, as if the singer was pushing things too hard, or was finding her tones difficult to pitch evenly, as with an admittedly treacherous chromatic descent towards the end of the second Rachmaninov song ‘O Never Sing to Me Again’. But the beautifully exotic Borodin-like arabesques earlier in the song, with their melismatic vocal lines, were delivered with remarkable control and a real sense of atmosphere, which carried the day.

As much visceral intensity was in evidence with Jose Aparicio’s solo singing also, who gave us a lyrically ardent Mattinata by Leoncavallo, and an impassioned, verismo-like delivery of the insistent ‘No puede ser’ of Sorozabal which brought forth marvellously ringing, heroic tones at the end. Also, we enjoyed a properly cavalier ‘La donna e mobile’ despite a minor impromptu rearrangement of the lines in the first verse, a case of “where have we heard that before?” when the second verse came around. One of the highlights of the concert was Jose Aparicio’s rendition of Lara’s Granada, a favourite of mine, I must admit, and here realized with considerable physical élan, and pictorial immediacy.

At the concert’s beginning, Marcus Buroughs, the director of Aratoi, welcomed us most warmly to the museum and to the concert, before paying tribute to one of the patrons of the enterprise, Dr. Ian Prior, of Wellington, long-time supporter of the museum and of the careers of both Anna Pierard and Jose Aparicio. Unfortunately, Dr.Prior could not be at the concert, but he would have been thrilled by the evening’s performances and the warm reception accorded to the performers by an enthusiastic audience.

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